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PremierBank’s Bilingual Initiatives Committee helps bank serve Hispanic community

By Kathleen Rolfs

Between 2000 and 2015, the Hispanic population in Wisconsin doubled in size with an increase of 95%, according to a demographic summary conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. This was the most rapid population increase of any of Wisconsin’s various racial groups (White, Black/African American, American Indian, and Hispanic).

During this span of time, Wisconsin’s overall population increased by roughly 400,000 residents, with Hispanics making up 46% of this increase. With Hispanics being the fastest growing minority population in Wisconsin, it is important that community banks thoughtfully consider how they are best meeting the financial needs of this influential consumer base.

Although individual desires and product requirements are as diverse for the Hispanic community as any other demographic, one way that PremierBank is successfully serving our Hispanic friends and neighbors is through our unique Bilingual Initiatives Committee. This group is comprised of several bilingual bankers along with marketing and retail banking officers. The goals of the committee include identifying opportunities that exist within our communities for strategic community partnerships, and collaborative education within our organization to ensure all our bankers are equipped to understand and anticipate the needs of the rapidly growing, ethnically diverse Hispanic community.

Bilingual Bankers Share Their Heritage

At a minimum, having bankers on staff who speak the same native language of those who live and work in our communities is one of the most obvious ways that we can reduce or eliminate language barriers with our Hispanic customers and successfully deliver the most appropriate financial solutions to them.

Guided by our Bilingual Initiatives Committee, our bilingual bankers help provide education within our organization about the Hispanic community. Peer-to-peer learning is a powerful tool that helps break through biases and promulgates understanding. As such, we have found that giving our bilingual bankers many opportunities throughout the year to share their heritage with their colleagues encourages a much deeper understanding of our local Hispanic population, while simultaneously building community within our own organization.

During last year’s Hispanic Heritage month, PremierBank treated all employees to traditional pan dulce or “sweet bread” served fresh from a local Mexican baker. These were personally delivered by members who serve on the Bilingual Initiative Committee, some of whom were dressed in traditional Mexican apparel, with an explanation of the history of these tasty treats! Inexpensive activities encourage understanding and respect among a diverse workforce, while providing education about this important segment of banking prospects and customers.

Bilingual Banking Community Outreach

Whether through financial contributions, sponsoring a resource fair that targets the Hispanic community, or creating our own event that caters to the Hispanic community, PremierBank’s Bilingual Initiative Committee is intentional in the quest to find new events to support within our footprint area.

In September 2022, a “Hispanic Heritage Celebration” is being planned at one of our banking locations complete with food trucks, traditional Central and South American dancers, and a lively mariachi band. After working with the local convention and visitor’s bureau and receiving advice from the city parks and recreation department, our Bilingual Initiatives Committee has found enthusiastic community support in our efforts to plan this upcoming community event that will celebrate Hispanic customs, cuisine, and heritage.

Building Long-Term Relationships

As marketers, we know that the Hispanic segment is an incredibly valuable consumer group. With an annual purchasing power of over $1.5 trillion, this powerhouse community is more likely to start a new business than any other demographic and it accounts for a larger percentage of home purchases than ever before, according to an article published by Forbes. However, we cannot simply make token efforts to attract their business.

To reach this audience, cater to their actual needs, and stand out from our competitors, banks need to establish an authentic connection in an honest and respectful way. Our Bilingual Initiatives Committee is making a difference at PremierBank by helping us to build authentic, meaningful relationships both inside and outside of our bank. Because of this, the business relationships we have formed with our Hispanic customers and community partners are based on understanding and respect and will endure long into the future.

Rolfs, vice president – director of marketing at PremierBank in Fort Atkinson, is a member of the 2022–2023 WBA Marketing Committee.

By Hannah Flanders

It has been two years since March 11, 2020, yet its transformation is still felt far and wide. A time marked by swift transition and angst among all — bankers will recall the call to action by their community members to be there through this time of uncertainty.

2020 and 2021 were marked by Wisconsin bankers’ quick action in providing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to local businesses, increased digitalized services, and defense from COVID-related fraud. Bankers continually step up to the challenge of providing critical support and the sense of stability to communities throughout Wisconsin, a tradition as old as the industry itself, and the events of the last several years have only highlighted the dedication they have for one another.

At the onset of the pandemic, many bank branches in Wisconsin closed their lobbies and non-client facing employees were sent home to work. As restrictions have eased throughout the last two years, bankers not only have returned to the office with a greater sense of commitment to their communities, but a new perspective on their role within the bank.

“Even as the pandemic seems to be winding down, our bank’s focus continues to be protecting the health and safety of our associates, clients, and communities,” says Paul Hoffmann, president and CEO of Monona Bank. In an effort to provide this for the Monona Bank team, Hoffmann explains the bank’s effort in establishing a ‘COVID team’ responsible for keeping fellow employees updated regarding recent trends.

From IT departments and marketing officers to the frontline staff, many experienced a major shift in the way their position impacted the bank.

One of the immediate changes Loni Meiborg, senior vice president of organizational development at Fortifi Bank, Berlin, noticed as the pandemic wore on is the need to do more with less. “[Fortifi was] already running with lean branch staff, and we had to prepare for the worst — the potential of a total sweep of our team,” said Meiborg. “This led us to cross-train more aggressively, ask the team for schedule flexibility, and deploy support staff to front-line environments to remain open in some circumstances. We felt our integrity and reputation rested on the clients’ access to their money. Even when lobbies closed, we found a way to reassure clients that we’re here and open through this.”

Additionally, Meiborg’s role as senior vice president of marketing transitioned to its current title of senior vice president of organizational development during the pandemic to allow Fortifi Bank to further understand the functionalities of the bank in addition to prioritizing the strong relationship between employee and client. This trend was hardly exclusive to Wisconsin community banks, as bankers throughout the industry took on greater responsibility in ensuring the bank continued to operate smoothly and that it was also meeting the needs of both the customers and its employees.

The roles of bankers were also dependent on the physical location. Front-line staff faced the challenge of assisting customers in ways they never previously had and became responsible for
making bank offices and lobbies COVID-friendly. Those working partially or fully remote grappled with PPP-related coverage, assisting in departments apart from their own, and engaging with customers from a distance. However, though these challenges proved difficult, bankers were able to adapt to their circumstances, grow as team members, and gain valuable work experience in other aspects of the bank. These involuntary exercises in team building have given bankers a greater perspective on the operations of their bank and have helped prepare staff for the potential of future interruptions.

“Each spring, Westbury Bank holds a celebration for its staff and their hard work over the past year,” told Lisa Dixon, senior vice president of retail banking. “The final stages of planning were brought to a screeching halt in March 2020. Between remote workers, alternating branch staff, and limited in-person meetings, our staff quickly began to feel a sense of isolation. It was important for our bank to find new ways to engage team members safely and meaningfully.”

These activities included Friday bingo, weekly trivia, designing masks, and pumpkin carving shared via the intranet. Dixon explains that it continues to be important for banks to foster an environment of unity for the betterment of employee culture — even as bankers return to their offices and COVID-related restrictions subside.

Recently, the media has shown strives to rebound to the “way things were” before March 2020. Individuals and businesses alike have seen a dramatic shift in their day-today operations, but efforts to embrace the realities of the future in every opportunity and challenge it provides should not be forgotten.

In addition to the ways the roles of bankers have changed, the tools bankers now use to perform daily functions have adapted to the digital world. Technology streamlined through remote  work — Teams, Zoom, digital signatures, and many others — continue to be resources bankers rely on to perform their tasks and meet the needs of customers.

The digital evolution of banks and their bankers were critical in limiting exposure during the virus’s peak and continue to be important in talent retention and attracting new customers. During the pandemic, it was critical that banks invest in the technology that would keep their staff and customers connected. In the aftermath, these advancements have been important in keeping the banking industry relevant among constant development.

“Increased usage of our mobile app for banking, along with the desire to move toward an ‘appointment’ approach for our bankers, had been on our agenda for quite some time,” says Dixon. “The pandemic gave us the opportunity to further promote those services we knew our customers would love. They’ve [since] embraced them whole heartedly as it gives them the ability to bank on their schedule.”

Over the course of the pandemic, bankers throughout Wisconsin expanded their reach, reinforced their bonds with community members, and established loyal customers who understand the importance of banking local. “Clients have come to rely on us for guidance in the market, business economics, and planning for their future,” says Meiborg. “We proved that we were reliable when the world wasn’t.”

“[Monona Bank] has never had so many unsolicited recommendations and referrals as the past several years, which I attribute to being there when they needed us when others were not,” says Hoffmann. “We helped many clients keep their businesses open and their employees working. This helped us build loyalty and trust with our clients and community.”

Bankers have truly stepped up and into their communities over the last two years. In reassuring Wisconsinites that their community banks were the safest place not only to keep their money, but to obtain trusted guidance and comradery, the industry has proven itself to be a reliable asset to every community. As the banking industry continues to evolve and grow, bankers prove themselves as dedicated and adaptable for not only the benefit of their communities, but for their team as well.

Navigating, planning, and embracing change through a global pandemic

By Stefanie Bonesteel

To say the last two years have been a wild ride at Citizens Bank is an understatement. We had both our president and our CEO retire following lengthy careers at the bank. Then we completed a full core conversion, which included several projects and implementations before and after conversion. Next came an upgrade to our online banking and mobile app. As if a change in leadership and a complete system overhaul weren’t enough, like everyone else we were navigating through a global pandemic that brought lobby closures and staffing shortages, among other challenges.

With so many changes in a short period of time, we knew our internal communications would be paramount. Not only did our team members need to know what was coming and how it impacted them, we wanted our team to understand the “why” behind decisions as they were made, in order to gain their buy-in. Through our changes, some of the tactics we employed included:

A solid communication plan:

Just like communications to customers need to be planned out, messages to employees should be mapped out, as well. Thinking ahead helps you ensure all relevant parties are consulted and included, plus it allows you to group points together to cut down on the frequency of messages — which may mitigate the feeling of information overload. Prior to sharing, all communications were reviewed for accuracy and completeness to avoid the need to correct points or share missed details.

One source of information:

At Citizens, our intranet is the hub of what is happening at our bank. At the start of our core conversion, we created a special and separate area on the intranet to be The Spot where everything about the project was posted. Instead of searching through emails for relevant information, our team members knew they could find what they needed on the intranet. Email notifications would alert everyone when new content was added.

Separating the responsibility:

At any given time surrounding our conversion, we had two to four implementations going at once. We quickly realized that because the implementation managers were so focused on the minutia of their projects, we needed someone else who was involved but not quite as deep in the weeds to think about what needed to be shared and with whom. A communications point person for each project helped to keep the big picture in view.

Do your best to stay connected:

Fostering a sense of team is crucial during periods of intense change. While COVID prevented us from meeting in person during much of our transition, we made the most of meeting virtually. We also tasked a group who wasn’t directly involved with the conversion to be our sunshine committee. This got everyone involved while showing extra appreciation to those doing the heavy lifting. Because our team was accomplishing great things in the face of adversity, we adopted a superhero theme for the treats and care packages we assembled and sent out.

 

Bonesteel is senior vice president – marketing at Citizens Bank, Mukwonago and vice chair of the 2021–2022 WBA Marketing Committee.

This column is published bi-monthly in Wisconsin Banker and is written by members of the WBA Marketing Committee.

Making More from Less
Five ways banks can enhance the value of their branch network

Between products like mobile and online banking, ATMs, fintech solutions and digital wallets like PayPal, it's no wonder some people are questioning whether brick-and-mortar bank branches are still relevant. However, consumers still crave the trust and assurance that comes with human interaction, especially when it comes to their finances. Bank branches aren't on the brink of extinction; they're evolving. Here are five key actions banks can take to transform their branch networks and enhance their value: 

1. Focus on Customer Needs and Behaviors

Consumer demands will drive nearly every aspect of branch transformation in the future, so identifying exactly what your customers want and need is critical. "Branch transformation is not up to us, it is up to the customers," explained Darren Dewing, senior vice president, director of retail distribution at Associated Bank, Milwaukee. "Their behavior will determine the future of the branch network." Dewing noted that while direct customer feedback is important, it's also essential to measure their actions. With the current upheaval in the financial services industry, bank branches will need to transform in order to survive; it will be the customers, not the banks, who ultimately define what they turn into. "It comes down to what customers demand of us and adapting accordingly," said Jeff McCarthy, vice president – marketing director at First Bank Financial Centre, Oconomowoc and a member of the 2016-2017 WBA Marketing Committee.

2. Re-Think Technology 

Many bank executives still consider technology to be a threat to the banking business model, either because of its potential for security gaps or because it eliminates many traditional customer touchpoints. However, customers who utilize digital banking products typically develop a deeper relationship with the bank, and technology can also greatly reduce a branch's cost per transaction. "Transactions are cheaper without employees handling them," explained Jennie Sobecki, owner of Focused Results, LLC and a speaker at the recent WBA Branch Manager series. "In order to leverage your investment in your branches, you need to also invest in technology to make those branches more efficient." When reconsidering how your branch network leverages technology, keep the customer (and customer service) front-and-center. "We view technology as another way of serving the customer," said McCarthy. "We want them to be able to bank with us when and where they want to." 

However, while technology allows banks to expand their markets well beyond their branches, most institutions will find they cannot bolster one at the expense of the other. "Customers don't want either technology or branches," said Sobecki. "They want both." The best way to ensure that your branch network gets the most value possible out of any technology investments is to constantly encourage customer adoption. "Make sure your customers are using the technology!" said Dewing. "You've spent the money, so make sure you're optimizing your investment by showing the customers the value you've created for them." That can be as simple as training front-line staff to demonstrate online or mobile transactions for customers when they come into the branch, or as complex as remodeling the branch to include tech stations and teller pods. 

3. Leverage the Value of Physical Space

One of the most valuable elements of any branch network is the physical branch buildings. Even with today's real estate market, that is a tangible value that banks can enhance in a variety of ways. Some banks choose to purchase their branch spaces, rather than lease them. "Our philosophy is to find great real estate and own it if we can," said Dewing. "That is not always possible or practical, but it's preferred." Whether you own or lease, many of today's bank branches are larger than they need to be to support current foot traffic. Sobecki suggests "right sizing" existing branches by walling off unused space and either leasing it out or converting it into a community room for the bank's commercial customers to use as meeting space. Make sure your branch buildings do a good job of promoting your brand, as well. Signage and décor both make a difference. "Potential customers don't walk in the front door if they don't know you're there," Dewing pointed out. Seeing the branch also keeps the bank top-of-mind for customers. "There's a real sense of strength and security for customers when they see a physical branch," said McCarthy. "There's still a sense of reassurance when you drive by the branch and know, that's where my money is." 

4. Update your Metrics

Before making any changes to your branch network, it is important for bank management to update the metrics that will be used to measure the success of those changed branches. Some of the traditional measures are not as valuable as they once were. "Sometimes we spend too much time on lagging indicators, like transactions and/or net income, and not enough time on leading indicators of future value," said Dewing, specifying that branches that add or deepen quality household relationships will provide that future value. Sobecki recommends measuring wallet share, product penetration by branch – that is, identifying which branches are the top sellers for the most profitable products – and revenue per square foot. "Retail bankers need to think of themselves as retailers," she said. "Revenue per square foot is how retailers evaluate their space." She also recommended measuring your mobile banking platform as a branch in addition to physical locations.

5. Recognize Each Branch is Unique

When planning changes to your branch network, it is crucial to recognize that every branch is as unique as the community and clientele it serves. "There isn't one silver bullet to make this work," Sobecki said. "Each individual bank needs to find out what works for them and their culture." Market research is an essential tool here, but so is individual involvement. "You have to understand the needs of the community if you're working there every day," said McCarthy. "We encourage our branch staff to be involved in the community, so we make sure that we have the right people in the right place." Ultimately, each branch within the network will operate according to the needs of its community and customers. Some will focus on wealth management and host community events, while another will primarily serve commercial customers and drive online usage. "The most important thing a community bank can do is make sure they have the right type of branch in the right market," Sobecki explained. 

No matter what you may have read on the internet, rumors of the Bank Branch's death have been greatly exaggerated. "When people are going through major life changes, whether it's buying a house, getting married, or retiring, they still want to come in and talk to an expert face-to-face," said McCarthy. "Branches are still alive and well, and still serve a purpose for customers."

By, Amber Seitz

Events

When a bank enters into a lending arrangement with a borrower, or some time thereafter, the bank may wish to sell a portion of the loan to another bank. Or a bank may wish to purchase a portion of a loan made by another bank. Such transactions may occur in connection with short-term borrowings, term loans, construction loans or other forms of extension of credit. This area of lending is closely monitored by banking regulators because of the inherent risk in this type of lending, and banks’ failure to take precautions to avoid undue problems.

Learn the basic requirements for successful loan participations or syndications.

This presentation will help banks that buy or sell participations among affiliate banks or to unrelated institutions. Leave with a firm understanding of minimum required standards to purchase and sell loan participations or participate in loan syndications to remain in compliance with sound banking practices.

What You’ll Learn

  • Purpose of Loan Participations and Basic Rules
  • Difference between Loan Participations and Loan Syndications
  • Regulatory Rules Governing Loan Participations
  • Role of the Originating Bank and its Relationship with Participating Banks
  • Legal Rights of Participating Banks
  • Review of the Certificate of Participation and other Required Legal Documentation
  • Basic Operational Procedures Required for Loan Participations
  • Latest Development on the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants concerns about LP

Who Should Attend
Loan Officers, Senior Credit Officers, Senior Loan Officers, Loan Administrators, Loan Review Officers, Compliance Officers, Branch Managers, and Credit Analysts.

Instructor Bio
Jeffery W. Johnson started his career with SunTrust Bank in Atlanta as a Management Trainee and progressed to Vice President and Senior Lender of SouthTrust Bank and Senior Vice President and Commercial Banking Division Manager for Citizens Trust Bank of Atlanta.

Most of his career has been spent in Credit Administration, Lending, Business Development, Loan Review, Management, and Training & Development. He has managed loan portfolios representing a cross section of loan types including: Large Corporate, High Net Worth Individual, Middle Market Companies, Small Business, Real Estate, and Non-Profit Organizations.

Mr. Johnson is now a training professional in the financial industry by leading various seminars covering important topics relating to issues in financial institutions. He teaches actively for fifteen state banking associations in the United States, Risk Management Association (RMA) and individual financial institutions nationwide. He co-authored a training course entitled “Lending to Service and Other Professional Organizations” for RMA in 2001.

Mr. Johnson earned a B.A. Degree in Accounting from Morehouse College in Atlanta; a MBA in Finance from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio; Banking diploma from Prochnow School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin and a Graduate Certificate in Bank Management from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Registration Options

Live Access, 30 Days OnDemand Playback, Presenter Materials and Handouts $279

  • Available Upgrades:
    • 12 Months OnDemand Playback + $110
    • 12 Months OnDemand Playback + Digital Download + $140
    • 12 Months OnDemand Playback + CD + $140
    • Additional Live Access + $75 per person