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The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Citizens First Bank President Shane Ilstrup.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

Shane: I’m a fourth-generation banker, so in a way my future was predetermined by my family. My great grandpa and grandma had a bank in northern Minnesota. They moved around a bit and took the bank with them to the Dassel area of Minn., they traded the bank they owned there with Curt Carlson and Carl Pohlad for a bank in Newton, Iowa, where they lived next to Grandma Maytag. Upon the passing of my great grandmother, the bank in Newton, Iowa was sold, and my family purchased First National Bank in Viroqua, Wis., and Farmers State Bank in Viola, Wis. We then bought Trempealeau, and Sparta, and built Centerville in the later years.

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

Relationships with internal and external customers. Seeing the growth and success of the customers over the years and how they have taken on risks and grown their businesses and assets is very rewarding.

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

We (i.e. community banks) aren’t like the big banks, the average person on the street pays more in taxes than a credit union, and how much each community bank supports the communities they are located in.

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next 3-5 years?

Decentralized finance (DeFi), regulation, alternative currencies, the hard trend line of number of banks declining in the state.

Every day, bankers serve their local communities by helping their customers achieve their financial dreams. In addition, bankers also provide significant charitable support both financially and through countless volunteer hours. Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences (e.g., A time you had to go above and beyond to help a customer, a memorable customer interaction, stepping in to help the local community after a disaster, etc.).

During the PPP process, I had the opportunity to help customers in the time of uncertainty. Through collaboration with the customer and the bank, we were able to work together to get through the unknown of what was going to happen next. In seeing our staff support each other and their communities, I felt relief in knowing the bank was providing stability and peace of mind during a turbulent time.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and First National Bank at Darlington President John Knellwolf.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

John: Banking seemed like a natural fit for me as both my grandfather and father worked here at the bank. The bank was chartered in June of 1934, and I started work at the bank full time in July 1976 after graduating from UW-Madison where I studied finance and risk management. I had worked a couple of summers before that as a teller. My grandfather had passed away in 1970, but I was very fortunate to work alongside my father for several years before his retirement. I grew up in Darlington and really enjoyed the life that a small town offered so when the opportunity to come back to town and work at the bank presented itself, it was a very easy decision.

What us your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my time here at the bank has been working with customers on their borrowing needs. I really enjoyed sitting down with people, working through their financials, understanding what their goals were and then putting a loan package together that made sense for both the customer and bank. Our bank is focused primarily on agriculture and banking in a small town is generational. I see the grandchildren of many of the customers I worked with in the early years now coming into the bank for their deposit and lending needs. I moved out of the lending area a few years back and have focused most of my time on the overall management of the bank.

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

The face of banking has changed dramatically over the last 10 or so years. With the collapse of the housing market in 2008, regulators have been tasked with more and more mandates regarding safe lending and compliance. These regulations flow down into the banks and force extra work on both the bankers and the customers. Customers need to understand that a lot of the extra information that is now being required to open accounts and take out loans is coming from updated government regulations. While these regulations may seem intrusive to many folks, their goal is to maintain a safe and sound banking system in the country.

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next 3-5 years?

I think the banking industry will face several challenges in the next 3-5 years.

One of the most challenging areas moving forward will be Information Technology (IT). There is a lot of cost and expertise needed to stay competitive. More banking is being done by phone and mobile apps. IT security is paramount and must be upgraded constantly. Finding capable personnel is a must. The pandemic forced many employees to work from home and this seems to be a way of life now and all of this means a greater focus on IT.

The second challenging area will be compliance. It does not look like community banks will get any respite from the regulatory burden. This will mean increased expense at the bank level as more employees are hired and trained to ensure compliance within their different departments.

The final challenge will be to manage the net interest margin. With a huge national debt and continued budget deficits, the Federal Reserve tries its best to manage the roller coaster of inflation and recession through their interest rate policies. Changing interest rates presents challenges for banks as they try to manage the pricing of their assets and liabilities.

Every day, bankers serve their local communities by helping their customers achieve their financial dreams. In addition, bankers also provide significant charitable support both financially and through countless volunteer hours. Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

Over the years I have had the privilege of working with many community and volunteer organizations. The people involved all had the same goal; to make our community a stronger and better place to live and work. The friendships that have grown from these groups have been very rewarding. The same can be said of working with our customers. A recent interaction with one of my customers proved especially so as he was a veteran and needed some help on short notice. In addition to being a veteran, my customer was also trained in respiratory therapy. As the pandemic began to spread and expand, he was asked to work at a University Hospital in Illinois which was a COVID hotspot. In order to practice in Illinois, he needed to apply for reciprocity of licensure. The documents he needed (social security card, license, diploma) were in his lock box at the bank. It was a weekend and the bank was closed. We made arrangements to meet at the bank, access his lock box and get the records he needed. It was a very easy call on my part to help someone who in turn was going to help others.

MeisserThe following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Glenwood City’s Hiawatha National Bank President and CEO James W. Meisser. Read past interviews here.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

James: Immediately after college graduation, I joined the FDIC and worked in the regulatory arena for 25 years. Shortly after retirement, my wife and I relocated to Wisconsin to manage and grow a small community bank franchise.

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

There are three aspects I would highlight as part of my role at the bank. The first is meeting and interacting with our clients, the second is mentoring clients and employees, and the third is creating solutions to problems.

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

Regulatory oversight. So often, clients are frustrated by the requests for their financial information citing, “Again, you know me, my business is doing great.” The regulators expect us to trust but verify.

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next 3–5 years?

The greatest challenges I foresee are the rise of fintech companies, increased cyber/fraud attacks, and credit unions continuing to utilize their tax-exempt status to acquire community banks.

Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

In many of the communities we serve, we are the only bank in town. For example, we have two offices in areas with populations of 120 and 338. We take very seriously our commitment to positively impact these communities with tailored charitable and lending support. For example, over the past year we have made significant donations to the local public libraries, which provide vital services in the communities we serve.

It is extremely rewarding to see our clients grow and prosper as we work together as financial partners. We have a Hudson-based client that we worked with on the formation of the business, multiple cash flow issues, and finally a multi-million-dollar sale. This client has repeatedly told us he would not have succeeded without our support. That is why we do what we do.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we provided more than $110 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Round One and another $30 million in PPP Round Two to assist individuals and businesses impacted by the virus. Additionally, despite numerous COVID-related employee absences, all employees were paid 100% of their salaries plus an additional bonus to assist in the unprecedented times. At Hiawatha National Bank, you are not just an employee, you are family.

We are continuing to implement our nationwide initiative Banking without Barriers (BWB), targeted specifically to the deaf and hard of hearing community of which I am proud to be a life-long member.

Wisconsin’s bankers are the definition of “community advocates” in all that you do every day to improve your local economy through your bank’s products and services, as well as through your generous philanthropy of time and money. This column shares and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and innovation of some of the extraordinary bankers in this state.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Milton’s First Community Bank President and CEO Brendon T. Wilkinson.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

Brendon: I started my banking career in the management training program at Valley Bank in Madison, Wisconsin after graduating from college. The program was a great introduction to banking and allowed me to experience both the sales and operational sides of the bank. Then after working as a lender in the Madison and Appleton, Wisconsin markets during the mid-90s, I took an eight-year career diversion to run a familyowned retail business in Madison before accepting my role at First Community Bank in Milton nearly 15 years ago.

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

First Community Bank is a $130MM bank, and the small size lets me really get to know and develop close working relationships with employees and bank clients. We use our asset size as an advantage and are able to quickly adapt to customer needs and make credit decisions that make sense.

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

I wish the general public better understood that all banks are not created equally. Locally owned community banks provide a significantly different and more personalized customer experience than a large regional or a national financial. On top of this, our decision makers live, work, and play within our communities and have a vested interest in the success of those communities. Banking locally not only promotes local employment but also allows a community bank additional resources for volunteer hours and monetary donations to your neighborhoods.

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges will be in the next three to five years?

I view margin compression and the growth of non-traditional (FinTech) banking services to be the largest potential challenges to banking in the coming years. For a variety of reasons, banks are flush with liquidity and because of this, we are seeing competitors stretching with marginal credit decisions and rate offerings due to lack of alternative investment options. If economic conditions deteriorate, credit quality and loan losses will be at risk. An additional risk to the traditional banking industry is the growth of FinTech and non-traditional payment service providers who are attracting the younger generation of bank customers and arguably diluting the traditional customer base. Online financial service providers don’t carry the burden of brick-and-mortar branch offices and will force community banks to quickly adapt to consumer trends and technology offerings in order to remain relevant.

Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

While most bankers would agree that the SBA Paycheck Protection Program loan funding process was not without its headaches, the staff at First Community Bank accepted the challenge and delivered in the midst of a global pandemic. Larger banks, online service providers, and local credit unions seemed to focus on the larger loan requests, which left a large portion of our area small businesses underserved. In addition to providing much needed funding to small businesses within Rock County, our bank developed new banking relationships, and we were able to demonstrate first hand how a community bank is better than the alternative.

Do you know a banker who should be recognized as a Community Advocate for the work that they do? Nominate them today by emailing Rose!

Wisconsin’s bankers are the definition of “community advocates” in all that you do every day to improve your local economy through your bank’s products and services, as well as through your generous philanthropy of time and money. This column shares and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and innovation of some of the extraordinary bankers in this state.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Bonduel Bank President David D. Schultz.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

Dave: My father was a banker in Weyauwega, as was his father-in-law, so I am not sure it was fate or just not thinking too hard about a career in banking when I graduated from Carroll College (now University) in 1981. I did find out quite quickly that there were not many jobs out there at that time. I was offered a job with a finance company after several interviews but was told I probably wouldn’t last with them as I would jump to a bank when the chance came. I felt that was probably true and decided to pass and hope for the best. Fortunately, Tom Martin with the Independence Bank group in Waukesha had checked with Carroll College for a candidate for their bank in Elkhorn. After five years there and a couple mergers, I was contacted about a position at Bonduel state Bank and have been here ever since.

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

Even though I never worked with my father at his bank, I was very aware of what he did and could see how much he enjoyed working with and being a part of the community. I am sure this is the biggest reason I got into the business. There is no doubt that in a bank, especially a small community bank, you have to like working with your customers and fellow employees.

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

As enjoyable as working with people to accomplish their goals is, it is not as much fun trying to inform them of all the regulations and red tape that we have to go through to get the job done for them. Most don’t want to hear why they have to give us their life history, wait so long and sign so many forms. As I tell them, this is banking, common sense has nothing to do with it.

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?

I believe that the greatest challenges our industry is facing is non-bank competition and cyber security.

Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

I have been president here for about 10 years now and continue to wear many hats as everyone at a small bank does. Lending continues to be the most rewarding part of the job as it is fun help a young couple buy their first car or first house. The smiles on their faces make it all worthwhile. And being in a small town you have to be a part of the community and work with the people who are your customers and the reason you have the job at the bank. Without those people there would be no bank. It has been most enjoyable getting to know all the family connections and history in the area, even though I will always be an outsider even after 35 years here.

Do you know a banker who should be recognized as a Community Advocate for the work that they do? Nominate them today by emailing Rose

By, Cassie Krause

Wisconsin's bankers are the definition of "community advocates" in all that you do every day to improve your local economy through your bank's products and services, as well as through your generous philanthropy of time and money. This column shares and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and innovation of some of the extraordinary bankers in this state.

The following is an interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and River Falls State Bank President and CEO Todd Schultz.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

Todd: I started with River Falls State Bank (RFSB) shortly after graduating from college. Landing the job happened more by chance than by design, as I didn’t have a specific career path in mind. I knew I liked working with numbers  and I wanted to be in the River Falls area. During my last semester of school, I took an internship with a local car dealership to handle their financing while one of their employees was on maternity leave. The dealership’s owner was also on the RFSB Board of Directors and knew of an upcoming retirement of a long-time bank officer. I was able to get my foot in the door that way, and after someone with more experience passed on the job, bank management offered it to me. I’ve been here for 16 years now and was able to transition to the role of president and CEO in 2018. 

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

My favorite aspect of working for a community bank is getting to be an active participant in the community where  I live. I enjoy all of the community events and organizations we get to be a part of — whether it’s as a volunteer or through assisting community members and organizations with their banking needs. River Falls is my home, and I grew up in a family that was very involved in many aspects of the community. To have an opportunity to have that same involvement in my personal and professional life is something I really cherish. Although the past year has been difficult, I have found an even deeper sense of community throughout the pandemic. From being involved in PPP loans, working with customers to provide flexible solutions, or finding ways to help support our teachers and healthcare workers, it’s really driven home the aspects of my role that I enjoy…even if it did present some challenges along the way. 

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

There is a difference between community banks and the largest institutions. Many of the differences might not be apparent with a basic deposit account, but there is a tremendous value to having a “banking relationship” versus being a customer of a bank. Having a banker you can rely on in a time of need is a valuable asset, and one that can’t always be replicated with technology. I also wish people understood that many of the protocols and procedures that exist are in place to help protect them. They can often seem cumbersome, but are generally in place to help ensure consumer protection. 

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?

Implementing and maintaining new technology will always be a challenge, especially for smaller institutions that don’t have the same economies of scale to absorb the costs. Customers expect these services to exist at their bank, often times with no additional cost to them, so it will be something we have to continue to manage. Along with that is the increased competition that will come from the Fintech industry and some of the alternative models being offered. 

Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

We have enjoyed participating in WBA’s Power of Community Week and have worked to partner with the City of River Falls to come up with projects for our employees throughout the entire week. Interacting outside of the traditional bank setting and helping the community has been a great experience. We have also had 100% employee participation throughout the week, so it’s something all of our employees get to be a part of as well.

The other memorable experience was one that happened right after my transition to president in 2018. The local gymnastics club had been looking to build their own facility for a number of years, and had finally reached a point where they felt it was possible. They approached me about having the bank partner with them on a significant sponsorship that would kick-start their fundraising. After cautiously approaching our Board to discuss the sponsorship and financing requests, we received approval. The club then raised additional funds and broke ground on their new home. The facility is an asset to the community and the program has continued to grow since it opened. Their board and volunteers deserve the majority of the credit for the success of the organization, but it was memorable for our bank to be part of the process. 

Do you know a banker who should be recognized as a Community Advocate for the work that they do? Nominate them today by emailing Rose

By, Alex Paniagua

Wisconsin's bankers are the definition of "community advocates" in all that you do every day to improve your local economy through your bank's products and services, as well as through your generous philanthropy of time and money. This column shares and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and innovation of some of the extraordinary bankers in this state.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Citizens State Bank of Loyal President and CEO Travis Holt.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

Travis: I joined Citizens State Bank (CSB) of Loyal in 2002 as an investment officer and ag business planner. After graduating from UW-Madison in 1993, I began employment at Equity Livestock in various roles, eventually leading the Commodity Marketing Division. As part of that role, I worked with clients on farm business plans (frequently for farms that were struggling financially). While I had not really thought about banking as a career, the work on business plans led me to work directly with many financial services professionals in agriculture throughout Wisconsin. One of those banks was CSB. In 2002, CSB offered me a position with the bank to help farms write business plans and to expand their retail investment program. Being at a small community bank, my role covered many areas and provided me the opportunity to grow in my knowledge of banking. It was those opportunities to learn (often by trial and error) and the mentoring of the bank’s chairman, Gary Weirauch, that allowed me to move up in management. 

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

I often tell people that what I enjoy most about working at a small community bank is my ability to be involved in all aspects of the bank, which I really do enjoy. But at the end of the day, what keeps me going is working with our customers. Community bankers have a unique role in their communities in that they are often called upon to give advice on a wide range of financial topics. Whether it is assisting in retirement planning, farm expansion, business planning, or helping individuals with family finances, helping our customers solve their life’s financial problems is what I truly enjoy. 

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

With the continued consolidation of banking services, I really wish that the general public would have a better understanding of what community banks mean to a local economy, especially in rural Wisconsin. The ability to focus local deposits back into local community development is the engine that drives local economies. Banking consolidation doesn’t completely cause that engine to stall, but it does take away from its maximum "horsepower" through reduced local wages and reallocation of deposits out of the community in favor of faster-growing, larger cities. 

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?

There are two primary risks that I see in banking in the next 3-5 years. First, keeping up with technology and the information security risks behind that technology. As consumers demand more “instant” use of their money and greater “ease of access,” keeping financial assets safe is going to become a greater risk. I am already seeing a shift to outsourcing in information management and security and I believe that trend will continue. The second risk that keeps me awake at night is the unprecedented government stimulus that has been put into the economy in the past year. While we all have to deal with the compressed margins caused by significant liquidity, it is the unknown risks of this stimulus that pose a risk to banking. Whether it is inflation, interest-rate risk, increased taxes, recession risk, or asset bubbles created from all the cash being distributed by the government, something has to give, and it is likely to do so within the 3-5 year timeframe.

Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

I am the president, CEO, and chairman of Citizens State Bank of Loyal. I also am a registered investment advisor and run Citizens Financial Services, the bank’s retail investment division. I serve as a director for Bankers’ Bank. From an experience perspective, there are numerous times that I have been able to give financial advice that has helped people meet their financial goals. But I think that the most rewarding experience for me is helping people on their worst days. That may be helping someone organize their financial life after the death of a spouse or stopping someone from losing money in a fraud scheme. I pride myself in taking the time needed to meet personally with any customer who needs my help.  Sometimes these meetings have positive outcomes and sometimes negative, but in all cases, our customers need the help, and I work hard to make sure  I am able to provide the best advice possible.

By, Alex Paniagua

Wisconsin's bankers are the definition of "community advocates" in all that you do every day to improve your local economy through your bank's products and services, as well as through your generous philanthropy of time and money. This column shares and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and innovation of some of the extraordinary bankers in this state.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and First National Bank and Trust President and CEO David McCoy. 

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

David: $500. That’s all it took 36 years ago to set me on the path to becoming President and Chief Executive Officer of First National Bank and Trust (FNBT). Preparing to graduate from college with a degree in accounting, I thought I’d be an accountant. But, after receiving two job offers in one day, the bank job offered $500 more and the rest is history. I like to tell college kids that I got into banking for $10 a week.

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

Over the years, I held several positions with increasing responsibility. I joined FNBT, Beloit, as Chief Financial Officer in 2016, and was promoted to President in 2018. Now as President and CEO, I value all my experiences and most importantly the relationships with the people I’ve met.

Community banking is about building trust with everyone you come into contact with. You need to be out there, talking with everyone to build trust. That’s what I believe a true community banker does. That’s advice that I take to heart each day at FNBT. I’m a firm believer in open communication, and I believe it’s important to take time to get to know each of your employees. For me, that’s nearly 300 employees at the bank. It’s truly worth it to spend time at events and get involved in the community.

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

FNBT views itself as a small business, like so many of its customers. We’re faced with many of the same challenges that all businesses navigate. As a bank, it is easy for us to relate to our customers because we’re customers too. Our employees aren’t just bankers. They are also customers and community members. I think the general public forgets that we’re people too. We attend the same churches, shop at the same stores, and have a vested interest in what’s happening locally in our area and beyond.

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next 3-5 years?

Like many businesses, the banking industry is challenged by the current economic situation. Chicago Federal Reserve Chairman Evans said recently that they believe rates to stay the same or nearly the same until 2024. Banks will need to learn how to drive profit with this continued compressed margin environment. We’ll need to do even more with our existing resources. We’ve talked so much about revenue diversity in the past, but now we are being forced to come up with ways to continually sustain and grow profits for our shareholders.

The global pandemic has certainly added more complexity, but FNBT was there to provide support and resources for its community and customers. I’m proud of our team’s work. Our operations never stopped; we simply adjusted the way we delivered service. We continue to provide support for employees throughout the adjustment which allows us to focus on our customers. We constantly invest in our employee family because we care.

Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

We helped 665 businesses secure nearly $78 million in funding which impacted more than 9,600 local jobs through the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This was no small feat. Bankers worked around the clock to help our customers, their neighbors.

And it’s not just about providing financial support. Volunteer work is an important part of my role at FNBT. After relocating to Beloit, I became a volunteer board member of a not-for-profit hospital. I’ve also been involved with a major education initiative in Beloit. The community ranks in the bottom 10 of schools in the state, so I want to help turn that around.

In 2019, FNBT employees volunteered more than 3,200 hours of time to non-profit organizations and the bank donated to nearly 300 agencies. The pandemic changed the volunteerism landscape, but the bank donated nearly $70,000 in COVID-19 specific programs in 2020, including an Employee Directed Donation Campaign allowing employees to select area organizations to support. A total of $2,500 was donated to over 50 non-profit agencies through this initiative. These programs provided critical support to our communities during a very difficult time, and we’re all proud of our work. The commitment to our community family through giving and continued volunteerism shows that we live up to our mission of treating others like family. It has been a difficult time for everyone, but FNBT continues to do the right thing to help everyone succeed.

By, Alex Paniagua

Wisconsin's bankers are the definition of "community advocates" in all that you do every day to improve your local economy through your bank's products and services, as well as through your generous philanthropy of time and money. This column shares and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and innovation of some of the extraordinary bankers in this state.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Premier Community Bank President and CEO Tom Pamperin.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?

Tom: I’m proud to say I’m an SOB – son of a banker, so I was born into banking. It’s funny though, I did try to avoid banking, thinking it had too much to do with people for my liking and ended up gravitating toward accounting. However, growing up with a high-character leader like my Dad made it worth reconsidering. As my career progressed and opportunities developed, I realized it was the perfect place to make a difference.

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?

I love the community aspect of banking. Forget the bank size or the population sign. Banking is all about building up and strengthening the greater community, be it a neighborhood, town, city, state or country and all the people within it. Watching growth in others is incredibly satisfying and we are uniquely placed to help it happen. A lot of dreams come true through our efforts and a lot of stories get told of the impact our involvement can have. I love being part of that.

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?

How about that they are called safe deposit boxes, not safety deposit box. That would get rid of a pet peeve. Seriously though, I hope for a greater understanding and appreciation of the benefits of relationship banking. If the past year showed anything, relationships matter. Communication is easier, considerations are easier and connections are easier when long-standing customer relationships exist.  They also show their strength during crises so maybe the challenges we are facing will teach us something too.

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next 3-5 years?

Recruitment and succession will always be a challenge. For a while I believed our greatest challenge was in the recruitment of our next leaders. The Great Recession and subsequent demonizing of our industry chased good people away and made it unattractive for others to consider. I don’t believe that as much anymore, but it’s still a challenge. We are seeing great people join our industry that are ready to be 21st century bankers. They want career paths, growth opportunities and leadership roles, as well as a purpose. They are bringing motivation, tech skills and commitment to a purpose they believe in.  Matching those is our challenge and our opportunity.   

Every day, bankers serve their local communities by helping their customers achieve their financial dreams. In addition, bankers also provide significant charitable support both financially and through countless volunteer hours. Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

Every year our entire staff devotes a day to helping in our communities. We call it our MAD or Make A Difference day. It started as a celebration of our Bank’s anniversary and has continued annually because we wouldn’t know how to stop if we wanted to.  It’s not unusual to have 20 – 25 different teams of employees out helping different groups. I try to visit as many as I can during that day, taking selfies with our employees, stocking a shelf, understanding life through the eyes of elementary students, pulling some weeds and hearing immense gratitude from those being helped.  It truly is one of the highpoints of the year for the Bank. One particular year I was hugged by a woman that could only get the words “Thank You” out of her mouth and nothing else because of how emotional she was feeling.  She couldn’t believe someone would do what we were doing and expect nothing in return.  I couldn’t believe I was getting this type of response. After getting my emotions under control and heading on to the next team, I knew we were doing the right thing. I knew what we were doing was making a difference.

By, Alex Paniagua