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Dan Honold

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Bank of Milton President Dan Honold.

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

Dan: After graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I was hired by the Federal Land Bank Association of Janesville. I was an ag real estate lender, and I managed the Elkhorn branch. After working there for two and a half years, I was contacted by a job recruiter who asked if I would be interested in interviewing for a job at the Bank of Milton. Remember that in 1987, we didn’t have cell phones or the internet with Google Maps, so I had to pull the Wisconsin map out of the glove box in my car to see where Milton was! I was offered the job as vice president at the Bank of Milton, took over as president in 1995, and now have been with the bank for over 35 years.

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

As bankers, we are financial counselors. There is nothing more gratifying than having a bank customer come to you with a financial issue and being able to help put them in a better position financially than they were in before meeting with you. The end result is a customer for life.

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

My pet peeve is when a customer says you have “bankers’ hours.” I really don’t think the general public has any idea of how many hours a community banker must work to do their job and be successful.

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

The greatest challenges for bankers over the next 3–5 years will be how to attract and understand the needs and wants of our younger generation. With the technology that is available to them, the way of doing traditional banking is changing at a fast pace. Every day, bankers serve their local communities by helping their customers achieve their financial dreams.

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

Over the past 35 years, not only have I been involved with the day-to-day operations of our bank, but I have had the pleasure of serving in over 20 volunteer roles with various community organizations and nonprofits. I believe that, as community bankers, we need to make a difference in the communities we serve.

One thing that I take great pride in is having been a youth coach for basketball and soccer for the Milton School District for 20 years and coaching over 400 kids in that time frame. I am very passionate about our youth, and I feel that it is very important that we help prepare them for their future.

I had one situation a few years back where a young girl that I coached came to me for help regarding her homelife. As her parents struggled to provide for her and her three younger siblings, my wife and I stepped up to help the family out by providing food, clothing, and making the necessary repairs to their home so that the kids could stay there.

When the girl reached high school, I hired her at the bank to earn money for college. She is currently in college and has a great outlook on life.

Ted Gerber

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Community Bank, Grantsburg President Ted Gerber.

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

Ted: My family was involved in many businesses, including banks, in northwestern Wisconsin when I was growing up. Banking seemed the most interesting to me, so I pursued a degree in finance and started working for Norwest Bank in St. Paul, Minn. as a credit analyst. After a few years, my grandfather Franz and father Terry were interested in opening a branch in Grantsburg, Wis. and asked me to be the branch manager.

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

I love working with small business customers — they are the heart and soul of our economy, especially in rural areas. Helping them succeed is good for business, but it is also great for our communities. Beyond that, I respect and admire the dedication it takes to run your own business and really enjoy lending a helping hand.

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

Not all banks are the same. While many times the products we provide are very similar, how we deliver those products can be vastly different. Two banks across the street from each other might have vastly different philosophies on technology, underwriting, service, etc. I think the general public assumes we are all the same on everything, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

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

Like all bankers, I worry about credit union expansion, data breaches, and non-bank competition, but perhaps my biggest fear is regulatory overreach. I believe there is a segment of the government bureaucracy that thinks charging for financial services is inherently wrong. It seems as though banks are an easy target as the regulatory framework is already in place to enforce whatever perceived “wrong” they want us to correct. Holding the line on regulation will be key to our industry going forward.

Every day, bankers serve their local communities by helping their customers achieve their financial dreams. Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

I believe that all of us have talents, and the best way to serve our community is to share those talents with others. As president of the bank, it is my responsibility to set a good example.

My passions are business and baseball. Not surprisingly — like almost every other small-town banker — I’ve served as treasurer for many organizations over the years, from the local chamber of commerce to our town’s industrial development company. I have also coached baseball at the youth and high school levels in Grantsburg for over 20 years.

Watching the boys I coached grow into men has been incredibly rewarding. Recently, I was helping with a youth practice and told a youngster that his swing looked like a guy I used to coach. He smiled and said, “That’s my dad, he told me you were going to say that.” That smile and comment (and the slap on the back I got from his dad after practice) are one of the many memories that show you get back much more than you give when you share your talents.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Community First Bank President/CEO Dan Klahn.

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

Dan: After graduating from college with a degree in economics, I began working in a sales and lending position with a finance company. I discovered I really enjoyed the customer contact and finding ways to help meet customer needs. While working there, I was able to see the positive effect that community banks have on their customers and communities. This led me to join a small community bank in southwest Wisconsin. A few years later, I joined Community First Bank in Boscobel, where I have been for the last 33 years of my career. Working in a smaller community bank has given me the opportunity to learn and grow as one must wear many hats and do a little bit of everything. This eventually led to my current role as president and CEO.

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

My favorite aspect of my role at the bank is the ability to positively affect people’s lives. I have been fortunate to be able to develop relationships with individuals and businesses that have lasted 30+ years. This includes being there for them through the good times and bad. Some of these long-term relationships began as start-up businesses that have grown and prospered and are now major employers in the communities we serve.

Another favorite part of my job has been mentoring employees and being able to watch them learn and grow within our organization. Community First Bank has had a number of employees who started with us in high school or college and have now grown into leadership positions within the bank.

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

I wish the general public better understood the commitment and contributions that community banks and their employees make to their customers and communities every day. We truly have a vested interest in helping our communities thrive as our employees and their families live, work, and go to school in the communities they serve. I believe we’ve “gained some ground” through the pandemic as the extraordinary efforts put out by the banking industry to help our customers was more visible and recognized. However, we as an industry need to continue to educate the general public about the positive effects we have on the economy and the communities we serve.

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

I think one of community banking’s greatest challenges over the next 3 to 5 years will be related to keeping up with rapidly evolving cybersecurity risks, technology, and complying with the ever increasing regulations. Our industry will need to continue to focus on ways to manage these challenges as we go into the future. In Wisconsin, we are fortunate to have a very strong trade group in the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) to lead advocacy efforts and help us manage some of the challenges we face.

Please share one of your more rewarding or memorable experiences with us.

I think the most rewarding experiences for me in my career revolve around participating and watching our employees step up to the plate when our communities needed us most. A couple of examples of this include watching our employees fill and deliver sandbags to businesses during the 2008 and 2018 floods in Reedsburg and assisting in cleanup efforts for the tornado that hit Boscobel in 2021. It was also extremely rewarding to serve witness to the Community First Bank team working tirelessly to help our customers by quickly processing hundreds of PPP loans during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

David Schuelke

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Spring Bank, Brookfield CEO David Schuelke.

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

David: I was born into a banking family. Even though my father, Don Schuelke, was a banker, he didn’t encourage me to pursue a banking career and it wasn’t an original career goal for me. I graduated college with an accounting degree intending to enter public accounting. However, I accepted a good offer from First Wisconsin Bank to start my professional career. At First Wisconsin, I joined an outstanding culture and a talented team of professionals. Those colleagues and that culture led me to want to remain in the banking field.

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

The most rewarding aspect for me is helping businesses. I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by different businesses — how they operate, how similar businesses do things differently but all reach success in their own way. It’s also meeting people and the variety. But nothing is better than somebody telling you that you came up with an idea that helped them improve their business.

I also enjoy watching my colleagues advance in their careers and sharing news of our strong financial results with my fellow shareholders. I’m very proud to have played a key role in developing a successful bank — from raising the capital to open to forming a team that executes our business plan of being a locally owned, locally operated bank focused on providing the personal attention our customers deserve.

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

I wish the public had a better understanding of how banks operate within very narrow interest rate margins and about the costs to maintain the infrastructure needed to deliver high quality service and products. This lack of understanding leads a few clients to expect bank services to be delivered at little or no cost.

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

Our industry’s greatest challenges include changing technology, a sometimes-oppressive regulatory environment, and potential economic challenges.

Technology will continue to evolve rapidly. Figuring out how to adopt new or changing technologies is a constant challenge. The cost to keep up with regulatory pressures has easily doubled, and possibly tripled or more, since we opened Spring Bank in 2008. Managing these increasing costs and requirements is a big challenge.

Lastly, current levels of inflation, supply chain disruptions, and a shortage of workers have resulted in expectations of a recession after many years of economic growth. When the next recession arrives, banks will need to focus on credit quality and work to resolve problem loan situations that arise. Fortunately, the banking industry is better capitalized today than it was at the start of the last recession.

Every day, bankers serve their local communities by helping their customers achieve their financial dreams. Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

With regard to community involvement, one of the most impactful days of my life was joining a group of over 100 World War II veterans on a trip to Washington D.C. to view the WWII Memorial as part of the Stars & Stripes Honor Flight program. Spring Bank has supported this effort for many years as part of our pride and appreciation for our nation’s veterans. Speaking with many heroes that day, watching them interact with their peers, and experiencing the welcome home celebration at the end of the day is a memory I will never forget.

Triangle Background

Michael Bock

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Dairy State Bank CEO Michael Bock.

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

Michael: After graduating from college with an accounting degree, my career started in public accounting. After eight years spending significant time in the bank audit, exam, and tax area learning about the banking industry, an opportunity presented itself with Dairy State Bank. After 33 years, I continue to say it was a very good decision to come to the banker’s side of the desk.

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

Without a doubt, interacting with so many great people is what makes this job fun. This comes in the form of helping customers and businesses meet their financial goals as well as solve challenges they sometimes encounter. It also comes from working with a very dedicated and committed staff that are constantly doing their best to make banking easy and rewarding for everyone interacting with us.

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

To the public — yes, we know it takes a lot of paper to open a new checking account, complete a home mortgage, and do so many other things in the bank, but there are higher forces requiring the paperwork. As bankers, we are all for making sure customers know what they are signing up for. However, the amount of paper is getting so deep it is sometimes overwhelming. If you do get overwhelmed, please ask questions! As community bankers, we commit ourselves to making sure you understand the banking services you use.

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

This list could be long — including cybersecurity threats, a constantly changing regulatory and political environment, the increased cost of doing business, and what seems like the perpetual effort by the credit unions to expand their footprint while having the huge advantage of no income taxes. But I think one of our greatest challenges is going to be introducing young people to banking as a profession. This business is very satisfying in so many ways as we have a unique opportunity help our communities and customers thrive. Many young people only see the bank as a place to deposit a check or get a debit card and don’t understand the positive impact we make in so many ways.

Every day, bankers serve their local communities by helping their customers achieve their financial dreams. Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

From making hundreds of PPP loans in the teeth of COVID to donating time and money to community projects that enhance the places we live and lending money to a startup business that grows to become a major employer in the area, the list of rewarding experiences we, as community bankers, have could go on and on.

But I think one of the most satisfying and rewarding acts we do is taking the time to work with a customer to understand when they are being scammed. These are not always easy conversations, because no one wants to admit they may be in a bad situation. However, many times through our observations, conversations, and coaching, our customers keep the money that is rightfully theirs. Assisting our community members like this makes me proud to be a community banker.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Black River Country Bank, Black River Falls President and CEO Bob Becker.

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

Bob: When I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, I had plans of becoming an engineer, but like many young adults, I changed my mind and ultimately decided to obtain a degree in business administration. During that time, I became especially interested in the economic classes I was taking, and that helped me start thinking about a career in banking. Fortunately for me, when I graduated, my local bank was looking for a loan officer, and I was lucky enough to be chosen for the job.

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

I have two favorite aspects of my role with our bank. The first is the ability to interact within our local community. Starting out as a loan officer, I was able to help people make some of the most important decisions in their lives happen. Helping people with buying a new car, buying a home, starting a business, or expanding the family farm — it is extremely enjoyable to help them reach their goals and dreams. As my career progressed and my leadership role in the bank expanded, it has been a joy to expand that interaction to larger community initiatives. I take great pride in what we have been able to do to help the Jackson County communities thrive and prosper. The second is leading a great group of fellow employees and helping them establish the foundation for a commitment to our bank and our community. These commitments help us establish a true family amongst our employees and customers. I was fortunate to have three great mentors when I started in banking, Winston Zeman, Glen Goeman, and Steve Zeman. Each was a great community banker, and I can only hope that I have been able to pass on some of what they willingly passed on to me.

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

I would like the general public to understand what a good, strong community bank can do for a local economy. It is a strong employer for the local economy. It reinvests in the local economy. It supports the local charitable organizations in the local economy. It lends leadership to many of the local organizations. It supports youth organizations and activities with sponsorships. It supports young adults with college scholarships. And it supplies the banking services that you need, in the convenient fashion that you would like, and at the lowest possible cost that is maintainable. In today’s world, we all have more and more options for our needs and services, but if we look at all the good that a local community bank does for its community, why would we ever consider the financial services choices we can make that don’t include a great personal relationship with your local community banker.

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

I believe the industry’s greatest challenge in the next 3–5 years is continuing to safeguard the personal information and financial assets of our customers. The ever-expanding desire and need for instant and convenient access to our money and financial information is a huge challenge for the industry. We are committed to delivering as much of this to our customers as possible, but it comes with added challenges. It seems like the financial and cyber exploitation business is growing by leaps and bounds. Trying to stay in front of these organizations is a daunting task.

Every day, bankers serve their local communities by helping their customers achieve their financial dreams. Please describe your current role at your bank and share with us one of your more rewarding experiences.

I have been with the Black River Country Bank for 35 years, and I currently serve as president and chief executive officer, along with being the president of the bank’s holding company, BRAD, Inc.

My most rewarding experience is our Community Good Neighbor Day. This is a day that we as a group choose to participate in and help out our community members who need a helping hand. We have a local organization that we work with that allows us to identify local households that may need help with fall cleanup of their property. Our bank family breaks up into small groups and participates in a day of helping clean yards, some that were planned ahead of time and some that just happen on the spur of the moment. The joy of the day is not only seeing the good you do, but seeing how the employee family works together to accomplish as many things as possible and also the joy that is delivered to the recipients who can have one worry taken off their shoulders.

Triangle Background

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Farmers & Merchants Bank of Kendall President Cynthia Erdman.

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

Cynthia: I first wanted to become a Certified Public Accountant. As I started college and had little money, I found a part-time job at a bank as a teller with the hopes of getting into their accounting department. As time progressed, I began to learn all the other opportunities for a career that the banking industry offered. I did, however, leave for an internship at an accounting firm. Fast forward, I decided that was not the path that I found the most interesting and rewarding, so back to banking I went. Now, 37 years later, I can truly say it has been a great career!

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

This is an easy one! It has been and always will be about all the amazing people you get to meet. Listening and working with clients to meet their financial goals, purchase their home, start or grow their business, or just be that trusted advisor for financial advice is very rewarding. Another favorite part of my role is mentoring and watching my coworkers develop and advance their knowledge.

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

Just the simple message that we are always there to help them as best as possible. We work to find solutions and when they succeed — we all succeed.

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

I believe that our industry will continue to be tested by the increasing cost and challenges related to cybersecurity, talent recruitment, as well as the increasing reach of credit unions along with their unfair tax advantage.

Please share one of your more rewarding or memorable experiences with us.

Bankers do extraordinary things every day that go above and beyond normal business. As community advocates and leaders, it is our duty to help where and when we can. The fabulous part about this is it is so rewarding and not a duty at all! As I reflect on the numerous organizations that I have volunteered at, there are so many great memories. It is hard to pick out any one that was the most memorable because each has had its rewards.

I would say the things that have stuck with me the most are the more individual/personal encounters over the years. A particular couple comes to mind — they both were great volunteers of the community and the bank recognized them as “Extraordinary Citizens” at an event that we held. We later placed their picture on a billboard saluting them and promoting volunteerism. A few years later, the gentleman passed away, and I attended his funeral. When entering the service, the first thing displayed was the scaled down version of that billboard we gave them as a keepsake. In talking with his wife, she expressed how much that meant to him and how proud he was of being a part of promoting the good people do and encouraging others to do the same. Little did she know how much that meant to me as well.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Cornerstone Community Bank President Paul A. Foy.

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

Paul: I was working as a marketing product manager for an orthopedic company in the mid-to-late 1990s. I worked with surgeons around the country as we developed new products for total knee and shoulder joint replacement systems. It was a great job, but not conducive to raising a young family. My father-in-law was an investor in a start-up bank and was increasing his stake around the same time. He was encouraging me to join the bank, so I could be closer to family and have more time to be with my kids. After several attempts by him, I saw the light. I really enjoyed banking more than I thought I would, and I was able to participate in my kids’ lives by coaching little league, attending plays, recitals, and chaperoning many field trips over the years!

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

I enjoy visiting our customers and seeing all the different ways people earn a living in this world. I especially like to see how the money we lend enables people to be more productive and add jobs to the local economy. It is rewarding to see the money we lend at work invested in these companies.

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

Banks and credit unions are not the same! Unlike the credit unions, banks pay state, local, and federal taxes that add about 30% more in operating costs. Yet, credit unions have been able to expand their scope of services competing on an uneven playing field. Credit unions boast that they are not-for-profit as if it’s some sort of admirable quality. People need to know that it’s the community banks who pay their fair share and contribute significantly more to the communities that they serve than credit unions.

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

Fraud is going to be one of the industry’s greatest challenges in the next few years. Cyber-crime attempts are more widespread and far more sophisticated than in times past. As bankers, we invest significant funds in hardware, software, and training to help prevent fraud.

Loan closing instructions are being hijacked to the point that we’ve moved back to the fax machine. Corporate email servers are being manipulated to the point where employees are being “instructed” to perform significant fraudulent transactions by actors posing as authorized signers of accounts held by their companies. Elder fraud is another area becoming more intense and personal as the fraudsters use social media posts to learn of familiar relationships helping fraudsters make a convincing case to unsuspecting victims. We experienced a situation recently where an elderly victim couldn’t be convinced by me and another officer of the bank that a contrived situation was fraudulent. We then involved the police, and still she didn’t believe the officer when he told her she didn’t need to send the fraudsters money!

Please share one of your more rewarding or memorable experiences with us.

We support many of the local charities in the communities we serve. In addition to the hours our employees volunteer to support several charitable organizations, we also assist at Chamber of Commerce events for Grafton, Mequon, Thiensville, and Greater Menomonee Falls-Sussex. However, the most recent memorable experience of supporting our community was in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when we assisted our customers with the SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). In a very short period of time, we came up with policies, procedures, and documents to support a program which was not fully defined. Our small community bank helped our new and existing customers by originating 278 loans in the first round totaling approximately $29.5 million. This came at a time when we were already very busy generating mortgage applications and modifying loans to numerous commercial loan customers to help them through the pandemic. Much of this work was performed with employees working remotely from one another as we weren’t sure if we were going to lose several staff members to the virus itself. We ended up producing another $16.5 million in the second round for our customers. However, it was far less hectic given the lessons learned in round one, thanks, in part, to the WBA.

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.