Person holding Covid 19 Vaccination card

As was first reported in the September 10 WBA Wisconsin Banker Daily, President Biden released a plan on September 9 meant to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans.

By way of background, to implement the plan, Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work. OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to implement the requirement.

OSHA is also developing a rule that will require employers with more than 100 employees to provide paid time off for the time to takes for workers to get vaccinated or to recover if they are under the weather post-vaccination. This requirement will also be implemented through an ETS.

President Biden executed a second order to take similar steps to require vaccinations for all federal workers and federal contractors that do business with the federal government. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force had until this past Friday to describe new safety protocols, per the order.

Guidance was released last Friday; however, it unfortunately did not clarify whether banks are considered federal contractors under the vaccine mandate. WBA will continue to closely monitor the developing law and update the membership once coverage of the order is clarified.

Safer Federal Workforce Task Force COVID-19 Workplace Safety: Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors

Path Out of the Pandemic Order

Order of COVID Safety for Federal Contractors


By Heather MacKinnon

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new eviction moratorium order last week having determined the evictions of tenants for failure to make rent or housing payments could be detrimental to public health control measures to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The latest CDC order is narrower than previous moratoriums in that it applies in U.S. counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels of SARS-CoV-2, as those terms are defined by CDC, as of August 3, 2021. The order is to expire on October 3, 2021. 

The eviction moratorium order sets forth that, subject to the limitations of the order’s applicability, a landlord, owner of a residential property, or other person with a legal right to pursue eviction or possessory action, shall not evict any covered person from any residential property in any county or U.S. territory while the county or territory is experiencing substantial or high levels of community transmission of SARS-CoV-2. For purposes of the order, CDC has defined “person” to include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.  

A “covered person” means any tenant, lessee, or resident of a residential property who provides to their landlord, the owner of the residential property, or other person with a legal right to pursue eviction or a possessory action, a declaration under penalty of perjury which indicates that:  

(1) The individual has used best efforts to obtain all available governmental assistance for rent or housing; 

(2) The individual either (a) earned no more than $99,000 (or $198,000 if filing jointly) in calendar year 2020 or expects to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for calendar year 2021 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return); (b) was not required to report any income in 2020 to the IRS; or (c) received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check); 

(3) The individual is unable to pay the full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, a lay-off, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;  

(4) The individual is using best efforts to make timely partial rent payments that are as close to the full rent payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses;  

(5) Eviction would likely render the individual homeless — or force the individual to move into and reside in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting — because the individual has no other available housing options; and  

(6) The individual resides in a U.S. county experiencing substantial or high rates of community transmission levels of SARS-CoV-2.

The order defines both “substantial” and “high” for the purpose of determining which U.S. counties may be subject to the moratorium. Counties experiencing substantial transmission levels are experiencing 50.99-99.99 new cases in the county in the past 7 days divided by the population in the county multiplied by 100,000; and 8.00-9.99% positive nucleic acid amplification tests in the past 7 days (number of positive tests in the country during the past 7 days divided by the total number of tests performed in the county during the past 7 days).  

High transmission level is defined as ≥100 new cases in the county in the past 7 days divided by the population in the county multiplied by 100,000; and ≥ 10.00% positive nucleic amplification tests in the past 7 days (number of positive tests in the country during the past 7 days divided by the total number of tests performed in the county during the past 7 days). CDC has created a COVID Data Tracker which can be used to search the level of community transmission on a county level.

Before a landlord may proceed with an eviction, the landlord must review the virus transmission levels of the county where the residential property is located to determine whether the eviction moratorium is applicable. Landlords should also be aware that residential property means any property leased for residential purposes. This includes any house, building, mobile home or land in a mobile home park, or similar dwelling leased for residential purposes. The term includes manufactured housing communities. The term does not include any hotel, motel, or other guest house rented to a temporary guest or seasonal tenant as defined be state, tribal, or local laws.  

Currently, not all counties in Wisconsin are at the substantial or high-level community transmission level. Transmission levels will obviously change as each community is impacted by the virus, thus making monitoring of county transmission levels an important step. As mentioned above, the CDC order applies in U.S. counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels of SARS-CoV-2 as of August 3. If a U.S. county that was not covered by the order as of August 3 later experiences substantial or high levels of community transmission while the order is in effect, then that county will become subject to the order as of the date the county begins experiencing the substantial or high levels of community transmission.  

If a U.S. county that is covered by the order no longer experiences substantial or high levels of community transmission for 14 consecutive days, then the order will no longer apply in that county, unless and until the county again experiences substantial or high levels of community transmission while the order is in effect.  

To assist covered persons with qualifying for protection under the order, CDC has created a standardized declaration form that can be completed and signed by the covered person. The form may be downloaded here.

Other resources to assist consumers seek help with rent and utilities may be found here.

WI DATCP Landlord Tenant COVID-19 FAQs

The CDC eviction moratorium order may be viewed here.



By, Cassie Krause

As COVID-19 cases recede in Wisconsin and rules about mask-wearing ease, banks are working to restore a feeling of pre-pandemic normality in their offices and branches. But it’s hard to say exactly when – or if – banks will again operate as they did back in 2019. 

Following updated guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), many businesses have dropped requirements for face coverings by employees and customers. Wisconsin banks, while remaining respectful toward the concerns of everyone who enters their indoor space, are among them. 

Effective vaccines appear to be significantly reducing the number of new cases of COVID-19, making bankers — and the nation — hopeful the tide has turned. In Wisconsin, the seven-day average of new confirmed cases dropped from a high of more than 6,500 per day in mid-November to about 225 by the end of May.  

“I would like to think at some point we would go back to the carefree days that we used to know,” said Sonja Bjerkos, senior vice president and human resources manager for Citizens First Bank in Viroqua. “But honestly, with what everyone went through, I think there will always be a little more social distance in just the way we interact with our customers. We’ve all realized things can be changed in an instant.” 

In mid-May, the CDC revised its COVID-19 guidelines to state that fully vaccinated people can go back to activities they did prior to the pandemic. 

“You can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance,” the CDC stated. 

A sampling of Wisconsin banks showed they are eager to see the unmasked smiles of customers and fellow employees again, but they are being careful, realizing there are divergent opinions about masks and COVID-19 itself. 

After the CDC offered its latest guidance, Denmark State Bank declared masks no longer were necessary if people were fully vaccinated. 

“Obviously we are still cautious with our customers who come in,” said Scot Thompson, president and chief executive officer of the 110-employee bank. “If they are wearing a mask, we are asking our employees to wear a mask in front of them because their safety is one of the things that we want to make sure we’re cautious of.” 

Rochelle Mitchell, vice president and public relations officer at PremierBank in Fort Atkinson, said if a customer comes in wearing a mask, employees ask whether the customer would be more comfortable if the employee wore one, too. 

“We do have about half of our staff still wearing them,” Mitchell said. “But it’s their choice, and we’re just really promoting respect.” 

PremierBank also has about 110 employees. 

Lindsay Spitzer, chief operations officer for Bluff View Bank, said her Galesville-based financial institution dropped its mask mandate for employees back on May 10, when more than 70% of the staff had been vaccinated. That was about a week before the new CDC guidance was issued. 

“But we were sensitive to our customers, so if someone did come in wearing a mask, we would put one on,” Spitzer said. “But generally, when our customers would come in the door they would see we weren’t wearing them and they would ask, ‘Do I have to wear a mask?’ And our response was ‘it’s up to you.’ And they would generally take it off.” 

Like many banks, however, Bluff View Bank still has its Plexiglas shields up in its teller lines. If a customer is sitting down with a banker to open an account or apply for a loan, the banker will ask whether the customer prefers the employee wore a mask during the meeting. 

At Citizens First, the bank is following CDC guidelines, Bjerkos said.  

“We still have our Plexiglas screen at the teller lines, and likely will for the foreseeable future, anyway,” she said. 

She estimated about half of employees still are wearing masks at work. 

“We are not asking an employee who is not wearing a mask, ‘Have you had both your shots?’ We are not the vaccination police,” Bjerkos said. “Likewise…if a customer comes in without a mask, that’s their right." 

The pandemic has changed customer behavior overall, and that already is affecting how banks and their clients interact. The number of customers coming into bank lobbies has dropped not just because of COVID-19 safety rules, but because many more have started using digital channels to do their banking during the pandemic. 

“It’s increased the adoption of digital services for sure,” said Mitchell. 

Thompson estimated that the use of apps and other banking technology probably advanced by three to five years during the pandemic. Banks found that more people of all ages have adopted financial technology. 

Remote work by employees has increased — perhaps permanently for some. Although it was prompted by social distancing efforts, remote work has opened employers’ eyes to the fact that staffers working from home and collaborating via Zoom can be productive. It also has widened the list of potential candidates for certain types of bank positions. 

“We’ve been able to branch out throughout the United States to have people work for us who we probably didn’t think about before,” said Thompson. “So we’ve actually had a couple of our mortgage underwriters — one’s in Florida and one’s in Georgia — work for us. That has opened up the door for the talent pool.” 

Banking attorney John T. Reichert said remote work is a big topic among bankers. 

“Literally for the last two months I haven’t had a conversation with a banker where they don’t say, hey, we’re trying to figure this out and find the right balance,” said Reichert, a shareholder in the Banking and Finance Practice of the Milwaukee firm Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren. 

Precisely when people will be completely untroubled being part of indoor crowds or working conditions again can’t be known, but Reichert said that with guidelines loosening, he doesn’t think it’s far off. 

“Clearly the people who know what’s going on are comfortable or they would never have let this happen,” Reichert said. “There’s going to be all kinds of cultural easing into it.” 

Denmark State Bank’s Thompson is hopeful but still cautious. 

“I think the worst is behind, but there’s still going to be issues and concerns going forward,” he said. 

Paul Gores is a journalist who covered business news for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 20 years. Have a story idea? Contact him at

By, Alex Paniagua

For many bankers, it has been more than a year since they have seen a free flow of foot traffic through their doors. Some continue to work remotely, while others navigate the limited capacity at their branch, interacting with a fraction of the community that used to fill the space. With banks at various stages of operation during what feels like a sprint toward the end of this crisis, many are wondering what reopening will look like and how the pandemic will impact this process, even after the threat of the virus recedes. 

Fine Lines and Looser Limits 

For banks that have one branch, reopening might be a matter of determining what will work best for the community. TJ Minnehan, president of Bank of Kaukauna, has said his bank has created a "by-appointment" model to control the flow of people since the start of the shutdown. Strategically limiting who comes in and out allows for the bank to still welcome their customers while strengthening safety guidelines. 

“We’re a one-shop location, so we’ve taken as much caution as we can to avoid a massive outbreak inside of our institution,” said Minnehan. “Through all of this, that was at the front of mind for us. If we had an internal massive outbreak, we would have found ourselves in a position that would have challenged us for a period of time while people recovered.” 

The conversations at Bank of Kaukauna currently peg them at a tentative reopening date of June 1 to allow free-flow traffic back into the branch. Minnehan attributes this date to the mask mandate’s length of enforceability combined with the number of people that will likely be fully vaccinated by this time. The concern for banks that have multiple locations in various parts of the state, however, creates a slightly different story.  

“Our Adams and Marquette offices have been open-lobby since mid-year 2020, and our Dane County lobbies were re-established as a choice for clients in early March,” said Steve Peotter, president and CEO of One Community Bank. “It has been an interesting mix as we evaluated our COVID posture in geographically distinct communities.” 

Many bankers noted that managing through this crisis has not been so much about closing the bank as it has been controlling the flow of people in and out of lobbies. Banks with multiple locations face the question of opening their branches all at once or reopening each depending on what the COVID data shows for each community. Dan Riebe, executive vice president of Frandsen Bank & Trust, Eau Claire, believes reopening should be considered on a per-branch basis.  

“I think we continuously have to recognize that every location is a little bit different as far as how this is impacting them and how their community is reacting,” Riebe said. “Some of the steps that I take here in Eau Claire might not be a good fit for someone in Madison or Milwaukee. You have to look at your community, look at the cases, and ask what others are doing in the area and that will work best.” 

Riebe’s bank went to drive-up only in March of 2020 and stayed that way until they opened their lobbies once again on April 1. With the bank being commercial, he noted that lobby traffic was never much of an issue for them, even before the pandemic. Factors like this, he added, should be considered when banks reopen and what restrictions should be set. 

In contrast, Minnehan noted that Bank of Kaukauna has a slightly older customer base on average. Looking at the combined risk that the virus has to their staff and to their customers, restricting access to lobbies early on seemed like the right thing to do. Options are still available for those looking to meet in person by setting up an appointment, and the drive-ups continue to operate with no issues. 

“The hard part is, we want to get back to seeing our customers and doing business face to face while doing it safely, but I don’t want to turn my staff into the mask police,” said Minnehan. “That seems like a place where you can have a rub with customers, and it seems avoidable. I think people are very understanding that we have to just keep taking the steps that are necessary to keep everyone safe. It’s a fine line that we’re all working with.” 

Keeping the Safety of Staff in Mind 

It goes without saying that the ‘when’ of reopening is only one part of a complex process. The other major element impacting banks’ decisions to open their doors is the ‘how.’ 

“The safety of our staff, our clients, and our community are paramount in terms of importance,” Riebe said. “Being able to operate and deliver to our clients are important as well. We can’t eliminate risk, but we get paid to manage risk.” 

According to the bankers, determining the best way to reopen or expand capacity can often be as simple as asking your staff how comfortable they are with certain options. For many, maintaining constant communication was a critical part of getting through the worst of the pandemic. 

“Since the COVID journey started, we have been very communicative with our team,” Peotter said. “We ask for feedback in a very formalized way through anonymous surveys, we engage in discussion regarding things like work-life balance, we make accommodations for our people to provide at-home care for taking care of children when school was paused. We were very collaborative and very transparent in the attempt to determine what the correct course of action was for all of us.” 

At the same time, it may not always be the basic question of whether someone is comfortable with a higher number of people in the building, Riebe added. He said that for those employees who never stopped working at the branches, a year of wearing masks for over eight hours each day has not become any more comfortable. This might require a further step toward alleviating the stress that comes with being open while these restrictions are in place. 

“Wearing a mask for eight hours is miserable,” said Riebe. “Even at the beginning, we’ve set time aside for our staff, especially at the teller line, to try and get five or ten minutes every hour in a private office to take their mask off. The teller lines are the hot points in terms of staff that have to be regularly masked, so we want to make their lives as easy as possible.” 

Each banker addressed the fact that although they would love to do away with masks, they don’t see this as an immediate option for the safety of their staff and community.  

“It’ll be nice to get rid of the masks and not have to worry about this,” said Minnehan. “But I have a feeling this is something we’ll have to contend with for the foreseeable future in terms of preventive action. Whatever the new version of normal may end up being, I would like to think we’re not too far off from doing away with masks and social distancing. I don’t think it’s on the horizon, but I think it’s inevitable.” 

The good news is that they have found the majority of their customers are more than okay with restrictions put in place and are simply happy to step into their bank again. It’s a positive sign that banks will likely not have to worry about customers questioning continued safety guidelines.  

“Clients who have chosen to use lobbies for their banking needs have been wonderful to work with,” said Peotter. “Everyone is very understanding of the various safety protocols across different organizations, and our colleagues are very comfortable providing those services given the barriers, social distancing, and mask requirements inside the banks. I think this shows really great potential for whatever comes next.” 

A New Look for Banks 

Remote work, plexiglass barriers, and new technologies have been just a few of the ways banks have changed from the inside out. The thought of returning to full capacity has caused many to ask if these innovations are here for good or if their use in banks is set to expire. 

Peotter stated that prior to the pandemic, he firmly believed that people working together in person at the banks was the best possible thing for both colleagues and clients. He has since changed his perspective and believes that allowing a mix of work-from-home and work-from-office allows for a balanced life without sacrificing any of the quality service and teamwork.  

“We are proud to continue offering a hybrid approach to our colleagues to have a mix of work-from-home and work-from-office,” said Peotter. “There are some colleagues we have not seen in the office since mid-March of 2020, and we are more than confident that those colleagues continue to provide great service to clients and support for each other.” 

Aside from employee productivity, another concern for remote work was uncertainty regarding the safety and reliability of technology. It became common for banks to consider upgrades in several areas as time in the pandemic strung on, and this has resulted in a greater change than the capability to work from home more effectively. 

“We were introduced to new technology partners and things that we feel will really benefit us as time goes on, just in terms of digital applications and more efficient ways to handle documents that are faster, safer, and more user-friendly for both us and the customer,” said Minnehan. “There were certainly many silver linings despite a lot of the damage that’s been caused.”  

As a result of 2020, Bank of Kaukauna is finalizing a new mortgage loan originating system that was not anticipated to be done until 2023. The technology that banks had on their radar for three, four, five-plus years in the future are quickly becoming a reality to the changing infrastructure of financial institutions. 

So, if you stop by a neighboring bank a year or two from now, you might see slightly fewer employees here and there and a few more technological advances. The most noticeable change, however, might be one that’s a little harder to miss.  

Plexiglass barriers have become a necessity for workers speaking with multiple people each day, but the end of this crisis might not end with Reagan’s famous lines to Mr. Gorbachev. The overall safety that comes with these barriers has caused many bankers to want the wall kept up indefinitely rather than torn down.  

“Regardless of COVID, if we think the dividers are effective in preventing our staff from even getting the cold or the flu, there’s a good chance we’ll keep those, if not just because of the anecdotal evidence,” said Riebe. 

When asked about the anecdote he was referencing, Riebe emphasized an interesting response he has heard which he believes may point to a heightened awareness of what is being spread indoors, no matter where you might be. 

“After the dividers are getting cleaned, it's not uncommon to hear ‘I never realized all this was coming through to the teller counter every day.’ Now that it’s visible, I think people have become a lot more conscious of their surroundings in that way. This might just be an obvious safety technique that we keep in perpetuity.” 

As your bank considers the prospects of reopening individual branches, it will likely be a process that reviews the considerations of colleagues and customers. Reopening will most likely include going over the data in your community, managing risk, and keeping flexible options available for both customers and employees who are feeling ill. 

“When this started, we didn’t know what the future held,” said Minnehan. “We still don’t. But we do what we can, hours through the night and the weekend, because we have a community that is counting on us. So here we are, making a difference.”  

By, Alex Paniagua

The 2021 Wisconsin legislative session is off to a busy, and productive start. Two key pieces of legislation were recently enacted into law, which are discussed in this article. Both pieces of legislation were supported by WBA throughout the process that led to enactment. Each provides meaningful benefits to banks and their customers.  

This article is focused on law that has been passed. At the time of this article’s publication, the legislature is still in session. WBA and its government relations team remain hard at work. Bills that are later signed into law will be discussed in future publications.  
Tax Conformity and PPP Deductibility 

On February 18, 2021, Governor Evers signed Assembly Bill 2 into law as 2021 Wisconsin Act 1 (Act 1). Act 1 contains various provisions which conform state tax law to recent federal changes. It includes a section which permits deductibility of business expenses paid for with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan proceeds at the state level, just as they are at the federal level. Without this change, Wisconsin businesses which received PPP loans would have faced over $400 million in unexpected tax implications over the next three years. 

To look at it more specifically, Wisconsin Statute section 71.05 provides for income tax computation for state and local revenues. Pursuant to Act 1, a provision has been added to that section which exempts from taxation certain allowances from the federal coronavirus relief fund, including grants to small businesses. Thus, Act 1 federalizes Wisconsin tax law with respect to treatment of certain economic support programs funded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, including loans under the PPP, and deduction of expenses paid with funds from such loans. These provisions take effect for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2018. 

COVID Premises Liability Protection 

On February 25, 2021, Governor Evers signed Special Session Senate Bill 1 into law as 2021 Wisconsin Act 4 (Act 4). Act 4 provides immunity for entities from civil liability for a COVID-19-related injury or death, except in the case of reckless or wanton conduct or intentional misconduct. The immunity is retroactive to claims accruing on or after March 1, 2020, but does not apply to an action filed before its enactment.

Act 4 applies to “entities” which broadly includes partnerships, corporations, associations, governmental units, Tribal governments, schools, nonprofit organizations, and any employer covered by state unemployment insurance laws. The law also provides immunity beyond the employer-employee relationship and would apply, for example, to a business’ customers, a school’s students, or a nursing home facility’s patients. 

Thus, the civil liability protection created under Act 4 allows entities, including financial institutions, to continue operation or begin opening their doors with immunity from claims of liability for acts or omissions resulting in exposure to COVID-19. This is a significant piece of legislation as Wisconsin’s financial institutions continue to be on the economic frontlines of the crisis and have been since its inception. 

More specifically, Wis. Stat. section 895.476 provides that beginning March 1, 2020, an entity is immune from civil liability for the death of or injury to any individual or damages caused by an act or omission resulting in or relating to exposure, directly or indirectly, to the novel coronavirus identified as SARS−CoV−2 or COVID−19 in the course of or through the performance or provision of the entity’s functions or services. 

Immunity under Act 4 is in addition to, not in lieu of, other immunity granted by law, and nothing in the above section limits immunity granted under any other provision of law, such as workman’s compensation laws, which, for example, generally provides an exclusive remedy for sick or injured workers. Also, as noted above, this immunity does not apply if the act or omission involves reckless or wanton conduct or intentional misconduct. Thus, financial institutions should continue to take steps to mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Financial institutions are reminded to remain mindful of state and local mandates, guidance, and recommended procedures. For example, considering the standards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and local government issuances such as county orders. Banks should also consider consulting with its legal counsel for a fuller, more specific analysis of how it can obtain protections under Act 4. 

WBA will continue to monitor existing bills and update the membership on any significant changes. If you have any additional questions on any of the above laws, do not hesitate to contact us at

Additional Resources 
2021 Wisconsin Act 1 

2021 Wisconsin Act 4 

WBA’s reopening resource center 

CDC Guidance for Businesses and Employers 

OSHA Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 

OSHA Updated Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the workplace 

DHS Guidance for Employers 

By, Alex Paniagua

After an uncertain 2020 in which government assistance boosted farmers financially and many projects were put on hold, Wisconsin bankers saw an increase in borrowing by their agriculture customers this year. 

For some farmers, however, the focus may be more about reducing debt than borrowing to expand or modernize. Together, these factors have ag lenders balancing a mixture of optimism and caution as they head into spring. 

Plans for expansion and purchases stalled last year when the COVID-19 pandemic left farmers wondering how badly the economy would be impacted, said Chris Schneider, vice president – agricultural banking for  Investors Community Bank, Manitowoc, and vice chair of the WBA Agricultural Bankers Section. Then, when government aid became available, farmers were able to use that money for operations instead of tapping their banks for traditional lending.

Total farm loans – loans to finance agricultural production and other loans to farmers – by Wisconsin-based banks dropped almost 9% to $3.5 billion in 2020 from more than $3.8 billion in 2019, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

Part of the reduced lending in 2020 might also have reflected the overall reduction in dairy farms that has taken place over the last few years, said Jeff Gruetzmacher, senior vice president at Royal Bank, Lancaster, and current past chair of the WBA Agricultural Bankers Section. 

“Looking around Wisconsin, I think some of that had to do with still working out some of the people that were exiting from the dairy business,” Gruetzmacher said. 

Today, some farmers are starting to move forward on projects they planned for last year but held off because of the uneasiness caused by the pandemic. 

“There should be some improvement in lending this year,” Schneider said. 

Despite the pandemic, 2020 turned out to be a solid year for many Wisconsin farmers, bankers said. 

“We’re coming off probably one of the better years since 2014 in the dairy industry,” said Schneider, whose bank operates in about 60 counties. “Crop conditions were much better also. Most areas in Wisconsin had a very good yield in their crops, plus the fall harvest was a lot easier because it wasn’t wet.” 

Darla M. Sikora, senior vice president– agricultural banking for Citizens State Bank of Loyal and chair of the WBA Agricultural Bankers Section, said 2020 was a very good growing and harvesting year for crops, including forage crops and row crops like corn and soybeans, in her central and north central Wisconsin market. 

“Not only were the crops bountiful, but prices for these commodities improved later in the year as well and are continuing even stronger here into 2021,” Sikora said. 

Sikora said the year ended with a record low stock of soybeans and a near-record low of corn, which has helped drive up prices this year. 

Government support in 2020, especially Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments, greatly alleviated the need to borrow operating funds from banks. But without that additional government assistance this year, more farmers “will once again have to rely on their lenders if they need money to operate,” Sikora said. 

“2021 may see a bigger need for operating money than was required from banks in 2020,” she said. “With milk prices at a ho-hum sort of level coupled with potential higher costs to operate, more farmers may need to access bank capital to help pay bills. I do not see any large demand for bank money to grow and expand operations.” 

Dairy farming expansion could be limited by product demand from processors, bankers said. 

“Probably the biggest factor to restricting any expansion moving forward is these processing plants don’t want any more milk,” Schneider said. “They want to stay with the status quo on what they’re getting from their producers.” 

Sikora said building material costs, such as lumber and steel, also may be a hindrance to some farmers who’d like to expand. 

“Building costs have ratcheted up considerably,” she said. 

Sikora added: “Right now, one of the biggest goals my customers have in the present economy is to reduce debt – not to take on more.” 

Gruetzmacher said he sees things lining up for a more prosperous year for farmers, such as product prices, land values, and a weaker dollar. That makes him optimistic about lending. 

“Last year a lot of farmers did better than what we expected. I would say coming into 2020 pre-COVID, we kind of had some worries about the year,” Gruetzmacher said. “But as the year went along, especially when we worked through a lot of the market disruptions and supply chain disruptions, things ended up looking rosier mid-year and at the end of the year. Now as we’re coming into 2021, milk prices don’t look all that bad. And of course, the grains look spectacular.” 

As prices languished prior to 2020, maintenance was deferred at some Wisconsin farms, Schneider said. 

“There’s a lot of catching up that’s going to have to happen in the good years,” he said.

Paul Gores is a journalist who covered business news for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 20 years. Have a story idea? Contact him at 

By, Alex Paniagua

A novel virus, a global shutdown, and a drastic lifestyle change — the pandemic has continued for more than a year, and it can feel as though it has been a part of life for so much longer. Looking back at the components of this event, WBA spoke with bankers to discuss the industry’s year in the pandemic, what the effects have been, and what life might look like once it’s over. 

March 13, 2020 — Trump Declares COVID-19 a National Emergency 

Looking Back At the Start 

Take a moment to try and recall where you were on Friday, March 13 of 2020. This day for many has become the defining line between an old reality and the current one. When places shut down, it was hard to accept that this situation was actually happening. 

“I can remember specifically that when this hit, the immediate feeling was disbelief,” said Dan Peterson, president and CEO of Stephenson National Bank and Trust, Marinette. “We were thinking there was no way a virus could do this to the entire world. Then reality set in, and you realize that this is shutting things down. And I remember having such a certain feeling that it would pass in the next month or two, never believing it would last for a full year and now longer.” 

Scott Rockwell, president and CEO of Bank of Wisconsin Dells, had the same reaction at first. This shock was followed by an attempt to understand what the next step would be to assure things didn’t collapse under pressure. 

“It became a matter of figuring out how we were going to operate,” Rockwell said. “We got the senior management team together to address day-to-day operations and shutting down lobbies while making sure all tasks were taken care of, employees were safe, and customers were helped.” 

Peterson and Rockwell both had the benefit of being home in Wisconsin when the shutdown began. Others had to determine how to make sense of this situation while on a different side of the world. 

“I remember when things shut down,” said Paul Hoffmann, president and CEO of Monona Bank, “because I was over in Europe when the announcement came that they were locking down the borders.” 

Although Hoffmann was eventually informed that American citizens would be allowed back in the country, it was not initially communicated this way. Instead, he woke up to a phone call at 3 in the morning from his daughter. She was telling him and his wife that they had to leave now, because the U.S. borders were going to close.  

“We were able to reschedule our flight and we headed back,” said Hoffmann. “Thankfully, while this was going on, our CFO Tim Ryan and COO Julie Redfern already started working on a disaster recovery plan. By the time I got back and reconnected, we were already underway with closing our lobbies and ordering more equipment. It was very bizarre to have been gone during that moment, but I’m grateful to have such a prepared team.” 

“It was a lot to go through in such a short amount of time,” Rockwell admitted, “but we were all safe, we were all prepared, and we’re still moving forward.”  

March 26, 2020 — Senate Passes the CARES Act 

The Defining Moments 

With the passing of the CARES Act, the banker’s word (or words) of the year, became known across the country: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). 

“The defining moment for me came when we had to scramble to get ready for the onslaught of PPP applications from the first round,” said Hoffmann. “Not knowing the volume of applications and making sure we got everyone processed on time was a huge challenge…It was really an all-hands-on-deck effort by almost the entire bank – exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.” 

The feeling toward PPP seems to be mutual across the industry: it was a lot to fully understand and distribute due to the constant changes, but the amount of people and businesses it continues to help far outweighs the complications. Outside of the many stories that are accompanied by the mention of PPP, the defining moments of the pandemic extend beyond the program. For many, these moments had everything to do with how members of their team reacted to things like PPP rather than the challenges of the program itself. 

“With PPP, we were thrust into this new program, and it’s all rolling out at different times of the night, so people were taking on extra hours to make sure the community was taken care of,” said Rockwell. “It was crazy, but we all came together on these issues quite often and we became a better team because of it.” 

Still, the question of ‘what moments defined this past year?’ has not been an easy one to answer. The only thing we have been able to expect is the unexpected, and through PPP, team development, and everything in between, each step felt like something new was being learned.  

“With all the different things we went through, they all feel like defining moments,” said Peterson. “The realization that the pandemic was here and it wasn’t going be easy – that was a defining moment. The fact that our entire industry stepped up was a defining moment. The understanding that each step during the process was a brand new one – that made every single update a defining moment.” 

July 2 — Many States Reverse Plans to Reopen by July 4 

The Setbacks and Challenges 

The hope that people could gather to celebrate the Fourth of July was strung on for a while and then quickly cut as a possibility. The concern surrounding health and safety was a priority. Much like states were making these choices quickly and decisively, banks were forced to do the same.  

“We were making big decisions on a daily basis,” said Peterson. “This certainly wasn’t something we conquered on the first day. It took a few months to really understand it.” 

Having people work from home, whether it was only for the shutdown or continuing still, was one of many major decisions being handled differently at each bank. When July came around, this became more pressing as some businesses were returning to the office. Deciding when and how to bring employees back into branches was complicated for several reasons. 

“I think working from home was initially fine, but it became a different question for so many banks once their remote workforce had to be out of the office for longer than anyone expected,” said Hoffmann. “This was mostly about new technology, but it’s also about trying to be fair and establishing that process.” 

For example, customers still needed some form of access to the bank. With everyone dealing with various circumstances, this meant some employees would have to stay home to take care of their kids. Others experienced early symptoms of sickness and feared spreading anything to coworkers or customers. Meanwhile, some people were coming into work every day, and managing that flexibility became a new task.  

“It was all about trusting each other and knowing that we’re being as fair as we possibly can to everyone,” Hoffmann continued. “It’s been a challenge, but I believe we’ve been successful.” 

September 16, 2020 — Trump Administration Releases Vaccine Distribution Plan 

What Has Been Missed the Most 

In the moment a vaccine distribution plan was announced, it was not uncommon for people to take a step back from this new reality and realize how much has truly been absent in our lives. In the financial services industry, being a banker means being an active part in a community. This breaking news made many reminiscent on how prevalent the term ‘community’ is in banking. 

“Meeting with customers face-to-face is what I’ve missed the most,” Hoffmann said. “The interaction with employees, catching up with people in the hallways, and those side conversations are hard to do without.” 

It’s not surprising that this theme continues throughout. Rockwell noted that he hears too often that Hoffmann’s point is felt throughout the industry. After a year of the pandemic, it’s the little things that begin to feel especially distant. 

“As community bankers, we’re all about the people,” Rockwell agreed. “You'll probably hear over and over that we miss the handshakes and the interactions that you have with your customers and community members. You can’t even really see a smile right now.” 

Though there has been a successful transition toward making these encounters virtual to accommodate for social distancing, Peterson added it’s not quite the same as the feeling of being in person. 

“The inability to network and connect with everyone has been difficult,” said Peterson. “Whether it’s conferences or interactions with customers, that networking just went away overnight.” 

Peterson noted that while the instructional part of virtual conferences has been every bit as effective, it’s the after-hours part that has not been the same. He reminisced on going out to dinner with fellow bankers, talking shop, and strengthening those relationships. 

“The fellowship that’s so present at events like Bank Execs – it’s tough to replace that,” he said. 

January 11, 2021 – A New Round of PPP Loans Begins Distribution 

The Strengths of the Industry 

The process of PPP unknowingly tried to determine the best word to describe bankers, and it did so successfully. Whichever synonym you decide to use (and each banker managed to use their own) the notable strength of the industry during this constant change was the same: adaptability.   

“Banks were able to pivot very quickly in a lot of different ways,” Hoffmann said. “We pivoted with PPP loans and worked through different systems. We had to pivot to figure out what kind of loan modifications had to be done and how to do certain loan deferrals. We had to pivot to new technology that needed to be rolled out quickly, whether it was with working from home or e-signatures. I felt like we were really able to respond to the crisis well, and overall our industry was prepared for disaster and prepared to serve our customers.” 

“Flexibility. That is what community banks are built on,” said Rockwell. “Seeing what customers need and how you can play a role in that. Last year was one of those wild rides that you go on with something new at every turn. That flexibility not only helps your community, but it helps your staff. A lot of your staff are working, teaching, and being caretakers, all at the same time. You’re trying to help them navigate through that and get the job done.” 

“We were able to be nimble,” Peterson said. “I can say for the whole industry, customers have been saying that banks were great about transitioning to the virtual world.” 

March 12, 2021 – Every Wisconsinite 16 & Older is Eligible for Vaccination Starting May 1 

What’s Going To Stay? 

When Gov. Tony Evers announced that May 1 would be the day all Wisconsinites aged 16 and older could receive their first vaccination dose, the light at the end of the tunnel was growing brighter by the second. With the news that the list of those eligible to receive their first dose of the vaccine was growing significantly, many began to wonder what life would like after a return to normalcy. Through all this forced change, what implementations would stay as a result of a global pandemic? 

“The technology that we’ve adopted for integrating e-signatures, increased online loan applications, and everything else really pushed us to not only be more efficient for the future, but to provide a better customer experience as well,” Hoffmann said. “We’re also going to allow a hybrid work-from-home model that allows more flexibility. The pandemic has shown us that we are more than capable of doing work at home.” 

Rockwell agreed that the adoption of new technologies has been a significant part of growing his team’s growth and development. The biggest question they now have is to what extend these changes will take form in daily routines. 

“That’s the next thing we have to figure out,” said Rockwell. “When further implementing these changes, the key thing we have to wonder about is the culture. If you go all the way virtual in some cases, then that culture of socialization becomes rethought and reshaped as well. These are all things that we’ll continue to use moving forward, but the question is, at what level?” 

The internal factor of the technology shift has also been most notable for Peterson. Especially for larger groups and individuals who are regularly in and out of meetings, that ability to stay in one place rather than running back and forth is a positive outcome now that it’s a more feasible option. 

“Virtual meetings will definitely be something we continue to do for the board of directors and senior management, and all levels of the bank,” he said. “It’s such an efficient way to meet as a team.”  

March 13, 2021 – An Official Year in the Pandemic 

Moving Forward 

A lot has changed over the course of a year. Although it has been challenging, there has been noteworthy action taken to assure everyone survives this crisis. Bankers have especially noticed the amount of generosity that has helped so many during these difficult times. 

“People really stepped up,” said Peterson. “They wanted to help, whether it was a friend or their family or a customer or a coworker. That’s what made all the difference.” 

The financial support provided by banks especially helped so many struggling individuals keep moving forward, but as Rockwell put it, it was by no means the only thing banks offered.  

“All the community banks were a place of stability,” added Rockwell. “It was where your customers could go, whether through appointment or drive-thru, where they could manage financial affairs, get advice, and sometimes just talk to that familiar person you’ve come to know as your banker. Financial needs, modifying payment structures, PPP, EIDL; we’ve been there through it all, and that stability factor is the role banks truly played through this year and each one to come.”  

Despite all of the challenges, there is much to be grateful for, proud of, and optimistic toward. One of the most unexpected outcomes of the pandemic is it emphasized that the future of the industry is in excellent hands. 

“We had a large number of younger associates step up and take a leadership role through all of this,” said Hoffmann. “It was such an impressive thing to witness, and it reminded me how fortunate we are that the newer people in our organization are so qualified and ready to show leadership. It’s great to know our industry’s future is going to be bright with the vast amount of talent we have at our banks.”  

By, Alex Paniagua

In the March 16 edition of the Wisconsin Banker Daily, WBA shared information about on-site vaccine clinic requests. Wisconsin’s vaccine distribution is rapidly evolving, and Governor Tony Evers announced yesterday that people with certain medical conditions will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on March 22, which is a week earlier than previously expected. In addition, Milwaukee is further expanding vaccine eligibility for all people age 18 and older living in 10 at-risk ZIP codes that rank high on an index of social vulnerability. See more on the ZIP code-based eligibility in Milwaukee. WBA Legal and Communications have worked together with Boardman & Clark to develop the following FAQs for Wisconsin banks. Banks should reach out to legal counsel for specific advice on their individual circumstances when contemplating or establishing an on-site clinic. 

Important Dates:  

  • March 17:  Vaccinators who will administer vaccines at on-site clinics must have their allocation requests into DHS by March 17 to receive doses for the weeks of March 29 and April 5. Contact a local vaccinator today if you wish to host an on-site vaccination clinic in the coming weeks.  WBA understands that it may be difficult to find available vaccinators in the short term due to high demand of their services.  
  • March 17: Milwaukee is expanding vaccine eligibility for all people age 18 and older living in 10 at-risk ZIP codes that rank high on an index of social vulnerability. 
  • March 22:  Vaccine eligibility expands to include individuals age 16 and older with specified medical conditions.  
  • May 1:  DHS plans to open vaccine eligibility to all individuals age 16 and older.  

The COVID-19 vaccination program is rapidly evolving, and the state and federal governments will continue to communicate information as it becomes available. 

Question 1: Who provides and administers the vaccines for an employer-based vaccination clinic? 

Answer: Only state-authorized vaccinators, such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and public health departments, can obtain and administer vaccinations. An employer must locate and work with an approved vaccinator to start the process of hosting an employer-based vaccination clinic. A list of vaccine providers is available here. Due to the fact that many of these vaccinators may be fully occupied at their regular places of employment, it may be difficult from a practical perspective to find available vaccinators at this early time. Once located, work with the vaccine provider to determine a targeted date, location, and number of vaccines needed for the clinic. Vaccinators who intend to request an allocation of vaccine specifically to support a closed, employer-based clinic can now make a separate request to DHS receive a dedicated allocation as vaccine & supplies are available. Banks may inform their employees that they must give notice if the employee intends to get vaccinated at the on-site clinic. The vaccine provider will submit a request to DHS for the vaccine. Requests will be accepted through the current bi-weekly allocation survey every other Wednesday, beginning on March 17. The vaccine provider will be notified by DHS if the request is approved. Please keep in mind that requests for vaccine exceed the current supply and DHS will not be able to fulfill all requests.  

DHS has issued the following documents for employers who would like to host a clinic in their workplace:  

DHS Guidelines: Wisconsin Employer-Based COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics  

DHS COVID-19 Vaccination Program: Planning a Vaccination Clinic Checklist  

Additional information is available from the CDC:

CDC Recommendations: Workplace Vaccination Program  

Question 2: How do I determine whether my bank needs an on-site vaccine clinic?  

Answer: Whether a bank should offer a “closed clinic” to those employees currently eligible for vaccination is a business decision to be made by the bank. Some institutions have a significant number of employees who are eligible, other institutions do not. In order to determine if there is sufficient employee interest to warrant an on-site vaccine clinic (and so that the vaccinator can order sufficient supply of the vaccine), banks can ask employees if they have received the vaccine already or if they wish to receive the vaccine through a potential on-site clinic. Such information must be retained confidentially. Due to anti-discrimination laws, banks should not ask follow-up questions such as why an individual might or might not wish to receive the vaccine. Additionally, banks may be asked by vaccinators to prioritize employees in case they do not receive the full requested number of vaccines. Employers must be careful to comply with applicable anti-discrimination laws when prioritizing employees. To that end, creating the prioritization list based on employee job duties is advisable. 

Question 3: Where are bank employees prioritized in the COVID-19 distribution by the state?   

Answer: Despite efforts by our financial services coalition, bank employees — public-facing or otherwise — have not been designated as eligible as a group for the vaccine at this time by the Department of Health Services (DHS) or the Governor’s administration. However, bank personnel may be eligible to receive the vaccine using criteria that isn’t specific to their occupation, such as being 65 or older. Beginning March 22, overall vaccine eligibility will be significantly expanded to include individuals ages 16 and over who have certain health or medical conditions. For a list of individuals currently eligible, and those who gain health-related eligibility on March 22, please refer to this release from Gov. Evers.  

Question 4: What timeline do employers need to keep in mind?  

Answer: If an employer would like to host a clinic the week of March 29 or April 5, they must reach out to a vaccinator as soon as possible as vaccinators must submit their requests to DHS today (March 17). Those who miss the March 17 deadline must wait until March 31 to be approved. Also, keep in mind that eligibility for vaccines will be greatly expanded on March 22 when individuals age 16 and older with specified medical conditions will become eligible for vaccination. Therefore, an on-site clinic offered after March 22 may reach a greater percentage of your workforce. 

Question 5: What information can bankers provide to employees seeking vaccines?  

Answer: Employees may be directed to the DHS webpage COVID-19:  Where Can I Get Vaccinated for more information. WBA members are invited to attend the upcoming webinar for more information.

WBA Webinar – Coronavirus Management Series:  Vaccinations & Beyond  

On Thursday, March 25 from Noon – 1:30 p.m., WBA will be hosting Coronavirus Management Series: Vaccinations & Beyond, a free webinar detailing the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar will be recorded and available to the membership following the live webinar. 

By, Alex Paniagua

SBA, in continuing established communications messaging, provided the following:

SBA is receiving a significant number of questions from lenders regarding the revised rules on First Draw PPP loans, First Draw Loan Increases, Second Draw PPP loans, and streamlined Forgiveness. In response, SBA issued a release providing updated information along with recently released additional PPP guidance and resources. To assist lenders in how to best access PPP as amended by the Economic Aid Act, SBA issued a couple of reminders related to existing program guidance.  

First Draw PPP Loans Under Review May Be Delayed Getting Second Draw PPP Loan number

As described in SBA’s interim final rule on SBA Loan Review Procedures and Related Borrower and Lender Responsibilities, SBA may review any PPP loan, of any size, at any time, as the Administrator deems appropriate. If a borrower’s First Draw PPP Loan is under review by SBA for any reason, including if information in SBA’s possession indicates that the borrower may have been ineligible for the First Draw PPP Loan it received or for the loan amount it received, the lender will receive notification from SBA when the lender submits an application for a guaranty of a Second Draw PPP Loan, and will not receive an SBA loan number until the issue related to the unresolved borrower’s First Draw PPP Loan is resolved. SBA is working to improve the information provided to lenders about the issues and how lenders can help clear issues as expeditiously as possible. 

Additionally, Second Draw loan applications require an SBA loan number used for the First Draw PPP loan that was originated in 2020. Please verify that the applicant has the correct SBA loan number, and the correct Borrower TIN to assure that the portal can match up the two loans. 

Recent Guidance Issued

Second Draw Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans: How to Calculate Revenue Reduction and Maximum Loan Amounts Including What Documentation to Provide (Released 1/19/2021) provides detailed information regarding calculating and documenting the mandatory 25% reduction in revenues and maximum loan amount.

PPP: How to Calculate Maximum Loan Amounts for First Draw Loans and What Documents to Provide ( (released 1/17/2021) provides updated guidance, by business type, regarding calculating and documenting payroll costs in order to determine the maximum amount of a First Draw loan.

Interim Final Rule: Loan Forgiveness Requirements and Loan Review Procedures as Amended by Economic Aid Act (1/19/21)

PPP Loan Forgiveness Application Form 3508 (Revised 1/19/21)

PPP Loan Forgiveness Application Form 3508EZ (Revised 1/19/21)

PPP Loan Forgiveness Application Form 3508S (Revised 1/19/21)

Borrower’s Disclosure Of Certain Controlling Interests Form 3508D (Released 1/19/2021). The 3508-D only needs to be completed by borrowers that received a PPP loan before 12/27/20 and were directly or indirectly controlled by certain government officials (president, VP, member of congress, head of executive department and their spouses) at the time the loan was made.

For more information and guidance, visit WBA's Coronavirus Resource Page.

By, Ally Bates

With President-Elect Biden taking office today at Noon, it means the political officials at all agencies, including SBA, will no longer be employed. As a result, a lot of guidance was issued last night ahead of this change in government control. The following highlights the new guidance issued on a variety of topics. 

Updated Forgiveness Applications Including Form for $150,000 or Less PPP Loans  

The three existing forgiveness applications have all been updated to incorporate changes made in the Economic Aid Act. Most notably, the new SBA 3508S is the forgiveness application form to be used for PPP loans of $150,000 or less. The new versions of SBA 3508, 3508EZ, and 3508S may be found here. At the same time, SBA issued last night an interim final rule addressing forgiveness requirements and loan review procedures. A summary of these changes follows.   

New Interim Final Rule on Forgiveness Requirements and Loan Review Procedures  

SBA issued a 62-page Interim Final Rule (IFR) that largely incorporates provisions related to forgiveness requirements and loan review procedures from the 2020 program, as amended by the new Economic Aid Act. This interim final rule was written in a question and answer format so WBA will be working on updating its Master FAQ document in the next few days to incorporate these additions. The updated FAQs cover the following forgiveness related topics: loan forgiveness process, eligible payroll costs, eligible non-payroll costs, reductions to forgiveness amount, documentation requirements, and lender hold harmless. In addition, the IFR contains FAQs related to loan review procedures. The new IFR may be found here

New Disclosure Form for Borrowers of Certain Controlling Interests   

The SBA last night issued new SBA Form 3508D – Borrower’s Disclosure of Certain Controlling Interests, which is required to be completed in a narrow set of circumstances with a PPP forgiveness application. The Economic Aid Act requires borrowers that received First Draw PPP Loans before December 27, 2020, to disclose whether a “Covered Individual” directly or indirectly held a “Controlling Interest” in the Borrower at the time the Borrower’s loan application was submitted to the PPP lender. A “Covered Individual” means (a) any one of the following Government Officials: the President, the Vice President, the head of an Executive department as defined in 5 U.S.C. § 101, or a member of Congress, and (b) the Spouse, as determined under applicable common law, of a Government Official described in clause (a), determined as of the time the Borrower’s loan application was submitted to the PPP lender. A copy of the form may be found here

More PPP information may be found on our Coronavirus Resource Page.

By, Ally Bates


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