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Farming is both a specialized industry and high risk when it comes to financials. That’s why the Agricultural Lending School is a key educational offering of the Wisconsin Bankers Association. This is a hands-on seminar for members to get a handle on today’s ag markets and farm balance sheets. WBA Director of Education Lori Kalscheuer tells Mid-West Farm Report about enrollment numbers and curriculum for this year’s cohort.

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By Daniel J. Peterson

For 130 years, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) has led bankers in their efforts to deepen their knowledge and connect with their communities. This intense focus and commitment to Wisconsin bankers has allowed the organization to serve as a pillar for all things banking — such as education and advocacy.

While the Association only continues to grow, serving 98 percent of the banks in the state — over 35,000 bankers total — the pandemic halted many of the ways in which bankers connected with their peers and community members.

As WBA events, and life in general, more closely resemble the state of normalcy we last knew in early 2020, I encourage WBA-member banks to take this year to further deepen your engagement with the Association and ultimately make the most of your membership.

Whether it be taking part in events such as the Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Summits, any of the nearly 900 educational opportunities offered each year, volunteering in WBA’s Advocacy Officer program, or one of the many committees — there is something of interest for every member, at every level of your bank.

WBA also offers several resources for bankers, including the newly remodeled Engagement Center located at the WBA office in Madison. This space includes state-of-the-art technology and ample room for banks to lead planning sessions, hold hybrid or in-person meetings, or designate a quiet area to work. Additionally, the Engagement Center annually hosts hundreds of bankers from around the state for training sessions, seminars, and schools.

WBA’s role in fostering the growth of the banking industry in Wisconsin is critical and unlike many other opportunities offered elsewhere. Your engagement in WBA’s efforts assists the organization in staying relevant and helps provide the highest quality resources and information to every member.

As I look to the year ahead, I am excited to discover all the new ways WBA members will create deeper connections with their peers and the banking industry. Not only do WBA programs provide benefits for banking leaders and their teams, but as trusted advisors and leaders in our communities, we have a unique opportunity to share our financial expertise with public officials and neighbors. Bankers throughout the state serve as the most important spokespeople for our industry.

By increasing engagement, not only do our teams benefit from education and networking opportunities, WBA is able to better understand how to best serve Wisconsin bankers. I am repeatedly reminded that WBA is our association. Now’s the time for bankers around the state to take advantage of the multitude of ways in which to engage for the benefit of shaping professional growth, developing connections, and shaping our industry as a whole.

Peterson is president and CEO of The Stephenson National Bank & Trust, Marinette, and the 2022–2023 WBA Chair.

The Society of Bank Executives offers opportunities for professional development

As the deadline to sign up for the Society of Bank Executives pre-launch session quickly approaches on July 30, c-suite bankers and executive team members are reminded to use this opportunity to invest in their own professional development for the benefit of their entire team.

The Society of Bank Executive, officially launching in January 2023, is offering Wisconsin bankers the ability to participate in the Society’s pre-launch session starting this August. Bankers receive a 25% discount for two years when they sign up before July 30, 2022.

The pre-launch session will focus on honing the skills of trust and team building of bank executives from around the country. During the four-month session, bankers will have the opportunity to hear from Doug Faber, consultant at Franklin Covey during a virtual presentation on “the speed of trust” as well as Casey Thompson, principal consultant at The Table Group during a virtual presentation on “trust and the dysfunctions of a team”. All virtual presentations will also be available on demand for 30 days after the live event.

In addition to learning from experts — Wisconsin bankers are also invited to join bank executives from around the country in Sun Valley, Idaho for a two-day networking event. Not only does this event offer bankers the ability to expand their networks outside of their typical markets, bankers will also be able to share tips from their experience and ask questions of their peers.

The pre-launch session will wrap up in November with a virtual refection moderated by Dr. Paul Godfrey, Society of Bank Executive’s academic advisor. In this final meeting, bankers will reflect on the previous meetings and how they will be able to implement their personal strategy to leverage the power of trust.

Learn more about the Society of Bank Executive by visiting www.executives.bank/home.

Connect with peers, expand your compliance knowledge

As the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) enters the 2022–2023 fiscal year beginning in June, do not forget to renew or join the membership of the WBA Compliance Forum. Whether you are looking for more opportunities to connect with your compliance peers or would like to gain CLE and other compliance certifications*, WBA’s annual Compliance Forum membership provides various opportunities to expand your network and further develop your understanding of state-specific and national compliance matters.

The registration fee includes attendance of all three forums for two individuals from each bank. Additionally, these two primary members will also gain access to the highly active WBA Compliance Forum Google group. All Wisconsin bank compliance professionals and bank legal counsel are encouraged to attend each of the sessions to gain in-depth information on key compliance issues. Any additional bank staff can be registered by the bank’s primary contacts for an additional fee.

“WBA’s Compliance Forum is the place to get updates on recent trends, hear from experts on emerging topics, and connect with other compliance professionals,” says Scott Birrenkott, WBA director – legal and session speaker. “Each session provides great networking opportunities and the ability to share experiences.”

WBA’s Compliance Forum is WBA’s premier Wisconsin-specific program focused on presenting updates and addressing the latest hot topics in compliance. The first session, to be held on June 28 at the Kalahari Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells, will include discussions on areas such as fair lending, disparate impact, cryptocurrency, and the recently revised Wisconsin Unclaimed Property Act.

“As a subject matter, banking compliance is unique in that it manages to be simultaneously vast, yet also nuanced. It can be tough to sift through, which is why opportunities to meet, stay abreast of trends, and discuss with peers are so valuable,” adds Birrenkott.

Those interested in joining a passionate group of compliance bankers or renewing their membership for WBA’s 2022–2023 Compliance Forum should visit wisbank.com/forum. Questions regarding membership opportunities or upcoming Compliance Forum sessions can be directed to Lori Kalscheuer, WBA director – education.

 

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Ken Thompson HeadshotBy Kenneth D. Thompson

As my time as WBA Chair comes to a close on May 31, and I prepare to hand the baton over to Daniel Peterson, I wish to reflect upon the remarkable efforts bankers throughout our state have made this year to ensure the success of our industry. Even as we continue to feel the residual impacts of the pandemic, Wisconsin bankers continue to face every challenge in stride and stand as trusted partners in their communities.

 

Advocacy

This year, over 100 bankers from around the state attended WBA’s annual Capitol Day at the State Capitol in Madison. In addition to hearing from Wisconsin political leaders, bankers met with legislators to convey how issues like credit union expansion, banking regulatory modernization, interchange fee legislation, and elder fraud directly impact their local economies and consumers.

Similarly, many bankers have testified on several WBA key issues in the last year. Your grassroot involvement was critical in preventing bills such as those allowing for the expansion of credit unions from moving past either House. Your engagement in testifying, commenting, and supporting WBA’s efforts further unites our industry.

Education

As bankers continue to embrace new post-pandemic realities, WBA staff too is learning and shifting to best meet the needs of WBA members. Between new hybrid approaches to specific conferences and events geared at keeping our bankers informed — thousands of bankers from throughout the state have benefited from WBA’s adaptability in times of uncertainty which has allowed banks across the state to continue to grow and embrace each challenge faced.

These challenges, though difficult, have also been extremely rewarding. Bankers have shown their innovation and flexibility not only for the sake of their team members, but for their communities. This year, over 100 banks participated in WBA’s fifth annual Power of Community Week to engage with members of their communities through various service events. Throughout the year, the efforts bankers make in establishing connections within the communities they serve prove valuable in aiding the financial wellbeing of our neighbors. Additionally, your efforts assist in shaping the public’s opinion of the banking industry — a valuable perspective to hold especially as we approach election season — continue to explore new ways of embracing technology, and evolve as an industry.

I would also like to extend a sincere ‘thank you’ to WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and her staff — I speak for many of us when I say I am deeply grateful for the work that the association does for the banking community in Wisconsin and beyond.

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Reserve a space in WBA’s Engagement Center today!

The Enterprise Risk Management Peer Group met in person and virtually in the WBA Board Room. This room accommodates 12–20 people.

Since the completion of WBA’s remodel in 2020, hundreds of bankers from around Wisconsin have had the opportunity to experience the new Engagement Center. Featuring two dedicated training rooms, a board room with video conferencing capabilities, and a conference room with a touchscreen smartboard — the Engagement Center offers the space and capabilities for WBA-member bankers to learn and connect.

In addition to providing bankers a space to attend WBA educational courses and training events, these spaces are available for every WBA member bank to reserve.

WBA welcomes every member bank to take advantage of the Engagement Center for the benefit of their teams. From technology-enabled spaces to a beautifully redesigned café, WBA’s modern facility is a resource that banks can use to hold strategic meetings, training presentations, or remote conference calls. The Engagement Center also serves as a quiet spot in the Madison area for those bankers visiting the state’s capital and looking to get work done.

Any WBA-member bank looking for additional locations to hold meetings, meet between branches, or access technology-enabled spaces to train, present, or remotely connect is encouraged to take advantage of WBA’s Engagement Center.

Please contact WBA’s Association Meeting Planner/Engagement Center Manager Jody Roos at jroos@wisbank.com to learn more about what the Engagement Center offers or to reserve a space.

Vieau and Endres on Farm

By Cassandra Krause

Ask anyone from out of state what the first thing that comes to mind is when they think of  Wisconsin, and they’re likely to respond “farms” — and for good reason. Wisconsin farmers work hard to put food on tables across Wisconsin and the globe. Fondly known as “America’s Dairyland,” Wisconsin is also a leading producer of cranberries (the state fruit), soybeans, potatoes, ginseng, corn — the list goes on and on.  

According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), agriculture is a major economic driver, contributing $104.8 billion annually to our state’s economy. The state is home to 64,100 farms on 14.2 million acres (the average farm size in Wisconsin is 222 acres). For those working in the industry, farming is not just a profession, but a way of life — one that poses unique stressors and challenges.

Tough Times Made Tougher by the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. farmers were already dealing with damaging weather conditions, increased global competition and tariffs, and falling commodity prices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), citing data from the Federal Reserve, reported in July of 2021:

Clear signs of financial distress had emerged among U.S. farmers even prior to the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. Investment in equipment was down, farmer debt was up, and so was borrowing against land. By the end of 2019, the delinquency rate on commercial loans hit a six-year high, and the delinquency rate on farmland loans was at its highest level since 2013.

When COVID-19 began rapidly spreading and parts of the global economy shut down, the food system was hit by major supply and demand shocks. For example, when demand for milk from restaurants and schools plummeted due to closures, producers were forced to dump milk. Meanwhile, milk supply on grocery store shelves was sparse for consumers purchasing for their homes, and prices rose.

Sara Kohlbeck

Sara Kohlbeck
is the director of the Division of Suicide Prevention at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a researcher on farmer suicide in Wisconsin.

Especially on small farms, many families rely on income and benefits from jobs outside of the farm and were hurt by job losses due to the pandemic. In addition to the financial stresses of running a family farm, interpersonal issues often come into play between spouses and family members who work together. This is particularly evident when it comes to succession planning and the legacy of a longstanding family tradition.

A 2018 survey from the National Farm Medicine Center, headquartered in Marshfield, showed that 29% of farmers suffered from depression and 35% suffered from anxiety. The National Farm Medicine Center conducts a wide range of research ranging from topics such as child rearing and women on farms to veterans who become farmers. More can be found at marshfieldresearch.org/nfmc.

Sara Kohlbeck is the director of the Division of Suicide Prevention at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and is researching farmer suicide in Wisconsin for her doctoral dissertation. “Just about every farmer I talked to mentioned finances as a stressor,” said Kohlbeck of interviews conducted for her research. A small, organic farm may be one hailstorm away from being wiped out, and a larger farm may be millions of dollars in debt — the farmers’ entire livelihood can be at stake. While suicide is a relatively rare outcome (about 190 farmers are reported to have died by suicide from 2004–2018), Kohlbeck emphasizes that, “even one is too many.” Suicide rates are disproportionately high among farmers (about 2% of total suicides in Wisconsin, while farmers make up about 1% of the labor force), pointing to a larger mental health concern.

Resources for Farmer Wellness

Wisconsin Farm Center and Farmer Wellness Program
Farmcenter.wi.gov

  • Farm Culture Training for Ag Lenders and Ag Service Providers
  • Online Farmer and Farm Couple Support Groups
  • 24/7 Farmer Wellness Helpline | 888-901-2558
  • Tele-counseling | 888-901-2558
  • Counseling Vouchers | 800-942-2474

DATCP’s Farm Center started during the farm financial crisis of the 1980s, when farmland values dropped up to 60% in some areas of the Midwest. At its onset, the Farm Center strengthened relationships between ag lenders and farmers. It has since expanded its consulting and referral services to include financial consulting (reviewing balance sheets and cash flow, analyzing profitability and viability, analyzing debt structure, etc.), transition/succession planning (financial stability, operating agreements, tax implications, etc.), and farm mediation (dispute resolution).

The Farm Center’s Farmer Wellness Program began with $200,000 of funding in the 2019–21 biennial state budget and is now in addition funded by USDA grant money and other sources.

Vieau and Endres on Farm

Penn Vieau and Karen Endres are hosts of the “Rural Realities” podcast and recently brought their wellness messages to the stage at the WBA Agricultural Bankers Conference.

The Farmer Wellness Program offers services including a 24/7 Wisconsin farmer wellness helpline (888-901-2558), tele-counseling, and counseling vouchers. It also hosts online farmer and farm couple support groups. All of the resources are free of charge to Wisconsin farmers and their families. The services are there for those who are experiencing anxiety or depression, or just need a welcoming ear to talk to. Karen Endres, Farmer Wellness Program coordinator at the Wisconsin Farm Center, explained that the program was designed with the “4 A’s” in mind: affordability, accessibility, acceptability, and awareness. “Our most important resource is our mind,” said Endres. “We need to do a better job of taking care from [the neck] up.”

Endres noted that rural areas lost some of their sense of community during the pandemic as people were no longer seeing each other at coffee shops, card clubs, and so forth. The Farmer Wellness Program’s farmer support groups have served to combat the isolation felt by many farmers and have the added benefit of connecting farmers from around the state who may not otherwise have met but have much in common. Every session is facilitated by a licensed mental health provider with experience serving farmers and/or a trained peer leader.

The helpline, tele-counseling (via phone or Zoom), and vouchers for in-person counseling sessions all connect farmers and their families with licensed mental health professionals. The counselors can help bring control to farmers in navigating challenging situations. One farmer caller who sought mental wellness counseling for the first time through the program said, “please tell every farmer there is hope.”

Shifting the Mindset

Endres teamed up with mindset coach and former banker Penn Vieau to produce the Farm Center’s ‘Rural Realities’ podcast, which provides expert advice that can help farmers reduce stress, improve finances, implement effective farm family communication skills, and more. Vieau recently addressed the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) Agricultural Bankers Conference on the power of a positive mindset and is scheduled to speak at the upcoming WBA Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Summer Leadership Summit, June 9–10, 2022 in Wisconsin Dells. He discussed how the stigma of mental health in farming communities can be a barrier to getting help. “Stress does not equal crazy,” said Vieau. “When stress is too much to bear, talk to somebody.”

A 2019 American Farm Bureau Federation study revealed that a majority of farmers/farmworkers think the media (72%), people in their local community (58%), and their friends (56%) attach at least a fair amount of stigma to mental health.

How Bankers Can Support Farmer Mental Health

Agricultural bankers are part of rural communities and have strong ties to the farming industry — many grew up on or live on farms themselves. MCW’s Kohlbeck said bankers may be coming into contact with farmers more often than their doctors. “We’re not expecting them to be therapists, but in some ways, bankers can be nontraditional helpers,” she said. She said the most important ways bankers can help are 1) sharing resources and 2) understanding the red flags and what to do about them.

Karen Endres

Karen Endres
Farmer Wellness Program Coordinator
Wisconsin Farm Center

Endres underscored, “bankers are relationship people, and they want to do what’s best.” She recommends the Farmer Wellness Program’s online farm culture training for agricultural service providers. It is a free, virtual course to help ag lenders and other service providers understand the unique stresses and challenges of farming, handle difficult conversations, and recognize signs and symptoms of stress with farm clients. More information and the link to register are available at farmcenter.wi.gov.

One piece of advice Vieau offered the attendees of his presentation was to create a “personal board of directors” for their mental wellbeing — in other words, identify a group of close contacts to serve as trusted advisors and consultants. He pointed out that a banker is most likely already on a farmer’s “personal board of directors,” so the banker has a unique opportunity to share a flyer or card for the Farm Center’s services. “Bankers are always offering a value-add, like sharing trending reports,” said Vieau, and likened the practice to hospitality staff offering tips on local attractions. He said it’s a great idea for bankers to use the resources and information offered by the Farm Center for themselves personally and as an added service for their clients.

To learn how to spot the signs of distress in farmers, bankers and community members may participate in gatekeeper training for lay people. The Wisconsin Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is one example of an organization that offers free, one-hour training sessions online and in person.

The Outlook

All of the experts interviewed for this story agreed that more can be done to build more supportive communities and policies for farmers. “Instead of expecting farmers to reach out, we need to reach in,” said Kohlbeck. “Farmers are proud. For policies on things like climate change, don’t put the onus on farmers to solve the problems on their own.”

Penn Vieau

Penn Vieau
Professional Speaker and Coach

Vieau noted, “we spend a lot of time with [corporate] executives doing leadership training, and we need to do the same to break the stigma with farmers, who are independent businesspeople.” He highlighted that this focus is also important in encouraging the next generation of young people, who prioritize mental wellness in their careers, to become farmers.

Similarly, Endres expressed the need for everyone to look out for our farmers, who are stewards of the land and grow our food. She encourages community members to talk to one another and direct those who could benefit from a resource or service on how to access it.

“If one person shares a resource and saves a life, that’s a pretty great day,” concluded Endres.

If you are thinking about suicide or are concerned about the wellbeing of someone you know, call the Wisconsin Lifeline at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), the Wisconsin Farmer Wellness Helpline (888-901-2558), or 911.

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Marquette University Commercial Banking Program welcomes fifth cohort since inception

Dr. Kent Belasco

By Cassandra Krause

The Commercial Banking Program at Marquette University in Milwaukee is one of very few undergraduate commercial banking programs in the country and has graduated 56 students since the program’s inception in 2017, with an additional 16 planned in the next year, at a minimum. At the helm of the program is Dr. Kent Belasco, a 37-year banker who pivoted to a full-time career in higher education after having taught part-time as an adjunct professor of finance while he worked as an executive vice president and chief information and operations officer at a bank. Belasco said his two main goals for the program are (1) to provide students with great career opportunities and (2) to provide talent to the industry.

Students in the finance major at Marquette have the option to choose a concentration in the Applied Investment Management Program or the Commercial Banking Program. Belasco developed an advisory board, built the curriculum for
the Commercial Banking Program, and has published a Fundamentals of Commercial Banking textbook. The program is highly experiential, allowing students to analyze actual small businesses in the community and internationally. Students complete two internships with banks during the program and have opportunities to participate in competitions and field trips to places near and far, like Chicago and Zurich, Switzerland. Marquette is also co-branding research on bank performance with Crowe LLP (a Wisconsin Bankers Association Associate Member), with which students can get involved.

Students complete their introductory classes in finance and typically apply to the Commercial Banking Program as sophomores. A 3.0 GPA
is required for participation in the program, and students complete rigorous coursework that equips them with knowledge and skills Belasco says many bankers may not otherwise acquire until many years into their careers. Banking careers provide the opportunity to earn a good living in a rewarding industry. Belasco noted that today’s students are socially conscious, want to make a difference, and want to give back to the community. When he explains how those values align with the banking industry, he finds that it resonates well with students. He opens one of his introductory classes with a quote from Jason DeSena Trennert’s book, My Side of the Street:

Modern banking… has been the single greatest contributor to human progress… Academics have long noted the strong correlation between modern banking systems and national wealth, allowing businesses to take on more risks in their efforts to grow. Prudent risks can lead to faster economic growth, more jobs, and greater innovation in all fields of human endeavor.

Students who complete the program have a solid command of banking principles and terminology, have worked on projects with businesses and non-profit community organizations, and are eager to grow in meaningful careers. The program boasts a 100 percent job placement rate of its graduates in banks. For bank leaders who are looking to connect with the program and its students, there are a number of avenues:

  • Offer an internship (many can be done remotely during the academic year and/or in person over breaks);
  • Sponsor a scholarship;
  • Host a field trip;
  • Volunteer on a panel or at a career night; and/or
  • Attend the annual conference.

Last year’s virtual cybersecurity conference had around 200 attendees, and the focus of this year’s conference will be climate/sustainability.

An ideal partnership, says Belasco, could look like the following: the bank identifies a student in their local community with an aptitude for banking, sponsors a scholarship for the student at Marquette, offers the student an internship, and then hires the student into a key position at the bank upon graduation. There is a lot of flexibility in how to get involved, and Belasco encourages bankers to reach out to him personally about their plans for succession and talent development.

Daryll Lund, WBA executive vice president and chief of staff, serves on the advisory board for Marquette’s Commercial Banking Program. “To have a specialized program of this quality right here in our state is a great asset for Wisconsin’s banking industry,” says Lund of the program. “I would encourage bankers to raise awareness of the program in their communities and to get involved as employer partners.”

The program is a “win-win-win” for students looking for rewarding careers, for banks seeking talented employees, and for the bank customers they serve.