WBA’s Advocacy Officer program offers leadership opportunity

By Lorenzo Cruz

Leadership in your bank is about more than networking. As many bank leaders can attest, having a wide range of experience in many different areas of the bank is critical in ensuring a broad understanding of the industry as a whole.

As our industry continues to evolve, one significant area of focus for leaders continues to be government involvement. As members of the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA), banks have an opportunity to designate Advocacy Officers, or volunteers who assist in coordinating community advocacy efforts, to work alongside the WBA Government Relations Team on regulatory, legislative, and political activities that impact our industry each day.

In working with WBA staff; fellow bankers; state, local, and federal levels of government; and other state or national trade groups, WBA Advocacy Officers continue to help make life easier for bankers and accomplish the goals of the banking industry.

The typical background for this position usually includes an interest in public policy, a strong understanding of the banking industry (compliance, credit, external relations, etc.), the ability to speak for the bank regarding matters of regulatory or public policy, and a flexible schedule.

But what does an Advocacy Officer (AO) actually do and what are the rewards and advantages for the banker? Here are five opportunities for every Advocacy Officer:

1. Receive relevant, up-to-date information.

Every week, AOs receive a report detailing emerging topics, upcoming regulation, key legislative items, and inside information that will help you be at the front end of important business, banking, and economic issues in Wisconsin. In addition to weekly reports, AOs who are subscribed to the Wisconsin Banker Daily will receive timely updates on the events impacting the industry.

2. Testify before the Wisconsin Legislature or communicate with key elected officials.

This unique leadership opportunity allows AOs to speak directly to legislators and other community leaders about how the banking industry works and how legislation will impact the banking industry. Working directly with WBA staff, an AO is prepared and reinforced with information to help the banker put their best foot forward. AOs email or call elected officials about banking items to help provide information, meet in Madison at WBA’s annual Capitol Day, and host elected officials at the bank as part of “Take Your Legislator to Work Days.”

3. Recognition before your bank leadership and peers.

WBA recognizes AOs in publications and directly with bank leadership for their efforts to help the banking industry. AOs also have the opportunity to attend events that allow an individual to connect with other bankers and WBA leadership. AOs are given the contact information for every Advocacy Officer peer in Wisconsin.

4. Elect pro-banking officials.

Once per year, the AO helps coordinate fundraising activities at the bank for Wisbankpac (PAC) political action committee or the Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) conduit to help support pro-banking candidates. AOs are provided information by WBA in an Advocacy Toolkit that helps with all aspects of the event. WBA is not “D” nor “R,” but “B” for Banking!

5. Meet with leaders from other industries and represent WBA.

AOs regularly attend local and statewide events to represent Wisconsin’s banking industry. These events create an entirely new network of individuals who are leaders in other industries, such as healthcare, accounting, manufacturing, and real estate.

To learn more about the Advocacy Officer position, please visit or contact me.

WBA’s Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT)

By Cassandra Krause

If one thing is certain about young professionals in Wisconsin’s banking industry, it is that they are ambitious. Their careers mean more to them than just a paycheck, and they’re looking for ways to grow and make meaningful contributions. Nearly ten years ago, the Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Section was created to tap into the potential of emerging leaders in banking across the state.

Julie Redfern was one of the inaugural BOLT Section Board members in 2013 and has advanced in her career to executive vice president, chief operations officer at Monona Bank. “Fostering growth and leadership skills in our industry was a motivational factor for joining the BOLT initiative in its infancy stages,” said Redfern. “We had a gap in our industry, and I think BOLT is now a great tool to offset that gap for bank CEOs looking to develop bench strength with future leaders at their community banks.”

Motivations for joining BOLT vary from banker to banker. Some are seeking opportunities to learn the skills needed to be a respected, contributing community banking officer able to handle increasing responsibility. Others join because of the access to a tremendous network of Wisconsin bankers with a vast back- ground of knowledge and experience who are willing to share it in a non-competitive environment. Still others may be looking to become more engaged in legislative, regulatory, and public affairs advocacy.

BOLT was launched to ensure ongoing success for community banks by focusing on talent development and providing networking opportunities for the next generation of community bank leaders to grow and develop the necessary skills to be effective leaders.

“Nearly a decade later, talent recruitment and retention, as well as succession planning, continue to be top concerns for community banks,” said Daryll Lund, WBA executive vice president and chief of staff. “We have grown to have over 500 BOLT Section members representing over 135 banks.” It is free for WBA members to join the BOLT section, so many banks take advantage of the opportunity to sign up multiple employees.

The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey found that approximately 40% of Gen Zers and 24% of millennials would like to leave their jobs within two years, and about a third would quit without another job lined up. While those numbers may be startling, a recent LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index gives some insight into the priorities of job seekers.

Graph of young professionals' reasons for seeking new employer

As the chart above shows, a career path that aligns with the employee’s interests or values (80%) and more opportunities to learn/practice new skills or expertise (76%) are equally important to — or even more important than — better compensation or benefits (76%) for Gen Zers. Younger employees’ desire to pursue a new industry or job function and interest in moving up or increasing responsibilities underscore the importance of offering professional development opportunities.

A major draw to the BOLT Section is the access to the biannual BOLT Leadership Summits. Attendees often talk about the “spark” that’s ignited in them through the Summit programming and networking. Dan Ravenscroft was the inaugural BOLT Section Board chair and has since become president and CEO of Royal Bank, Elroy and continues his service to the industry on the WBA Board of Directors. “BOLT is designed to provide bankers with the additional knowledge, skills, and tools that they need to take their careers to the next level,” said Ravenscroft. “The connections, experiences, and relationships built through participation in the interactive BOLT Leadership Summits have proven invaluable in my personal career development.”

Lori Kalscheuer, WBA director – education, serves as the staff liaison to the BOLT Section Board and heads up the planning for the Summits. “The energy at the BOLT Summits is always very high, and the participants are eager to make the most of their experience,” said Kalscheuer. “Along with new skills and ideas, they bring back a lot of enthusiasm to their banks.” Kalscheuer emphasizes that leadership skills are applicable to any employee at the bank, regardless of job function, age, or experience level. She encourages any banker who wants to build their leadership skills to get involved with BOLT.

Now almost a decade in, the BOLT program sees continued engagement of longtime participants as well as many referrals for fellow bankers to get involved. Jennifer Sobotta, vice president and marketing director at Forward Bank, Marshfield, and current BOLT Section Board chair, views BOLT as an important benefit of WBA membership. “Joining the BOLT Section Board gave me an opportunity to stay connected with industry peers and the WBA,” explains Sobotta. “Being part of this group fits beautifully with the leadership initiatives we have going on at Forward Bank and has allowed me to identify and send our up-and-coming leaders on to fine tune their skills.”

As Loni Meiborg, senior vice president and director of organizational development, Fortifi Bank, Berlin rounds out her time on the BOLT Section Board as past chair, she has sought out a new opportunity to stay involved and continue to grow her career by serving on the WBA Marketing Committee. Her testimonial speaks for itself:

Without BOLT, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today in my career. Early on, the Summits allowed me to meet influential people who shared their knowledge and experience to help me grow. Once joining the BOLT Section Board, I was inspired by each member’s passion and commitment to fostering success among bankers and the industry overall. And now as past chair, I reflect on all the folks I’ve met and the speakers I’ve heard along the way, which have left their indelible mark on how I lead, how I think, and how I feel about banking. Thank you to the WBA leadership and team for focusing on, and knowing the importance of, Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow.

To learn more about BOLT, visit

Join emerging bank leaders on November 9 in Wisconsin Dells

Emerging leaders are encouraged to join their banking peers from across the state at WBA’s annual BOLT Winter Leadership Summit in November. Are you interested in taking the next step in your career development or looking to network with other emerging leaders in banking, or know someone who might be? Joining BOLT, or Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow, is the perfect opportunity to gain valuable education and connections that will last a lifetime!

This year’s winter summit will begin November 8 with an optional, pre-summit networking event. Light refreshments will be provided.

The summit will officially kick off the following morning, November 9, with breakfast and an opening keynote session on the power of effective communication. Denise Thomas, founder and owner of Milwaukee-based The Effective Communication Coach, will lead attendees through her “effective communication formula.” Gain techniques that will allow leaders to better connect with others, and leave the conference with practices to put into action. In addition, every emerging leader will receive a digital copy of Thomas’ book, The Effective Communication Coach Guidebook.

The daylong event will feature two additional general sessions, a peer group discussion on topics of effective leadership, and various opportunities for bankers to connect with peers from throughout Wisconsin.

Bankers of all levels — entry-level to c-suite — find that attending one of BOLT’s biannual summits is an excellent opportunity not only for bankers to round out their skills in community banking, including becoming an advocate for our industry and gaining the support of their peers, but is a critical process in preparing the bank’s next leaders when succession planning.

Interested in attending the BOLT Winter Summit? Visit or contact WBA’s Director – Education Lori Kalscheuer to learn more.

Wisconsin bankers reflect on the importance of women in industry leadership roles

By Hannah Flanders

In Wisconsin, we are lucky to not only see a growing number of women emerging into leadership positions in banks across the state, but to be surrounded by women in leadership who advocate on behalf of our industry each day.

Women Leading Wisconsin’s Banks

As of September 2022, women in the position of president and/or chief executive officer represented 16* of the over 170 banks in the state. While this number has grown over the course of the last several years, a lack of female mentors and leaders advocating on behalf of their female peers is often cited as a reason why the banking industry continues to be heavily male dominated.

Unfortunately, the stark gender disparity often begins even before individuals enter the workforce. According to UW–Madison’s School of Business, the school has 66% male alumni and only 34% female. This issue is not just the case in Wisconsin. Gender inequality is seen throughout the country at many of the largest business schools and is often reflected in the number of women pursuing careers in banking or finance.

Donna Hoppenjan, president and CEO of Platteville’s Mound City Bank and chair-elect of the WBA Board of Directors, states that “women bankers need to be confident and surround themselves with successful leaders in banking.” To her, a critical aspect of this success is having the confidence to attend training and to build relationships with bankers from other institutions.

It is without a doubt that the banking industry has come a long way — even since the turn of the century. According to Jenny Provancher, CEO of The Equitable Bank S.S.B. in Wauwatosa, leaders today are more likely to find a more diverse mix of both male and female decision makers, rather than there being only one or a few women in the room.

“The true nature of a woman is to be in a leadership role, not to change others, but to be the change we wish to see and then lead by example. The world of banking is changing at a rapid pace; what better time than now to encourage our women bankers to pursue leadership positions and lead by example.”

“For us women fortunate to be in a leadership role, we need to make sure we are visible and serve as mentors. We also need to encourage and develop women early in their career. Awareness of the opportunities is a must.”

Creating Opportunities to Grow

In addition to encouraging team members to attend conferences and training events, and network with other professionals — bankers agree that creating a space where every individual feels they have the opportunity to learn, grow, and advance in their careers is a critical step in ensuring that qualified individuals are able to reach their full potential, no matter their gender.

Hoppenjan states that the best reward of working in leadership is empowering others to make decisions and allowing them to grow in their positions.

Dawn Staples, president of Superior Savings Bank, noted that she was able to forge her own opportunities by having the confidence to volunteer and assist on other projects throughout the bank during her down time.

“I was connected to, and mentored by, some pretty seasoned supervisors, employees, and management from all areas of the bank by doing this,” she states. Bankers agree that confidence, and the ability to advocate for yourself and your abilities, is a critically important factor in establishing a team player and a leader.

“I believe a diverse group of people who have the skills needed to fill leadership positions is needed — a qualified mixture.”

“Be open to learning by showing enthusiasm and saying yes to new projects outside of your comfort zone that build your résumé and expand your expertise.”

Gender Diversity Allows for a Well-Rounded Board

In the board room, diversity is key not only in best serving all members of the community but in recognizing the strengths of every team member. The American Banker magazine reported that the push for greater opportunity for women in executive positions must start at the top. This means more gender diversified boards will recruit diverse CEOs who will ultimately recognize the efforts of and promote a greater diversity of individuals into leadership positions.

As Provancher puts it, “[individuals should] surround themselves with good people who don’t see gender as an impediment to success.”

Peshtigo National Bank President Kelly Heroux states that “the banking industry is changing at an exponential pace, and new opportunities are constantly developing. Women who have the motivation and drive to take on leadership roles will excel in this industry.”

In this, leaders should not only invest in the professional development of women in the bank but ensure there is representation at every level.

Heroux adds that both men and women have attributes that can be leveraged within the bank. “It’s important [as a leader] to know your own abilities and your colleagues’ strengths, then build your teams around those qualities.”

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers, you cannot be successful or happy.”

“Out of high school when I didn’t know what I wanted to go to college for, my dad said: ‘Go down to the Savings and Loan and see about getting a part time job there — the people are nice. While you decide what to go to school for, learn everything you can about everything; you never know when it will come in handy.’”

“Women often pay great attention to detail and have the ability to juggle multiple projects simultaneously. In addition, a woman’s perspective at the table brings another viewpoint that hasn’t always been considered in the past.”

“Sometimes the best thing you can do for a loan customer is to tell them no.”

Leading Our Leaders

The Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) has been led by Rose Oswald Poels since 2011. In 2016, the Board of Directors welcomed its first female Chair Cynthia Erdman, who at that time served at Partnership Bank, Tomah, and is currently with Farmers and Merchants Bank of Kendall. Additionally, the Association is expected to welcome Donna Hoppenjan as WBA’s second woman as chair of the Board in the coming year.

Several women have served in leadership roles at Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), the state’s regulatory agency, including Secretary-designee Cheryll Olson-Collins, her predecessor Kathy Blumenfeld, and the division of banking’s Acting Administrator Kim Swissdorf.

Not only do these women at DFI and WBA play a substantial role in supporting the state’s banking industry, working tirelessly to advocate on behalf of all Wisconsin bankers at both the state and federal levels, for many, they serve as examples of mentors of powerful women in our industry and encourage more women every year to pursue their passions, break stereotypes, and create opportunities for both themselves and their institutions.

“I believe that an institution is doing their stakeholders — both internally and externally — a disservice if they were not promoting based on merit.”

“It is extremely inspiring and encouraging to see so many more women in executive roles in banking than ever before. Work hard and don’t be afraid to be the loudest voice in the room.”

Recognizing the Strength of Women in Leadership Roles

One frequently cited barrier to women holding leadership positions is stereotyping. In banking, male leadership has been at the forefront for centuries and unfortunately our society has been slow to recognize the misconceptions placed on women taking on these positions.

Staples states that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges women often face when looking to expand their career, however, it’s important to not give up.

Although our society as a whole has become increasingly more accepting of women in positions of power, women are often being held to a higher standard than men. According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2018, 60% of people say that women have to do more to prove themselves than men to become top executives in businesses.

“Misconceptions such as leading too emotionally, distractions at home, and work/life imbalance affect all leaders — not just women,” said Heroux.

As our business practices and societal norms continue to evolve throughout the 21st century, many women have received greater recognition for their efforts throughout the pandemic. In fact, many businesses found that their women leaders took initiative and acted with resilience during the crisis.

An article by Forbes highlighted that aggressive, transactional approaches to business have created lower engagement, higher turnover, and the emulation of toxic behavior. As diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) become a greater focus of Wisconsin banks, it is important to consider how leadership style plays into this, and how both men and women alike can re-think traditional models of leadership.

It is clear that though the banking industry, and the financial sector in general, is no longer as divided as it once was, there is still work to be done in leveling the playing field for men and women alike by creating opportunities for women to expand their careers and encouraging more diversity at every level.

While women continue to push against tradition and gain leadership positions by demonstrating their abilities, seeking knowledge and information, and taking on greater responsibilities, Provancher encourages women to “actively get involved in making your bank a better place.”

“Know and understand the value that you can offer and to be able to advocate for yourself and the experience you bring to the table when necessary.”

“Over the course of my banking career, I have seen more and more opportunities open up for women. It is important that we continue to provide networking opportunities, leadership development, and think outside of the box. I also would encourage all women to speak up, try new things, and promote yourself — you are your own best cheerleader!”

“Be your authentic self, always! If they don’t like you for you, it is not going to be a good fit long term. Get involved! With your team, with your community, with peer groups, with trade associations. Never stop learning! Banking is constantly changing, and it is a must to stay well-informed of issues, changes in the industry, and the evolution of products and services.”

*As of October 2022, women in the position of president and/or chief executive officer represented 17 of the over 170 banks in the state.

Triangle Background

By Jennifer Sobotta

Attending and enjoying the June BOLT Summer Leadership Summit, listening to the speakers, and connecting with old and now new friends makes me think of how I got to be where I am today. This year’s BOLT Summer Leadership Summit made me think of it even more as we talked about career pathing. So much so, that during my next turn at the podium I introduced myself as “Jen, the Accidental Banker.”

During my studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point back in the 90s, I had no intention of going into banking. I wanted to be a marketer after all and didn’t (and still don’t) care for numbers enough to be a lender. That was how I looked at banking back then — only the positions that you would see walking in as a customer.

My senior year, with the help of UWSP Career Services, I sent over 80 resumes, had 30 interviews, nine second interviews, and three job offers. Not one was in the financial services industry.

My first real job was on a marketing team at a rural hospital/nursing home. It was very community focused and located in a lovely rural area. I had the chance to learn from an experienced leader more than tactical marketing, but the art of navigating internal meetings, public relations, and community events.

When it came time to look for more growth with another company, a friend recommended a local bank that was expanding. I took a chance and happily joined the team at the end of 1998 with a lot to learn. My mentor there had led teams at a few other banks previously and shared her expertise constantly. My path to where I am today wasn’t straight, but it was paved by leaders willing to share. That’s an important lesson.

Within two years, that mentor retired, and I took a leap of faith that I could be the next marketing director. The bank took a chance on me and invested in me as I grew as a leader. They sent me on to the ABA School of Bank Marketing & Management and countless other conferences and seminars to learn new methods and software to fine-tune my craft. Through the years, I built my team up to three in the marketing department, and the bank grew to $500 Million in assets and 14 locations. Yet, it was again time to move on to the next challenge.

I received a call from an old colleague, a lender who I didn’t always have a chance to talk with much. He told me about the opening at Forward and encouraged me to apply. That gentleman has risen to the role of president and is the leader I now report to. A great lesson that every interaction with people is important — you don’t know when and what is noticed.

The past 12 years have been a blur, much like when you are speeding down a highway. I’ve seen the same level of investment in me as a team member and more in all of us as leaders. We all challenge each other to innovate, to remove the traditional roadblocks, and push back at the naysayer mindset sometimes found in financial services. We understand that banking isn’t a transaction, it’s now an experience.

Forward is now approaching $1 billion in assets with 12 locations, seven insurance offices, and three investment offices. When I look around, there are many accidental bankers like me with the list growing each year.

As the current Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Board chair and thinking of the time spent working with and learning from the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA), we are all lucky to have this resource. From serving on the Marketing Committee, then as its chair to being part of BOLT and now proud to be this year’s chair, I wonder what will be next. Where else can I continue to learn and lead through that process?

One final lesson that has stayed with me for over 20 years. My 90-year-old grandfather swung a golf club for the first time as I was practicing in the yard after his birthday party. Knowing he would never play a course, I asked him why even learn to swing the club. He told me, “you never stop learning until you leave this earth.” Best lesson ever.

I may not have chosen initially to be a banker, but the path I’ve taken has been created by the lessons of leaders around me. Good luck on your journey.

Interested in attending the next BOLT Summit?

Sobotta is vice president – marketing director at Forward Bank in Marshfield

Alvaro (Al) Araque, senior vice president and director of Consumer and Private Banking, Johnson Financial Group, Racine, has been selected to become the 2022–23 WBA vice chair by the WBA Nominating Committee.

The nominating committee, which is comprised of the current WBA officers and recent past chairmen from WBA, also selected the following candidates to fill seats for three-year terms on the WBA board of directors: Greg Lundberg, Fortifi Bank, Berlin (Group 3); Paul Hoffmann, Monona Bank (Group 4); Ryan Kamphuis, Bristol Morgan Bank, Oakfield (At-Large); and Tom Mews, First National Community Bank, New Richmond (At-Large).

Pursuant to the WBA Bylaws, the above candidates shall be considered elected on April 2 unless other nominees are offered by petition submitted to the WBA office by April 1. The nominating committee received many nominations of excellent candidates, making the selection process very difficult.

The committee, led by WBA Past Chair Paul Kohler, wishes to thank everyone for their interest in serving on the WBA Board, along with your continued strong support of WBA.


Recent studies have shown emotional intelligence to be a key factor in leadership effectiveness. Emotionally intelligent leaders of teams create psychologically safe workplaces that lead to improved employee job satisfaction, retention, creativity, performance and well being.

Session Highlights

  • Explain what emotional intelligence is and the difference between IQ and EQ
  • Review the 5 key components of emotional intelligence
  • Understand why emotionally intelligent leaders are more effective
  • Explain the role of emotional intelligence in building high-trust relationships
  • Review strategies to motivate and response to the needs of your teams
  • Use emotional intelligence to become a more effective leader
  • Leave you with some everyday tools to use in your leadership journey

Target Audience: Anyone who is in a leadership position

Presenter: Vicki Kraai, InterAction Training

Registration Option: Live presentation $330

Recording available through February 4, 2023