Harmening_AndrewAndrew Harmening, who now splits his time between Green Bay and Milwaukee as the newly appointed president and CEO of Associated Bank, was born in Chicago and grew up in Indiana, and most recently lived in Ohio in his previous role as senior executive vice president of Huntington Bank. Harmening is no stranger to Wisconsin — he has been coming to the state for family reunions and events for over 30 years. His wife has family in Stratford and his daughter is attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so he comes to the state with a familiarity of local communities both small and large.

Associated Bank has been the official bank of the Green Bay Packers since 1919, and the prospect of coming to Titletown was one of the draws for Harmening. He enjoys the energy of the area and getting to know the people who make it a vibrant place. Harmening’s first day at Associated was April 28, and he has spent much of his time since then talking with colleagues across the organization — more than 300 and counting, mostly face to face.

“We’re in a people business,” said Harmening. “Our colleagues have pride in Associated Bank and are active in their communities.” He emphasized that the personal relationships built between employees and customers are an important way the bank differentiates itself from Fintech competitors. He noted that the bank earns trust from customers in a way that can’t be achieved by Fintechs. 

As Harmening maps out a strategic plan, he is intent on listening to colleagues and customers. He says he has been given license by fellow colleagues to “be bold” and wants to grow in ways that makes sense specifically for the organization and its customers. With regard to digital banking and technology, Harmening stresses that the objective is to “build stuff for your customers — don’t just build tech for the sake of it.” In addition to digital banking solutions, he mentioned small business and commercial banking as potential areas for growth, all while keeping community involvement at the forefront.

When asked where Associated Bank is headed over the next several years, Harmening stressed that they first need to get through the next 6–12 months. “This is the first pandemic we’ve experienced in our lifetimes,” he noted. “The pandemic, isolation, and returning to the office are all people-centered things.” He said the team worked hard on supporting small business owners hurt by the pandemic through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and their spirit of human interaction still matters. He said flexibility for employees returning to the office in the building will also matter — success coming out of the pandemic will depend on keeping colleagues, customers, and the company in mind.  

“I really would emphasize first things first,” said Harmening. “Not ‘how did it make you bigger?’ but ‘how did it make you better?’” He said there’s no avoiding the scale question, it’s just a matter of getting it right. Harmening credited his predecessor Phil Flynn with having a risk management foundation in place, so there were no surprises, and there is a strong foundation on which to build.

Harmening emphasized that Associated Bank employees and board members alike are passionate about remaining independent. Associated Bank is the largest bank holding company headquartered in Wisconsin, with its history tracing back to 1861. With approximately 4,000 colleagues, serving over one million customers, more than 220 banking locations serving more than 120 communities throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, and commercial financial services in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Texas, Associated Bank is the largest Wisconsin-based member of the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA).

Harmening looks forward to working with WBA and appreciates that the organization offers an open line of communication. He said a major benefit of a trade association is learning from peers and being able to find out if other banks are going through similar things. He also values the opportunity to have a voice alongside other WBA members and the collective advocacy for Wisconsin’s banking industry. After 12 years of experience with the Consumer Bankers Association, including service on the board, Harmening has a strong familiarity with trade associations and looks to continue Associated Bank’s longstanding tradition of being an active WBA member.

Harmening likes to stay active and healthy, as evidenced by his occasional laps throughout the office while on conference calls. Outside of work, he enjoys playing tennis, walking, and hiking outdoors. One of his proudest feats is climbing Mt. Ventoux in France, a mountain over 6,200 feet high, made famous by its bike trail in the Tour de France. Harmening and his wife are empty nesters, who are eagerly exploring the local restaurant scenes of Wisconsin. They have already discovered some favorite spots around Green Bay and Milwaukee. As any Wisconsinite can appreciate, Harmening raved about his newfound affinity for cheese curds — squeaky, fried, yellow, or orange — he loves them all.

By, Cassie Krause

Security considerations for modern branch technology

As branch networks evolve from brick-and-mortar transaction centers into technology-friendly customer interaction spaces, banks must also be diligent in their work to update their security strategy. A 20th-century security plan won't protect a 21st-century branch network. Unfortunately, there's no universal approach that will work for every institution. "Any time you're adding new technology or moving to something new, there's no easy answer," said Randy Phillips, vice president of security management at Thompson Consulting Group, LLC. "It's really a case-by-case basis because it depends on how much technology you're adding." Instead, bank security officers should align their current strategy to their branch network with a close look at their vulnerabilities from a holistic perspective. 

Adopt a Holistic Perspective

Modern branch networks are less a collection of separate buildings and more a true network, a group of interconnected pieces working in tandem. Therefore, updating the security strategy to accommodate modern networks requires a perspective shift. "It doesn't require changes so much as it requires looking at security concerns from the past in a different way, as an ecosystem rather than as separate pieces," said Jim Stanger, FI solutions team leader at Edge One, Inc. "You need to look at your security more holistically." Protecting innovative branch networks that rely on more automation than past models requires reviewing security in a new way, according to Barry Thompson, managing partner at Thompson Consulting Group, LLC. 

That holistic view necessitates an understanding of how each piece of the network interacts with the others, whether it's an ATM at a remote location, a complimentary Wi-Fi connection, or a new mobile app. "Any time you're looking at new technology, you need to look at the interoperability, how all the parts will work together," said Phillips. "Research it and spend the time to choose wisely, because the last thing you want is to make a purchase and then discover that it's not as efficient as you'd anticipated or it opens you up to new vulnerabilities you hadn't expected." Bank security officers must identify and defend against new and transforming vulnerabilities related to both physical security and information security, and the best way to do so is to evaluate current security from the perspective of a criminal. "Everybody's probably heard it before, but any situation where you're the security officer you have to think like the bad guy," Phillips said. "What are they doing and how are they trying to do it?"

Information Security

With today's rapidly evolving technology landscape, keeping up with the industry is vital for information security, which is one of the most common security concerns today, according to Dawn Staples, president/CEO of Superior Savings Bank. "These concerns evolve as quickly as the previous vulnerability has been addressed. Maintaining an effective information security policy that is frequently updated and followed, along with a vigilant eye on emerging trends is essential." An ongoing system for monitoring and improving security is especially critical as the machines banks use to deliver services to their customers become more complex, such as video ATMs and interactive teller machines. "Protect the terminals today but also have a system for protecting them on an ongoing basis," Stanger advised. Having a system in place to regularly install security updates is vital, as modern machines are far more complex than their past counterparts. "These solutions are just as much software as they are hardware, today," said Stanger, referring to ATMs. 

Even entirely digital system components such as Wi-Fi and electronic banking products should be reviewed and monitored as part of the overall branch network, since they can become gateways for criminals to access other areas of the network. "Layered security is a primary focus with all of our electronic banking products," said Staples. "Multifactor authentication, firewalls, and VPNs are just a few of the strategies that are commonly used." When it comes to offering internet access to customers, the best protection is to separate it from the connection used by branch network components and internal processes. "If you're providing free Wi-Fi for visitors and customers, you must ensure that the connection is completely separate from the connection used by the bank's internal computers and systems," Thompson stressed. "Otherwise someone in the parking lot can start using your internet." The good news is, safer and more secure technology is developed as rapidly as criminals find ways to exploit current technology. "As technology advances, additional protections are available for personal transactions, whether it's banking or any other cloud-based activity," said Staples. 

Physical Security

When it comes to physical security, a holistic perspective requires banks to consider how the new devices impact customer safety, even as they provide additional convenience. "The biggest change is to give more consideration to the fact that we're moving some of our security exposure to the customer," Phillips said. He explained that self-service machines such as interactive ATMs place the responsibility for cash handling on the customer, and many people still don't trust machines to dispense the correct amount. "They're still going to stand there and count the money," he said. "So, look at the surroundings."

This customer-centric view also applies when considering the physical layout of the branch, including the placement of teller pods (if they are being installed). "The size of the teller pod and how you position it within the branch creates issues for physical security," said Thompson. For example, he cautioned banks against positioning pods in such a way that would allow customers to view the computer screens on nearby pods, potentially revealing other customers' account information. "It's crime prevention through environmental design," he explained. Fortunately, as with many information security components, improvements are constantly being made to the physical elements of branch networks. "Many of these new technologies have self-monitoring capabilities, detecting skimming devices on ATMs, for example," Phillips said. 

One thing that hasn't changed, and isn't likely to: prevention and preparation are critical elements in an effective bank security strategy. "Vigilance for what's happening today, with an eye for what's happening tomorrow," said Stanger. "It's best to buy umbrellas before it starts raining."

Edge One, Inc is a WBA Associate Member

By, Amber Seitz

While banking as a business has evolved over the decades (albeit gradually), the branch itself has not changed much from the earliest days of banking. Most brick-and-mortar locations still feature long teller lines separating staff from customers, hidden back offices for more complex financial needs, and large but separated spaces for consumers to navigate in their search for solutions. With the advent of digital banking, that model is changing. Banks in the future—and sooner than you think—will look very different from the marble halls of the past. 

New Purpose

The very purpose of the bank branch is changing. Once the central purpose for the branch, the number of in-branch transactions continues to fall as online and mobile transactions become the norm. "Our entire culture is being digitized, and the trend of integrating the physical world with the digital will have a tremendous impact on how we do branching in the future," said Andy Grinstead, vice president of strategic insights at Fiserv. "It's already happening today, and the pace will accelerate." As a result, bank branches must adapt to a new purpose: customer engagement. "People are going to look for expertise on financial services rather than just coming in to conduct a transaction," explained Dan Peterson, president & CEO of the Stephenson National Bank & Trust, Marinette. 

This new customer motivation provides banks an opportunity to become a destination rather than a chore, according to Jennie Sobecki, founder & CEO, Focused Results, LLC. "Be the financial services experts in your community, because you are," she added. "Many bankers don't like to stand out, but they'll need to." As a result of this change, tomorrow's branches will be designed to foster relationships. "Successful bank branches will acquire and develop customer relationships by providing personalized interactions in an easy-to-use multi-channel environment that offers customers the choice of full-, assisted-, or self-service based on their personal preference," said Susan Doyle, senior vice president of retail banking at North Shore Bank, Brookfield. Millennials in particular, Doyle notes, value advice and solutions from bank specialists they trust in addition to digital access to transactions. 


With a new focus on customer relationships rather than conducting transactions, tomorrow's branches will be more open, with most utilizing the Universal Banker model that is already gaining popularity. "We'll have more open layouts," said Sobecki. "The Universal Banker model is more user-friendly and focused on relationship-building." Peterson also predicts most successful branches will feature teller pods rather than traditional lines. According to Doyle, branch design will promote customer access to bank staff, space for customers to discover and learn about the bank's products and services, and opportunities for consultative discussions and account fulfillment. This, in turn, will require a higher level of expertise from front-line staff. "The knowledge and skill of branch staff is evolving upward," said Doyle. "Staff must be knowledgeable people who can handle complex transactions, engage in conversations about financial needs, provide counsel and connect customers with experts." 

These new design features will allow branch footprints to shrink, reducing the bank's overhead. "With less space dedicated to teller transaction windows, branches need less square footage to serve customers and fewer staff members dedicated to processing transactions," said Doyle. In some cases, excess space may even be leased out to the bank's business clients, or perhaps converted into space where bank customers (and potential customers) can learn about digital offerings. "Branch design will also include open offices and meeting centers, digital media to tell the bank's story, and also provide easy access to eServices with a genius bar or eService Education Center," said Peterson. For example, Stephenson National Bank & Trust has placed an eLab in their main office. "People can come in and use a variety of devices—different brands of tablets and phones—and we can demonstrate how to use our online services," Peterson explained. "We're training our customers how not to come into our branches to conduct basic transactions, but encouraging them to come in for education and financial advice."

Right-sizing branches and the services they offer will also be a key component in a successful branch strategy by maximizing the impact of each customer touch-point. "Branches should reflect the needs of the consumer and market in terms of size, staff and services offered," said Doyle. The model that North Shore Bank uses includes hub, spoke and kiosk branches, all of which work in combination with the others to create a distribution system that works for the customers and communities they serve. With this system, a large, full-service hub branch supports a regional network of smaller satellite offices (the spokes) and forthcoming video teller/ATM machines that offer customers a direct connection to branch staff (kiosks). 

Integrated Technology

Machines bank customers can use to conduct basic transactions will be central to the branch of the future. Interactive teller machines, depository ATMs and cash recyclers will all help streamline the customer experience. "Technology can do the basic transactions. You need the people to be customer-facing dream-builders," said Sobecki. "The banker's job isn't counting cash well; it's building relationships and finding out what the client wants, then positioning the bank's products and services to help them achieve those dreams." 

Using technology to recognize customers is a perfect example of this partnership between technology and human customer service, and Grinstead predicts its use will continue to grow. For example, a customer books an appointment online and when they arrive at the branch they are identified through geolocation technology (such as a beacon) or a biometric (such as facial recognition), notifying branch staff instantly of who they are and why they're there. "That ability to connect with the person who can answer your question right away will be critical," he said. 

Another common feature will be remote video support, allowing customers to communicate face-to-face with bank staff from anywhere. The concept of "banking from anywhere" will be the primary driver behind many of the changes in branch banking. "Just ten years old, smart phones have and will continue to be a game changer," said Doyle. "They will continue to alter how customers choose to conduct their banking business." However, mobile devices are also a source of competition and drastically transforming customer expectations. "Banks are being matched up against the technology of other industries today, not just the bank up the street," said Grinstead. "You're being compared to Apple and Google."

Implementing Change

The good news is, the transition from the traditional branch model to the future model does not need to be immediate. In fact, bank management should take care not to rush implementation of any new branch strategy. "Embed it into your strategic plan," Sobecki advised. "Technology isn't cheap, so you need to know in advance what your plan is." Both Doyle and Peterson say they sought information from other banks who had installed similar features to learn what went well (and why) as well as how to manage or avoid common challenges. However, discerning the best course of action for your institution also requires dedicated due diligence. "Start with data," Grinstead advised. "Start with intentionality by completing a branch optimization and transformation study." The study will enable bank management to understand the current performance of each branch as well as market opportunities around that branch through customer market research. 

Branches should not be evaluated solely on transaction volume, however. "The number one thing is revenue per square foot," said Sobecki. "You have branches in mature markets and growth markets, so it's also important to look at your year-over-year growth, not just the dollar amounts." At Stephenson National Bank & Trust, Peterson says they have begun evaluating the bank's digital performance, too. "Rather than evaluate the different office locations, we're evaluating our virtual branch," said Peterson. "We've established a general ledger for analyzing how our customers bank with us digitally." Grinstead recommends measuring relative profitability (rather than fixed costs) and analyzing growth based on whether or not the branch is capitalizing on the opportunities present in its market. 

Communication with customers and staff about upcoming changes must also be carefully planned and executed in order for the branch transformation to succeed. "As a high-touch community bank, listening to our customers regarding their preferences is requisite and our most important tool," said Doyle. "The branch needs to provide a platform that takes into account varying rates of change and provide customers with choices on how they want to bank." Staff must also understand their role in any upcoming changes well in advance, not only so they can explain the new features to customers, but to gain their support. "Buy-in from the staff will determine the success of the changes being made," said Peterson. "If not communicated or presented in a positive manner, reputational risk will be an issue."

Envisioning Tomorrow's Branches…. Today!

Left: A view looking from the Knowledge Desk to business partner offices in the branch, which include mortgage, investment and business banking. Center: Jenni Dolata, deposit operations officer, training Stephenson National Bank & Trust employees on the eTeller. Right: View from North Shore Bank's new teller pod in their Green Bay branch. The branch features an interactive kiosk, a fulfilment desk, and a connection area with a personal banker and video conferencing.
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By, Amber Seitz

As the Federal Reserve executes its strategy to slowly raise rates, net-interest margins will continue to compress. That compression makes non-interest income a key element in bank success as the primary source of earnings growth. Wisconsin banks must explore practical strategies to increase non-interest income without alienating customers or experiencing regulatory compliance violations. 

Pursue Fee Income

Since fee income is a common source of non-interest income, it is a popular first choice for many institutions. The first step in this strategy is to evaluate the bank's current fee structure. "Banks should evaluate loan fees regularly, along with new product and services fees," said Kirsten Spira, banking attorney at Boardman and Clark, LLP. "Banks may determine that their fees are below the market rate, and even a slight adjustment could improve the bottom line without losing your customer base." It's also important for management to monitor the rate at which fees are actually collected. "Management might be surprised at how often fees are waived or not collected," said Spira. "In addition to loss of revenue, this collection issue can raise compliance concerns, as well, such as fair lending, et cetera."

Of course, it is difficult to introduce or raise fees without generating a negative reaction from customers. One way to do so is to use opt-ins, according to Shane Bauer, first vice president/security officer at Bankers' Bank, Madison. "Offer different flavors of a product starting with 'free' and then charge for incremental benefits the customer values," he suggested. One example would be to offer same-day ACH as a paid upgrade to the bank's already-existing payment options. "It's the bank equivalent of Economy Plus seating," Bauer explained.

Expand or Diversify Offerings

Another popular option to generate additional non-interest income is to expand or diversify the bank's current slate of product and/or service offerings. This strategy includes options ranging from fees generated from SBA loan packaging services or secondary market sales to wealth management and trust services, or even add-on products like credit insurance, GAP and debt protection. Because there are so many options, banks must take care to select line(s) of business that match up with their customers' needs and price sensitivity. "The most important thing is offering the right variety of properly priced products," Bauer advised. "Develop products based on a demonstrable need from customers, not just based on what everyone else is doing."

Banks considering this strategy face the key decision of whether to grow their product/service line organically or find an independent company to acquire. The choice between organic growth or acquisition depends on the bank's unique circumstances and how quickly they want to grow, according to Nate Zastrow, executive vice president and CFO, First Bank Financial Centre, Oconomowoc. "For example, we knew that wealth management was an area that needed fast growth, so we found a firm to acquire," he explained. "On the other hand, we grew our mortgage lending from within, over time." 

Another popular source of non-interest income is credit card lines of business. "Card programs offer banks a variety of ways to increase fee income, from interchange fees paid to an issuer for card transactions to profitable pricing in merchant services," said Bauer. Since cards—both on the issuing and merchant side—are volume businesses, Bauer advises banks to grow their card business with the right partner to strengthen relationships. 

Trust companies can also be a good source of non-interest income, but often take a long time to reach profitability when grown organically. If this is an area where the bank has identified opportunity, finding a trust company to purchase may be a better strategy than building from the ground up.

Evaluate the Risks

As with any new strategic direction, bank leadership must carefully evaluate the risks associated with their non-interest income strategy prior to implementing it. Predictably, regulatory compliance is of the highest concern for most institutions. "The current regulatory environment does not leave much room for creativity," said Spira. "Leadership should consider the regulators and make sure the strategic plan takes into account the legal restrictions on products and fees." She recommends that bank management work closely with compliance staff and the bank's attorneys to ensure any new fees, products or services are compliant. "State and federal regulators look closely at fees and add-on products, and the CFPB has a keen eye on strategies employed for the sale of add-on products," she added. 

Not having a well-defined strategy creates massive risk with any new business endeavor, and generating non-interest income is no exception. "It's important to be clear on what you want to accomplish and have a plan for getting there," said Bauer. "Banks need to identify value-added services that customers are willing to pay for and explore ways to offer them." Proper planning allows for flexibility, as well. First Bank Financial Centre has a rolling three- to five-year strategy that is evaluated and adjusted quarterly, according to Zastrow. "If something is working we go deeper and if something isn't we scratch it and move on," he said. Because no bank can be "everything to everyone," it is important for product and service offerings to be consistent with the bank's strategic plan in pricing and delivery. 

Identifying your customers' tolerance for new or higher fees, as well as their appetite for expanded products and services is another key risk. Spira pointed out that many non-bank competitors offer consumers a wide variety of digital services at no charge, and that has transformed bank customers' expectations. "The marketplace is increasingly competitive, consisting of bank and non-bank competitors, and a customer base that expects more for less… including electronic access to all banking products and services without additional fees," she said. One way to mitigate this risk is by placing customer satisfaction at the center. "Our strategy wasn't dollar-driven," Zastrow explained. "It was more focused on delivery channel and product base, building up a complete suite of products for our customers. From that, the non-interest income grew." 

Finally, verifying that the bank has the appropriate infrastructure and staff expertise to capably deliver the new product or service is also essential. "Having the expertise is key, and that's where having the right people comes in," Zastrow said. In order to successfully offer a new fee-generating product or service, the bank must either acquire the expertise needed or grow it over time, according to Bauer. "The bank needs to be clear on what it is willing to devote in time and resources and be realistic in its expectations," he said. "Success will come from the right planning and execution, including tasking the right team internally and contracting with the right vendors where needed."

Bankers' Bank and Boardman and Clark are WBA Gold Associate Members. 

By, Amber Seitz

Your employees are your most valuable asset, and their safety is your paramount concern. According to the US Department of Labor's most recent Census of Occupational Injuries, workplace homicides increased by 2 percent to 417 cases nationwide in 2015, with shootings increasing by 15 percent. Workplace violence is an unfortunate reality, but training and preparation can make all the difference if—and when—a situation arises. All businesses, but banks in particular, should regularly review their policies and training practices as well as work to develop a mindset of preparedness. "For the protection of your employees, customers and community, it is imperative that bank preparation and training, as well as policies and procedures, align with today's reality," said Rose Oswald Poels, WBA president and CEO. It can mean the difference between stopping an incident before it escalates to violence.

Effective Policies

Bank incident response policies can look good on paper, but if they don't take real human reactions into account they won't be effective, says Terry Choate, president & CEO of Blue-U Defense. Blue-U is a defense company that offers training and information to assist employees during incidents of workplace violence. "Incident response policies have to be practical and effective," Choate said. "They must take into account an understanding of what is going to happen to both the victim and the perpetrator. If they don't have those things, they're not going to work." For example, many bank lobbies now have free-standing teller pods or similar customer service stations. During a robbery, a typical policy will require the teller stationed at the pod to punch in a code on a keypad to retrieve any cash the robber demands. However, Choate points out that during a high-stress situation the heart rate spikes, inhibiting the fine motor control required for such a task, making it incredibly difficult. In fact, the bank employee may not even be able to recall the code under duress. "When the teller can't do what is expected of them, the situation escalates quickly," Choate explained. "The policy should not expect employees to do something they won't be able to do."

It is also common for banks' incident response policies to attempt to cover many different types of incidents under one large, complex policy. However, a good policy for responding to robberies or active shooter situations should be separate from the incident response policy addressing other types of scenarios. "The active-shooter policy should be stand alone," said Joe Hileman, executive vice president at Blue-U. "That situation and the responses it requires are different from any other situation at the bank." Due to regulatory requirements, often banks' incident response policies focus on computer-related incidents such as disaster recovery and data breaches, according to Debra Bartolerio, CAMS, AVP – compliance & security at Citizens Bank, Mukwonago. "You need to incorporate customer and employee safety in your incident response plan," she advised, also recommending that the policy include an annual requirement for training. 

Practical Training

Like a good policy, proper training also can have a tremendous positive impact on the outcome of an incident of workplace violence. Unfortunately, most bank employees only receive training focused solely on bank robberies, which doesn't meet today's needs, according to Hileman. "You also need to train for incidents that have nothing to do with a bank robbery," he advised. "We need to train people for today's needs and today's threats." Hileman explained that during an incident, people will always revert to their training, and the responses required for a bank robbery are very different from those required during an active shooter situation. "There is a fine line between a bank robbery and an active shooter," Choate said, explaining that not all bank robberies become active shooter situations, and not all active shooter situations are bank robberies. "The bottom line is, bank employees need training for both situations," he said. 

Helping bank staff distinguish between a robbery and a violent incident and respond accordingly is an essential, yet often overlooked, component of training. "Skills at recognizing signs of violence and de-escalation techniques are critical skills that bank employees need but very few of them get," said Choate. Those skills can event help prevent a situation from becoming violent. "Not every incident will turn into an active shooter situation," Hileman explained. "If you don't give your tellers those tools to de-escalate the situation, it may become a more violent encounter. So, training can actually prevent violent situations."

Bartolerio, Choate and Hileman all recommend bank staff receive workplace safety training at least annually, due to both turnover and the fact that the skills involved are perishable. Bartolerio recommends supplementing that training, as well. She explained that citing incidents of violence that bank employees hear about in the news (even if it didn't happen at a bank) helps drive home that "it can happen here." She uses a monthly article in the bank's internal newsletter for this purpose. "Whenever there's an incident, especially if it's local, send out a communication to staff about how they should react if something similar were to happen at your institution," she advised. 

Alert Mindset

Perhaps the most important and effective thing bank management can do to help keep their employees safe is to foster a culture of awareness. "The reason a lot of banks don't spend the proper time on policies and training is the same reasons why people don't prepare as individuals," said Choate. "They just don't think it's going to happen to them." Promoting a culture of awareness may involve updating policies or simply enforcing current ones. It's also important for bank staff to receive reminders when they're exposing the bank (or themselves) to the possibility of an incident. Bartolerio used the example of encouraging staff to leave lights on in unoccupied offices as a deterrent to criminals, and reminding tellers to be cautious with cash. "Tellers become immune to the value of money because they work with it every day," Bartolerio explained. "Make sure you call them out if you see them with a pile of money on their counter. That looks very inviting to potential criminals." 

Another effective deterrent is to take away potential criminals' ability to surveil the bank by having staff visibly check their surroundings periodically. "We tell our clients all the time, the absolute best way to prevent a bank robbery is to send someone out into the parking lot every so often and have them look around for possible threats or people surveying the bank," said Choate. Blue-U often provides similar low-cost, practical recommendations as a result of their physical site security assessment services, available to WBA members at a discounted rate. "The association is committed to offering tools our members can use to make their institutions safer for their employees and customers," said Oswald Poels.

A culture of awareness also encourages employees to internalize what they learn during their incident training. "A culture of safety is not something you can expect employees to turn on when they come to work," Choate explained. "It has to be a culture change in general that we all become more aware and more prepared. If you don't truly believe it could happen to you, any training is a waste of time." Ultimately, that's the key to bringing awareness and preparation to an incident workplace violence: believing that it can happen to you, no matter how unlikely it seems. "Especially at community banks, our staff tend to feel like 'that happens in downtown Chicago, not here,'" Bartolerio said. "But it can." 

WBA has partnered with Blue-U Defense to bring member banks free education offerings and steeply discounted services related to workplace safety. Three complimentary seminars are being held soon: 

June 6 | Pewaukee
June 7 | Wisconsin Dells
June 8 | Rice Lake

Sign up your bank's attendees today! 

Additionally, Blue-U Defense provides several services to financial institutions to help them protect their employees and customers, including in-bank training. Visit to learn more or to register for one of the free seminars.

By, Amber Seitz

When it comes to delivery channels, the quantity over quality strategy is ineffective, Gallup research shows. In studies and surveys conducted from 2013-2016, Gallup has found that some banks have focused on aggressively expanding the number of channels they offer their customers without first researching how to choose the channels that best fit their customers and their overall strategic goals. Channel satisfaction is the key to increasing engagement and deepening the bank's relationship with its customers, and the key to channel satisfaction is identifying how and where your customers want to interact with you. 

The list of channel options for product delivery and marketing seems endless—but rather than having 500 channels and nothing good on, a strategic channel approach can effectively engage your audience. When the focus shifts from individual channels to the overall customer experience, it can be easier to identify where to focus. In general, channels can be classified as either traditional or digital and used for product delivery or marketing. Wisconsin Banker interviewed four experts to highlight current popular channels for banks to consider. 

"Branches are not dead, they're just changing from transaction centers to sales centers," said Mark Arnold, president of On the Mark Strategies. The bank branch is still a key channel because customers still want to know their banker and value the experience they have with the bank—regardless of whether that experience is online or in person, according to Sara Baker, vice president, Ladysmith Federal Savings & Loan. "Customers still demand that high-touch personal service from their community bank," said Baker. "Balancing the digital versus human touch relationships with our customers is key to the future of community banking."

Interactive Teller Machines
"Interactive teller—or video teller—machines are something every bank should study," said Jay Coakley, president of Coakley Strategic Solutions, LLC. "You can reduce delivery cost and provide great customer service, especially in a small community, by utilizing employees in one location to service customers in another location. It's great technology." These machines can help banks maintain strong service relationships even in locations where a full-scale branch is inefficient or prohibitively expensive to operate. 

Core Processors
Banks should consider the delivery channels offered through their core vendor, according to Jim Pannos, president and principal of the Pannos Marketing Agency. "Many of our clients are getting involved with their core processors to get their most recent release because there are so many more capabilities within the newer core processing platforms," he explained. 

"Don't forget the power of email," said Arnold. "Email is still a great channel to use to deliver products and services. Think about how scalable they are and how they look on mobile." For example, with the growing number of emails viewed on mobile phones, the format needs to be designed to allow readers to scroll through content easily.

Content marketing
In all digital marketing, but email especially, good content is a critical component. "Consumers today really want content and not sales pitches," said Arnold. "It's what you're saying as opposed to how you're saying it." Banks can position themselves as expert advisors by offering useful information to their customers through blogs, their website and emailed newsletters. However, Arnold cautions against too much verbosity: "People are consuming more information than they ever have before, but in smaller bites. Information you send out needs to be digestible," he said. 

Technology that allows customers to access answers when the bank's doors aren't open will become increasingly important, according to Pannos. "Your bank doesn't have to be open 24 hours, but people are focused on accessing at their leisure versus when the bank is open," he said. The convenience of online banking appeals to many customers who previously performed transactions in the branch. "Consumers are not increasing the number of transactions each month," Coakley said of the growth in online and mobile transactions. "They're just interacting with the bank in a way that's more convenient for them."

"Mobile has the strongest trend line," said Coakley. "From the studies we've done, mobile banking's trend line is going up at a steep increase while online, in-branch and phone systems are declining." However, it is important that the bank dedicate enough resources to their mobile app to make it both functional and intuitive or many customers will not adopt it as a preferred channel. "Customers expect a bank's mobile app to be vibrant, easy-to-use, and fast," Pannos explained. 

P2P Payments
Person-to-person payment applications like Vimeo are becoming the preferred tool for younger consumers, which makes these types of delivery channels a potential market for banks that choose to target younger customers. "Usage of [these apps] isn't going to shrink," said Pannos. "Banks should be aware of that as they're looking at their technology and how they're going to serve the millennial generation and Gen Z. They're looking to those types of platforms as currency."

Remote Deposit Capture
This service allows customers to deposit checks via their mobile phones by simply snapping a picture of it, and while it's becoming very popular, banks should be cautious. "It's a great service, but it can be costly, especially for smaller banks," said Pannos. Due to the diminishing number of checks being written across the industry, he advises banks to assess the overall market demand and competition for the product, as well as examine their own customer base demographics to ensure the product will assist in the bank's overall customer satisfaction and retention. 

Before Diving In…

So which channel(s) should your bank invest in? There are four main areas to consider when investigating a channel strategy upgrade: your customer base, cost, marketing and training. "It's important for banks to understand their market and their customer base," said Baker, pointing out that customer demands for a bank in metropolitan Milwaukee will be very different from those at a bank in rural northern Wisconsin. "Just because the bank down the street offers a certain product doesn't mean your bank needs to offer that same product. Ask your customers what they want before diving in." Coakley recommends defining not only what the bank's current customers want for delivery channels, but also the preferences of the bank's targeted future customers. "It's about what your current customers want and what your future customers want, and those can be two vastly different answers," he said.

While upgrading or purchasing new delivery channels can be costly, banks need to consider their options from all angles. For example, purchasing new video tellers may reduce branch overhead expenses enough to offset the initial cost. "Investing in new technology and solutions can overall reduce the cost of operations, so this is important to look at too," said Baker. Intentionally migrating your customers to digital channels can also lead to staffing changes. "Long-term reduction in FTEs pays for the new technology," Coakley explained.

Additionally, the bank must plan to market any new channels in order to optimize usage rates. "You may have great products and technology, but if you don't communicate that to your customers and your community, they won't adopt it," said Coakley. A review of the bank's current marketing channel strategies is also essential. "The very first thing every bank needs to do is conduct a marketing audit," said Arnold. "You need to look at each of your channels and how successful they are, then come back with strategic and tactical recommendations for changes." Finally, as with any major operational or product changes, the bank must offer training to its staff. "Banks need to invest in their staff, training them on ways to provide quality customer experiences at all touchpoints," Baker advised. 

Whether your bank has three delivery channels or 30, it's important that your customer experience is consistent across them. "Rather than thinking about just one channel, think about the experience," Arnold advised. So, when a customer visits a branch they experience the same level of service and style of messaging as when they visit your mobile app or website. "That's the challenge that banks face today," said Pannos. "You have to be old-fashioned in some aspects and cutting-edge in others." Because consumer preferences are so capricious, it's essential for banks to constantly reevaluate their channel strategy and adapt to what they learn. "Customers will continue to crave whatever technology is available which offers them convenience and a personal experience," said Baker. "As the technology evolves, banks too need to evolve."

By, Amber Seitz

Hint: It's not all about technology

Sometimes change is driven by a fundamental shift in the industry (think ATMs, internet banking, or today's pairing of cloud storage and mobile devices). Other times it is born from necessity, as banks fight to stay profitable in a persistent low-rate, high-regulation environment. The one certainty is change itself. The challenge for banks is to transform in a way that fits their identity rather than jump to extremes – so pump the brakes on buying that fintech startup. The best way to innovate without losing your identity is to foster a culture of innovation grounded in the bank's strategic goals, both with regard to internal processes and customer-facing technology.

Hone Internal Processes

Innovation, to have the greatest positive impact, must permeate the institution. That requires support from the top: the board of directors and CEO. "It starts with the CEO and the board including innovation discussions in their strategic planning," said David Peterson, CSO and Founder of i7Strategies. "Then, they can form a cross-functional group in the bank to work on specific innovative ideas." That cross-functional group should involve representatives from all areas of the bank. "Innovation, like serving customers, is really the job of all areas of the bank," explained Bob Giltner, Chairman, RCGILTNER Services, Inc. "Some banks establish committees or define a specific person to spearhead the effort as a way to build buy-in for the organization across functions." It's also a good strategy to look outside the bank for ideas. Jack Vonder Heide, president of Technology Briefing Centers, Inc. recommends designating a high-level bank employee as the primary researcher, and when they find an article about a bank in another state doing something innovative, to call that bank up. "They're happy to share that information as long as you're not a direct competitor," he pointed out. 

Whether an individual or a team is in charge of innovation at the institution, the first step is evaluating and updating the bank's processes. "Innovation should be directed to both customer-facing and internal operations," Peterson explained. This kind of procedural innovation involves identifying processes and procedures that occur simply because they've always occurred and streamlining them as much as possible. Giltner recommends constructing a process map for each of the bank's service processes for products and deliver channels. That typically involves placing the delivery of the product on one end of a whiteboard and the need for the product on the other end, and then filling in all of the execution steps in the middle. For example, on one side you have a customer using their checking account, and on the other a customer requesting information about the types of checking accounts the bank offers. "Innovation looks at the entire process and asks where improvements can happen," Giltner said. "Look for areas of greatest friction." Procedural innovation should be an enterprise-wide effort, too. "Banks should start encouraging innovation internally," Peterson advised. "Ask your employees to be innovative, no matter what their role is."

"Innovation does not have to use new technology," Giltner said. "Innovation can be accomplished simply by defining new processes or organizational structure." For example, before the mid-1980s, the idea of "giving away" checking accounts was anathema in banking. Later, free checking became one of the most popular methods banks use to begin relationships with new customers. "That was a huge delivery and customer service innovation that was not technologically driven at all," Giltner explained.

Team Up for Technology

When it comes to the more visible side of innovation (technology), banks have more of an upper hand in the market than many think. "If you step back for a minute and look at the data banks have, they know where and when people spend their money," said David Furnace, CEO of Haberfeld Associates. "That's an incredibly valuable data asset." That data, combined with the pre-established trusted relationship with customers, means banks are in a good position to partner with technology vendors. "The key thing banks need to see is that they have competitive advantages in fintech with a lower cost of funds and established customer relationships in comparison to non-banks," said Giltner. In other words, banks have already developed the client networks and compliance processes that lie beneath the technology and allow the industry to function.

On the other hand, fintech companies and technology vendors have the expertise and products to unlock bank data and leverage it to deepen customer relationships. "This will be an area where banks can partner with technology vendors in the future in order to leverage all of that data and make it actionable," said Furnace. If management determines that adding or updating technology to the bank's offerings is the right strategic direction to move in, partnering is a viable option. "What fintechs do is create 'shiny objects' for consumers, but because they themselves are not banks, they still have to work with banks in order to facilitate transactions," Peterson explained. "So banks can effectively compete by educating their customers on the types of services they offer, and then partnering to offer customers those shiny bits while still keeping their accounts with the bank." 

There are a wide range of benefits for banks that choose to partner with fintech companies rather than go it alone. "The rewards for community banks to focus on this and partner are very substantial," Vonder Heide explained. "You're making it possible for very small or new businesses to do business with your bank in a profitable way." Furnace says lending is also an area of opportunity for these partnerships. "Scale is difficult to achieve for some community banks, and deploying technology can allow for that scale." 

Of course, banks must weigh the risks with the rewards of all potential partnerships, particularly regulatory risk. "You have to put it together in a way that passes regulatory muster," Vonder Heide cautioned. "You also need to have a process for vetting your partners, especially considering most of them are very new." For most Wisconsin banks, however, the benefits of establishing a partnership with a fintech company outweigh the risks because of the sheer volume of resources required to initiate technological innovation solo. "Many community banks don't have the resources to go out and invent new technologies," said Furnace. "What they have is a trusted relationship with their customers." 

Take a Focused Approach

Those established customer relationships are the bedrock of community banking, and true innovation requires an approach focused on that identity. The first step in determining your bank's unique innovation ID is to define your appetite for change. "The first thing that the board of directors needs to do is decide what kind of a bank they want to be in terms of innovation," Vonder Heide advised. That means identifying where on the spectrum of innovation and implementation the bank should be. Do you want to be the first institution in town with every new product or feature? Do you want to be a fast follower, learning from other institutions' mistakes? Or do you want to hold off on change until your customers demand it? "Once you decide what type of bank you want to be, that will drive everything else," said Vonder Heide.

Next, management must determine which potential innovations to implement, because in today's banking environment no one has a lot of room to experiment. "It's tough for community banks in a time of zero interest rates, always increasing regulatory pressure and expenses," said Furnace. "It's important to choose wisely, but there are absolutely innovations that can make community banks more profitable." Winnowing down the list of possibilities should revolve around the bank's stakeholders. "Innovation should be focused on where it can make the biggest impact on the bank's stakeholders: customers, employees and shareholders," Giltner said. "Ideas should be prioritized based on the ratings of value for these stakeholders." 

To maximize value for shareholders, return on the investment must be part of the decision-making process when selecting ideas to implement. "It's trite but it's true: it has to be ROI," said Furnace. "The world of innovation is so broad, at the end of the day it has to contribute to your bottom line." To incorporate the customer perspective, Vonder Heide recommends forming an advisory group consisting of customers to help vet new ideas. "A lot of community banks make the mistake of introducing technology initiatives based on what they hear or observe from other banks," he said. "Your customer base is where you should go for technology initiatives."

Finally, don't assume cost when you're narrowing down your list of ideas to implement. Many impactful changes are also cost-effective. "The biggest fallacy right now is that innovation is a high-cost effort," said Peterson. "Particularly with branch transformation, innovation doesn't have to be expensive." It can be as simple as redecorating a branch office or removing a duplicative step from a back-office process. The most critical component of identity-centric innovation is to remember you probably won't get it 100 percent right on the first try. "You can't just decide you're going to innovate and suddenly be good at it," said Peterson. "In order to have perfected innovation in the coming years, you need to start now."

By, Amber Seitz

Structural Integrity
Make compliance part of your institution’s DNA

Compliance is top-of-mind for every bank executive today – it might even keep you up at night – but do all of your employees feel the same level of responsibility? They should.

There’s a difference between following prescribed protocols from regulators and having a truly effective and efficient compliance system. In the struggle to keep ahead of new and changing regulations and complex expectations from examiners, some banks have fallen into the rut of using their compliance department as the last line of defense. However, a holistic approach to compliance, where key elements are knit into an integrated whole and every employee feels personal ownership of their role within the compliance system, tends to be more effective (and more efficient) than viewing the compliance department as a safety net.

Key Features

The foundation of a holistic compliance system is the distribution of ownership across all departments and the bank’s strategic plan. “Compliance is the responsibility of the organization as a whole, so it needs to be distributed,” explained Elliot Berman, Principal at Bowtie Advisors. According to Berman, distributed compliance systems are one of the most effective responses by financial institutions to the continuing challenge of meeting the resource needs of today’s regulatory expectations about compliance. A distributed system is not just an idea; it must be put down on paper as part of the bank’s plans and processes to create accountability. “It is critical that each area of the bank examine its compliance risks and articulate in their operating plans how they will manage them,” said Joe Fikejs, COO of Bank Mutual, Milwaukee. “Then, they need to be held accountable to the goals and plans that are set. This best practice also reiterates the message that compliance is not just the responsibility of the compliance department.”

Another key feature of a holistic compliance system is compliance personnel that are seen as collaborative partners to be consulted in the early stages of every project rather than gatekeepers or the final step in a process. “I prefer the ‘compliance first’ approach,” said Ami Dregne, compliance officer at Citizens First Bank, Viroqua. “I don’t like being the last stop before something goes out.” Berman also prefers this model of spreading responsibility because it allows the compliance team to be subject matter experts. “That’s a more effective use of their expertise,” he said. “I’ve seen organizations where compliance is viewed as the ‘department of no’ and that’s not conducive to success.” Dregne also advocated for a collaborative relationship between compliance and the rest of bank staff. “You don’t want staff to feel like the compliance officer is ‘Bad Cop,’” she said.


When implementing a distributed compliance system, first lay the groundwork with communication and support from upper management. “Having management involved is key so that the employees know and trust the compliance team will tell them how things need to be done in order to stay compliant, rather than just make their jobs harder for no reason," Dregne explained. A hands-on management approach is also essential to foster a sense of ownership for all staff. “You won’t have a strong risk-conscious culture until all employees feel they have key roles that they take ownership of,” said Fikejs. “It is as simple as connecting the dots between regulation and key processes.” Drawing those connections for staff doesn’t require that management be subject matter experts, either. “It’s not a compliance issue, really,” said Berman. “It’s a communication and operations issue.”

Another facet of this holistic approach to compliance that cannot be overlooked is the need for ongoing training. “Weaving compliance and risk management across all key areas of a financial institution’s strategic plan is the start, but it cannot stop there,” said Fikejs. “It needs to be reinforced on a regular basis at key meetings, training and in communications.” Compliance training doesn’t have to be torturous, either. “Compliance is not as exciting as other functions in banking, so try to have fun with it,” Fikejs suggested. “Use gamification at meetings to reinforce key messages.” It’s also important not to let your compliance training schedule slip into “peaks and valleys,” according to Berman. Even though changes to regulations and procedures require mandatory training to update employees, it is also important to provide ongoing refresher training. “Find a balance between the ‘big training’ and the reminders,” he advised.

Finally, equip your compliance personnel for success by ensuring they have access to all the tools and resources they need to coordinate your compliance program. One of the most powerful resources out there is a wide network of peers. “It’s important to have a peer network you can rely on for perspective,” said Dregne. “Many compliance officers wear many hats and some are stronger in certain areas, so we lean on each other a lot.” Regular contact with industry thought leaders and other compliance experts will help your team guide the institution to consistent success.

As with many business functions, the bank’s compliance system should also undergo a continuous improvement process. “Review processes and workflows frequently to ensure unnecessary complexities and controls are removed,” Fikejs recommended. “The more simplistic the process, typically the better.” The ultimate goal is to empower everyone in the bank to work in tandem with the compliance team and take ownership of their individual compliance role. With that approach in place, the whole institution will benefit from a more efficient and effective compliance system.

By, Amber Seitz


The board secretary’s role goes far beyond being the “note taker” at board meetings. The job often entails being the chief organizer, ensuring compliance requirements are met, understanding governance issues, planning meetings, developing reports, and preserving corporate records.

This session will provide the information and tools needed to be a successful board secretary. It will review responsibilities and provide best practices to enhance administration of corporate governance, including establishing an agenda, delivering the board package, scribing contemporaneous meeting notes, and documenting the details in the official minutes. In addition, this webinar will provide guidance and tips for becoming more effective and efficient, provide tools to facilitate success, and detail best practices for documenting “healthy debate” and discussion that occurs during a board meeting.

Attendance certificate provided to self-report CE credits.


Understand the board secretary’s role and responsibilities
Document board oversight of your institution’s risk management program
Prepare effective agendas and board package materials
Track items for board review
Write thorough board meeting minutes
Appropriately correct prior minutes
Explain the benefits and compliance considerations of electronic board package delivery and virtual meeting platforms


Sample board agendas
Sample board reporting schedule
Sample board attendance log
Sample policy approval schedule
Employee training log
Interactive quiz

This informative session is designed for board secretaries, corporate secretaries, senior management, and administrative personnel.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER – Dawn Kincaid, Brode Consulting Services, Inc.
Dawn Kincaid began her banking career while attending The Ohio State University. She has 20 years’ experience in client service, operations, information technology, administrative and board relations, marketing, and compliance. Most recently Dawn served as the Senior Vice President of Operations for a central-Ohio-based community bank, where she created and refined policies and procedures, conducted self-audits and risk assessments, and organized implementation of new products and services. Dawn has served in the roles of Compliance, BSA/AML, CRA, Privacy, and Security Officer. She has led training initiatives, prepared due diligence information, completed a variety of regulatory applications, coordinated internal and external audits and exams, and presented for numerous state associations.


Live Webinar – $245
Recorded Webinar and Digital Download – $245 plus tax
Live Webinar, Recorded Webinar and Digital Download – $320 plus tax

The Regulation E error resolution process for debit card transactions has very specific timeframes and requirements for the investigative process. Card issuers must ensure compliance when processing debit card disputes. This webinar will include:

The definition of unauthorized EFT
Consumer reporting timeframes
How to complete an investigation
Frequently asked questions


Understand the regulatory coverage for debit card transactions
Identify errors under Regulation E
Explain the compliance timeframes for Reg E investigations
Compare Regulation E to the card network rules
Answer common debit card questions


Employee training log
Interactive quiz

This informative session is ideal for card/EFT staff, audit/compliance staff, frontline staff, and AAP/APRP candidates.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER – Michele L. Barlow, AAP, NCP — Macha/PAR
Michele Barlow is the Senior Vice President at Macha/PAR (Everything Payments, Everywhere), with offices in Wisconsin and Maryland. Before joining the Macha team in 2009, Michele spent several years as a corporate trainer in the financial industry. She is responsible for development and execution of association training and certification programs, conference planning, and member service. Michele is a past member of Nacha’s Blue Ribbon Panel and currently serves on the APRP Oversight Panel, the Payments Institute Board of Regents, and Nacha’s LMS Editorial Board. She is active on other national committees, and a frequent speaker at industry events. She obtained her AAP certification in 2010, her NCP in 2011, and became an NCP Certified Trainer in 2012. Michele holds a bachelor’s from the University of Wisconsin


Live Webinar – $245
Recorded Webinar and Digital Download – $245 plus tax
Live Webinar, Recorded Webinar and Digital Download – $320 plus tax