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MeisserThe following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Glenwood City’s Hiawatha National Bank President and CEO James W. Meisser. Read past interviews here.

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

James: Immediately after college graduation, I joined the FDIC and worked in the regulatory arena for 25 years. Shortly after retirement, my wife and I relocated to Wisconsin to manage and grow a small community bank franchise.

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

There are three aspects I would highlight as part of my role at the bank. The first is meeting and interacting with our clients, the second is mentoring clients and employees, and the third is creating solutions to problems.

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

Regulatory oversight. So often, clients are frustrated by the requests for their financial information citing, “Again, you know me, my business is doing great.” The regulators expect us to trust but verify.

Where do you believe the industry’s greatest challenges are in the next 3–5 years?

The greatest challenges I foresee are the rise of fintech companies, increased cyber/fraud attacks, and credit unions continuing to utilize their tax-exempt status to acquire community banks.

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

In many of the communities we serve, we are the only bank in town. For example, we have two offices in areas with populations of 120 and 338. We take very seriously our commitment to positively impact these communities with tailored charitable and lending support. For example, over the past year we have made significant donations to the local public libraries, which provide vital services in the communities we serve.

It is extremely rewarding to see our clients grow and prosper as we work together as financial partners. We have a Hudson-based client that we worked with on the formation of the business, multiple cash flow issues, and finally a multi-million-dollar sale. This client has repeatedly told us he would not have succeeded without our support. That is why we do what we do.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we provided more than $110 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Round One and another $30 million in PPP Round Two to assist individuals and businesses impacted by the virus. Additionally, despite numerous COVID-related employee absences, all employees were paid 100% of their salaries plus an additional bonus to assist in the unprecedented times. At Hiawatha National Bank, you are not just an employee, you are family.

We are continuing to implement our nationwide initiative Banking without Barriers (BWB), targeted specifically to the deaf and hard of hearing community of which I am proud to be a life-long member.

By Daryll J. Lund

With the Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Winter Leadership Summit just days away on November 4, it’s a good time to share more about what WBA’s BOLT section has to offer. We now have 507 BOLT members from 137 banks out of 210 WBA-member banks. That works out to about 65% of the member banks having at least one BOLT member. There is no cost to the bank to join — in fact, many banks have multiple individuals from their organization as BOLT members. The section is popular in part because of the access to the biannual Leadership Summits, and because of the year-round connections and opportunities it provides.

As existing bank leaders approach retirement, BOLT can provide the networking and leadership skills to prepare your next leaders faster. Succession planning is key to the long-term success of any bank. Through BOLT, bankers are exposed to education that touches on every role in community banking and helps them to round out their skills. After events, attendees often speak of the spark that was ignited in them. They bring back new ideas and renewed motivation to their banks.

Networking opportunities are another big draw of the BOLT section. The ability to connect with peers and converse about important topics provides value that can’t be found in call reports. Being a part of the BOLT community is a unique benchmarking opportunity that enables bankers to better understand the market and where their peers are. Members are also able to support each other through shared successes and challenges.

Becoming a strong advocate is an important attribute for bank leaders, both in their communities and in their civic engagement. The BOLT section is integral in planning and promoting WBA’s annual Power of Community Week, during which all members are encouraged to engage in community service activities. BOLT members can also participate in the annual WBA Capitol Day and Washington Summits, which include training and materials to develop effective advocacy skills.

With all that BOLT members bring back to their banks, it’s easy to make the case for participation. Also, in today’s tight labor market, it is essential that banks invest in their people. Feeling valued and having a bright career path are key factors in employees’ decisions to join or stay with an employer. BOLT is a WBA program that stands ready to partner with our members on helping banks to develop their most important asset — their people.

By Kenneth D. Thompson, WBA Board chair, president and CEO of Capitol Bank, Madison

As the leaves change color and there’s no denying that fall is here, many of us find ourselves asking, “where did summer go?” The feeling of fall sneaking up on us out of nowhere is something we want to avoid next year, with 2022 being an important election year. Let’s take a moment to look ahead and see what we need to track and prepare for now.

Important Fall 2022 races include the Wisconsin governor, attorney general, and state legislative seats. Democratic Governor Tony Evers will be looking to repel a challenge from likely GOP nominee and former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who just announced her candidacy. All ninety-nine members of the State Assembly are up for election/reelection, as are odd-numbered State Senate districts. Republicans hold solid majorities in both houses, but the drama will surely be dialed up next year since legislators will all be running in districts with updated boundaries.

At the federal level, elections will be held for Wisconsin’s seats in the House of Representatives as well as for Ron Johnson’s Senate seat (Johnson has not yet stated whether he will run for re-election). Nearly a dozen Democratic candidates have formally announced their intention to seek the nomination to either take on Johnson, or a new GOP candidate. As Democrats try to maintain their slim majority in the House, many eyes will be on Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, where longtime Democrat incumbent Ron Kind recently opted not to seek reelection. WBA’s political action funds are important to ensure that candidates who understand and support Wisconsin’s banking industry are elected to office.

As always, WBA is not “R” for Republican or “D” for Democrat — rather, “B” for Banker. We back candidates, regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on, who will enact policies that support WBA’s mission to promote a healthy environment for Wisconsin banks to thrive.

So far, our peer organizations have been active in raising funds. Year-to-date contributions toward political action committees at the last required reporting on June 30 totaled $26,000 for the Wisconsin REALTORS Association, $20,000 for the Wisconsin Hospitals Association, and $18,000 for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin. This compares to WBA’s Wisbankpac fundraising of about $56,000 so far this year.

Your support is needed. The more each of us contributes, the more we can grow the slice of pie for our industry. Please visit www.wisbank.com/advocacy to learn more and make your contribution.

By Scott Birrenkott

Q: Are Banks Required To Provide Notice When Changing Lobby Hours?

A: Not by rule or law, but some form of notification is recommended.

There exists no specific requirement to notify bank customers, or its regulators, when changing its hours of operation. This includes branch hours, lobby hours, drive up hours, or other times of access, such as whether a location is open on a Saturday.

However, specific requirements do exist for closure of branch banks, requiring notice in writing to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institution (DFI) at least 30 days in advance of the closure, along with notices in the bank’s lobby which is to be closed. While such notice is not required for a change of hours, bank might consider following that procedure as a matter of courtesy and update to DFI, even though it is not closing a branch.

Additionally, while no specific notice requirement to customers exists, some form of communication would be prudent. For example: a posting in lobbies, through mail, or online via the bank’s website, social media, or other applications, would likely be beneficial and appreciated by those customers who use the affected lobbies, drive-ups, deposit box, etc.

Lastly, the bank should also consider the implications of its change of hours. While there might not be specific notice requirements related to the shift in hours alone, if the shift in hours affect other areas, additional requirements may apply. For example, if cutoff times are changing, or funds availability, stop payment, or other time-sensitive matters are changing, the bank may need to update its disclosures and any associated deposit account rules.

If you have any questions on this topic or other matters of compliance, contact WBA’s legal call program at 608-441-1200 or wbalegal@wisbank.com.

Note: The above information is not intended to provide legal advice; rather, it is intended to provide general information about banking issues. Consult your institution’s attorney for special legal advice or assistance. 

By Paul Gores

Like many Wisconsin businesses, banks are having difficulty finding qualified workers — especially front-line employees like tellers — as the pandemic lingers and other companies offer similar or higher hourly wages.

The shortage of potential employees has left banks focusing on other ways, such as flexible work time and a more-personal culture, to attract and keep employees.

“Yes, it has been a struggle to find good, qualified candidates for open positions,” said Sandy Soda, senior vice president for human resources at Berlin-based Fortifi Bank. “The number of resumes we receive for positions has declined in recent years, and more drastically since the pandemic started.”

A search of the state-run Jobs Center of Wisconsin last week (Friday, September 16) showed more than 500 job listings in the past 30 days for the keyword “bank,” a lot of them for tellers and consumer service representative positions. Banks that included information about the starting wage generally put it between $12 and $18 per hour, although many listings said pay would be based on experience.

The unemployment rate in Wisconsin remained steady at 3.9% in August, while the state’s labor force increased by 5,500 people from July, and was up 59,000 from August 2020, according to the Department of Workforce Development.

Some think with this month’s end of the federal government’s $300-a-week pandemic unemployment payment, which began as $600 weekly in March of 2020 as COVID-19 arrived but later was cut in half, might bring more people back into the workforce.

But surveys have shown that since the pandemic began, people’s attitudes about work have changed, and it might take more than an acceptable hourly wage to draw them. Some have become comfortable working from home, for example, and don’t want to go into work every day. And more are thinking about career changes altogether rather than returning to jobs they’ve done in the past.

Almost 1 in 3 U.S. workers under 40 have thought about changing their occupation or field of work since the pandemic began, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll, which was conducted July 6 to 21. About 1 in 5 workers overall have considered a professional shift, a signal that the pandemic has been a turning point for many, the Post reported.

Banks, like other employers, are having to adapt to the needs of potential hires.

“The big key term is flexibility,” said Candy Allard, assistant vice president and human resource specialist with Badger Bank in Fort Atkinson. “We’ve been able to be flexible. Some employees have been able to work at home when needed. Others, we’ve been able to make their schedule a little more flexible. I’m trying to come up with things that may not have to do with salary, like maybe a day off for their birthday — other things to try to say, ‘Hey, this is a really good place to work.’”

Soda said higher pay generally isn’t the only answer to attracting employees, although for some it is. Like Allard, she suggested the culture of a bank also can help draw new employees.

“The best way to find and keep good employees is to maintain an engaged workforce in a culture they can articulate and be proud of,” Soda said. “It’s paying people for their value, providing good benefits and work-life balance, and recognizing their contributions and accomplishments.  It’s allowing them to grow, develop and contribute.”

She added: “To find good employees, you need to sell your organization. You can do this by playing a positive role in your communities and maintaining a culture that employees share with and brag about to others.”

Erick Gorecki, managing director of B$ Recruiters in Hartland, said community banks might have an advantage over large financial institutions if culture is what attracts and retains workers.

“If somebody doesn’t like their job, being highly paid is [only] going to keep them in their chair for so long,” Gorecki said. “The beauty of community banks is that they tend to be synonymous with really good culture, which is something that you probably can’t say about a lot of the bigger banks.”

He said many people who move to smaller banks from big ones “just gush about how refreshing of an experience it is.”

“The ability to focus on the customer without overburdening administrative tasks and bureaucracy is a big part of that, along with the ability to have fun at work,” he said.

While pay isn’t always the determining piece, Gorecki said it’s a “candidate-driven” market right now, meaning people have more opportunities for work and are paying attention to compensation.

“There’s probably a little extra temptation to understand what they might be worth to a competitor, which isn’t to say that is going to hurt retention, but it may,” Gorecki said. “There’s always sort of a curiosity factor for knowing what you’re worth on the market.”

Banks have lots of competitors for workers. Soda listed some.

“Any other type of financial institutions, schools, medical facilities, and manufacturing facilities — particularly for administrative, IT, HR, marketing, and accounting positions, which can be done from home in some form,” she said.

Allard said bigger retailers and restaurants sometimes can offer a better starting wage.

“We a lot of times now are competing with starting wages being higher at our fast-food restaurants, or we’re competing with Walmart, or one of our locations is next to the outlet mall, so we are competing with the $15 starting wages that they can offer because of their size,” she said.

However, unlike retailers and restaurants, banks generally can promise job candidates that there will be no night hours and no weekend work except perhaps Saturday mornings.

Gorecki said with the fluidity of the job market, banks might be reluctant to spend time on training the way they would if they were sure a new employee was going to stick around. But that would be a mistake, he said.

“It’s a tough thought for some banks — or any organization — to invest a lot of training in people and them having the unfortunate day when you see them leave the bank,” Gorecki said. “But that’s going to be a way better scenario than neglecting development of people and then having them stay with the bank.”

Soda said tough competition for employees was going on even before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.

“Human resource professionals have been discussing this for some time now,” she said. “The Baby Boomer generation is retiring and Generation X and Generation Y (millennials) families tend to be smaller. They don’t have as many children, which is all starting to affect the labor pool.”

Soda said the pandemic appears to have reduced the number of qualified candidates available because many who worked from home for months wish to continue with that practice.

The outlook for hiring in 2022 doesn’t seem likely to change greatly from the situation today.

Gorecki said the end of the special pandemic unemployment payment may inspire more people to rejoin the labor market.

“I would suspect that dries up and that normalizes to where maybe a lot of these entry level openings are filled up by people who need to get back to work,” he said.

Soda said the competition for hiring next year probably won’t be much different than it is now.

“Even as the pandemic diminishes, organizations will continue to find ways to attract and retain good talent in a tight labor pool,” she said. “Perhaps finding ways to involve retirees and utilizing things like part-time positions, job-sharing, work from home, etc. will become the way of the future.”

Paul Gores is a journalist who covered business news for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 20 years. Have a story idea? Contact him at paul.gores57@gmail.com.

Wisconsin’s bankers are the definition of “community advocates” in all that you do every day to improve your local economy through your bank’s products and services, as well as through your generous philanthropy of time and money. This column shares and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and innovation of some of the extraordinary bankers in this state.

The following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Milton’s First Community Bank President and CEO Brendon T. Wilkinson.

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

Brendon: I started my banking career in the management training program at Valley Bank in Madison, Wisconsin after graduating from college. The program was a great introduction to banking and allowed me to experience both the sales and operational sides of the bank. Then after working as a lender in the Madison and Appleton, Wisconsin markets during the mid-90s, I took an eight-year career diversion to run a familyowned retail business in Madison before accepting my role at First Community Bank in Milton nearly 15 years ago.

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

First Community Bank is a $130MM bank, and the small size lets me really get to know and develop close working relationships with employees and bank clients. We use our asset size as an advantage and are able to quickly adapt to customer needs and make credit decisions that make sense.

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

I wish the general public better understood that all banks are not created equally. Locally owned community banks provide a significantly different and more personalized customer experience than a large regional or a national financial. On top of this, our decision makers live, work, and play within our communities and have a vested interest in the success of those communities. Banking locally not only promotes local employment but also allows a community bank additional resources for volunteer hours and monetary donations to your neighborhoods.

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

I view margin compression and the growth of non-traditional (FinTech) banking services to be the largest potential challenges to banking in the coming years. For a variety of reasons, banks are flush with liquidity and because of this, we are seeing competitors stretching with marginal credit decisions and rate offerings due to lack of alternative investment options. If economic conditions deteriorate, credit quality and loan losses will be at risk. An additional risk to the traditional banking industry is the growth of FinTech and non-traditional payment service providers who are attracting the younger generation of bank customers and arguably diluting the traditional customer base. Online financial service providers don’t carry the burden of brick-and-mortar branch offices and will force community banks to quickly adapt to consumer trends and technology offerings in order to remain relevant.

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

While most bankers would agree that the SBA Paycheck Protection Program loan funding process was not without its headaches, the staff at First Community Bank accepted the challenge and delivered in the midst of a global pandemic. Larger banks, online service providers, and local credit unions seemed to focus on the larger loan requests, which left a large portion of our area small businesses underserved. In addition to providing much needed funding to small businesses within Rock County, our bank developed new banking relationships, and we were able to demonstrate first hand how a community bank is better than the alternative.

Do you know a banker who should be recognized as a Community Advocate for the work that they do? Nominate them today by emailing Rose!

By Paul Gores

Winning the next generation of customers is always a goal of banks, but attracting Generation Z — today’s 24 year olds and younger — needs a thoroughly modern and comprehensive approach, bankers and experts say.

Members of Gen Z have had a smartphone or computer at their fingertips since childhood. That has created familiarity with technology that some believe gives non-traditional financial providers like fintechs a leg up on meeting teens and young adults digitally and getting first crack at offering them services.

Gen Zers constantly are absorbing what they see and hear on digital platforms, using apps and reading online peer customer reviews and “influencer” endorsements to figure out which financial provider might be best for them, according to those familiar with the new generation’s traits.

“My college students do not have checkbooks,” said Christine Whelan, a consumer science professor in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We still use that quaint anachronism of ‘balancing your checkbook.’ They don’t even know where that phrase came from. This is the generation of Venmo, and PayPal, and Zelle, and all sorts of online banking transfers when it comes to keeping their money and keeping track of their money.”

Training and development specialist Jennifer Pieper, of JPieper Consulting in metro Milwaukee, said banks need to be where Gen Z lives — on social media.

“Banks cannot rely on the same old marketing strategies. They should engage their Gen Z clients in online focus groups and ask them directly where they are getting information as it relates to financial services,” Pieper said. “Once they have that data, leveraging that information quickly will be a key to success.”

A report by the online research firm Survey Monkey showed that while 57% of Gen Zers visit Facebook, the most popular social media platforms among the age group are YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.

“Winning Gen Z as a client is one of the biggest challenges facing traditional banks today,” said Pieper, herself a former bank executive.

Bank consultant Preston Afrank, a Lincoln, Neb.-based vice president with the firm Haberfeld, said Gen Zers are more comfortable with technology than any previous generation, including millennials. But he thinks that as Gen Zers age, they will want more than fintech apps.

“As Gen Z matures, as they get out of their college years, start entering the workforce and their peak earning years and borrowing years, I think they are going to realize that their financial lives are much more complex than most of what the fintechs have to offer,” Afrank said.

But banks need to reach out to Gen Z now to set the stage for deeper banking relationships, and be ready to talk with them in terms they understand when they do come in, he said.

“The best way to reach them is through an omnichannel approach,” Afrank said.

While of course that includes social media efforts, one study showed that direct mail shouldn’t be overlooked because Gen Zers actually are inclined to read snail mail, he said.

Whatever type of outreach occurs, banks — especially community banks — need to stress their technology is as good as their competitors’, and that they have branches that are convenient to where they live and work.

“That’s how you’re going to go about capturing that younger generation,” Afrank said.

UW’s Whelan said she thinks banks in general have been doing a good job of adapting to the preferences of Gen Z.

“Banks were definitely onto this,” she said.

Among banks that have stressed targeting the next generation is Horicon Bank. Early this year, the bank announced it had acquired the fintech Monotto, bringing on not only its RoboSave technology — an automated savings tool that uses artificial intelligence to identify how much money customers can save daily and then moves that amount into a savings account every few days — but also Monotto’s founder, Christian Ruppe.

At 26 years old, Ruppe, who is a Horicon Bank vice president and digital banking officer, isn’t very far removed from Gen Z himself and is familiar with that age group’s needs and wishes.

He said fintechs have been able to reach Gen Z because they have technology that makes banking simple, but that’s not all.

“They also know how to target them directly,” Ruppe said

Banks need to find out — using search data, online community reviews and other tech sources — what Gen Z is looking for, and then “get in front of them to show them that’s what we have.”

While many Gen Zers get their information from TikTok, fintechs are better represented on that social media platform than banks, he said.

One thing banks should know about Gen Zers is that they want the ability to chat digitally with a banker on their website rather than having to make a phone call. And Gen Zers even would like the choice to begin a business loan application online rather than live.

Ruppe said, for example, if a 23 year old who is trying to start a business goes to a community bank’s website and it says he or she must contact a banker to start the process, that’s a turnoff.

“I want to have the opportunity to speak to someone, but I don’t want to have to speak with someone,” Ruppe explained.

Oconomowoc-based Bank Five Nine begins pursuing the next generation of customers early through its Good Savers program.

The program is designed for kids and early teen years, said Jeff McCarthy, vice president and marketing director. The bank rewards them for making deposits into a savings account.

“They make 20 deposits of $5 or more and they earn a $5 gift card. So, trying to reinforce with those younger customers good saving habits,” McCarthy said. “And then as they get a little older, we have a student checking program and we partnered with lots of the high schools on what we call our Mascot Banking program.”

In that program, participants receive a debit card with their high school’s logo on it. By meeting certain criteria, they receive $150 from the bank, and in addition, the bank donates $150 to the school’s booster club.

“That’s the way we’re reaching those Gen Zers while they’re in their high school years,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said Bank Five Nine also has “a very robust social media program” to get its name and products in front of Gen Z.

“We really believe that is a great way to reach this segment. Because social media is where they are,” McCarthy said. “It’s the entertainment and the news they’re consuming, so we need to be where they are, communicating with them in a language they’re comfortable with.”

Pieper suggested banks use information on the habits and preferences of Gen Zers to partner with them in what they feel is important.

“Banks must think outside the box to earn Gen Z’s relationships.  They should develop checking accounts focused on issues that Gen Z identifies with, including social justice, equity, and the environment,” Pieper said.

For example, she said, Aspiration, a fintech founded in 2015, allows its nearly one million customers to calculate their carbon impact off their debit card gas purchases.

“A bank’s ability to profile clients is more important than ever, and they must invest in their employees to ensure they have the skills necessary to connect with this savvy generation,” Pieper said.

What are some other things about Gen Z that banks should know?

  • They pay attention to social media “influencers” and online reviews. Influencers are people on social media platforms like Instagram who typically have a large audience that values their opinions on products or services. Often they are celebrities. “If you can get someone like that to say that your product is good, amazingly enough, more people buy it,” Whelan said.
  • They have seen major worldwide economic trouble twice already in their short lives — the Great Recession and the COVID pandemic economic downturn. “They’ve had a pretty rough go of it in terms of the life events that have happened around us,” Whelan said, adding that it might make them more wary of debt.
  • Branches are unfamiliar territory for them. “Gen Z has never had to walk into a branch to do their banking,” said Pieper. “Banks’ mobile banking platform should be competitive and user friendly.  To do this, continued pressure must be applied on core providers, FIS, Fiserv, etc., to ensure they keep pace with the rapidly evolving fintechs.”  When Gen Z does come to the bank, she said, they should feel like the bank is ready and able to assist them with their needs, even when they’re not quite sure what to ask.  “Bankers that are trained to empathize and then educate will be the winners in an ever-evolving landscape,” Pieper said.

Given the affinity of Gen Z and millennials for financial technology, the outlook for physical bank branches could seem bleak. But bankers and experts don’t see it that way, as long as banks adjust with the times.

“Gen Z is not going to be visiting branches to deposit a check or make a transfer. They will use an app,” Afrank said. “But when they do have an issue and come through your front doors, you’ve got to be prepared to service them. They are coming because they need some expert advice. Bankers need to be able to solve customers’ problems.”

McCarthy doesn’t see branches going away anytime soon. That’s because when things are too complex to be handled via an app or website, customers want a place to go get help and answers.

“Maybe that will change down the road, depending on what technology does,” he said. “But for now that brick-and-mortar location is still really, really important as people try to navigate complicated financial issues.”

Besides, he said, from a marketing perspective, branches are great tools.

“It reminds people that you’re there,” McCarthy said. “It gives people a sense of security that, OK, that’s where your money is. They like to be able to see it. It’s not out in the ether.”

Said Ruppe: “I don’t think that they’re doomed at all. Granted, I do think we’re not going to do as much in branches, obviously. We can do so much more online. I know that our branches at Horicon Bank, we constantly have customers. And sure, right now, it kind of skews older. But the second I need a check or something, I’m going in.”

Pieper said brick-and-mortar branches will adapt. They will be smaller, have more technology and be staffed by bankers who will be able to answer a variety of questions, ranging from how to reset a password to how to apply for a mortgage, she said.

“Branches will turn into answer centers that allow clients to either start a loan application, open an account, or solve a problem,” Pieper said.  “Additionally, they will be places where bank clients can get advice and counsel on how to improve their financial situation.”

Stacy Stecker has been promoted to director of private banking with Associated Bank, where she is responsible for the development and execution of a business plan to support the overall growth of the private client services business.

With more than 27 years of banking experience and 15 years of management experience, Stecker has been a member of the Associated Bank team since 2006. She most recently served as a private banking group manager leading the North Private Banking Team in providing customized financial services such as cash and credit management, risk management, investment strategy, retirement planning and estate conversion.

“Her institutional knowledge and experience will be instrumental as we enrich our private banking program and deliver increasing value to our clients,” said John Thayer, executive vice president, head of wealth management, Associated Bank. 

Stecker holds a degree in marketing from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in business from Concordia University. She also earned the Certified Wealth Strategist® designation from Cannon Financial. In the community she volunteers with Make a Wish as a gourmet wishes committee member and a wish grantor to children with life threatening illnesses.

By, Cassie Krause

Starion Bank invites the public to an open house and ribbon cutting to celebrate the grand opening of the new Monona branch location.

The event will be held August 12 at 1574 W Broadway, Monona. The open house begins at 12:00 p.m., with a ribbon cutting at 1:00 p.m.

Jeff Cook, Market President for the Starion Bank Wisconsin branches, is pleased with the new location. “Starion Bank believes in investing in the communities we serve. That means not only sponsoring and donating to community organizations, but also investing in our banks. We’re proud to be part of the Monona community, and are thankful for the opportunity to provide banking services from an attractive and convenient location for our customers.”

Starion Bank is family-owned and offers a full range of services, including personal and business banking, agribusiness, mortgage, insurance and investments. Serving customers since 1969, the $1.6 billion bank has grown to operate 13 branches in North Dakota and three in Wisconsin. Starion offers the sophisticated products, services and technology available at larger banks, with the personal service found at community banks. Starion Bank is committed to helping customers achieve their goals and strives to take its communities farther.

Lobby and drive-up hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Starion also runs two other Madison-area banks at 1651 John Q. Hammons Drive, Middleton, and 350 South Grand Avenue, Sun Prairie. You can also bank with Starion after hours through ATMs around the community, or from anywhere with your computer or phone.

By, Cassie Krause

When it comes to products, consumers don’t crave complexity.

When I ask my toddler what he wants for lunch, the answer isn’t complicated. Two pieces of white bread and a Kraft single and his grilled cheese lunch dreams are a reality. 

Why is it that this easy sandwich equation makes so much sense? Simply put: my toddler doesn’t crave complexity. And when it comes to craving products, consumers don’t either. 

According to branding agency Siegel+Gale, “simple is smart.” In their 2019 Simplicity Index, Siegel+Gale reviewed more than 800 global brands —  evaluating and ranking them on how simple or complex their products are perceived to be by 15,000 consumers.

The Simplicity Index touts that simple isn’t just a branding strategy. Simplicity pays. Of the consumers surveyed, 55% said they’d be willing to pay more for a simpler brand experience. And 64% of consumers said they’d be more likely to recommend a brand if it provided a simpler experience and communication.

So what were the simplest brands in the United States? Lyft came in at #1. Spotify, Amazon, Costco, and Subway round out the top five. Globally, the top three brands were Netflix, ALDI, and Google. 

What do these brands have in common? They excel at four key strategies:

  • empowering consumers to take control of their experience;
  •  reimagining complicated buying experiences to be practical and enjoyable;
  • understanding pain points and removing the pain (or at least, making them less painful); and 
  •  saving time.

Consider Netflix. As one consumer pointed out, “Netflix has a few simple plans for every kind of user with more content every year.” Netflix gives users control of a new experience and saves time by recommending new content based on previously viewed content. 

Can you get a simpler shopping experience than ALDI? Each ALDI store is laid out in a similar way, so you know where most products will be located before you even get inside. There are no frills, no fuss, and no excess in the ALDI experience.

Simplicity doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a calculated approach that requires companies to know who they are, and who they are not. Community banks often try to be everything to everyone. And consumers are learning that they can find better (simpler) banking experiences elsewhere. No longer are our only competitors the bank down the street or the national “big banks.” Rocket Mortgage, Chime, PayPal — these are our new competitors who promise a simpler experience.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you know your bank’s brand promise? Are you consistently delivering on that promise? 
  •  Do your customers identify with that promise? (If you asked them what your brand promise is, would it match what YOU think it is?)
  • Is it easy to bank with you? Are your accounts easy to navigate and financial tools easy to use?
  • Are you regularly considering pain points for customers and how to remove them?

Choosing simple takes work. But by removing complexity, we can give our customers the clarity they need to make decisions, and over time, increase customer loyalty by delivering a simpler customer experience.

Bruins is the new media marketing officer at Horicon Bank and a member of the 2021-2022 WBA Marketing Committee.

This column is published bi-monthly in Wisconsin Banker and is written by members of the WBA Marketing Committee.

By, Cassie Krause