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.”

Five critical steps to maintaining a secure network.

Keeping your network secure in the current climate of internet assault is no small job.

Think back – how little has changed. In 2001, server-based worms were estimated to have cost private industry almost $3 billion. Code Red alone infected 359,000 servers in under 14 hours, and within 24 hours of Nimda, 50 percent of the infected hosts went offline. Fast forward to today and the exponential increase in breaches, how much is really that different?

These attacks reinforced the need for every organization to develop an information security action plan (ISAP). Doing this first involves evaluating, assessing, and auditing the existing security environment to identify major and minor problems (your inventory). Without knowing and understanding the current security posture, it is impossible to identify the most cost-effective solutions to deploy.

Veteran and well-trained security professionals realize there is no ‘silver bullet’ in information security. Following and adjusting to an industry security framework will keep you secure today and into the future. Using proper diligence to understand an organization’s security needs goes a long way in improving protection.

The following are critical first steps for building an ISAP to create a better defense in an increasingly dangerous cyberworld.

Creating Security Policy

First, create a clearly defined security policy that is strictly enforced. Understand that security goes beyond desktop PCs and ensure that the use of all laptops, copiers, fax machines, modems, and even printed information is included in the policy. Supply the policy to everyone in the organization, educate all employees about it, and enforce it consistently.

The policy is the roadmap to good security, and every employee should review it annually, be provided with opportunities to ask questions, and fully understand the policy. They should acknowledge their understanding of the policy in writing. The policy must become a standard part of the company culture and be enforced at the highest level. Not consistently enforcing policy can be worse than having no policy at all, because it could be used against the company (in litigation) to show that policy is not taken seriously in all cases.

Identifying Risk, Deploying Security

Second, identify an acceptable level of risk and deploy the appropriate level of security. It is no longer adequate for management to proclaim ignorance about potential vulnerabilities in the environment. Due diligence requires management to exercise sound judgment in protecting the environment consistent with the information being processed (i.e., the more sensitive the information, the more safeguards need to put in place).

After assessments have been performed, there are essentially three measures that can be taken. They are to reduce the risk (perform remediation), transfer the risk (take out insurance), or accept the risk (identify cost justification).

If overall risk reaches an unacceptable level, appropriate remediation steps must be taken to get the exposures reduced in severity. If that cannot be done, documentation must be created to identify justification for accepting the risk, or possibly insurance can be purchased to transfer the losses associated with the risk to another organization.

Implementing Verification

Third, access to internal hosts must be controlled and monitored. Are employees only given access to what they need to perform their specific job? Are logs reviewed daily for inconsistencies and abnormalities?

Since many security breaches can be attributed to ‘insiders,’ or exploit by a bad actor of an insider, trust no one. “Zero Trust”; it is important to live by an access philosophy of ‘least privilege’. Verify everyone and everything. Only give users the access they need to do their job. Not only must the data be protected and accountability of who is accessing it be maintained to ensure privacy, but simply tracking problems and events that occur in an environment are easier if it is possible to determine who has access to specific information. Even though incidents of access from outside a company get all the publicity, the most critical protection remains inside. Insider abuse of email or unmonitored internet access can cost in several ways beyond the lost employee time, bandwidth, and potential for viruses or worms.

Supplement the authentication and authorization system with audit trails and intrusion detection systems and use an incident response plan to follow up on suspicious activities and anomalies. Logs can be very large and contain enormous amounts of extraneous information. It is important to install tools that help sift through the abnormalities or make it possible to identify what a normal log looks like and flag unusual activity. Regular review of system logs can mitigate risk. This can include the implementation of modern extended endpoint detection and response solutions.

Testing Upgrades and Patches

Fourth, vendor upgrades and software/hardware patches should be tested adequately before migrating to production. Anti-virus tools should be deployed and automatically updated with new signature files.

Changes are constantly occurring in the environment. New software can introduce new vulnerabilities and it is well-known that some software companies do not create secure applications or operating systems. Be sure to have clear documentation to migrate all changes to production and a contingency plan should problems occur.

Malicious code continues to be a major problem for organizations. It is no longer adequate to simply install an antivirus tool and assume your problems are alleviated. It is not adequate to assume the user will behave properly to protect their desktop and company data. Today’s generation of protection must not be dependent on signatures and needs to consider other layers of information: users, files, hosts, and the network. Throw in deception technology and you have a robust solution.

Handling Any Defaults

Fifth, be sure default accounts, passwords, and settings have been appropriately handled in operating systems, routers, databases, and applications.

Keep in mind that almost all operating systems, including third-party applications, come with sample files, many of which are extremely dangerous. Almost any operating system and many application system installations require a powerful ‘administrative’ or privileged account to complete installation. This account is shipped with a default password, which often is not changed by the network, system, or application administrator. It should be changed immediately at initial installation even on test systems. If the account needs to remain in existence, it should be tightly locked down, audited, and, if possible, have its default name changed. In addition, it should not be used on a routine basis for administration. Individual administrative accounts should be assigned to authorized users with proper access requirements granted, training provided, and responsibilities understood.

In summary, there are numerous measures that can be taken to ensure a company’s infrastructure can protect its information assets. This all creates the requirement for a thorough information security action plan. A certified, qualified, well-trained chief information security officer can usually lead a corporation along a path to protected information assets and a secure business environment.

To learn more, call or email Ken Shaurette, FIPCO's Director – Information Security and Audit, at 800-722-3498 ext. 251 or today.


By, Ally Bates

Baseball fans recently rejoiced as opening day stretched across many U.S. stadiums and people were invited to watch their home team’s game the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Not only did this symbolize a return to America’s favorite pastime – it showed the progress toward normalcy that we continue to make. 

For the Wisconsin Bankers Association, our version of opening day came as we welcomed the Board of Directors back into our building for the first time in over a year. The hybrid meeting took place with safety guidelines and a virtual option for those unable to attend in person. While at WBA, the members took a tour of the newly remodeled building, met the newest WBA staff members, and caught up with some familiar faces around the office. In addition, the WBA Board enjoyed our version of a tailgate party with lunch served in our new café.  

Hosting this meeting in our building has only been the start of this change. We are also moving ahead to welcome the bankers back to the Engagement Center soon, following appropriate safety protocol, and we are excited to create an environment where bankers can expand their industry knowledge once again. In the coming weeks, WBA will be hosting banking schools covering topics on Commercial Lending, Residential Mortgage Lending and a School of Bank Management.  

With the WBA fiscal year concluding at the end of this month, I am reminded of how WBA’s education pivoted swiftly and performed successfully during this past year. Delivering educational programs to our members is a team effort across our many departments, including education, communications, legal, IT, and administrative support. Having to shift to mainly virtual education due to COVID was a challenge for all of us, but we made it through. I am thankful for the great work accomplished internally, and this of course could not have been achieved without the strong support of our WBA-member bankers. 

Throughout the course of the pandemic, WBA education had in many cases higher participation levels virtually compared to just in-person events. Because of this, the education projections achieved budget levels that will help contribute to furthering the mission of WBA. Regardless of how familiar we have all become with virtual learning, we realize how significant of a role networking plays for our members. We look forward to resuming in-person events, and WBA is excited to offer education virtually, in-person, or in a hybrid approach depending on the event. We thank you for supporting WBA education every step of the way, and we’re excited to see you all and welcome you back into the building. 

By, Alex Paniagua

With the largest gathering of Wisconsin bank executives going fully virtual, WBA is excited to offer a new and creative approach to your annual Bank Execs Conference, or “Bank Execs” as many have come to call it. The theme of 2021’s Bank Executives Conference is “Advancing Your Culture” and will be held from Feb. 1-3.  

This event will address the countless aspects of culture that impact your bank and the industry topics unique to Wisconsin bankers to best prepare you for 2021. Attendees will benefit from live presentations with keynote speakers, connect with hundreds of bank leaders from across the Badger State, and be able to bring along 10 staff members for one fee.  

Even as this year’s conference shifts to a virtual format, we haven’t forgotten how important networking is to you. Peer groups during the event will allow participants the opportunity to speak with bankers in similar positions in other Wisconsin community banks, including CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CCOs, HR leaders, lending managers, retail managers, and more.  

The 2021 WBA Bank Executives Conference kicks off on Monday, Feb. 1 with opening remarks from WBA Board Chairman Paul Kohler, Charter Bank, as well as some helpful tips on accessing and taking advantage of the conference’s virtual platform. The opening session, “Advancing Your Culture” will offer an overview of the innovative approaches your bank can take to expanding your culture.   

On Tuesday, Mark Zinder of Mark Zinder & Associates will address the potential impacts of the pandemic during the first presentation, “Is It Different This Time?” He will also explore the more current events that are not rooted in any historical context that might have you asking, “Is this time really different?”  

Zinder will reflect on the pandemic by discussing the aftermath of other crises throughout history. This includes how the Bubonic Plague presented a chance to change the way the economy worked and who it served as well as the new tools used after the Great Depression to ensure another similar event would cease to happen. He will further address the ‘Golden Age of Labor,’ how we currently have an opportunity to “remake” the global economy that will benefit the many vs. the very few, and how it is that the government flooded the market with liquidity, but inflation is nowhere in sight.  

Tuesday will also have an allotted hour to visit with conference exhibitors in their virtual booths. It’s as simple as clicking on their exhibitor profile and then “Join Virtual Booth” to connect with your partners and colleagues. 

On Wednesday, after an Economic Outlook, the presentation “Inclusive Leadership: Unconscious Bias, Trust and Decision-Making" will feature keynote speaker Deborah Biddle, founder and chief consultant of The People Company LLC. Biddle will discuss how an inclusive work culture promotes innovation, productivity, and profitability.  

This session will address your leadership role in embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion within your organization. During this session, bankers will discover why inclusive leadership is an essential skill for developing high functioning teams, uncover key skills for leading inclusively, explore how unconscious bias affects decision-making and workplace inclusion, and learn success factors for highly inclusive leaders.  

During the final session of the day, Dr. Fred Johnson, CEO and founder of InitiativeOne will be presenting “Create a Championship Culture Within Your Organization” to show how to develop a championship workplace that current and future employees want to be a part of. He will share leadership lessons from his time in NFL locker rooms and help you to identify your team’s strengths and talents with a focus on goal setting that delivers world class impact and results.  

Continuing with tradition, this year will once again be honoring 50 and 60 Year Club Members and celebrating the Banker of the Year. Once the sessions have concluded, you’ll continue to have full access to the conference via WBA’s virtual library. This library of several additional "on-demand" presentations will be available at any time through March 5, 2021.  

New this year will be a virtual silent auction powered by GiveSmart to raise funds for the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation. Over the course of all three event days, attendees will be able to seamlessly bid on donated auction items using their computer or phone. You can also receive notifications if someone has outbid you on an item. Prizes in the past have included a collection of pieces from the Museum of Wisconsin Art, resort packages, and tickets to a variety of events such as Bucks games, Badger games, and the Milwaukee Symphony.  

If you’re interested in donating a prize for this year’s silent auction or to learn more about how the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation advocates for financial literacy through programs like their Reading Raises Interest Kits, please contact

The virtual edition of Bank Execs will host a Virtual Exhibit Booth for each attendee. These booths will include access to the full conference and the conference attendee list, bank titles, and a profile created on the virtual platform. You’ll also be able to add content to your virtual booth, including a video library, links to your website or video hosting sites, a resource library, white papers, and more.  

WBA also offers the opportunity to upgrade your virtual presence this year by becoming an event sponsor. Event sponsors receive all the benefits of a virtual exhibitor, plus verbal recognition during a live keynote speech, recognition in promotional emails, on WBA’s website, and on a welcome PowerPoint that will loop before each live session. Other benefits include the option to have a pre-recorded educational webinar provided and presented to bankers in an on-demand content library, and to provide an item in our “conference kit” that will be mailed to all participating banks. Contact for more information on customizing your event sponsorship! 

To learn more about the 2021 WBA Bank Executives Conference or to register, click here.

By, Ally Bates

On May 6, 2020 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its Economic Impact Payment Information Center to include new questions and answers related to Economic Impact Payments (EIP) issued to deceased individuals. 

IRS Question 10 asks whether someone who has died qualifies for an EIP. The answer states the following: 

“No. A Payment made to someone who died before receipt of the Payment should be returned to the IRS by following the instructions in the Q&A about repayments. Return the entire Payment unless the Payment was made to joint filers and one spouse had not died before receipt of the Payment, in which case, you only need to return the portion of the Payment made on account of the decedent. This amount will be $1,200 unless adjusted gross income exceeded $150,000.” 

The instructions for returning an EIP provide the following: 

  • If the payment was a paper check: 
  1. Write "Void" in the endorsement section on the back of the check. 
  2. Mail the voided Treasury check immediately to the appropriate IRS location. 
  3. Don't staple, bend, or paper clip the check. 
  4. Include a note stating the reason for returning the check. 
  • If the payment was a paper check and you have cashed it, or if the payment was a direct deposit: 
  1. Submit a personal check, money order, etc., immediately to the appropriate IRS location. 
  2. Write on the check/money order made payable to “U.S. Treasury” and write 2020EIP, and the taxpayer identification number (social security number, or individual taxpayer identification number) of the recipient of the check. 
  3. Include a brief explanation of the reason for returning the EIP. 

The IRS has provided a list of appropriate addresses on its website which can be found in the link at the end of this article. 

Considerations for Banks 

The information provided by IRS answers the question as to how EIPs made to decedent should be handled, making it clear that they are to be returned. This is true for EIPs made both by check and direct deposit. An individual who receives an EIP payable to a decedent, or who is in possession of EIP funds paid to a decedent, must return those funds. 

Unfortunately, because this information was not issued until after many payments had already been made, it means that some banks have likely already accepted payments made to a decedent. While the information provided by the IRS instructs the recipient to return the EIP funds, banks should consider how they use this information. Certainly, if a customer receives a direct deposit on behalf of a decedent, or presents a check payable to a decedent, that customer should be directed to the instructions for returning the payment. For customers who have already received the funds, either by direct deposit or by depositing a check, those funds still need to be returned pursuant to the instructions. 

The IRS instructions also provide how the recipient is to determine the amount that must be returned. Banks are reminded that the appropriate amount that is to be returned is a consideration that should be made by the customer, not the bank. The instructions relate to the recipient and furthermore, banks are not in a position to know the customers adjusted gross income to make the determination on a customer’s behalf. 


IRS has made it clear that decedents are not eligible for EIP funds, and individuals who have received payments made to decedents are to return those funds. At this time, IRS has not indicated any steps beyond the requirements above. For example, there is no current indication of a reclamation process beyond a requirement for recipients to return the payments themselves. 

Click here for the IRS FAQ.

By, Amber Seitz

Q: Is There a Revised Transfer by Affidavit Form?

A: Yes. 

The transfer by affidavit form for estates of $50,000 or less is no longer maintained by the Wisconsin Court System’s Records Management Committee. The form is now maintained, for free, by the State Bar of Wisconsin Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section (Bar).

While the format of the form has changed, its purpose, function, and governing law under Wis. Stat. 867.03 has not changed. As such, financial institutions may want to review the new form to become familiar with it, but the law has not changed.

One format change that WBA was made aware of was how the affiant completes the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) section. On the prior form, the affiant indicated that if they “did not know” whether the decedent received aid, that they had submit notice to DHS. It is unclear on the new form whether such notice is required. However, WBA has heard from the Bar that it was not their intent to change the form in this way or any other.  

The new form and its instructions can be found through the links below. 



Birrenkott is WBA assistant director – legal. For legal questions, please email

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, Ally Bates

undefinedAccording to 2017 research from Dale Carnegie, two-thirds of American employees are not fully engaged at work. In addition, after internal meta-analysis of their employee engagement surveys of hundreds of companies (both large and small), Gallup reported recently that "business or work units that score in the top quartile of their organization in employee engagement have nearly double the odds of success… when compared with those in the bottom quartile. Those at the 99th percentile have four times the success rate of those in the first percentile."

Setting an Example: The Best Banks to Work For
The WBA member banks interviewed for this article each were named to the most recent American Bankers Association list of Best Banks to Work for. Congratulations to these institutions for going above and beyond in demonstrating the power of employee engagement. 

What does that research mean for Wisconsin banks? Dedicating energy, time, and resources to improving employee engagement will yield dividends. Banks who make engagement a priority will enjoy a competitive advantage over not only other financial institutions but also other employers with whom they compete for top talent. In order to achieve that advantage, however, bank leadership need to understand what "engagement" truly means. "Engagement isn't about being happy and satisfied at work. You can be happy and satisfied and still coasting," explained Dave Furlan, senior HR business partner at The Payroll Company (TPC) HR. "It's about making sure employees are invested in the company's mission and success." 

Benefits of Engagement

The advantage companies with more engaged employees enjoy over their competitors surfaces in three main areas: customer service, productivity, and talent management. "Community banking is all about taking care of our customers and being responsive, and that starts with being engaged," said Mike Molepske, CEO at Bank First, Manitowoc. "We can't deliver good customer service unless we have an engaged workforce." Ann Knutson, HR director at First Bank Financial Centre, Oconomowoc stressed the importance of considering the employee experience just as much as the customer experience. "A positive employee experience will translate to a positive customer experience and higher levels of customer satisfaction," she explained. This concept also applies to internal customers. "When you have engaged employees, they're always thinking about the betterment of the customer and their peers," said Dennis Vogel, president and CEO at Citizens State Bank of La Crosse. Employees who are invested in the bank's success also tend to be advocates for the bank by serving the community. "We're being successful at engaging employees, customers, and communities," said Bill Sennholz, president/CEO at Forward Bank, Marshfield. "We've had multiple communities ask us to open locations in their area because they see what we're doing."

When it comes to productivity, numerous studies and countless hours of research have proven the positive impact of engaged employees. "The productivity of the organization improves and will be at a high level when you have people who believe in your company," said David Fritz, managing partner at Executive Benefits Network (EBN). "Engaged employees can more easily help push the organization's agenda forward." Understanding what the bank's goals are helps employees understand how their work affects the outcome, which leads to higher productivity. "Invested employees really care about what they do and have higher levels of productivity," said Knutson. "They become ambassadors for your organization, whether it's referring others to bank with you or work for you." 

Which leads to the final key advantage of employee engagement: "It's easier to recruit when you have an engaged and supportive workforce," said Fritz. "When you're trying to recruit younger employees to an organization, they're looking for culture and a sense of fulfillment as much as compensation. An engaged employee culture will be easier to recruit to." When engagement becomes ingrained at the cultural level, it shrinks some of the recruitment hurdles businesses face in tight labor markets. "When I started here 14 years ago, I told the employees I wanted to make this place the envy of all other places in town to work," said Sennholz. "When it comes time to go out into the market and find skilled employees, our reputation precedes us. In the end, it's paid dividends as we compete for employees in the marketplace."

Getting Started

With all the significant benefits of an engaged workforce, why do so few companies make it a priority? Simply, because it is a difficult challenge to create and sustain high levels of employee engagement. "It can be a painful process for management to go through because they'll find out where their warts are in some cases," Fritz explained. For bank leaders who are up for the challenge, the first step is to collect direct input from employees. One of the most popular tools for accomplishing this is employee surveys, which can take a lot of work, but are worth it for the insight they provide. "You need objective data to work with, rather than guessing," Furlan explained. "You can do it through large consulting firms or create your own, but you need a baseline."

Next, diagnose any issues raised by the employee input and then classifying them. "Identify which issues are fixable and which are non-negotiable," Fritz recommended. In a banking context, examples of non-negotiable pain-points could be compliance-driven processes or certain response time requirements. It is imperative to follow this step with clear communication about what can't be changed and why. "For issues that non-negotiable, leadership need to communicate passionately and honestly why that is the case," Fritz advised. 

Finally, implement what changes you can based on employee feedback, and ensure that those changes penetrate the entire organization. "It's not just the relationship managers and CSRs," said Molepske. "It's also the operations folks. We all have customers, whether they're internal or external, and we need to make their experience as positive as it can be." For example, Vogel says that everyone at the bank goes through sales training as part of their development. "It doesn't matter if you're in IT or operations, you're part of the customer experience," he explained.

Incentivizing Engagement
Consider one of the following rewards/incentives recommended or utilized by the experts interview for this article:

  • Enhanced onboarding process: make sure all new employees feel welcomed
  • Paid time for volunteering/flexibility to leave and volunteer during work hours 
  • Different options for on-the-spot awards with the same perceived value
  • Bank-wide award for engagement presented at the annual meeting
  • Bring in real baristas to make specialty coffees and beverages for staff
  • Hand employees physical "thank you" cards for jobs well done.

Best Practices

While employee engagement will look different at each bank—varying by factors including strategic goals, geographic market, and size—there are four common engagement practices that are effective for most organizations: regular feedback and recognition, education and development, diversity, and communication. 

Feedback and Recognition
"Recognition is a huge part of employee engagement," said Knutson. "It's become part of our culture at the bank to say, 'thank you.'" In fact, First Bank Financial Centre recently created and launched a peer-to-peer recognition program to complement their existing executive- or manager-to-employee programs. Regular performance feedback also helps foster employee interaction and confidence. "When people don't get that feedback, they start to get more insular and don't interact as well with others because they don't know if they're doing a good job," Furlan explained.

Education and Development
"If you can help people grow, they will provide excellent customer service," said Molepske. Building a culture that supports employee growth and development requires investment, but yields invested employees. "We have a culture surrounding learning and development," said Knutson. "We find that we've been able to increase engagement because of that." Furlan advises looking beyond training to overall education for employees. "We spend most of our waking hours during the week at work, so employers can teach their employees how to be healthier, for example," he said. Another example, and one that is growing in popularity, is financial wellness. "When workers are stressed about their finances and we can teach them strategies to deal with that, they're able to be less distracted at work," said Furlan.

"Diversity plays a big role in engagement," said Molepske. "We pride ourselves on having age diversity, and it's also having people who think differently or have different geographic backgrounds. Whenever you can put differences together, they're more engaged and they perform better." A diverse group of employees will also respond differently to engagement incentives. "We've definitely tried to come up with engagement strategies that will impact employees at various stages in their career," said Gwen Schnitzler, HR director at Forward Bank. "The things that motivate new college graduates are very different from motivations for someone who is approaching retirement." Vogel says Citizens State Bank utilizes a combination of tailored and universal incentives, guided by a software program that helps managers identify what motivates each employee. 

Sennholz says Forward Bank focuses on having strong internal communication practices. "Part of our marketing team's job is internal marketing, so employees know how important their position is and their impact on the community," he explained. As with most communication, these internal practices must be ongoing in order to be effective. "Engagement is part of our discussion from day one, and it's part of our monthly coaching sessions," said Vogel. "We define what 'engaged' means." They even print it on the bank's mousepads to keep it top-of-mind for all staff.

Ultimately, building employee engagement is about fostering a sense of ownership among employees. When bank employees understand how their actions and work impact the institution as a whole, it's more likely they will become invested in the bank's success. "Engaged employees go the extra mile for customers without being asked because they see engagement as ownership," explained Jennifer Sobotta, VP marketing director at Forward Bank. "The ownership and responsibility they provide our customers cannot be replicated by others."

Executive Benefits Network (EBN) is a WBA Bronze Associate Member.
The Payroll Company (TPC) is a WBA Bronze Associate Member.


By, Amber Seitz

Banks are the pillars of their communities, supporting businesses and families as they grow and prosper. One common way is through financial education. While most banks see financial literacy as critically important for their customers and communities, supporting the financial education of consumers also benefits the bank. Dedication to financial literacy creates better customers, supports the bank's mission and/or brand, and continues strong partnerships within the community. The key to reaping these additional benefits of financial literacy is for banks to view it as an opportunity to set themselves apart while making a difference, said Jeff McCarthy, VP – marketing director at First Bank Financial Centre, Oconomowoc, and vice chair of the 2018-2019 WBA Marketing Committee. "At the end of the day, community banking is about supporting our community businesses and families, and what better way than by addressing this knowledge gap?"

"Teach Them Early"

Financial education intersects with the banking industry because good bank customers—commercial and consumer alike—are also financially literate. "Providing educational seminars, participating in school programs, and promoting efforts of financial literacy organizations remains a must for all community banks, as the children we influence will someday be our depositors and borrowers – our future customers," explained Cathy Couey, chief retail officer at Security Financial Bank, Eau Claire, and a member of the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation Board of Directors. Starting early with financial education is an effective way to grow future customers for the bank, said Frank Habib, interim executive director of EconomicsWisconsin, a not-for-profit which has been delivering quality teacher training in economics and financial literacy in a free market and free enterprise environment for the past 55 years. "Invariably, the more those students learn, the better graduates and employees they'll become because of that early investment," he explained. "Teach them early. They'll become a well-informed and good customer."

Unfortunately, today many consumers don't receive the early education in money management that they need in order to thrive and avoid financial pitfalls. "A lot of people don't know what they don't know about their finances," said McCarthy. "And even when they know they don't know everything, people are afraid to ask questions because they don't want to look dumb. There's a large knowledge gap, but people are intimidated. People feel like they should know and they're a little embarrassed that they don't, so we try to create an atmosphere where people can ask questions."

The difference between understanding personal finance and never learning those skills can be dramatic. "It's very important to teach these life skills," said Habib. "Your choices will have a long-term impact on your life, and unfortunately, the costs of not understanding this are exorbitant sometimes." But financial literacy isn't all stick, no carrot. Michael Frohna, president of Junior Achievement of Wisconsin, which has been inspiring and preparing young people for success in a global economy for 78 years in Wisconsin (and for 100 years in the United States), summarized the ultimate goal of financial education: "Financial literacy allows people to pursue a life that's unique and meaningful to them," he said. 

"Make Lives Better"

That quest for betterment is what ties financial education to a bank's mission or brand. For most financial institutions, at least part of their mission or vision is to help their customers and their community. That goal can be nuanced and look different depending on the institution's niche or geographic location, but it's one that many banks share. "I personally feel it is a banker's responsibility to aid consumers in making the best financial decisions," said Couey. "Offering and/or participating in financial literacy proves your dedication in helping your customer reach their financial goals."

"We feel it's incumbent on us to expose people to these topics and issues so they can be set up for success in the long term," McCarthy agreed. First Bank Financial Centre (FBFC) sees financial literacy as part of the bank's strategy to live out its mission, rather than another marketing channel or way to prospect for potential customers. "It's not really about ROI," McCarthy clarified. "It's more about investment in our mission, which is 'Make Lives Better.' It's an investment in the people in our communities as a way to make lives better. It's a proof point to support our overall mission and support our brand."

In addition to the financial benefits of being educated about money, banks can also enhance their brands or missions by inspiring and mentoring young people through their financial literacy outreach. Frohna explained that of all the curriculum Junior Achievement presents to a class, the students probably only retain about a quarter of it. "The other 75 percent of what they remember is the volunteer talking about their own experience," he said. "Bankers have a tremendous ability to go into a classroom and tell stories that augment the curriculum and really bring it to life." Another reputational/brand benefit of demonstrating a banker's job and banking to students early: a recent national study revealed that 20 percent of Junior Achievement students chose a career path based on the career field of their classroom mentor. "It pays to volunteer, because you can change perceptions of what bankers do," said Frohna. 

Building Vibrant Communities 

As the financial cornerstone of their communities, banks also fill key partner roles with many local organizations, including the chamber of commerce, schools, and other entities. "Ultimately, I think organizations like ours and entities like banks really have the vibrancy of our communities at the heart of what we do," said Frohna. "Finding more ways we can partner and reach people who don't have all the tools they need to thrive will benefit everyone in the long-run by creating communities who are financially literate and responsible."

Partnering with an organization dedicated to financial education can be an effective, efficient way for banks to act out their mission to benefit customers and the community. "We align ourselves with best-in-class organizations and tools," McCarthy explained (FBFC is a Ruby level partner with Junior Achievement). "We participate in reality stores at our local high schools, and our online component is powered by EverFi, which is a nationally recognized leader in financial education." 

One of the primary reasons banks gain efficiencies through these partnerships is because no new contacts or infrastructure need to be built in order to deliver financial education in the bank's market. "What's important is banks don't need to create anything," Habib explained. "There are enough solution-oriented agencies to do that." He recommended lending facilities, such as meeting rooms, and hosting or sponsoring events through those agencies as a better use of the bank's resources than creating new materials. Serving on the boards of these organizations is also a valuable way for bank executives, in particular, to give back.

Whichever strategy Wisconsin banks utilize for their financial education efforts, the Wisconsin Bankers Association and Foundation have both dedicated resources to help bankers provide the education needed in their communities, Couey explained. "They promote Money $mart Week and Teach Children to Save Day by providing Reading Raises Interest Kits to communities within Wisconsin, and provide the online resource," she said. "All of this aids bankers in providing resources to help educate consumers on financial development." 

By, Amber Seitz

Q: Can a power of attorney act on an IRA or Trust Account?

A: Yes, but only if the power of attorney (POA) agreement permits it.

The extent of an agent’s authority to act under a POA agreement will always depend on the language within the agreement.

Wisconsin’s Uniform Power of Attorney for Finances and Property Act under Chapter 244 governs POA agreements in Wisconsin. Chapter 244 provides for general authority with respect to banks and other financial institutions. One general power granted under statute permits an agent certain actions on an account. Account is a defined term under Wis. Stat. 705.01(1). That definition is broad enough to include an IRA.

For a trust account, an additional consideration to make is that of granting authority. A trust is a separate legal entity from an individual, meaning it has its own interests and authorities distinct from that of an individual person. A power of attorney agreement creates authority between a principal (the person granting authority) and an agent (the person granted authority). A POA agreement giving authority to act on the finances of a natural person principal does not automatically mean the agent can act on accounts owned by a trust, even if the principal is a trustee of the trust. Because a trust account has its own authority and ownership interests, the principal must grant an agent authority to act through their powers as trustee. Authority to do so is derived from the trust agreement.

If a financial institution is unsure about its interpretation of the scope of an agent’s authority within a POA agreement, WBA recommends working with an attorney to receive a legal opinion.

By, Scott Birrenkott

Bank name changes go beyond charter conversions

What's in a (bank) name? It's branding, but so much more. Competition, growth and expanding markets, local history, M&A, relationship with the community… An inexhaustible list of influences can impact an institution's strategy for its name. Changing names is not a decision made lightly for any business, but when approached strategically it can be an effective way for banks to retain or gain target customers or to deepen its connection with a wider community. 

A bank's motivation to change its name could range from compliance (i.e. a charter conversion), to significant changes in corporate strategy, product/service mix, or the bank's target market, to differentiating or refreshing the bank's current brand, according to John Verre, president and CEO, Leap Strategic Marketing. Regardless of the reason behind the name change, more and more banks are choosing creative, non-traditional names. "What we see reflects banks recognizing the value of a brand and trademark," explained Jason Hunt, attorney at Boardman & Clark, LLP. "Traditionally, many banks picked names reflective of their local geographic community or descriptive of their position in the community, but as they expand they want to have more of a unique trade name or brand." 

Fortifi Bank, formerly known as 1st National Bank of Berlin, is a perfect example. The bank is 142 years old and originally chartered in Berlin, Wis. Over the past two decades, however, it expanded its footprint well beyond its name. "We now reach from Waunakee to Green Bay," said President/CEO Eric Cerbins. "We were being confused with a few other First National Banks within that footprint." The bank rebranded a few years ago in order to differentiate, but the market confusion continued. "It used to be there was just one First National Bank in each community, but as we grew our territories started to overlap," explained SVP – Marketing Loni Meiborg. When the bank decided to convert from a national to a state charter, it also used the opportunity to change its name in order to achieve the market differentiation it was looking for. 

Another bank that recently moved beyond geographic names is Bluff View Bank, formerly Bank of Galesville (as well as Seven Bridges Bank, Holmen and Bank of Trempealeau). "The name change is a larger rebranding of the bank and the result of several years of strategic planning and consultation with our marketing agency," said President/CEO Scott Kopp. "When we first went into new communities we wanted to be part of that community, including the name." However, maintaining separate entities for each community the bank served presented problems. "We found it was difficult to market three different entities with different names and logos," Kopp explained. "It was cumbersome, and some of our customers weren't aware that we were affiliated with our different locations."

4 Steps to a New Name

While changing a bank's name is not a small undertaking, there are several steps you can take to make the transition smoother. 

1. Generate a list of possible names. First, make sure you understand the regulatory constraints on your name. "DFI's Division of Banking interprets Wisconsin law to require a state-chartered Wisconsin bank to include the word 'bank' in its name," explained Patrick Neuman, attorney at Boardman & Clark, LLP. It's also important to keep in mind how important differentiation is to your institution when you begin brainstorming. "Most banks want to use words that reflect their values, but oftentimes banks have similar values," Hunt pointed out. "Banks have to start thinking outside the box." Banks should consider formal research into how its new name or brand can differentiate it from competitors. "Some changes require research involving customers, prospects, and employees," said Verre. "Think of it as a gap analysis. Look at banking in your community and ask what's missing."

The name "Fortifi Bank" began at a facilitated session with 16 bank staff members of different demographics and backgrounds who focused on the bank's present and future identity. From there, they generated a list of 200 different words that the bank's marketing department filtered, combined, and narrowed down. "We got really creative and reviewed everything that was generated," said Meiborg. "We could have stuck with a more traditional name, but we took the opportunity to evaluate our target market and deliver a name that is better aligned." Bluff View Bank used a similar approach, seeking employee opinions very early on. "I asked all of our employees to give us suggestions, and they, along with our marketing agency, really came up with some outstanding names," said Kopp. "We then had to get them vetted and trademarked. We narrowed it down to three, and then had a voting process to get input from employees again." 

2. Conduct an initial screening. As Kopp stated, it is critical to vet the list of potential names before investing any time or money in the new brand or name. "Banks get very far down the road and very excited about a new name before doing an initial screening, and then are disappointed if it's not available," Hunt cautioned. "I highly recommend doing that initial screening first. It's inexpensive to do an initial trademark screening through a law firm and it's better to do it at the beginning than to spend a lot of money creating a new name and brand only to discover a problem down the road." If the bank has plans to expand its market area in the future, Hunt strongly recommends registering the new name with the U.S. Trademark Office. "Assuming the name is available, a U.S. trademark registration will give the bank constructive rights to use that name even in areas where the bank has not yet started doing business or using the name," he explained. "The advantage is, as the bank expands, it can continue to use the name and won't be forced to change."

3. File with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions' Division of Banking. This is the step where the bank formally adopts its new name. "The way a bank changes its name in Wisconsin is to file an amendment to its articles of incorporation," Neuman explained. "That requires a majority vote of the bank's shareholders." Since most Wisconsin banks have a holding company, this requirement is simpler to accomplish than some banks assume, since the holding company board can vote on behalf of its shareholders. Banks also have the option of delaying the effective date of the change up to 90 days, if that fits their rollout strategy better. 

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Of the dozens of action steps involved in launching a renaming/rebranding campaign, the most essential is clear, effective, and timely communication with regulators and vendors, customer/clients, and the community. "Make sure you work with your core data processor to have your new legal name on all of your contracts," Neuman advised. Other important considerations include correspondent debt held at the holding company level and the bank's insurance policies. "A legal name change should not affect the validity of your contracts, but it's still a good idea to let all of your vendors and providers know ahead of time," he continued. "Name changes are mostly a state-driven issue. However, the state-chartered banks do need to file a FRY-10 with the Fed and should notify the FDIC in writing of the name change."

Bluff View Bank and Fortifi were both pleasantly surprised by how positively their customers and clients reacted to their bank's new name. One thing that likely influenced that reaction: both institutions also had board members and/or staff, including loan officers, reach out to clients in advance to notify them of the upcoming name change. If the name change is not the result of a merger, Verre strongly recommends over-communicating that to your customers. "Take the same steps to communicate to customers and employees as you would if it were a merger, so you ensure they know it's not a change in ownership," he said. "Many consumers will assume when you change your name there might be M&A involved, so you need to communicate that it's the same ownership, locations, employees, and products and services." 

The key, according to Meiborg, is to make sure your customers and community know only the bank's name is changing, not its commitment to them. "We work very hard for our communities to know we're part of them," she explained. "Throughout the process it's important to remind the community that you're not changing what you stand for or interrupting your service. You're changing so you can be around longer and stronger to keep serving the community."

Boardman & Clark, LLP is a WBA Gold Associate Member.
Leap Strategic Marketing is a WBA Associate Member.

By, Amber Seitz


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