Thank you for your continued support
By Hannah Flanders
2022 marks the 130-year anniversary of the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA). In celebration of another year assisting Wisconsin banks to better serve their communities, WBA looks back at its humble beginnings, the challenges and growth faced over the last 130 years, and each legacy WBA brings forth into the future.
The Dawn of a New Era
On March 24, 1892, 150 curious bankers met at the Plankinton House in Milwaukee for the first time in nearly 30 years. The meeting’s agenda — creating an organized group of bankers to promote the general welfare and usefulness of the banks in the state. Following many years of general distrust in the banking and money systems, Wisconsin joined 20 other states in establishing a bankers association.
A handful of banks from around the state paid $5 each to join the new organization. The first members of the newly formed Wisconsin Bankers Association wasted no time passing two resolutions urging action on current banking legislation. As is today, advocacy has always lied at the heart of WBA’s mission in supporting the banking industry.
Led by WBA’s first president, N.B. Van Slyke of First National Bank of Madison, the Association’s guidelines, goals, formal Constitution, and bylaws were created and ratified. And so began the next 130 years of overcoming obstacles and meeting new challenges in an ever-evolving industry, all with the goal of serving the consumers of Wisconsin.
Laying the Foundation
With nearly 30 years under its belt and an overall reassurance in the banking system, WBA set its roots down in Milwaukee in 1921. WBA was quickly evolving into the association it is today — from life insurance plans to encouraging bankers to involve themselves with the financial education of their community — several aspects of WBA’s early history developed into subsidiaries serving banks across the Midwest.
During this time, the Association also witnessed the darkest days of The Great Depression, waves of crime, and bank mergers throughout the state. By 1933, WBA membership dwindled from a high of over 1,000 banks to half that number.
In 1942, WBA’s Standard Forms Manual released 130 standard bank forms to members. The popular manual spearheaded the establishment of Financial Institution Products Corporation (FIPCO) in 1987–1988. Today, this WBA subsidiary offers industry leading products — from forms and booklets to consulting services and software — to financial institutions across the Midwest.
Additionally, demands for more employee benefits rose in the late 1900s. WBA’s Employee Benefits Corporation (EBC) was formed in 1982 to provide WBA-member bankers with the highest quality health, life, and disability coverage.
In the late 1950s, the WBA headquarters relocated to Madison. Through the end of the twentieth century to the present, WBA maintained its strong membership base and today represents nearly 98 percent of all banks in the state. The Association helped establish various opportunities ranging from schooling at the University of Wisconsin to general educational conventions and assistance developing advertising for the benefit of its members.
A Legacy to Live On
Following one last headquarters relocation to 4721 South Biltmore Lane in Madison in 1999, the 2000s marked moments of growth for the Association. Between naming its first female president and CEO, Rose Oswald Poels, in 2011 and the creation of the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation (WBF) in 2013 — WBA also underwent a merger with Wisconsin’s other banking association. In an effort to unite the voices of the state’s banking industry, WBA and the Community Bankers of Wisconsin merged in 2015. One year later, in 2016, current President of F&M Bank of Kendall Cynthia Erdman became the first woman to hold the position of WBA chair.
130 years after the founding of WBA, the Association continues to provide its members the valuable resources they need to stay relevant, educated, and aware of emerging trends in the industry. Evidenced by the support it has provided in recent years — be it through economic recession, the COVID-19 pandemic, or the highest inflation rate Americans have seen in 40 years — WBA is dedicated to serving Wisconsin banks.
WBA’s legacy in Wisconsin is far from over. WBA staff are excited about helping member banks navigate future challenges to ensure a vibrant banking sector in the state. Advocacy and professional development for the benefit of Wisconsin bankers will remain fundamental values of the Association as they have been since its inception.
WBA is humbled to represent such an important sector of the economy and looks forward to evolving and adapting with its member banks — as we have for 130 years.
Historical events compiled from “Good as Gold — A History of Banking in Wisconsin,” Copyright © 1992 by Wisconsin Bankers Association.
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 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.”