Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Reports Year to Shareholders and Re-elects Directors

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Rodney R. Nelson

WINONA, Minn. – Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) held its annual meeting Thursday, April 3, formally reporting 2013 income to shareholders and re-electing five members to the MFGI Board of Directors.

MFGI President & CEO Rodney R. Nelson reported that the organization is sound and continues to grow, recording $11,612,049 in net income in 2013. It was MFGI’s second best year in terms of income, following net income of $12,439,492 in 2012.

“It is good to share the good news with our shareholders,” Nelson said. “We look forward to continued success in 2014.”

Re-elected to three-year terms as Directors were David H. Keller, retired President Lucas Body Systems, NA, Richard T. Lommen, Jr., Owner/Operator, Courtesy Corporation, McDonald’s, Kenneth J. Mogren, retired President, Winona Agency, Inc., Bruce E. Ryan, Owner, Ryan Windows & Siding, Inc., and Peter W. Woodworth, Chairman, WKM Properties.

Nelson, Chief Financial Officer Sue Savat and Merchants Bank President and Chief Banking Officer Greg Evans were featured speakers.

Cyber Security Tips for Business Owners

CyberSecurityTipsIf you own a business, your list of stressors is probably vast: Sales, employee turnover, competition — so the last thing you want to worry about is your cyber security. Nevertheless, it’s important to establish an official security plan. Why? Cyber fraud (any crime that involves a computer and/or network) is becoming more and more of a frequent issue. In fact, companies with 250 employees or less suffered more than 30 percent of all online attacks last year (up from about 18 percent in 2011), according to Symantec.com’s 2013 Internet Security Threat Report.

“Cyber criminals are business people, too,” said Arild Jensen, owner of Secos Security, a Granada Hills, CA firm that specializes in cyber security for small businesses. “They’re going to go for the easiest, most rewarding target.”

Fear not. Here are five easy ways to make sure your business’s Internet environment is as secure as it can be.

1. Choose strong passwords. Make sure passwords — for e-mail, Wi-Fi, websites and other platforms — are secure. The most important aspect of creating a password: How long it is.

“The length of the password matters more than its absolute complexity,” explains Steve Gibson, president of Gibson Research in CA. They should be eight or more characters. For even more protection, include letters, numbers, punctuation or special symbols, like an exclamation point.

2. Stay up to date — on everything. That means having the latest security software, web browser, operating system, etc., which can help guard against viruses, malware and other online threats. Most of these programs can be set to update automatically. Also important: Whenever you update your antivirus software, make sure to run a scan afterward. Installing or updating your antispyware technology is crucial as well. Spyware — as the title suggests — essentially spies on you, and is able to access personal information from your business without you knowing.

3. Pay attention to Wi-Fi. Rename your office network and change the password often, about every five or six months.

“Almost anyone can go online and find software that will automatically break into [the network],” explains Michael Hicks, director of the University of Maryland — College Park’s Cybersecurity Center. Tip: Avoid making the network title your company’s name.

4. Work with your financial institution. Ask your financial institution about protection programs. They may be able to offer a plan that allows you to monitor any suspicious activity that has occurred, like checking payments that you don’t recognize. This can help you prevent any unauthorized transactions before they occur.

5. Back up your data regularly. Sometimes, even when you do everything right, hacking can still occur. Having backup copies of important business data and information ensures that you’ll never have to start from square one. Store extra files (everything from Word documents and spreadsheets to human resource info and financial files) at a location other than your office. To make it easier, set up your files so they get backed up automatically.

6. Educate your employees.
Making sure workers are up to speed on the safest online tactics means less of a chance of a cyber mishap. Also instill the importance of not posting any confidential business-related information on social media platforms they may have, and that they don’t store business-related information on personal hard drives. Your employee’s passwords should also be different from what they use for personal passwords.

 

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Students and Apple Valley Booster Receive a Total of $3,360 from Merchants Bank Money Ball

Apple Valley students who made lay-ups, free throws and half-court shots during Merchants Bank’s Money Ball halftime shootout at Apple Valley High School basketball games this season earned $1,680. Because of their efforts, Merchants Bank will match the $1,680 earned and donate that money to the Apple Valley Basketball Booster Club.

“It was great fun. The students and fans alike really enjoyed the halftime shootout. We’re happy to do it and happy to match that sum to the boosters who are supporting these great high school athletes,” said Merchants Bank’s Twin Cities Regional President Lawrence Stovern.

Students signed up before each game and were chosen in a random drawing to be the Money Ball shooters at both boys’ and girls’ games. The students reached the total by receiving a $10 gift card each time a participating student made a lay-up, a $25 gift card was given each time a participating student made a free throw, and $100 in cash was given each time a student made a half-court shot. The half-court shot was a progressive jackpot and there were three big winners during the year – one for $500 by Ja’Quan Robinson, another for $300 by Mohamed Kone and $100 to another Apple Valley student.

“The best part is the kids were actually the ones who raised the money for the boosters by making the shots,” Stovern said.

Apple Valley High School Booster Club donation from Merchants Bank

Pictured from left to right: Debbie Jones (Apple Valley Basketball Booster Club), Brian Wester (Merchants Bank), Tiffany Elliot (Apple Valley Basketball Booster Club), Dale Trobroxen (Apple Valley Basketball Booster Club), Lawrence “Skip” Stovern (Merchants Bank)

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Reports Another Strong Year With Income of More Than $11.6 million in 2013

NelsonRod

Rodney Nelson

WINONA, Minn. – Merchants Financial Group, Inc. ended 2013 with its second best year ever in terms of net income at $11,612,049, according Merchants Financial Group, Inc. President & CEO Rodney R. Nelson.

“We were pleased with our results. We finished well ahead of our plan for the year, and we continue to be well positioned for continued growth,” Nelson said.

The $11,612,049 is a slight decrease from the record year of 2012 when, aided by extraordinary mortgage volume, Merchants reported net income of $12,439,492. Merchants saw increases in many other key indicators in 2013. Loan balances increased 12.2% to $972.26 million, up from $867.15 million in 2012. Equity increased to $116.0 million in 2013, up from $112.2 million. Deposits increased to $1.13 billion, up from $1.07 billion in 2012. The asset size of Merchants also increased to $1.366 billion in 2013, up from $1.286 billion in 2012.

Merchants acquired locations in Rushford and Lanesboro in November, and recently acquired a new location in Eau Claire. Merchants also made changes in leadership as Nelson succeeded Richard L. Mahoney as Merchants Financial Group, Inc. President & CEO on January 1. Greg Evans was also recently named President & Chief Banking Officer for Merchants Bank and will oversee operations at its 21 bank locations. Both Nelson and Evans are long-time leaders in the Merchants organization.

“As an organization, we are prepared for growth. We look forward to the coming year and continuing to serve our customers in the manner they deserve,” Nelson said.

Matthew Schuldt Named President at Merchants Bank in Caledonia and Spring Grove

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Matt Schuldt

CALEDONIA/SPRING GROVE, Minn. – Caledonia native Matthew Schuldt has been appointed Market President for Merchants Bank in Caledonia and Spring Grove, according to Merchants Bank’s Southern Region President Jay Friedl.

Schuldt served as Interim President of First Community Bank in Lester Prairie, Minn., and also worked in other roles at the bank, including Vice President of Lending, working with consumer, agriculture and commercial lending customers.

“Matt’s experience will serve our Caledonia and Spring Grove customers very well as he helps them find the solution that is best for their individual needs,” Friedl said.

In addition to his experience at First Community Bank, Schuldt also spent eight years working with Eide Bailly, a public accounting and business advisory firm. He also volunteers as a youth wrestling coach.

“I’m excited to be a part of an organization so well thought of by community bankers throughout the state. Certainly, Merchants has the resources that make it possible to finance almost any sort of loan, but the strength of the organization is how it treats each customer like that person is the Bank’s only customer,” Schuldt said.

Schuldt started his new position in Caledonia and Spring Grove on February 24.

Merchants Bank Receives Partnership Award from Mortgage Insurer MGIC

Left to right: Cheryl Webb, Senior Vice President of Field Operations for MGIC, Bob Dougherty of Merchants Bank, and Elyse Mitchell, Lead Account Manager for MGIC.

Left to right: Cheryl Webb, Senior Vice President of Field Operations for MGIC, Bob Dougherty of Merchants Bank, and Elyse Mitchell, Lead Account Manager for MGIC.

Mortgage insurance leader MGIC recently presented Merchants Bank with its Partnership Award, which recognizes a business partner for loyalty, superior business quality and leadership in the mortgage industry.

Merchants Bank’s Vice President of Mortgage Operations Robert Dougherty accepted the award from MGIC’s Senior Vice President of Field Operations Cheryl Webb and Lead Account Manager Elyse Mitchell. MGIC is based in Milwaukee and provides mortgage insurance for about 1 million homes.

“It means a lot to our organization that we rose to the top of what MGIC was looking for in a partner. The award really celebrates the work of our entire company, including our exceptional sales force, as well as the operations area,” Dougherty said. “It’s been a great partnership for both of us. We really appreciate their continued work in educating our operations and sales teams.”

Merchants Bank’s Mortgage Operations area provides service and support for the mortgages written by Merchants Bank employees at the Bank’s 21 locations, as well correspondent mortgage services for about 210 community banks across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota. More than 45 Merchants Bank employees support the Mortgage Operations area.

Jeff Zwiefelhofer Joins Merchants Bank as a Business Lender

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Jeff Zwiefelhofer

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. –Jeff Zwiefelhofer has joined Merchants Bank as an Assistant Vice President and Commercial Banker, according to Merchants Bank’s Eau Claire Market President Mark Willer.

Zwiefelhofer has been a business lender at Alliance Bank since 2009. He has worked as a community banker since 1983. Most of that time has been spent in the Chippewa Valley. Merchants Bank acquired Alliance Bank’s Mall Drive location February 14.

“Jeff is very well known in this area. That will be a benefit for Merchants as we build our brand in the Chippewa Valley. More so, it will be a benefit for Jeff’s customers as they build a relationship with a bank that has the resources to be a strong financial partner.” Willer said.

Zwiefelhofer has been an active community member. He is currently Treasurer of the Hastings Way Business Association, and a former Board Member of the St. Croix Economic Development Corporation and Chippewa County American Red Cross. He’s also a former Treasurer of the Chippewa Falls Jaycees, and a former member of the Chippewa Falls Main Street Marketing Committee, and the Woodville Lion’s Club.

“I look forward to sharing all that Merchants Bank has to offer. The people I know will be impressed by Merchants’ commitment to community banking and the resources that I will have available to me,” Zwiefelhofer said.

Rick Roesch Joins Merchants Bank as a Mortgage Lender

Veteran Mortgage Lender Rick Roesch has joined Merchants Bank, according to Merchants Bank’s Eau Claire Market President Mark Willer.

Rick Roesch

Rick Roesch

Roesch had most recently been a mortgage lender at Alliance Bank, which was acquired by Merchants Bank February 14.

“We are extremely pleased that Rick will continue providing home loan solutions to Chippewa Valley mortgage customers. We know that he brings a thorough understanding of the mortgage industry to Merchants,” Willer said.

In addition to his seven years as a mortgage lender at Alliance, Roesch has been active in the Chippewa Valley real estate industry since 1978. He has worked as a real estate agent, assessor and appraiser, in addition to his work as a mortgage lender.

“Merchants is appealing to me and should be appealing to customers because it offers a full range of mortgage options. That means that customers can be fitted to the type of loan that is best for them,” Roesch said. “Perhaps most appealing, given my experience in the industry, is the fact that Merchants Bank services its own loans. That makes all the difference in the world when you need someone to talk to.”

Roesch has remained active in the community. He currently serves as an Elder in his church. Most recently he served on the Board of Directors for the Foundation Board of the Realtor Association of Northwest Wisconsin.

Project FINE Recognizes 2013 “Partner of the Year”

As seen in the Winona Post

On February 11, the Project FINE Board of Directors hosted its “Annual Report to the Community” at the Saint Mary’s University Toner Center. This event is a celebration of the organization’s activities and accomplishments during the previous year and a time to thank the many partners, stakeholders, staff and volunteers who help Project FINE make a positive impact in our community.

Each year, Project FINE recognizes an exceptional partner with the Partners Award.  For 2013, we are pleased to honor Merchants Bank with this award.

Pictured are Fatima Said, Project FINE Executive Director; Rod Nelson, Merchants Bank President and CEO; and Dr. Connie J. Gores, Project FINE 2013 Board President.

Pictured are Fatima Said, Project FINE Executive Director; Rod Nelson, Merchants Bank President and CEO; and Dr. Connie J. Gores, Project FINE 2013 Board President.

Merchants Bank
Merchants Bank has been an exceptional partner to Project FINE for many years.  In 2013, they completed an organizational diversity assessment and collaborated with Project FINE to provide diversity training for bank staff.  Merchants Bank also offered a series of banking education sessions for refugees and immigrants on home ownership and refinancing and they continue their commitment to serving diverse populations by providing interpreters for their non-English speaking bank clients.  As a result of this education and outreach, four newcomer families purchased a home through Merchants Bank in 2013 and countless others opened accounts.

Project FINE would like to thank the leadership and staff at Merchants Bank for their commitment to creating an inclusive environment and meeting the banking needs of newcomers in our community.  We are proud to partner with Merchants Bank and over 60 other community businesses, organizations and service providers to build a respectful and sensitive community.

Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

If you’ve decided that it’s time to buy a new car – whether you have a new driver in the family or you’re just ready for a change and perhaps an upgrade, there are plenty of private sellers that have used vehicles for sale. However, knowing what to look for as you shop and knowing the signs of a less than trustworthy seller could make the difference between enjoying a new used car or getting stuck with a money pit. Here are some tips to help.

UsedCar“Buying a used car from a private party can score you a deal – often discounts of 15-20 percent when buying from a private seller over a dealership,” states Angie Fisher of AutoWeek.com. To avoid signing on a deal that could turn out to be too good to be true, Fisher goes on to offer some things to consider as you search.

Ask the right questions. Regardless of the car’s mileage – low or high – it’s important to ask if it has been in any accidents and how severe. Ask for maintenance receipts to show if the car has been well cared for. Ask if the seller is the original owner and if not, how much they know about who they purchased the vehicle from. Finally, always ask why they are selling; if they can’t seem to give you a straight answer, be careful about moving forward.

Know what to look for when inspecting the car. As you look over the prospective vehicle, keep an eye out for evidence of repairs, maintenance or required repairs. Some things to look for include worn tires, bent wheels, oil leaks, missing body fascia, dull paint, etc. All of these could be signs for maintenance. If you spot any of these, ask the seller about the history and gauge their reaction.

Request specific documentation. Ask for a bill of sale that includes the vehicle identification number (VIN number), make, model, selling price, mileage and any agreements that you and the seller have discussed.

Research the vehicle’s value. While Kelley Blue Book can be a helpful tool, there are other ways to determine a fair buying price for the vehicle. Look on local websites and in the local paper and see what vehicles of the make and model are selling for. You can also try calling a local auto dealer and give them your prospective vehicle’s description; ask them what the trade-in value would be. Use this information to calculate where you think your first bid should be.

When it comes to purchasing a new used vehicle, there are pros and cons to buying from either a dealership or a private seller. Whereas a dealership will have their own policies and hoops to jump through, “a private party seller is an individual just like you,” states an article from JDPower.com. “…someone who owns a vehicle that they need to sell, and who is likely selling the vehicle themselves in order to extract maximum value for it.” Some of the benefits of buying from a private seller include:

  • Lower costs. There are four values for a used vehicle: retail, private party, trade-in and certified pre-owned. The private party value typically tends to remain on the lower end of the scale when it comes to vehicle costs since the seller isn’t concerned about overhead; they are also typically more flexible on the price as they’re eager to sell their vehicle.
  • No games. Private party sellers are generally in more of a rush to sell their old vehicles. If they see that you’re a serious buyer, they may be more likely to want to complete the transaction with you as quickly as possible.

If you have questions about purchasing a pre-owned vehicle, or other financial questions, stop by your local Merchants Bank branch, where a our financial professionals are ready to help.

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