Meet Kerri Bronk, Senior Operations/eChannel Officer at Merchants

Kerri speaking in Spring Grove about fraud

Kerri speaking in Spring Grove about fraud.

When did you start your career in banking?

Kerri: In November of 1996, I started as a teller at the Merchants Bank location in Goodview. A few years later, I moved to the Operations Department and I’ve been here ever since.

What’s one thing someone can do right now to protect their personal information?

Kerri: Think about where you are storing your personal information. For example, do you know where your birth certificate is or your Social Security card? You should keep paper items somewhere safe and accessible, like a safe deposit box – not in your purse or wallet.

Are there any websites where you’ve used the “save password” option? If so, this could make it easier for fraudsters to figure out your password for other sites. If there are websites you don’t use any more, go out and delete personal information that is saved or stored with that website.

What’s your biggest tip for preventing fraud?

Kerri: Know who you are providing your information to and question if sharing personal information is necessary in every circumstance. For example, a form at a business might ask for your Social Security Number. Is it necessary for you to give them the information or is it on file? Ask. Many times a Social Security Number isn’t required – it is just habit to have on the form for the business.

It’s always important to question if a situation seems too good to be true. If people listened to their gut more often, many of them wouldn’t be facing fraud issues on their account. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

Kerri: When I was a little kid, I sold produce. I would ask my dad if I should sell something for two “bucks” and he would always tell me that money was not called “bucks” they’re “dollars.” He would say “bucks are deer, not dollars.”

If you won the Powerball, what’s the first thing you would do?

Kerri: I would set up a foundation so that I could continue to do good after I’m gone.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Kerri: Flowers and produce. I grew up in the garden.

Has being the Security Officer at Merchants affected your life outside of work?

Kerri: My friends tease me all the time about being the “Security Officer.” I’m always thinking about the risks of a possible situation. I am always aware of my surroundings – making sure people see me when I walk outside, being aware of emergency exits in a building, using caution when giving out my personal information and posting on social media. I also think about how I respond to emails…if I don’t know the sender should I delete the email or risk getting a virus or being scammed? I think it is important to be in aware of and in control of your situation.

Traci Stier Promoted to Item Processing Officer at Merchants Bank

Traci Stier, Item Processing Officer

Traci Stier, Item Processing Officer

Traci Stier has been promoted to Item Processing Officer at Merchants Bank, according to Kerri Bronk, Vice President and Senior Operations Officer.

“Traci has shown leadership, especially in our most recent bank conversions following acquisitions,” Bronk said. “Traci and her team work with many departments in the Bank and have a daily impact on helping our customers because of the number of checks that process through their area.”

Stier manages all the aspects of Merchants Bank’s ability to accept checks and remote deposit capture files, including setup, testing and the coordination of all the pieces that allow Merchants Bank to accept payments. Stier has been with the Merchants organization for the past 15 years and noted that changes in technology, especially over the past few years, provide for faster responses for customers in processing their items.

“I enjoy and welcome the opportunities I have to assist any customers – both internal and external, to build relationships with people and earn their trust because they know I will take care of their needs,” Stier said.

Mortgage Lender Mary Illetschko Earns Promotion at Merchants Bank

Mary Illetschko, VP/Mortgage Loan Officer

Mary Illetschko, VP/Mortgage Loan Officer

Mary Illetschko has been promoted to Vice President/Mortgage Loan Officer at Merchants Bank in Lakeville because of her exceptional performance, according to Merchants Bank in Lakeville President Dan Vlasak.

“Mary has been a great contributor to the success of Merchants Bank and the Lakeville office,” Vlasak said. “She has been a consistently high producer, ranking in the top three in the organization in total volume for loans closed, and she also helps her mortgage customers become customers in other areas.”

Illetschko has been with the Merchants Bank organization for nearly four years and in the mortgage industry for 24 years.

“I enjoy helping people with their mortgages because you can assist them in making the best choices during an important time,” Illetschko said. “Whether it is the purchase of a first home, refinancing a current home or making the decision to build a new home, people deserve and appreciate good advice from someone who knows the mortgage industry.”

Illetschko said she has been fortunate to receive many referrals from her former clients, and over the past year she’s seen an increased demand for Merchants Bank’s construction loan product, where qualified applicants may be able to start for as little as a 5% down payment.

Construction and permanent financing are subject to separate credit approval. Terms and conditions may vary.

Meet Rodney Nelsestuen, Chief Information Officer at Merchants

Rodney with his cat, Tinkerbelle

Rodney with his cat, Tinkerbelle

When did you start your banking career?

I’ve been in the financial services industry for over 30 years. I began as a commercial lender, actually, and did that for seven or eight years. Then, I went into the management as a Chief Credit Officer and eventually became a CEO of a financial institution in Michigan. We did a lot of commercial and ag lending to small and large businesses alike.

My first job as Chief Information Officer was at AgriBank, where I stayed for six years. Then, I worked for CEB TowerGroup, which is a financial services advisory firm. I did a lot of research, wrote reports, published articles and spoke at conferences and other speaking engagements around the world. But I missed “being in the ring,” as I call it. I missed the opportunity to actually practice what I was advising.

From my time at CEB TowerGroup, I learned that I wanted to work at a bank where personal contact is still important. At Merchants, I’ve found this strong culture of personal service and yet a bank that wants to offer digital products that are right at what the industry and its customers need.

Describe one of the biggest changes in technology you’ve witnessed in your career.

There is a dichotomy that’s evolved where the traditional approach of face-to-face service is not going away, but the digital approach and expectations of customers are growing rapidly. It’s more than generational. I see it happening as new digital ideas evolve. The time from developing a digital product to the time it becomes important to the business and the consumer is very short. And that time frame is only getting shorter.

How should customers approach protecting their personal information?

People have to think “I am responsible for my information.” They have to ask themselves…how much do I want to share and with whom? The social network is great, but it opens up a whole new field for fraudsters, so people need to take care with how much they share online. As a customer, I do have to share confidential and private information with the bank if I want a loan.. But, I also expect the bank to protect that information and to stay up to date with security practices. Both sides need to take responsibility.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

You know those ads on TV right now about people cutting their cell phone bill in half? They say “money doesn’t spend itself.” Well, I say “money doesn’t make itself.” Quite simply, they taught me that you don’t spend what you don’t have, and when you borrow, you need to do so knowing how you’re going to pay the loan back. Take charge of your finances, that’s kind of the first step…especially for young people.

If you won the Powerball, what’s the first thing you would do?

I’d pursue my dream of writing the great American novel. I write short stories and fiction. I actually had a book accepted for publication at one time, but it was a small publisher and went out of business before it was published.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

The first thing my wife purchased after we got married (a long time ago) was a pair of green velvet chairs. We still have them today. They’re not going anywhere.

Have you ever googled yourself? What did you find?

Yes, I have. Actually, there was another Rodney Nilsestuen – from Arcadia and I knew him growing up. I’m originally from Galesville and we both showed cattle in 4-H at the Trempealeau County Fair. He spelled the last name with one letter different and of course that meant we’d debate who got the spelling right. I’m pretty sure I’m right…

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants Bank

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants, pictured with her husband Ben at the top of Pike's Peak.

Meet Nikki Kemp, Fraud Specialist at Merchants, pictured with her husband Ben at the top of Pike’s Peak.

When did you start your banking career?

Nikki: I started at a much smaller bank in 2011 as a Customer Service Representative. When I first came to Merchants, I worked in the Electronic Banking department and since that time have become our Fraud Specialist.

What is your top fraud prevention tip?

Nikki: It’s difficult to pick one because there are so many tips to preventing fraud. I would say my first tip is to be conscious of where you are using your debit card – physical stores and online. Do you know and trust the company you are purchasing from? It’s important to stick with places you know. If a company or person calls asking you for your card information, be extremely cautious. Keep in mind that the Bank will never ask for your personal information unless you have previously initiated a conversation with us about your accounts or a loan application.

I would also recommend reviewing your bank statements or Online Banking records regularly. Set aside time to review purchases and if you notice something suspicious, call the Bank and talk to your Customer Service Representative or Electronic Banking immediately. If your account goes unchecked, fraud can go undetected for months or even years.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

Nikki: They taught me to be cautious with credit cards. It’s easy to get in over your head if you’re not careful. My husband and I regularly review upcoming expenses and discuss when we should pay with our credit cards versus our debit card. Once our plan is set, we stick to it.

If you could ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange with anyone, who would it be and why?

Nikki: My husband. He has always wanted to go to New York City and I think he would like to enjoy the experience.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Nikki: My garden – It’s my hobby outside of work. My family always had a garden when I was growing up and now I have one that’s 14×14 feet in my backyard (I know, because I had to dig out the sod myself!). We grow most of your standard vegetables, like tomatoes, onions and peppers. I also have pots for plants that spread, like strawberries.

For more information on our electronic banking options, visit our website.

Jim Vrchota Joins Merchants Bank in Winona as a Vice President and Commercial Banker

Jim Vrchota, Vice President and Commercial Banker

Jim Vrchota, Vice President and Commercial Banker

Jim Vrchota has joined the team at Merchants Bank as Vice President and Commercial Banker, according to Randy Domeyer, Senior Vice President and Commercial Banking Department Manager

“We are excited to have Jim join our team in Winona,” Domeyer said. “His experience in business development and lending will benefit our customers and our lending team here at Merchants Bank.”

Vrchota has more than 33 years of experience in the banking industry, much of it as a Senior Lender and Market President. Most recently he served as Senior Vice President at United Prairie Bank in Spicer, Minnesota, where he worked in commercial and ag lending. Vrchota also has a great deal of experience in SBA (Small Business Administration) lending.

“I am happy to be a part of a banking organization that has such a tremendous reputation for helping its customers meet their goals,” Vrchota said. “I look forward to becoming a part of the Winona community.”

Vrchota has a long history of community involvement, especially in the areas of economic development and community service.

Liz Diggins Joins Merchants Bank in Red Wing as a Commercial Banker

Liz Diggins, Commercial Banker

Liz Diggins, Commercial Banker

Liz Diggins has joined Merchants Bank in Red Wing as a Commercial Banker, according to Brian Hokanson, Senior Vice President and Senior Lender for Merchants Bank.

Diggins is well known in the Red Wing area, spending the past 12 years working with commercial and agricultural loans and loan customers at Associated Bank in Red Wing.

“Liz is a tremendous communicator, who enjoys working with clients and helping them to achieve success,” Hokanson said. “We are fortunate she has chosen Merchants Bank, and we look forward to working with her as she utilizes her skills helping others reach their goals.”

A Red Wing native, Diggins is currently the treasurer for the United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counties. She also serves as treasurer for the Wells Creek Riders Snowmobile Club.

“I am thrilled to be working with Merchants Bank because of its commitment to the community,” Diggins said. “Helping Red Wing to continue to grow is important to me, and there’s no better place to make that commitment to the future than at Merchants Bank.”

In addition to graduating from Red Wing Central High School, Diggins has an undergraduate degree in business management from the College of Saint Benedict and a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.