Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender Arlene Schwerzler Recognized in “Independent Banker” Magazine

Arlene Schwerzler, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank

Arlene Schwerzler, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank

Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender Arlene Schwerzler has been recognized in the July issue of “Independent Banker” magazine as an outstanding community banker.

The magazine, a publication of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), recognized six community bankers from around the country.

“It’s important to me to work with my customers from the beginning of the process to the end, so they understand the advantages of being smart borrowers. I take pride in educating my customers. I want them to understand why good credit is important and how mortgage pre-approval can benefit them, among other things,” Schwerzler said. “The recognition in the magazine is nice, but it’s really just a bonus for doing what I really like to do.”

Schwerzler is the top mortgage producer for the Merchants organization in total number of loans, with more than 1,025 in the past three years. Schwerzler has been with Merchants for more than 17 years and has consistently been a top producer.

“Arlene is so good at what she does because she understands and can communicate the technical side of a mortgage and also helps people through the emotional side of the process,” said Sue Hovell, Schwerzler’s supervisor and a Senior Vice President at Merchants. “The real testament to her commitment to helping her customers is that most of her business comes from referrals.”

Larry Accola Appointed President at Merchants Bank in Eau Claire

Merchants Bank Eau Claire

Larry Accola, President of Merchants Bank in Eau Claire

Larry Accola has been appointed President of Merchants Bank in Eau Claire, according to Merchants Financial Group President and Chief Executive Officer Rod Nelson.

“We believe Larry is a great addition to our team in Eau Claire,” Nelson said. “He knows the market and the people of the region and is the perfect choice to help us continue to build our brand in the Chippewa Valley.”

Accola has more than 25 years of experience in the Eau Claire market, including more than 20 years at Royal Credit Union, where he served as the Senior Vice President of Business Loans and Services.

“Merchants Bank has a tremendous reputation as a community banking leader throughout southeastern Minnesota and west-central of Wisconsin. It is a perfect fit for the values and financial needs of the people and businesses in our area,” Accola said. “I look forward to sharing the Merchants’ story.”

Accola has a long history of community involvement, including the Eau Claire Economic Development Corporation, Eau Claire Noon Kiwanis, Eau Claire County Industrial Development Agency, Eau Claire City Revolving Loan Fund, Eau Claire Near Equity Loan Fund, Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce, Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation, Chippewa Falls Chamber of Commerce and the Eau Claire Downtown Business Improvement District.

John Doepke Joins Merchants Bank as Network Infrastructure Administrator

John Doepke

John Doepke, Network Infrastructure Administrator

John Doepke has joined Merchants Bank as a Network Infrastructure Administrator, according to Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Rodney Nelsestuen.

“We are excited to have someone with John’s skill and experience join our team,” Nelsestuen said. “He will have a great deal of responsibility in maintaining and enhancing our information technology infrastructure.”

Doepke will be responsible for assisting in the management, administration, operation, security and maintenance of Merchants Bank’s internal server-based support systems and services.

“I look forward to the responsibility and the opportunity to serve Merchants Bank’s customers,” Doepke said.

A native of central Wisconsin, Doepke has been in the IT field for 15 years, including the past six years at Winona National Bank, where he served as a Network Manager.

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…