Meet Larry Accola, President – Merchants Bank Eau Claire

Merchants Bank Eau Claire

Larry Accola, President of Merchants Bank in Eau Claire

Hometown:
Larry: Pittsville, WI. It’s the exact geographical center of state.

Education:
Larry: I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Originally, I majored in Engineering, but decided that it wasn’t something I wanted to do for a career, so I switched to Business.

I had never considered banking, but one of my professors mentioned there was an opening at Midland Bank in Milwaukee. At the time I worked for Mobil Oil Corporation in Milwaukee. I went to Midland and talked to their HR representative and she encouraged me to consider banking so I could be involved with many different types of businesses. From there, I solicited interviews with several banks in the area and started at what is now, US Bank.

I have never regretted choosing banking. I also completed the Graduate School of Banking three year program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Family:
Larry: I have four children – two boys and two girls – and they’re all grown up. Three of them live near Seattle and the other lives in Austin, TX.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
Larry: One of my customers asked me recently if I ever considered retiring. I honestly haven’t because I really enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy people and I enjoy commercial lending. I really like being involved with businesses and being a part of their success. I’ve learned a lot from different businesses over the years and I like applying that experience to the businesses I’m working with now to offer helpful solutions and suggestions.

What’s the most important financial lesson you’ve learned in your life?
Larry: Money is of course important and necessary but regardless of compensation, one has to enjoy and bring value to what they do for a living.

What does community banking mean to you?
Larry: Being part of a team. I think banking relationships should be transparent and not adversarial. Ultimately, what’s good for the bank is generally good for the customer and working together with their other professional advisors to make the customer successful is what it’s all about.

I like that we bring value to our customer relationships and create partnerships rather than just concentrating on the services we offer. Making customers successful also brings benefits to their employees and their communities.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Larry: I don’t know…I grew up on a dairy farm and I knew I probably didn’t want to do that. You have to be at the farm all the time and that’s a big commitment. It was a great place to grow up though. Honestly, I don’t know if I really said “this is what I want to be.”

What do you do when you’re not working?
Larry: Unfortunately, my grandkids do not live nearby, but I have some close friends that let me “stand in” as grandpa for their kids. I go to their sporting events to cheer them on, which is a lot of fun. I enjoy pretty much any spectator sport…football, basketball, soccer. I am a casual hunter and I am currently mentoring an 11 year old boy. I also like reading about the finance and banking industry. I just enjoy learning and every day realize how much there is to know.

Tell us something we don’t know.
Larry: What’s that phrase they say? “You can take the boy off of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.” I have three antique tractors, which reminds me of my past. One of them is actually the same make and model as a tractor we had on the home farm. I also had the unique spectrum of experience of attending a one room country school for 8 grades and finishing my education at a 40,000 student urban university.

Learn more about Merchants Bank on our website.

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Commercial Lending: It’s about more than easy money

Greg Evans, President/Chief Banking Officer

Greg Evans, President/ Chief Banking Officer

Written by Greg Evans, President and Chief Banking Officer

I was at a community networking event one evening last week that included a group of upper-level College of Business students from Winona State University.

“How hard is it to get a business loan?” they asked.

Great question. One I get all the time.

That depends. How hard is it going to be to pay it back?

Not complex stuff, really, but far from easy in practice.

For entrepreneurs looking to start a new business or experienced business owners looking to finance growth and expansion, there really has never been a better time to borrow money. Interest rates remain at historically-low levels. Most commercial banks have fully recovered from any credit problems lingering from the recent great recession. There is plenty of liquidity in the banking system, and banks are hungry to add good quality loans to the balance sheet.

The fact is that commercial banks are in the business of making loans. The change in the regulatory environment that resulted from the recession has, perhaps, created some additional challenges but by in large solid borrowers will have choices in selecting a lender. The institutions serving the Seven Rivers Region, including Merchants Bank, are predominantly community banks and are eager to provide more loans to drive economic growth in our Main Street communities.

So, with plenty of money supply to meet commercial credit demand, how should a business owner go about choosing the right banking partner?

I would recommend looking for a banker comfortable playing the role of a trusted adviser, willing to take the time to fully understand your business and drill into the question, “How hard is it going to be to pay it back?”

For us at Merchants, commercial banking is a relationship business. When we evaluate a loan request, we are diligent in our underwriting of the transaction itself. But, we are far less interested in the single piece of here-and-now business than we are in developing a complete understanding of the total operation and being able to deliver a full suite of business banking solutions that set up a business owner for long-term success.

When I think about our best business customers, clients that immediately come to mind are those trusted relationships that have been shaped over years, even decades. I would like to think that these valued long-standing relationships are the result of one of our bankers starting with this end in mind way back when.

When a commercial lender meets with a prospective new customer, the most important consideration ought to be, “how are we going to meet this customer’s needs … not only today… but well into the future.” In the same manner, it’s advisable for the business owner to be thinking in terms of finding a partner who can become a trusted advisor for the long haul. That type of relationship isn’t forged overnight, but there are behaviors that should be evident early on to warrant the level of trust that a business owner places in a banker.

Any seasoned banker should articulate that credit underwriting will be governed by the fundamental assessment of the “5 Cs” of credit (character of the borrower, market conditions, collateral pledged as a potential secondary source of repayment, capital generally understood as “skin in the game” and capacity). In banking today, capacity – a company’s ability to absorb and repay debt – should be embraced as most fundamentally important because it reflects significantly on the viability of the business itself. Cash is what repays loans, so cash flow of the business is the best source of repayment. In addition to the fundamentals, any banker should be successful at demonstrating the following to a prospective borrower:

  • Responsiveness – business credit underwriting necessarily requires some time, but find a banker who keeps you well informed throughout the process and is available to you regularly
  • Integrity – having a trusted relationship isn’t optional; the ability to earn a high degree of trust is the price of admission for any banker deserving of the opportunity to become your banking partner
  • Thorough underwriting – scrutiny associated with credit requests should be embraced as part of the process if a banker is truly serving the best interests of the business; fundamental review of financial information, projections, business plans, etc., is necessary for everybody to feel a high degree of confidence that the debt can be serviced
  • Experience and knowledge – business owners should have an expectation that their business banker will bring a value-added component to the relationship; familiarity with specific industries and credit cycles is something you should ask your banker about to be confident about the banker’s ability to meet your needs for the long haul

At Merchants Bank, we strive to deliver on that formula in meeting the needs of our business clients. Our bank locations are small enough where our staff can know the name of each person who walks through our door. At the same time, our strength with $1.5 billion in assets allows us to deliver to the market all of the resources required to meet the financing needs of virtually any business in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. It’s a beneficial combination for our business clients.

I know every bank suggests it stands apart because of the personalized service it delivers and the quality of its bankers. Sometimes that’s true, but put your bank and banker to the test. Look closely at the expertise and passion of the employees. Are they responsive? Do they truly understand your business and your needs? Do they know what they are talking about? Do they care? Are they professional? Can they be trusted to say “no” when that answer truly serves your best interest and the interest of your business?

There is a good deal that goes into commercial lending, and this really only touches the surface. For any business owner, having a banker that can meet those standards is probably more important than the pricing, terms and conditions of any loan package. If you’re looking for a successful formula, do your homework and find that kind of banker. Then, build a long-term relationship.

 Loans are subject to credit approval.

SBA Loans: Frequently Asked Questions

Merchants Bank Small Business Loans, Commerical Lenders

Are you thinking about starting a small business? Have you heard about the Small Business Administration and the loan programs it offers? You might be wondering if an SBA loan is right for you or simply how SBA loans work. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about SBA loans

1. What is an SBA loan?

While the Small Business administration oversees a number of loan programs, the SBA does not lend money itself. When you apply for an SBA loan, you’ll work with a local bank to receive financing for your project and a portion of the loan is guaranteed by the SBA.

SBA Loan programs include:

  • 7(a) Loan Program – The most common general small business loan offered by the SBA.
  • Microloan Program – Small, short-term small business loans.
  • Real Estate & Equipment Loans or CDC/504 Loan Program – Loans for real estate and equipment.
  • Disaster Loans – Low interest loans to repair or replace items damaged in a disaster.

Learn more about these SBA loan programs and eligibility on the SBA website.

2. Should I apply for an SBA loan or traditional bank loan?

Which loan is right for your business depends on a number of factors. First, you’ll want to know which SBA loan programs you may or may not qualify for. In addition, you’ll want to compare the SBA loan programs versus a traditional commercial loan. While an SBA loan might not be a fit for every business, it may provide certain benefits over traditional loans, in certain situations, including:

  • Longer terms
  • Lower down payments
  • Increased cash flow
  • Flexible repayment options

As an SBA Preferred Lender, Merchants Bank has experience helping businesses choose between SBA and traditional commercial loans. Your local Merchants Bank Commercial Banker can guide you through our options to find the right loan program for you.

Use SBA’s Online Loans and Grants Search Tool to begin research which government financial programs may help your business.

3. What information do I need to complete my loan application?

Educating yourself on the SBA loan processing and knowing what information you need for the application can save you a lot of time. Use these resources to prepare yourself when applying for an SBA loan:

For more information on SBA loans, talk to a Commercial Banker at your local Merchants Bank. We’re proud to be an SBA Preferred Lender.

Subject to credit approval. Equal Housing Lender.

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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.

Listening to the Customer

Merchants Bank, Business Loans

Yer Yang and William Moua, owners of Rollingstone Mini Mart.

If you were to ask William Moua and Yer Yang the secret to their success at the Rollingstone Mini Mart, they would tell you it’s been listening to their customers since they purchased the store in 2004.

The couple keeps their prices affordable. They offer hot food, convenience items, a small liquor store and fuel. They’ve been rewarded with customers who have made their store an important part of Rollingstone.

“Without this store, it would be a little harder for the people in town. We have something that they need,” Moua said. “I’d say we know 95 percent of our customers by name.”

So, when Moua’s customers told him they’d have no reason to go into Winona, if Moua and Yang would add a Laundromat, the couple decided to make the addition. The problem was, no one listened closely enough to them at first when they were looking for a loan.

Saved $8,000 in Fees

That was until they followed a recommendation from Project FINE and went to Merchants Bank and met Business Banker Greg Borcherding.

Moua had been told by a bigger bank that it would take three months just to find if he’d been approved for a loan, and up to three more months to complete the process.  Borcherding turned the loan around quickly and structured the loan in a way that saved Moua and Yang over $8,000 in fees.

Moua said he liked the way Borcherding treated them. “It’s personal with him,” Moua said. “He’s easy to work with, knowledgeable and very helpful.”

For Borcherding, the pleasure was all his. “They’re very nice people, hardworking and the place is always busy,” Borcherding said. “It’s important to the Rollingstone community.”

Moua said he wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Borcherding to other small business owners.“I’ve worked with many bankers, and Greg has been the best for me. I give him an A plus,” Moua said.

Merchants Banks offers business financing options for your specific needs. Click here to learn more.

Loans are subject to credit approval.

Kim O’Reilly Joins Merchants Bank as Vice President and Commercial Lender

KimOReillyWelcome

Kim O’Reilly has joined the Merchants Bank team as a Vice President and Commercial Lender, according to Brian Hokanson, Senior Vice President and Senior Lender for the Cannon Falls region.

A well-known banker through the region, O’Reilly will be working with customers throughout the area and will have offices in both Cannon Falls and Red Wing.

“What makes Kim an exceptional banker is her desire to understand the goals of her customers and then put together a solution that helps the customer realize those goals,” Hokanson said. “She does that for the smallest companies to the biggest with an equal amount of energy and knowledge.”

O’Reilly has been in banking for 19 years, including the past 11 at Associated Bank in Red Wing. She said she’s looking forward to being a part of the Merchants Bank team.

“Merchants has an excellent reputation because it’s committed to its customers.” O’Reilly said. “That’s important to me.  I am committed to my family, our farm, our church and our community, and my customers know that I deliver that same level of commitment to everything I do for them.”

O’Reilly lives in the Red Wing area, where she, her husband, Casey, and their three sons operate an organic dairy farm with 200 head of livestock. She is active in the community as a Red Wing Chamber Ambassador, a member of the United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counties Board of Directors, and she also teaches Sunday School at the Eidsvold Lutheran Church. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and a Masters’ in Business Administration from the University of St. Thomas.

Contact Kim today: kjoreilly@merchantsbank.com or 507-263-7561.