Shannon Spahr of Merchants Bank Successfully Completes CPA Exams

Shannon Spahr

Shannon Spahr

Merchants Bank Finance Specialist Shannon Spahr has passed her Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams.

“The CPA exams are difficult, and Shannon’s ability to pass those exams while working full time for us reflects not only her ability, but also her focus on meeting a significant goal that moves her career ahead and helps move us ahead as an organization,” said Sue Savat, Chief Financial Officer for Merchants Bank. “We’re happy for her and proud of her accomplishment.”

Spahr said she recognizes the investment of her time and energy is paying dividends for her career. Spahr has been with Merchants since September of 2010 and has recently moved into her role as a Finance Specialist. Spahr said the four CPA exams each take three and a half to four hours, and the passing rate for each of those exams is 45%-50%.

“I believe that hard work, maintaining a positive attitude and support from family and co-workers all contributed to me passing the exams,” Spahr said. “I’m very grateful to have the chance to work under Sue’s direction here and look forward to learning more.”

Spahr is a graduate of Winona Senior High School, Winona State University, where she received an Accounting degree, and Stetson University, where she received her Master’s in Accountancy.

“I’ve always valued furthering my education. It provides me with a great foundation. The book knowledge is important, but I feel I’ll be able to learn the most from my co-workers,” Spahr said.

Mark Willer Named Market President for Merchants Bank’s New Location in Eau Claire

Mark Willer

Mark Willer

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. – Merchants Bank has named long-time Eau Claire financial services leader Mark Willer as Market President for its new Eau Claire location, according to Merchants Financial Group President & CEO Rodney R. Nelson.

“Mark has a deep understanding of the financial needs of consumers and businesses in the Chippewa Valley. His experience in our industry and genuine belief in the importance of community makes him a natural fit for our banking Team,” Nelson said.

Willer has been a part of the Eau Claire community since 1979 and from 1984 until recently had been a key part of the management team at Royal Credit Union, serving as Chief Operating Officer for 15 years.

“Merchants is the perfect fit for me. The values of the organization are the same that are important to me. Merchants believes in enriching the lives of the people who live and work in our community,” Willer said. “I look forward to introducing the Merchants brand to the area.”

Willer has a long history of community involvement and leadership. He is currently President of Downtown Eau Claire, Inc., a member of the local Junior Achievement board, a member of the City of Altoona Finance Committee, a member of the St. Mary’s Parish Endowment Fund Committee, co-chair for Taste of Eau Claire, and a past board member of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I look forward in taking the lead as Merchants Bank serves our community,” Willer said.

Merchants Bank has agreed to purchase Alliance Bank’s Mall Drive location, as well as deposits and loans from the Mall Drive location and Alliance’s Pinnacle Way location. All told, Merchants Bank will be acquiring about $48 million in deposits and $17 million in loans. The sale has received regulatory approval and is expected to be completed February 14. Terms of the sale have not been released.

Greg Evans Appointed Merchants Bank President/Chief Banking Officer

Greg Evans

Greg Evans

Greg Evans has been appointed Merchants Bank President/Chief Banking Officer, according to Rod Nelson, Merchants Bank President and Executive Vice President of Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI).

“Greg is a true community banker. He gets involved in the community and provides leadership for community efforts. We look forward to him sharing this leadership with all of our locations,” Nelson said. “He is passionate about providing the very best customer service, and his focus on building customer relationships will contribute to our organization being even more successful in the future.

Evans is a Winona native and spent the first 18 years of his banking career in Winona, ending as the Senior Vice President of Marketing before moving to Cannon Falls in 2007, where he currently serves as Merchants Bank’s northern regional president with oversight of the Cannon Falls, Red Wing and Hampton locations.

“I am grateful, humbled, and excited for the opportunity,” Evans said. “I’ve been fortunate over my time with Merchants to work closely with most of the employees throughout the organization. They are talented, energetic, and they care about our customers and the communities they serve.

Nelson will be succeeding Richard L. Mahoney as MFGI President & CEO as of January 1. A date has yet to be set for Evans to take over his new role, which will include a broader role in providing direction and oversight to all of Merchants Bank’s 20 locations. With the help of a national search firm, Merchants Bank conducted an intensive search for the position

“Perhaps most important to me is our corporate culture. That is the true defining aspect of what makes any business great, and that will stay in place,” Evans said.

10 Days Of Giving: The need continues

Greg Evans

Greg Evans

Written by Greg Evans for the Winona Daily News

For each of the past 25 years, the first 10 days of December have been treated as special at Merchants Bank and throughout the Winona community. It has become an extraordinary tradition for the entire community to embrace a spirit of collaboration and giving that far exceeds the expectations established when the idea for the “10 Days of Giving” food drive was hatched in 1989.

As the recently-hired marketing coordinator for Merchants Bank at the time, I became aware of the inability for Winona Volunteer Services to keep and adequate supply of non-perishable items on its emergency food shelves to meet the needs of people who were going hungry throughout Winona County. I was stunned. Growing up in Winona, I never saw a visible sign of hunger in our community. It shouldn’t be that way in a community as richly blessed as Winona.

Fundamental to Merchants Bank is the responsibility to step up as a community leader when there is a need to be met. I knew of an emergency food drive initiative coordinated by WGN-TV/Radio for the city of Chicago. I wondered aloud to the bank’s executive management team led by Pete Roehl if it would be possible for the bank to make something like that happen in Winona. Clearly, it was more than simply possible.

The partnership between Merchants Bank and Winona Volunteer Services that began modestly in 1989 has now grown to include virtually every viable institution throughout the community. “10 Days of Giving” has become its own brand, standing on its own because it symbolizes all that is truly special about my hometown. When there is a need, Winonans roll up their sleeves and help other Winonans.

As “10 Days of Giving” has grown beyond anybody’s expectations, you have helped feed hundreds of needy people throughout Winona County. And, unfortunately, the need for the services provided by Winona Volunteer Services continues to grow. As the community celebrates this, the 25th year of the “10 Days of Giving” food drive, please take pride in knowing your participation has provided emergency relief for hundreds of Winona Volunteer Services clients who remain virtually invisible to most of us. More importantly, give generously again this year at any Merchants Bank location, participating businesses or Winona Volunteer Services so that nobody in Winona County will go hungry this winter.

Greg Evans is Regional President of Merchants Bank — Cannon Falls, Hampton and Red Wing

25 years, 250 Days of Giving

10DaysCoChairsWritten by Terry Hawkings and Mark Metzler

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Merchants Bank’s “10 Days of Giving,” we thank you for your generosity in helping those in need. We’ve been successful in providing more than 2.1 million pounds of food over the first 24 years of the “10 Days of Giving.” The accomplishments are great, but the need remains strong.

Take a look at these numbers:

  • In 2012, 4,374 different people were helped by the food shelf at Winona Volunteer Services.
  • On average, 2,111 people and 941 households were served each month at Winona Volunteer Services
  • On average, 257 individuals and 111 households were served with emergency food from Winona Volunteer Services
  • On average 35,712 pounds of food were distributed each month
  • Of the people who received food, 36 percent were employed, 47 percent receive government benefits, and 9 percent have no income

Winona Volunteer Services, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, has incredible buying power. Each dollar given to Winona Volunteer Services can buy a great deal of food. For instance, in July of 2013, 35,783 pounds of food was purchased from the Channel One Food Bank for distribution. The average cost of each pound distributed was $1.04. Given this buying power, we ask that you seriously consider giving a monetary donation to this year’s “10 Days of Giving” food drive. It will have more of an impact for more people.

So, what can you do to help make sure that no one in Winona County goes hungry? We ask that you join by giving what you can.

You can bring your monetary donation or donation of non-perishable food items to any Merchants Bank location.

You may also feel free to send a check to Merchants Bank, ATTN: 10 Days of Giving, 102 E. 3rd Street, Winona, MN 55987. Merchants Bank is a Member FDIC.

You may also donate directly on the Winona Volunteer Services website at

At this time of year it is easier to remember people are less fortunate than us, but hunger remains throughout the year, and it is important to remember that contributions from the “10 Days of Giving” help to meet that need for a significant part of the year.

Thank you again for your past support. We look forward to your contributions in making the 25th anniversary of the “10 Days of Giving” memorable for our community, and more importantly, for those who need our help.

Terry Hawkings and Mark Metzler are co-chairs of the 2013 10 Days of Giving campaign.

Ken Graner Named President of Upcoming Merchants Bank locations in Rushford and Lanesboro

Kenneth Graner

Ken Graner

Ken Graner has been appointed President of Merchants Bank in Rushford and Lanesboro, according to Merchants Bank Charter President Rod Nelson.

Graner will oversee the operations in the new locations. Merchants Bank is scheduled to take over ownership of the new locations from Associated Bank at 5 p.m. November 15.

“I look forward to continuing and building relationships with people in the area,” said Graner, who is a resident of Lanesboro. “We believe that this is a great area for us to grow.”

Before coming to Merchants four years ago, where he has worked in Merchants Bank’s St. Charles location, Graner had worked in Associated Bank’s Lanesboro location, starting there in 1993.

“Certainly, this is a homecoming of sorts for Ken,” Nelson said. “We’re happy for him, and we are especially happy for our soon-to-be customers in Rushford and Lanesboro. Ken has great experience to assist our small business and Ag customers. I believe that Ken’s knowledge, expertise and ability to build long-term relationship will serve those customers well.”

With the addition of Rushford and Lanesboro, Merchants Bank will have 20 locations and $1.348 billion in assets. Merchants has locations in Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Caledonia, La Crescent, Onalaska, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. The “flagship” Merchants Bank in Winona was founded in 1875. All banks are FDIC members and equal housing lenders. Merchants Capital, the company’s leasing arm, is based in the Twin Cities. Merchants stock is closely held, but is available to the public when shares become available. There are approximately 400 shareholders, mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

For this and other Merchants Bank news, please visit

Winona Women Lead the Banking Industry

by Sarah Squires, Winona Post


Sue Savat
Chief Financial Officer
Merchants Bank

Gone are the days when banking deals made during ‘ol boys club meetings, when men dominated financial markets and hometown banks. Today, Winona-area financial institutions are full of women leaders in every corner of the industry, from the front desk to the CFO offices.

When Ellen Smith, Winona National Bank Chief Retail Officer/Senior Vice President, first had an opportunity for a promotion to branch manager, she said she assumed another colleague would nail the job. “I thought about it and said, ‘hey wait, I should speak up,’” she recalled.

It’s a sentiment echoed by many women leaders across varied industries: in order to reach new heights in your career, you’ve got to promote yourself and let others know that you would like to achieve more.

Confidence is key, said Cherie Burke, Altra Financial Services Representative and Winona Rotary President. “You just have to not be afraid to have that conversation and say what you want to do,” she said.

Sue Savat, Merchants Bank Chief Financial Officer, agreed. Along with that key communication, an aspiring young banking industry leader should also network and be willing to explore different aspects of her company. “Volunteer for committees; volunteer for projects,” she advised. And, “Start with a good base of education.”

Savat explained that about 80 percent of the leadership positions at Merchants Bank are held by women, indicating the industry has truly shifted from its male-dominated past. One of the most important qualities in a good leader, she said, is being able to draw out the strengths of those she works with. “In a leadership role, it’s less important what you do, and more important what you do for those around you,” explained Savat.

Amber Hamernik, Eastwood Bank Residential Mortgage Lender, said getting your foot in the door and all the experience you can is an important part of setting the table for a career in the banking industry. “Even starting as a teller working part-time during school, or volunteering in the community [is important],” she explained. “The more things you have like that under your belt when you go into get a job, it’s going to look so much better.”

Hamernik, along with all the women interviewed for this story, explained how important women are to her company, and said that other women in banking leadership roles served as mentors for her. “Just seeing and working with other women in financial institutions that were in higher level positions — seeing what they had and what they could do — that was an inspiration,” she said.

Along with finding mentors and getting a traditional education, Smith said it is important to take advantage of any training opportunities that your employer might offer. “Seek it out,” she said. “Training is not just going to fall into your lap, so you need to be proactive.”

Burke said excelling in the banking industry is parallel to the tradition of rotarians everywhere, and, to the age-old Golden Rule. “You need to be honest; you need to be true to yourself, and you need to be fair to others,” she explained. And sometimes, careers, regardless of the industry, don’t come as planned, so aspiring professionals should be ready when an employment chance arrives. “Sometimes, it’s not something you’ve planned, and yet all of a sudden, opportunity presents itself.”

Amber Hamernikemail

Amber Hamernik
Residential Mortgage Lender
Eastwood Bank


Cherie Burke
Financial Services Representative
Altra Federal Credit Union


Ellen Smith
Chief Retail Officer
Winona National Bank

Lance Rud Joins Merchants Bank as a Mortgage Lender in Cottage Grove

Lance Rud

Lance Rud

Lance Rud has joined Merchants Bank in Cottage Grove as a mortgage lender, according to Jeff Carter, Vice President at Merchants Bank in Cottage Grove.

“We’re excited to have Lance join our team in Cottage Grove,” Carter said. “His combination of energy and knowledge will benefit customers looking to buy, build or refinance a home.”

Rud has worked with ING, TCF and most recently MidCountry Bank as a business lender and a mortgage lender.

“Merchants Bank is the perfect place to put my experience to work in helping people realize their housing dreams,” Rud said. “I look forward to working in Cottage Grove.

Jay Wangen Joins Merchants Bank in Winona as a Business Banker

Jay Wangen

Jay Wangen

WINONA, Minn. – Jay Wangen has moved from Merchant Bank in Rochester to join the Business Banking team in Winona, according Senior Vice President/Senior Lender and Manager of Business Banking David Grewe.

“Jay has done great work for our customers in the Rochester area. He knows what makes a successful business and a successful business relationship,” Grewe said. “He’s very generous with his knowledge and time.”

Wangen has been in banking since 1998 and has been part of the Merchants Bank team since 2005. He and his family live in St. Charles.

“I look forward to working with business owners in the Winona area to help meet their financing needs,” Wangen said. “I look forward to building long-term relationships through helping those business owners meet their business goals.”

Jay sits on the area 504 Corporation Board of Directors (the Small Business Administration development company) and is very active in his church.

Mortgage Operations Leader Completes Advanced Degree

WINONA, Minn. – Robert Dougherty, Vice President of Mortgage Operations at Merchants Bank, has completed his MBA at Concordia University in St. Paul.

Dougherty leads the mortgage operations area at Merchants Bank, which supports and processes mortgage loans for Merchants’ 18 locations, as well as 210 other community banks and credit unions across five states that make up the correspondent mortgage banking network that Merchants Bank serves.

“I think that through the MBA experience I better developed the ability to understand issues and opportunities holistically through areas of expertise like risk assessment, cost-benefit analysis and strategic planning,” said Dougherty, who has supervisory responsibilities for nearly 50 employees. “That should benefit my co-workers, and, in turn, our customers.”

Dougherty has been with the Merchants organization for two years and has nearly two decades of mortgage experience.