Working Hard to Make it Work

DairyIndustry-Blog

Burfeind Dairy employees (l-r): Alfredo Figueroa, Grace Figueroa, Bo Dankers, David Burfeind, Sheila Burfeind, Peter Burfeind holding Brooks Burfeind and Patti Robertson of Merchants Bank.

Those who have paid attention to the dairy industry know it’s been a roller coaster for farmers, with the ride hitting some lows over the past several years, and continuing to be challenging for many farmers.

In 2014, milk prices were at record highs, and things were relatively good for dairy farmers. In September of 2014, prices peaked at $25.70 per hundredweight (100 pounds) for milk, on the average nationally. Over the past three years, prices have been lower and they have bottomed out at $15.30 per hundredweight in February of this year.

Another indicator of challenging times was at the monthly dairy sale in early May in Pipestone, Minnesota, where the going price of “springers” – cows about to give birth – averaged $1,332, the lowest price since November of 2011. The overall size of the dairy herd was also down by 4,000 cows in Minnesota, according to the Milk Producers Council newsletter.

This has made every move count for dairy farmers.

“Unless you are in a niche market, it can be challenging,” said Goodhue dairy farmer Peter Burfeind.

Making a Go of It In Organics

One person who is in a niche market is Merchants Bank Commercial Banker, Kim O’Reilly, who with her husband, Casey, operates an organic dairy farm where they milk about 100 cows.

She said that back in 2014 and 2015 the cooperative they were working with needed more milk, so they were asked to produce more milk.

“But, it takes time to increase production as it doesn’t occur overnight,” Kim said. “So we have worked to get our production up, and now they have placed a quota limiting the milk the cooperative will take at the current price and are paying less than cost for the amount over quota.”

The Future is Brighter

Overall milk production is starting to slow down lessening the supply in the marketplace, and that means that the prices have started to tick up, Peter said. That sentiment was echoed by dairy expert Dr. Bob Cropp, of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, as noted in the May 25, 2018, Wisconsin Ag Connection newsletter. Cropp said that milk production needs to slow down if prices are going to gain traction again.

Peter, who milks 300 cows at the family operation which started in 1965, said the slowing of production should mean better prices six months from now, and he is hopeful that the smaller producers can stay around to enjoy that benefit, “but we really don’t know for sure where the industry is going.”

Cropp was in agreement in his May 25 column, saying: “Milk prices are expected to strengthen and possibly top out in October or November.”

It’s Nothing New

For many farmers, farming is part of their family history and it gets in their blood. Over the years, they have been through the ups and downs of the economic cycles. They remain resilient and optimistic.

“Farmers work hard day in and day out, but I truly believe it is a great life and a true blessing to be a farmer,” Kim said.

A Part of Merchants Bank Too

O’Reilly pointed out that experience with farming is something that she thinks sets Merchants apart from the other financial institutions working in the Ag sector.

In addition to O’Reilly, who is based in Cannon Falls and Red Wing, Senior Lender Brian Hokanson is also a farmer and also based in Cannon Falls and Red Wing. Lenders like Patti Robertson, who is based in Red Wing and works with the Burfeinds, has decades of experience in Ag, as does Jim Peterson in Cannon Falls.

Jim Allen, Tim Gossman and Blake Koebke help farmers in St. Charles. Matt Schuldt in Caledonia and Spring Grove and Ken Graner in Rushford and Lanesboro have years of experience working with farmers. Dustin Hundt and Senior Lender Shawn Sackman work with farmers out of the Onalaska location. Our Winona location includes Jim Vrchota and Senior Lender Randy Domeyer. Recent additions, like Jerad Brown in Rushford and Kaleb Storm in Winona, who grew up on the family farm and also has experience with helping vineyards, make up our Ag team.

Here’s more on what Merchants Bank’s ag financing and the lenders who may be able to help.

Meet Patti Robertson, Commercial Banker

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Get to know Patti’s commercial banking philosophy and how she helps businesses in Red Wing, MN.

Share a little about your background and banking career.

Patti: I have been in lending for over 30 years. For the majority of my career, I’ve focused on agricultural and commercial lending in western Wisconsin and now Red Wing, Minnesota and the surrounding area.

What do you like most about your job?

Patti: Every day is different. I get to work with interesting and hard working people. It’s like working a puzzle at times – trying to get all the pieces to fit – working within the banking requirements and meeting my customers’ needs to help them grow their business. I enjoy it.

What kinds of businesses do you typically work with?

Patti: I work mostly with small businesses and farmers. I have seen a dramatic change in agriculture with operations getting larger and involving multiple generations compared to early in my career, when I mainly worked with family sized dairy farms. I now have a variety of farms and farm sizes that I work with. My business customers range from small retail to larger manufacturing businesses and real estate holding companies.

What is something not many businesses know about working with Merchants Bank?

Patti: Not many know about all of the services we can provide as a large regional bank. Our image as a small local community bank can sometimes overshadow the true capacity we have to provide financial services to businesses of any size. In addition, we’re unique because we can offer lease financing and trust services*, as well as cash management solutions and fraud tools often found at larger banks.

How would you describe your partnership with your business customers?

Patti: It’s a two-way street, where financial and industry data is shared. I celebrate their successes and am available to help them with any financial issue. We are a team in their success.

What do you hope your customers say about working with you?

Patti: That I appreciate their time, knowledge and expertise. I hope they feel I am professional and can get the job done for them with a smile.

How important is continuing education to you as a banker?

Patti: Change is all around us and I think it’s important to stay educated about banking and industry changes…anything that might affect my customers. When I’m informed and educated about their industry, I may be able to offer suggestions, help provide a solution to a problem or find a way to improve their bottom line. Understanding the issues they may be facing only improves our conversations and the trust between us.

What does community banking mean to you?

Patti: Investing the Bank’s deposits back into the community through loans to businesses and consumers. It means being a supporter of community institutions and initiatives that try to make the community a better place to live and work.

Merchants Bank doesn’t just talk about supporting the community – they actually do it. I appreciate the support Merchants Bank gives to me so I can participate in community organizations and the financial support it provides to many organizations in our communities.

Loans are subject to approval.

*May or may not be covered by FDIC insurance, depending on service selected.

3 Essential Small Business Security Practices

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Keeping your business protected from fraud and security threats can feel like an overwhelming job. One place to start is by focusing on internal controls that help keep your business’s financial information more secure. Our Security Officer, Kerri Bronk, recommends putting the following three internal controls into practice and reviewing them regularly.

“The idea is to have a combination of different types of security checks and balances in place – and to make sure you keep them up-to-date,” said Kerri. “These simple internal controls can really have an impact on how secure your business information can be.”

Authorized Account Signers

A small business may want to have a few people listed on a financial account as an authorized signer. This can vary by business but may include the owners, an office manager or bookkeeper.

Kerri advises, “[a]uthorized account signers have access to some of the essential functions of your financial account, so you want to make sure this type of access is only granted when necessary.”

 FAQs about Authorized Signers

  • What can an authorized account signer do? An authorized signer is different from an account owner (who has complete control over a financial account). In regards to a checking or saving account, for example, a signer can make withdrawals, sign checks and access some account information.
  • How many authorized account signers can I have? There is no limit. However, the more individuals who have access, the more risk you’re taking.
  • How often should I review this access? On an annual basis or when you’ve had an employment change in your executive management team or accounting/payroll staff.
  • How do I make changes to authorized account signers? Changes to authorized signer need to be done in person at a Merchants Bank location. Contact your Customer Service Representative to make an appointment.

Authorized Cardholders

You might like to have the option for several people to make business purchases with a debit or credit card. This is where authorized cardholders come in.

FAQs about Authorized Cardholders

  • What can an authorized cardholder do? An authorized cardholder can use a debit or credit card tied to your business account to make purchases and get cash from an ATM. You can set spending limits per card user to help keep spending in check.
  • Does the authorized cardholder need to be a signer on the account? No, you can give a person access to a card without having other signing abilities.
  • How many authorized cardholders can I have? There is not a set limit to the number, but again the more access, the harder it will be to track spending.
  • How often should I review this access? Who has access to business debit and credit cards should be reviewed more frequently. We’d recommend making updates to your authorized cardholders each quarter or when you have staffing changes.
  • How do I make changes to authorized card holders? For both your Merchants Bank debit or credit cards, stop into your local Merchants Bank location for assistance.

Access to Account Information

Knowing who has access to your business account information and keeping the number of people to a minimum is one of the best ways to avoid a security or fraud threat.

Considering that small or mid-sized businesses lost a median amount of $289,864 to employee funds theft in 2017, it’s critical to thoughtfully review who should have access to this information.*

FAQs about Account Access

  • What kind of information can I give employees access to? You can select the level of information you want an employee to receive from paper statements to viewing accounts in Online & Mobile Banking or credit card transactions through mycardstatement.com. You can also use our mobile card controls – My Mobile Money for debit cards and SecurLock Equip for credit cards – to have alerts on card spending.
  • How many people can have this access? This varies by solution, please ask at your local Merchants Bank location.
  • How often should I review this access? It’s extremely important to stay current with account access. This should be updated immediately when staff join or leave your business.
  • How do I make changes to who has access to my account information?
    • Statements: Contact your local Merchants Bank location for assistance.
    • Business Online & Mobile Banking: Once you have set up your Business Online Banking account with you as the owner, you can add or remove secondary users and define account access or transactions limits per user at your convenience. If you have any questions or need help with user setup, just contact our Electronic Banking Department (ibsupport@merchantsbank.com or (866) 496-0522).
    • mycardstatement.com: Contact your local Merchants Bank location for assistance.

“My last tip regarding internal controls is to ensure that no single employee has access to all the financial aspects of your business,” said Kerri. “For example, you want to make sure that employees who can pay business expenses with a business credit card are not the same employees who pay the credit card bill.”

Just remember that Merchants Bank is always here to help. If you think your business bank account information has been compromised or have a security concern, contact your local Merchants Bank location and ask to speak to your Cash Management Specialist or a Customer Service Representative.

 

*https://www.hiscox.com/documents/2017-Hiscox-Embezzlement-Study.pdf

Paul Butze Joins Merchants Bank Equipment Finance as Vice President and Senior Regional Vendor Finance Manager

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Respected commercial financing professional Paul Butze has been hired as Vice President and Senior Regional Vendor Finance Manager, according to Rick Barry, President of Merchants Bank Equipment Finance (MBEF).

Butze has been in the commercial financing and leasing field for more than 34 years, including the past 15 years at TCF Equipment Finance, where he and Barry worked together at one time.

“I’m excited to be working with Paul again,” Barry said. “People in our industry know and respect him. He is a proven performer and committed to building, maintaining and enhancing long-term relationships.”

Butze said MBEF is continuing to grow, and he is looking forward to sharing its story.

“If they don’t already know about us, I think people in the vendor finance area will be interested in learning what MBEF can do to help them,”Butze said.

MBEF primarily provides equipment lease and loan financing options to businesses throughout the U.S. MBEF finances tangible assets over terms of 2 to 10 years on equipment with values generally ranging from $50,000 to over $10 million. MBEF serves many industries, including construction, transportation, healthcare, manufacturing, food and agriculture.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI), the parent company for MBEF and which also owns 21 Merchants Bank locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin, has more than $1.6 billion in assets and is one of the largest independent financial organizations in its region.

Mortgage Lender Dawn Garms Promoted to Assistant Vice President at Merchants Bank in Onalaska

Dawn Garms, Mortgage Lender

Mortgage Lender Dawn Garms has been promoted to Assistant Vice President, according to Steve Christiansen, Merchants Bank President in Onalaska and La Crescent.

“Dawn’s people first attitude has helped her customers get into the homes that are right for them,” Christiansen said. “She does everything she can for her customers, and that has helped Dawn be successful.”

Garms joined Merchants in 2013, after spending a dozen years with another organization serving customers. She has consistently been one of the top mortgage lenders in the Merchants organization, building a broad referral network and consistently receiving high marks from her customers for her service to them.

“I know that buying a home can be stressful, and there are so many things for someone to think about. My goal is to take care of my customers from the start of the process to beyond the end of it,” Garms said. “If they have a question, I am there with the answer.”

Garms is an active member of the La Crosse Area Builders Association, La Crosse Area Realtors Association and La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, where she serves as an Ambassador. She is a graduate of Northern Iowa University, where she majored in Finance and minored in Real Estate.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including its location in Onalaska. Minnesota locations include La Crescent, Winona, St. Charles, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton, and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. Merchants has another Wisconsin location in Eau Claire. Loans are subject to approval. Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance is also a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Meet Tina Mueller, Mortgage Lender and Home Loan Expert

Tina MuellerGet to know Tina Mueller, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank in Onalaska.When did you start your banking career?

Tina: I started in 1992, and I came to Merchants Bank in Onalaska in 2005. I’ve been a personal banker, consumer loan officer, branch manager and of course a mortgage lender. I have always worked for a community bank; I believe in local decision making as key decisions are made locally by people who live and work in the community.

What is your best banking tip?

Tina: The best thing people can do is develop a good credit rating. Be diligent about spending and make your monthly payments on time. Having a major credit card from your local bank is a great way to establish credit and paying off the balance in full each month is a good way to develop a credit rating. It is important to maintain a good credit rating to have a chance at obtaining the best rates possible on loans when they go to make a major purchase like a car or a home.

My coworkers have put together a great video series on building a good credit rating: Watch here.

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

Tina: One thing my parents taught me about money is how to save, which was huge. My first job was when I was in high school and the rule was if I was going to work, half of my pay check had to go into a savings account. I was amazed at a young age at how quickly funds would add up in a savings account. Paying yourself first and establishing a savings pattern builds discipline and good financial habits. Building savings also provides a sense of financial security and builds wealth.

If you $1,875,000 what is one FUN thing you’d do with the money?

Tina: That’s easy! I would buy a tiny place on the beach which I would share with family. I love relaxing by water and being in the sun. There is nothing better than the sound of waves crashing, birds chirping and the warm breeze blowing.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Tina: The Green Bay Packers – Go Pack Go!

Picture your dream home. What is your favorite room and why?

Tina: My favorite room in the house is the great room. A place where the whole family can hang out together. Whether we are kicking back and enjoying great conversations, or maybe watching a Packer game while grabbing something to eat. This is the room we tend to gather in. Big windows with a nice view would make it even better.

Dawn Farrell: Celebrating 30+ Years of Service

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Dawn Farrell started working at La Crescent State Bank in 1981. When it was acquired by Merchants Bank in 1990,she stayed to continue serving the La Crescent community. Merchants thanks Dawn for her commitment to excellence over the years. In June, she will begin a new adventure: Retirement.

How did you get started in banking?

Dawn: I’ve lived in La Crescent my entire life, and it was important to me that I stay in La Crescent to work. I applied for a Teller position at La Crescent State Bank in 1979 and actually didn’t get that job. Three years later, the position opened again and the Teller supervisor called to see if I was still interested. Naturally, I was. Eventually I moved to the proof machine to track all of the Bank’s daily transactions, which I discovered I didn’t care for. I much prefer working with people. Then I started in customer service and I knew that was where I was meant to be. When Merchants Bank acquired La Crescent State Bank in 1990 I was very happy to continue in my role.

What has changed in banking since you started your career? What hasn’t?

Dawn: Technology and regulations have changed the most. In the early days, when someone would come in to open an account we wouldn’t even ask for an ID, we’d just take down the information they gave us. Now of course we are more diligent and detail-oriented regarding our customers’ identity.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to service. We have always cared about our customers and our community. I enjoy getting to know them and hearing their stories. I will greatly miss making those connections.

What is your favorite part about working with your customers and colleagues in the La Crescent community?

Dawn: My favorite part of my job is definitely working with customers and hearing the many stories they have to tell. It’s wonderful to find a strong bond with someone, and I’ve been fortunate to have that with a lot of my customers. I’ve also learned that everyone has their own way they manage their finances that works for them. I’ve enjoyed being able to provide additional insight for them over the years and provide education on tools we have available that may help, but they’ve taught me a lot too.

What will you miss most?

Dawn: I will miss the routine of the work day and the daily contact with people in our wonderful La Crescent community. I will not, however, miss waking up to an alarm clock!

What are some of your favorite memories?

Dawn: I have the fondest memories of the gatherings we organized. The Bank used to put on a senior breakfast with a different theme each year, and now we have great success with the Food Explosion campaign during Applefest. I remember we started that in 2010. I also adore my memories of the social events some of the bank employees would plan for ourselves, including canoe trips, bowling, golfing, hay rides and Christmas parties. We fondly refer to ourselves as “The Old Bank Ladies.” We still get together every Christmas season for a cookie exchange. Of course there are also a few customers that I will never forget.

How will you stay busy?

Dawn: I am looking forward to starting my retirement in the summer. We have 260 acres out in the country, and my husband has big plans for me to clean up our flower and vegetable gardens. We also have two children and five grandchildren. One of the grandsons wants me to play golf with him, so he’ll have to teach me to play golf. In the winter my three grandsons have hockey. My sisters and brother are retired as well and I’m sure I’ll be doing fun things with them. My husband and I will also be taking off to go on trips and doing whatever we want. I guess I’ll be staying busy!

Anything you’d like to add?

Dawn: I will miss my co-workers in La Crescent as well as the wonderful people I have connected with across the other 20 Merchants Bank locations. I’ll have to visit on occasion to say hi and keep up with what is going on in the area. I’d also like to thank the La Crescent community and our customers for their friendship over the years. You’ve all been part of a wonderful career!