Get to Know Cindy Luedke, Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender

Cindy Luedke, Mortgage Lender

What do you enjoy about coming to work every day?

It’s never the same. It’s very interesting. As I’ve been here longer, I continue to see some of the customers I helped in the beginning, which is a great feeling.

What is your top mortgage tip?

Before you start shopping for a home, make sure you know what your credit scores are. You can view your credit score three times a year for free. Knowing your scores will help when you talk with your mortgage lender.  Scores drive a lot of factors like interest rates and loan program options.

What do you like best about working with customers?

Every customer is different and has a variety of needs.  I enjoy helping them achieve their dreams either with a purchase, refinance or a construction loan.

What’s your secret talent? 

To make table arrangements out of whatever is available. I end up doing that a lot for special events.

What’s your birthday meal?

My mom was always a good cook, so birthday meals were just as good as our everyday meals. She was always cooking. I remember I would get up at 7:15 in the morning for school and could smell homemade cinnamon rolls. I never understood how she had time to make them. They were still hot and made from scratch.


Whether you’re looking for your cozy first home, something bigger for your growing family or the peaceful lake cabin you’ve dreamed about, you can find your local Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender here:


Loans are subject to approval.

Brad Peterson Elected to Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors

Brad Peterson, Charter Board of Directors

Brad Peterson, Chairman & Chief Acquisition Officer for Mississippi Welders Supply, was elected to the Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors at its April 16 annual reorganizational meeting, according to Scott Biesanz, Chairman of the Charter Board of Directors.

After graduating from Northwestern University, Brad served in the United States Navy for eight years as a nuclear engineer, surface warfare officer and instructor. Since 1991, he has held leadership positions with Mississippi Welders Supply, a retail and wholesale distributor of welding and industrial supplies, specialty gases, metal fabricating and fire safety equipment. Peterson was named President/Owner of the company in 1999, Chief Acquisition Officer in 2013 and Chairman in 2014.

“Because of his extraordinary leadership experience and business acumen, Brad will be a tremendous asset to our Board as Merchants continues to grow,” Biesanz said. “As the head of an industry leading organization like Mississippi Welders Supply, Brad will contribute insights on business trends throughout our region and a helpful perspective on finding the right balance of traditional business and technology services to enhance company growth.”

Peterson is an active community leader and volunteer. He currently serves as a board member for the Winona Area Industrial Development Association and Independent Welding Distributors Cooperative. He is the President of the Gases and Welding Distributor Association and a member of the American Welding Society and Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

“Community banks play an important role in our local economy and Merchants’ strong position in the region cannot be undervalued,” said Brad. “I’m looking forward to helping provide leadership and strategic direction with such a talented group of board members.”

Peterson lives in Winona with his wife, Gaby. They have two sons. Sam is a Mechanical Engineer in Minneapolis and Chandler is a Sophomore at Loyola University Chicago.

The Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors is responsible for the fiduciary duty to carry on the business of banking and for providing oversight and strategic direction for Merchants while ensuring the safety and soundness of the organization. The Charter Board also provides general counsel associated with Merchants’ commitment to be a recognized community leader throughout the Bank’s service footprint in alignment with its community banking charter.

Get to Know Julie Augedahl: Mortgage Lender and Home Loan Expert

Julie Augedahl, Mortgage Lender

What do you like best about being a mortgage lender?

Julie: The best part of being a mortgage lender is helping customers fulfill their dreams of owning their own house, whether it be their first home, newly constructed home or vacation home.

How do you approach working with your customers?

Julie: Just smile and be kind! I have found listening is the best practice. Getting to know your customers and their wishes and values is important when purchasing a home!

What is your top tip for homebuyers?

Julie: It really is a best practice to get pre-approved. That way you’re aware of your price range when you’re looking for a home, and have an idea of what kind of house payment you’ll be comfortable with while being able to continue your lifestyle.

How do you stay busy?

Julie: I have two kids that keep me busy. I also enjoy playing golf, softball and volleyball, love to cook and bake as well.

What is something people don’t know about you?

Julie: I lived in Cody, Wyoming for three and a half years. Its beautiful out there everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Whether you’re looking for your cozy first home, something bigger for your growing family or the peaceful lake cabin you’ve dreamed about, you can find your local Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender here:

Merchants Bank to Acquire The First National Bank of Northfield

Greg Evans, Merchants Bank President & CEO and David Shumway. First National Bank of Northfield CEO

Merchants Bank and The First National Bank of Northfield have reached a definitive agreement for Merchants to acquire the Northfield banking institution, according to Gregory M. Evans, President & CEO of Merchants Financial Group, Inc. and Merchants Bank, N.A. The agreement is subject to regulatory agency approval, but it is fully expected that the deal will close before year-end 2019.

Hear Greg Evans & Rick Etsenson of First National discuss the agreement on the KYMN Morning Show with Jeff Johnson.

“We are thrilled with the opportunity to be joining the Northfield community and continuing The First National Bank’s tradition of high quality customer service and community involvement,” said Evans. “We are also humbled by the stewardship responsibility that comes with ensuring First National’s legacy with its customers and in the community will continue to be nurtured and never forgotten.”

Both First National Bank and Merchants Bank have rich histories of service in their respective communities in southeastern Minnesota. First National was chartered in Northfield in 1873, and Merchants’ history began in Winona in 1875.

“There are tremendous challenges today for smaller community banks, so we made the strategic decision to find the right partner to provide broader financial services and technology tools that will be expected by our customers well into the future,” said David Shumway, CEO for The First National Bank of Northfield. “We know Merchants is the right partner, and our due diligence identified Merchants as an organization absolute in its commitment to shared values of community leadership and strong service culture.”

The First National Bank of Northfield has $207 million in assets, $157 million in loans (plus an additional $60 million in sold loan participations) and $183 million in deposits. Internationally recognized as the bank that defeated Jesse James in 1876, First National Bank operates out of two branches in Northfield and a loan production office in Minneapolis.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merchants Financial Group, Inc. will acquire all of the outstanding stock of The First National Bank of Northfield in an all cash transaction. The amount of the sale was not disclosed.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 21 branches in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. Headquartered in Winona, MN, the Bank is the fifth-largest banking organization headquartered in the state of Minnesota with more than $1.76 billion in assets.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc Announces Earnings of Over $3,470,000 through First Quarter of 2019, Pays 70 Cents Per Share Dividend

Greg Evans, President & CEO

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) announced first quarter net income of just over $3,470,000 according to MFGI President & CEO Gregory M. Evans.

“We are on target for a strong 2019 and we’re pleased with both our financial results and progress on key strategic initiatives,” said Evans.

As a result of continued profitable performance, the MFGI Board of Directors authorized a semiannual dividend of 70 cents per share to shareholders during its April meeting. Dividends will be paid in June to shareholders of record as of May 17.

Net income is ahead of MFGI’s plan for 2019 by $442,818, but is behind performance of a year ago by $476,827. One impact on year-over-year earnings was a necessary contribution of an additional $240,000 in loan loss reserve put aside to cushion against possible future loan stress. Contributing to the overall positive first quarter performance, three of the Bank’s four regions exceeded their 2019 first quarter plans. Additionally, MFGI saw year-over-year growth in total loans of $80 million and total deposits of $53.2 million.

“Our commitment to provide exceptional service to our customers and support our communities is what continues to make us a unique player in the financial industry,” notes Evans. “It’s our stakeholders – everyone from our customers, employees, boards and shareholders – recognizing and valuing this commitment that has helped us achieve a solid start to 2019.”

The ownership of Merchants Financial Group is made up of its more than 440 employees and its shareholders, mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 21 branches in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. Headquartered in Winona, MN, the Bank has more than $1.76 billion in assets and was founded in 1875.


Is Your Business Bank Account Costing You Too Much?

Your business is constantly changing. When was the last time you reviewed your business accounts to ensure the best return and most efficient cash flow?

Ask the questions below about your current account(s) to reveal unnecessary spending, maximize your earnings and improve efficiency and security.


If you’ve answered yes or maybe to even one of these questions, you may be thinking, “I wish a professional could take a look at this for me.” We’d be happy to! We can provide a free, no-obligation account analysis. Just contact a Treasury Management Specialist to get started.

Want to share this infographic? Click to download.

Meet the Leadership Team: Mark McGrory, Chief Credit Officer


Mark McGrory has been with Merchants Bank for over 30 years and has served on our Executive Leadership Team for over 10 years. Throughout this time, Mark has helped many businesses evaluate their viability and learned a lot along the way. We asked him to share some of his expertise.

What has your professional career path looked like?

I started as a Commercial Banker in 1986. I helped customers work toward their business goals for 9 years, then I became the Commercial Banking Department Manager. In 2007, I became Chief Credit Officer. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about what may or may not work for different businesses in a variety of industries.

What kind of professionals make up a strong team to help a business succeed?

It’s important to surround yourself with knowledgeable and experienced people in your field. It’s helpful to have a team of professionals you trust, which should include:

  • A banker
  • An attorney
  • An insurance professional
  • A business mentor – someone who is doing well on a large scale in your field, someone you trust to provide honest guidance, with your best interests at heart.

Have you seen any risk trends in different industries?

One of the big industries that affects communities large and small is commercial real estate. There’s been lengthy expansion in that area over the last 10 years. Some markets have become over-built, which may be starting to create a value bubble. This would certainly have a ripple effect in our local economies.

What are some positive features you like to see from a business during the loan application process?

When we’re evaluating a business’s risk level and deciding when to give them a loan, a lot of factors come into play. But very generally, we like to see a well-run, well-capitalized company; that income vs. debt are well balanced.

Another aspect of a business we like to see is when a company is performing at a higher level than those in their peer group – that is, better than similar businesses in their field.

It’s important to understand how what’s happening in your industry and economy will impact your business’s financial situation.

Tips for managing a stable business?

One of the best things you can do for your business is make sure your team consists of good people you can rely on. Business always starts with people, and a successful one never underestimates the impact of good employees and team members.

Another thing to make sure you continue to work on is understanding the market you’re competing in – be aware of trends and what your customers are looking for. It’s a good idea to subscribe to industry newsletters and perhaps join an association or organization specific to your field.

And finally, take calculated risks – make sure you weigh what you stand to gain vs. what you stand to lose – and when making those business decisions, always have a plan B in case your ideal situation doesn’t work out.

Our commitment to community banking starts with our Executive Leadership Team. The Team pursues continued company success by focusing on our foundation of building community through banking and our Merchants Bank mission and core values . Our Executive Team works with our Regional Presidents, Market Presidents, Managers and all branch staff every day to ensure our customers come first.

Watch our video series to get to know our Executive Team.

Shareholder Story: Karen Hawkinson on behalf of Francis Zeches


Francis (center) pictured with his children and their spouses.

We are proud to be locally owned. At our Annual Shareholder meeting this year, we asked our shareholders how they became part of the Merchants family.

Karen shares her story:

“My story with Merchants Bank is really my dad’s story that has been passed on to me.  It is a story that started a very long time ago.  Since he is no longer here to share it, I will do my best to tell it on his behalf.

A life long businessman in Winona, there were times in building his business that my dad needed loans.  When another Winona bank at which he had always banked did not grant his request, he went to Merchants Bank and there he found willing partners.  It was the beginning of a very long relationship built on trust and mutual respect.  A friendship developed with long ago Bank President Gil Grabow.  After a round of golf in early June 1967, he convinced my father to purchase Merchants stock.  My dad became a ready stockholder and never looked back.  Over the years you could not find a more ardent supporter of the bank or a prouder stockholder.  On two separate occasions, he gifted my husband and me with some of his Merchants stock.  There was always a caveat with that gift –“don’t ever sell this stock without talking to me first”.  Needless to say, we didn’t sell that stock because we understood that its value was much greater than the stated book value.

My dad continued to invest and the bank stock continued to grow, splitting several times over the course of his ownership.  As he neared the end of his life and was carefully planning his trust, he derived great pleasure in knowing he would be passing on stock in such a fine institution to my brother and me.  My dad was a proud Minnesotan, and even prouder member of the Winona community, so it is no surprise that he took it quite personally that the very successful bank in which he had invested, had its origin in his hometown.

My Merchants stock represents so much more than the gift of a wise investment.  While I enthusiastically welcome the growing dividends, it is an investment, that like my dad, I take quite personally. His advice to “never sell that stock”still resonates in my mind.  The bank and its stock –represent all that my dad found important in life –good value, a solid business plan, relationships built on trust and mutual respect and a sense of community pride.  Being a stockholder allows me to still be a part of the community in which I was raised and to share in the continued richness of that environment.”

-Karen Hawkinson, the daughter of Francis Zeches.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc Reports Year to Shareholders and Appoints Directors to Its Board

Greg Evans, President & CEO
During its annual meeting on Thursday, April 4, Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) reported strong 2018 financial results, Shareholders re-elected two Directors and elected one new Director to the MFGI Board.

MFGI formally reported net income of $18,887,308 for 2018. Pre-tax earnings were up 11.9% as compared to 2017. There was business growth on both sides of the Company’s balance sheet with year-end 2018 total deposits of $1.435 billion and total loans/leases of $1.424 billion. MFGI ended 2018 with $1.756 billion in consolidated assets, making Merchants the fifth largest banking organization chartered in the state of Minnesota.

“Our Board of Directors helps ensure the Merchants organization stays true to our community banking roots while continuing to provide value to our shareholders. Their guidance, along with the hard work of our employees and the support of our customers and the communities we serve, is what helps us achieve steady business growth and consistently strong earnings performance year after year,” said Gregory M. Evans, MFGI President & Chief Executive Officer.

Re-elected to three-year terms as Directors were: Scott K. Biesanz, Chairman of Goodson Manufacturing Company and James A. Trenda, Founder/Owner/President of CP Advisors, LLC. Elected as a new member of the Board of Directors to a three-year term was John H. Killen, President/CEO of Wincraft, Inc,. Killen has served on the Merchants Bank, N.A., Charter Board since April of 2018.

At the meeting retiring MFGI Director Mike Cunningham was recognized for more than 10 years of service. Mike Cunningham, Partner of La Crescent Property Ventures, LLC and Former CEO/Owner of The Board Store Furniture and Home Improvements, will continue to serve on the Merchants Bank Charter Board and the Bank’s Local Advisory Boards for Onalaska/LaCrescent.

Featured speakers during the meeting included Evans; Susan M. Savat, Chief Financial Officer; Wendy Cagle, Loan Review Officer; and Andrew Guzzo Regional President for Winona and the Southern half of the Company’s service footprint.

The ownership of Merchants Financial Group is made up of its more than 440 employees and its shareholders, mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 21 branches in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. Headquartered in Winona, MN, the Bank has more than $1.75 billion in assets and was founded in 1875.