How to Tell if a Website is Legitimate

Computer Security

If you’re one of the 209.6 million Americans who shop online,* it’s important to take steps to verify the legitimacy of a company website before placing an order. Here are five tips to help you determine if a website is legitimate.

1. Can you easily find the company’s full contact information?

You should be able to locate the business’s full name, physical address, telephone number and email address. In addition, if you call the telephone number listed, make sure you can reach a live person who can verify details about the business.

Red Flag = You cannot find the company’s contact information.

2. Is there a Terms and Conditions web page?

Find the Terms and Conditions page on the website and read it carefully to understand company products, return policies and more.

Red Flag = You cannot find the company’s Terms and Conditions page.

3. Does the site accept secure payments?

If the company wants to accept secure payments with a credit card, they must use SSL security which properly encrypts your payment and personal information. Websites with SSL security have a website address that begins with “https” instead of “http.” For example,

Red Flag = The company’s site does not accept secure payments.

4. Is the site design and information professional?

Review the site for typos, errors, misspellings, stolen images and more.

Red Flag = The company’s site contains any of the above.

5. What happens when you Google search the company’s name?

Type the company name into Google and read related customer reviews, feedback and articles.

Red Flag = Bad feedback or customer experiences.

Visit the FTC Consumer website for information on current website scams.



Congratulations, New and Promoted Staff


We are happy to have these new employees on our team! If you’re interested in working with these local experts, find your branch.

New Staff

Claire Anderson Claire Anderson, Teller, Apple Valley
Ellen Brand Ellen Brand, Trust Operations Assistant, Winona
Patti Bryant Patti Bryant, Teller, Cottage Grove
Cindy Carlson Cindy Carlson, Custodian, Rushford
Cole Greden Cole Greden, Junior Credit Analyst, Winona
Rachel Harder Rachel Harder, Teller, Caledonia
Rachel Henke Rachel Henke, Mortgage Relationship Coordinator, Winona
Cassidy Hilton Cassidy Hilton, Teller, Winona
Robin Jandt  Robin Jandt, Teller, Winona
Rick Jaacks  Rick Jaacks, Commercial Banker, Winona
Anita Kalmes Anita Kalmes, Custodian, Winona
Zach Kasen  Zach Kasen, Teller, Winona
Austin Kennedy  Austin Kennedy, Teller, Onalaska
J.R. Larkie  J.R. Larkie, Treasury Management Sales Support, Winona
Terri Matelski Terri Matelski, Loan Servicing Representative, Winona
Kim Quilling Kim Quilling, Documentation Transaction Associate, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance
Conor Salmonson Conor Salmonson, Teller, Cannon Falls
Sierra Singer Sierra Singer, Loan Servicing Representative, Winona
Jennifer Tiedeman  Jennifer Tiedemann, Lending Assistant Team Lead, Onalaska

Transfers and Promotions

Randy Bachman Randy Bachman, Consumer & Commercial Lending Officer, Cottage Grove
Danae Forman Danae Forman, Lead Teller, La Crescent
Jenna Hartman Jenna Hartman, Underwriting Officer, Winona
Cindy Palubicki Cindy Palubicki, Lead Teller, Winona
Julia Patek Julia Patek, Customer Service Representative, La Crescent
Adrian Quilling Adrian Quilling, Mortgage Lender, Rosemount
Lucas Stangl Lucas Stangl, Treasury Management Sales Support Lead, Winona
Nathan Wick Nathan Wick, Credit Card Assistant, Winona


Meet Beth Ede, Chief Human Resources Officer: What to consider in your job search

Beth Ede

What are some things people should look for in an employer?

One of the most important things to consider is how the company’s culture and values align with yours. Working for an organization is about so much more than just the hours you put in each day – it should be a reflection of what’s important to you as well. You should feel that you and the organization stand for the same things – which will hopefully lead to a productive, enjoyable, and lasting relationship for both of you.

It’s also important to inquire and understand the organization’s focus on individual growth and development as well as recognition.

What makes someone stand out as a job candidate?

Candidates can stand out in many ways but remember you have to make a good first impression. This first impression could be your resume or your application speaking for you – be sure it is complete, concise, and grammatically correct. If you receive any communication from a potential employer through email, phone message, etc., be prompt and professional in your response.

Best tip you have for someone who’s job hunting?

My best tip for someone who is looking for a new opportunity is look for a great employer.

Look for an organization whose culture aligns with your values. Even if that employer doesn’t have the exact position you are looking for available at that time, let them know you are interested in being part of their team. You may also choose to apply for a position you are qualified for at the time, even if it isn’t quite the one you really aspire to. Remember, a successful employer will have a strong focus on the growth and development of their people.

How can workers avoid “burnout”?

It’s important to find an employer that truly cares about you and your wellness. You also need to find a good balance in all that you do – from work to play activities as well as rest and proper nutrition. All of these aspects of life are connected – when we are stressed we don’t sleep as well, we don’t pay as much, attention to our diet and exercise falls to the wayside, and we create a vicious cycle. Find a healthy balance that works for you; we are all different.

What drew you to Merchants Bank?

It truly was the alignment of values, new learning opportunities and culture. I had always heard great stories from my amazing predecessor Alberta, but now I’m living it – and loving it. The people at Merchants are true professionals working hard to make this organization great while helping each other enjoy what they do day in and day out.

What do you like most about your job?

I love all the new learning – from the business of banking, to the due diligence of an acquisition, to the development and growth of the individuals. It’s so rewarding to see people happy in what they do each day.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I thrive on staying busy even when I’m not I spend lots of time with family and friends and enjoy baking, escaping to our “glamper” on a small lake a couple hours away, riding bicycle, boating and fishing, and traveling. In the winter we look forward to an annual visit to either Texas or Arizona.

Do you have a favorite quote?

I try and live by this each day:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

I do also have a favorite that aligns with my values:

“The highest courage is to dare to be yourself in the face of adversity. Choosing right over wrong, ethics over convenience, and truth over popularity – these are the choices that measure your life. Travel the path of integrity without looking back, for there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.”

Banking Through Your Ages: Do you (and your children) have the right bank accounts?

Multigenerational Family

It’s no secret that smart money management is important: whether for a home, you child’s future, retirement, or the trip of a lifetime. Maybe you’re even trying to save for all of those! Are you confident that you have the right bank accounts to help you reach your financial goals?

Whatever your financial goals, at whatever age, it’s helpful to regularly evaluate your financial situation, considering your income, current expenses, short and long-term savings goals. With so many account options, it’s hard to know if your accounts are truly working for you and your goals, and it never hurts to consider potentially more profitable or flexible options. Consider having these accounts for yourself and your children:

For Children

  • Savings Account – You want your children to be prepared for their future. Make sure your child is set up with an account that will give them access to financial savings when they need it. Some features to look for are:
    • A higher interest rate
    • Automatic deposits – a “set it and forget it” approach makes saving super easy. You can rest easy knowing you’re saving for your child’s future in your sleep! 

For Teens

  • Savings Account – Hopefully you’re still helping your teenager save, but maybe they’re beginning to for themselves as well – if they have a job, encouraging them to save a good portion of their paycheck can help teach them crucial financial management skills.

Having a savings account at this age is important not only for practicing money management, but also because their money will stay safer in an account not linked to a debit card or online retailers. It’s also likely they’ll need to tap into their savings account in the future, for larger purchases like their first car or a security deposit for their first apartment.

From A Banker: “When my son started his first job in high school, we had him put half of every paycheck into his savings account. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but we reminded him that there was something he wanted to be saving for, he could eventually transfer some money back into his checking account.” – Dana Christensen, Customer Service Representative in Winona

  • Checking Account – After they save, then they can play! A checking account makes sense to accommodate a teenager’s social life, as well as continuing to teach them about healthy spending habits. They’ll also have access to a debit card, and online and mobile banking. This will help them learn about essential banking practices such as checking balances, reviewing your transactions and transfer funds between accounts.

In Your 20s

  • Savings Account – Maybe seeing if you can upgrade a basic account to one with a higher interest rate or other benefits.
    • It’s a good idea to have a savings account specifically for emergencies, for unexpected expenses like car maintenance or house maintenance.

From A Banker: “I wish we would have started saving for surprise expenses earlier. When you’re young and your transmission goes out on your car, you might not have a lot of options. Ideally, we would have had an emergency fund.” – Gary Johnson, Consumer Lending Officer in Red Wing

  • Checking Account – Maybe seeing if you can upgrade a basic account to one with a higher interest rate or other benefits. For example, our Relationship Checking account earns interest and features discounts on some of our other products and services.
  • 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account (IRA) – Something to think about is whether your job offers any retirement plan or matches retirement contributions. If your employer has any sort of retirement plan, start with that as soon as possible. If they don’t, open your own IRA and make consistent contributions.

From A Banker: “The best thing you can do is start saving for retirement early. Event if it’s just a little bit at first, the earlier you start the better off you’ll be later.” – Holly Gronholz, Customer Service Representative in Rochester

  • Bonus: A Certificate of Deposit (CD) is another way of structuring a savings strategy. They generally offer higher interest rates on your money for a designated period of time. You are guaranteed to make that fixed rate on your money during the CD term. A CD is great for saving for a large upcoming expense, such as a down payment on a house. You may benefit from a CD if you:
  • Have a chunk of money that you can leave untouched to grow for a longer period of time, without withdrawing, which would most likely result in a large fee.
    • Are looking for a higher interest rate (compared to some other accounts) to increase earnings.

From A Banker: “I wish I would have opened a CD earlier so I could still be earning interest on those funds today. Having a portion of your money earning interest for a longer period of time can lead to bigger gains later.” – Kally Whalen, Customer Service Representative in St. Charles

  • Bonus: Short-Term Goal Savings Account: If you’re thinking about starting to save for a larger expense, maybe for a wedding or a dream travel experience, a short-term goal savings account like our Summer or Winter FUNd might be the right option.

From a Banker: “I wish I would have started a Summer FUNd even though I didn’t know what it specifically was for. I would have had nice sum of money saved up instead of scrambling to finance a spur of the moment adventure! But this year I know what my Summer FUNd is for: My daughter’s wedding for next summer!” – Laryssa Hanson, Personal Banker in Lanesboro

In Your 30s

By this time, hopefully you have established all of the above. But remember, if not, it’s never too late! There are still a couple other things to consider doing to up your financial management game:

  • Upgrading a basic savings account to a Diamond Money Market.
    • If you’re keeping a higher balance in a basic, low-benefit account, you could upgrade that account to one that will earn a higher interest rate and waive maintenance fees.
  • Maybe having separate accounts for specific purposes:
    • Perhaps a checking account just for paying bills
    • A checking account for spending money
    • Maybe a joint checking account for you and your spouse for shared expenses
  • A Health Savings Account (HSA) – An HSA can have tax benefits and is ideal for preparing for medical expenses, including prescriptions and procedures. Refer to IRS Publication 502, which outlines what services HSA contributions can be used to pay for. This publication can be found on You should consult your tax advisor regarding HSA details.
    • Among other qualifications, you need a high deductible health plan in order to have an HSA.
    • For more information about HSAs, read about how an HSA can benefit you.

In Your 40s

By this point, you probably have some combination of all of the above. Now it may be a good idea to consider some financial planning efforts with wealth management experts.

In Your 50s

Along with your own variety of deposit accounts, ideally you’ll also have a financial plan unique to your goals with a wealth management expert.

And remember at 59 1/2, you can start reaping the benefits of your IRA and have some added flexibility in your HSA.

As you transition into retirement, it’s a good idea to keep the basic accounts:

  • A Checking Account to manage retirement distributions and spending.
  • A Savings Account because surprises can happen at any point in life.


Not sure where you stand? We can help!

As you evolve, so do your banking needs, hence the wide variety of options. It’s a good idea to review your financial situation at least on an annual basis. If it all seems a little overwhelming, we can help.

If you’re interested in learning more or opening a one of these accounts, contact your local Customer Service Representative. If you’re looking for help creating a complete financial plan, visit with one of our Wealth Management experts.

Why Your Business Should Conduct a Risk Assessment

Man under umbrella.

Risk is inevitable. It’s simply part of any business, and because of that, managers often believe that understanding risk is an organic process that is either self-evident or intuitive, and based on the nature of the business itself. It’s not a bad approach because it tends to focus on business functions and not just the technology. But by themselves, intuition and experience are inadequate. And because they’re inadequate, a formal risk assessment process is critical to managing the growing, changing, and challenging threat environment that continues to evolve at the frenetic pace of technology today.

A structured risk assessment consists of three basic steps:

  1. Identify and define the risks to be assessed.
  2. Decide how likely it is that each risk will occur.
  3. Decide the magnitude of the impact to the business if a given risk does occur.

Notice that steps two and three are decisions. It’s not always easy to determine just how likely it is that a given risk will occur. Unless we have a good set of data to back up our evaluation, we can only reason, applying common sense to understanding each risk.

Yet to understand and communicate risk throughout the organization it should be quantified. This can be accomplished using a simple risk scoring methodology we are all familiar with.

For example, if we use a 1-5 ranking system, we can let 1 = low and 5 = high. Then if a risk is very likely to occur, we rank it a 5. If the risk would have a serious impact on the business, we rank that a 5. Finally, we multiply the 2 together for a risk score of 25.

Likeliness x Impact = Risk Score

Using this approach over and over we can develop a hierarchy of risks that cascade from high to low, and prioritize which of those to address first. However, it’s important not to make all decisions based on the risk score alone.

Let’s say a risk is very unlikely and we rate it a 1, but if it occurred, the impact on the organization would be catastrophic so we rate that a 5. The total risk score is a 5 and judging by the number alone, should be low on the list of risks needing remediation.

At this point we need to look past the numbers and determine our organization’s risk appetite.

If we’re willing to live with a risk having potentially catastrophic results, then we would likely not develop a disaster recovery plan nor would we have a disaster recovery site because the risk of complete loss of the data center is usually very low and the cost of a fully functional back up site is high.

But most organizations understand that essentially all catastrophic risks need to be addressed and while the scoring approach is very helpful, it cannot be relied upon exclusively, leading us back to the application of intuition and experience.

In short, a risk assessment is a structured process used in identifying and classifying risks, deciding what and how much to do about them. Once we’ve agreed on the assessment and classifications, we can focus on the two remaining aspects of risk management: risk remediation and, once that is accomplished, agreement that the remaining (or, residual) risk is acceptable.

Randy Bachman Promoted To Consumer & Commercial Banking Officer


Randy Bachman has been promoted to Consumer & Commercial Banking Officer at Merchants Bank, according to Twin Cities Regional President Lawrence Stovern.

“Randy is already so familiar with the Cottage Grove business community through his role as Branch Manager and involvement with the local Chamber of Commerce,” said Stovern. “With the addition of commercial banking to his skill set, he’ll be able to help business with all of their financial needs from treasury management to financing.”

Bachman has been in banking for more than 10 years. He began his career at Merchants Bank in 2012 as a Personal Banker. Since then he has been promoted to Personal Banking Manager in 2012 and most recently became a Consumer Banker and Branch Manager in 2016.

“Moving into commercial banking was a natural next step for me since I already work with businesses for their deposit accounts and services. I’m excited to now be able to walk business customers through traditional financing options and help meet specialized needs like floor plan financing and leasing,” said Bachman.

The Merchants Bank Commercial Lending team is comprised of more than 40 local experts, available throughout our regional footprint. In addition to traditional commercial loans, Merchants bankers specialize in ag banking, SBA loans, floor plan financing and equipment lease financing. As a regional banking leader, Merchants can assist businesses of any size with their business financing needs, including Treasury Management and deposit services.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 21 bank locations and one loan production office in southeastern Minnesota and two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin. Headquartered in Winona, MN, the Bank has nearly $2 billion in assets and was founded in 1875.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Completes Acquisition of First National Bank of Northfield

Greg Evans, President & CEO

Merchants Financial Group, Inc., the parent company for Merchants Bank, has taken ownership of the First National Bank of Northfield, according to Merchants Financial Group, Inc. President & CEO Gregory M. Evans.

Transfer of ownership took place as of close of business on Friday, August 30, according to Evans. At this time the First National Bank of Northfield will operate as an affiliate of Merchants Financial Group, Inc. until technology projects and system conversions are complete in the spring of 2020. At that time, when system conversions are complete, the bank name will change to Merchants Bank.

“First National customers should look forward to seeing the same friendly faces they’ve come to know at their local branches, including Tim Viere, who will continue to serve as President,” noted Evans. “With more than a decade of leadership at First National and 35 years in community banking, Tim truly understands the important responsibility we have as community bankers to help our communities thrive.

“It’s been a privilege to work with the First National Bank of Northfield through the change of ownership. The staff has been completely focused on taking care of customers throughout the process and that will not change as Merchants assumes ownership.”

Between First National Bank’s two locations in Northfield and loan production office in Bloomington, Merchants Financial Group, Inc. acquired $199 million in deposits, $166 million in loans and $224 million in total assets. Additionally, Merchants acquired all outstanding stock. Terms of the sale have not been disclosed.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank. With the sale of the First National Bank of Northfield complete, Merchants now has 21 bank locations and one loan production office in southeastern Minnesota and two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin. Headquartered in Winona, MN, the Bank is the sixth-largest banking organization headquartered in the state of Minnesota with nearly $2 billion in assets.

Read more about the First National Bank of Northfield: