Top Business Fraud Updates – April 2018

FraudPrevention-Blog

Please review our most recent fraud alerts and security reminders to help protect your business.

Email Spoofing On the Rise

Our business customers have reported an increase in email spoofing scams. Fraudsters are posing as a customer or employee of the business and sending an email to the business asking for a wire transfer or ACH payment. Only after completing the wire transfer have businesses found out that they were dealing with fraudsters and not their actual customers or employees.

Before you complete transactions to your customers, make sure to verify who you are speaking with over the phone or through an email through a secondary source. Call your customer directly through a phone number you have verified. When working with customers via email, remember to look at both names and email addresses for consistency. If you notice anything suspicious, take the extra time to make sure both your business and your customer’s information is safe. When in doubt – check it out and verify.

Directory Listings Scam

Have you been contacted by someone wanting to verify or confirm your business information for a directory listing? Be cautious. Scammers have been calling business claiming to be able to help them with their online directory listings for a fee. In the end, the business is out the money and their information was verified for a directory listing that doesn’t exist. To avoid falling for this scam, make sure to verify who you are speaking to and confirm the phone number through a third party, like the phone book or Yellow pages. Read more details about this scam here.*

Steps to Take Now to Prevent Fraud

Here are three simple things you can do now to prevent fraud on your business accounts. We recommend:

  • Checking your business bank accounts daily for fraudulent transactions. If you are suspicious of a transaction, contact the Bank immediately.
  • Using a fraud transaction detection service, such as Positive Pay, to help you prevent fraudulent checks and transactions from hitting your account.
  • Using our free debit and credit card security apps to track and review all of your transactions immediately. Learn more about My Mobile Money for your business debit card and SecurLock Equip for your business credit card.

Protect Your Business from Cyber Attacks

This tip is part of the FCC’s top ten cyber security tips for small businesses. Protecting and cleaning any computer that handles business information or touches your network is a must. One of the best defenses against online threats is making sure you have the latest security software, web browser and operating system in place too. You can set each of these to automatically install when a new software update is available. In addition, your antivirus software can run a scan after each update to ensure your machines are adequately protected. Take half an hour to check your settings and update your software now. Get more tips here.*

Consider Security First

Use this guide from the FTC to create a security first approach to your business. This in-depth article gives you-step-by-step best practices for protecting sensitive information your business may handle. Read the FTC’s Start with Security Guide now.*

Next Steps If You Have a Security Concern

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

 

*You will be linking to another website not owned or operated by Merchants Bank, NA. Merchants Bank, NA is not responsible for the availability or content of this website and does not represent either the linked website or you, should you enter into a transaction. We encourage you to review their privacy and security policies which may differ from Merchants Bank, NA.

Industry Snapshot: Learn More About Building Material Suppliers and Construction Managers/Contractors

KendellLumberGordiansKnot-Blog

(l-r) Randy Knutson, Brad Ballard, Jim Vrchota, Travis Buege and Greg Backes

In our second story focusing on industries in 2018, we highlight two related industries, Building Material Dealers and Construction Managers/Contractors. Our goal is to bring you useful information and research for those industries.

Read our first story on food manufacturers and wholesalers here.

Randy Knutson and Greg Backes, of Kendell Lumber of Winona and Rollingstone, and Brad Ballard and Travis Buege, construction managers with Gordian’s Knot, will tell you the outlook for building is good.

Merchants Bank Commercial Banker Jim Vrchota will tell you that he and many other commercial bankers across Merchants Bank’s footprint especially enjoy working with these industries.

“Our bankers especially enjoy helping businesses in these sectors because their success is based on the same elements as ours – exceptional service, competitive products and strong relationships,” Vrchota said.

But what do the numbers say? Let’s take a closer look:

Building Material Dealers

Data from Hoovers and First Research says this about the future for Building Material Dealers:

  • “The value of US residential construction spending, which impacts contractor demand for building materials, rose 4.3% in January 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.”
  • “US retail sales for building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, a potential measure of building material supply demand, increased 6.0% in the first two months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.”
  • “Total US wholesale sales of durable goods, a potential measure of demand for building materials, rose 9.7% in January 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.”

And this about predicted growth through 2022:

“The value of US private and public building construction, which is a driver for building material supply sales, is forecast to grow at an annual compounded rate of 6% between 2018 and 2022.”

Building Material Dealers-2

Residential Construction Contractors/Construction Managers

Data from Hoovers and First Research say this about the future for Residential Construction Contractors:

  • “US personal income, which drives consumer spending on home construction, rose 3.8% in January 2018 compared to the same month in 2017.”
  • “The value of US residential construction spending, an indicator of the health of the residential construction market, rose 4.3% in January 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.”

And this about predicted growth through 2022:

“The value of US new residential home construction and renovation is forecast to grow at an annual compounded rate of 7% between 2018 and 2022.”

Residential Construction Contractors-2

Demand is Cyclical

The numbers show the industry is enthusiastic, but it is a cautious enthusiasm tempered by experience for those who have worked through downturns.

As Hoovers and First Research points out — “Demand for new residential buildings can change rapidly, depending on the economy and interest rates: from 1986 to 1991, annual US home construction dropped 40%; from 1995 to 2005, it increased 75%; and from 2006 to 2011, it fell 65%.”

Both Knutson and Backes and Ballard and Buege understand that first-hand. They point out that one of the reasons they are doing well now is because they are survivors. They said the number of dealers in their market has shrunk since 2008, as did the number of contractors. A result is businesses like Kendell absorbed the customers of other dealers, and the need for Gordian’s Knot’s service has increased because there is less competition and demand is picking up.

Compared to 2008, for example, Kendell is above where they were in terms of business, according to Knutson and Backes. The same is true for the residential construction contractor/construction manager business, according to Ballard and Buege of Gordian’s Knot.

Industry Pressures

“The same house we built last year cost 15% more this year to build and it will continue to grow,” Ballard said.

Another threat is the cost of materials. A lumber tariff on Canadian lumber has driven prices, and steel prices have also risen because of recent tariffs, according to Knutson.

Hoovers and First Research notes that the average margins for “lumber companies selling commodity products primarily to contractors can range from 5 to 20%. Home Depot and Lowe’s, which sell mainly to consumers, have gross margins of about 35%.”

That increases the need for efficiency, and one of the best ways to be efficient for dealers is to provide quality materials where contractors don’t have to come back for better materials or deal with complaints from end use customers down the road, Knutson and Backes pointed out. Ballard and Buege noted Kendell’s top materials save them time because they don’t have to sift for quality.

Another threat is material allocations from producers, according to Knutson. He said it is simply that there may not be enough to go around at times because some of the larger big box stores have ordered the biggest part of the material supplies because of natural disasters.

It’s also difficult to find people to work. The 34-year-old Buege is a bit of an anomaly in the industry where he said the average worker is 55. He said people across the industry are faced with the challenge of finding dedicated and accomplished workers.

“The cost of trade labor has gone up,” Buege said. “But the cost of building is still manageable. The economy is good and people have equity in their current homes.”

While there are things to pay attention to, Gordian’s Knot and Kendell agree they are generally optimistic about the future.

“Everybody is pretty confident in the economy,” Backes said.

It Comes Down to the Relationships

Kendell and Gordian’s Knot both are long-time customers of Merchants. Kendell has been in business since 1957 and Ballard started Gordian’s Knot in 2004.

“Ours is a relationship business,” Backes said.

Ballard agreed.

“We answer our phones and we call people back. If we can’t help them, we get them to someone who can,” Ballard said. “We grow through the service we provide.”

That service and willingness to understand and support their businesses is why both Kendell and Gordian’s Knot partner with Merchants Bank.

“It’s the quality and service experience. There’s a value there that’s hard to put a price on,” Backes said.

Vrchota said it’s that “Start to Finish” attitude that is pervasive with Merchants and is one of the reasons Merchants stands apart from others. Another is how Merchants can help them with their financial needs, especially in a business that is seasonal.

Typically, with suppliers, a bank can partner with them in a number of ways, Vrchota explained. Often, it is with a line of credit so money is available when the business needs it, or with equipment or real estate financing.

With contractors/construction managers, a line of credit is often in place, and there is an emphasis on helping them with financing for construction projects.

“Those are the basics,” Vrchota said, adding that the end use customers may also look to Merchants for construction financing and then hire professionals like Gordian’s Knot. “But every business is different in some way, so it is worthwhile to work with a banker that is knowledgeable, adaptable and will take an interest in your business, like our bankers here.”

 

Q&A with Two Business Banking Experts: Meet Annette Bleninger & Jeff Carter

Q&AAnnetteBJeffC-Blog

Did you know we have over 40 Commercial Bankers and Cash Management experts available to help your business? At every local branch, you’ll find a Commercial Banking team ready to get to know your business and provide meaningful financial solutions.

This month we’re meeting two of the team who serve our clients in the South Metro area:

  • Jeff Carter, Commercial Banker in Cottage Grove and Hastings
  • Annette Bleninger, Cash Management Officer and Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) in Rosemount

Read on to learn more about Jeff, Annette and how they approach working with business customers every day.

Share a little about your background and banking career

Annette: I have worked in financial services for over 20 years, with more than 14 of those years in Cash Management. I started with Merchants Bank in September of 2017 and am very happy to be with a community bank that really strives to find meaningful, valuable solutions for our business customers.

Jeff: Likewise, I have been in the financial services industry for over 20 years, with 15 years in commercial lending. I joined Merchants in 2013 and have spent most of my career in community banking culture, where my passion lies.

What do you like most about your job?

Annette: I really enjoy the variety of customers that I meet when we go out to visit businesses. It is so interesting to hear about your passion and see your facility. Having that background knowledge and relationship really helps us work together to create the most efficient cash management plan for your situation.

Jeff: Getting to know you, our business customer, is one of the most rewarding parts of my job as well. I really enjoy creating relationships with business owners. At the end of the day, I strive to bring you value – whether that’s products, services or counsel – to help you succeed. I hope these relationships are lifelong and meaningful.

What kinds of business do you typically work with and how do you help them?

Jeff: The beautiful thing about community banking is that we can help every business in our community.

Annette: Yes, that’s definitely true. I work with businesses of all sizes and variety every day. Cash management solutions can be used by any business – big or small. I help businesses like yours come up with plans to make their day-to-day processes more efficient, reduce the potential for check or electronic fraud, while allowing them access to their cash as needed.

Jeff: In addition to Cash Management services, we also have deposit accounts to help your business with daily financial needs and grow your money. We even offer business checking account analysis, free of charge, whether your account is with us or elsewhere. We know the needs of a business change over time and we want to be sure you’re in the account that best serves your needs.

Then on the loan side, we can provide smart solutions to leverage capital and grow your business. No matter where you are on your business journey, from start-up to expansion, we have the products and expertise to assist you at any stage.

What do smart business owners do?

Annette: Security is a big concern for our customers, so I think smart business owners make information security a priority. You can start small. One of the most important things a business can do is monitor their daily activity in their accounts to catch fraudulent activity early. Whether you are using our fraud management products (like Positive Pay), or managing it on your own through daily monitoring in online banking, it is a critical function.

Jeff: For me, smart business owners understand the value of a relationship with their key financial partners (ie: banker, CPA, attorney, insurance agent, etc) and will learn how we can all work together to assist in their success. Consistent communication and collaboration amongst your key sphere of influence can keep you on track and uncover unforeseen obstacles and opportunities.

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

Jeff: Merchants is large enough to provide the level of products and services every business needs but is culturally small, meaning, the focus is on local bankers creating local relationships to support the communities that we serve.

Annette: Along the same lines, I think it’s important to note that we are most interested in finding solutions that work for your business and help you succeed. We are not here to pressure you into using and/or paying for products that may not be the best fit for your needs.

How would you describe your team approach to working with businesses?

Annette: I typically work very closely with our Commercial Bankers. As one of our business customers, we try to help you understand each team member’s main area of expertise, but we are always willing to take your call and direct it to the correct person. You will never hear “that’s not my job” at Merchants Bank.

Jeff: The Merchants Commercial Banking team brings you many areas of expertise, which include our lenders, cash management experts, lending assistants, credit analysts, and more. We are very supportive of one another and team up to provide assistance and bring more value to you.

What does community banking mean to you?

Annette: Community banking means being a trusted partner for our business customers. We truly get to know you, your business, and your needs and expectations so we can be proactive instead of reactive with our approach.

Jeff: To echo what Annette said, community banking is all about relationships and value. As Bankers, we need to know our customers by building relationships in order to provide the most valuable solutions for their situation so they are successful. We live in the communities we serve and successful businesses build strong communities. We do it together.

Learn more about business and commercial banking at Merchants Bank:

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Reports Third Consecutive Record Year to Shareholders and Appoints Directors to its Board

Greg Evans, President & CEO

During its annual meeting Thursday, April 5 Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) shareholders learned details behind MFGI’s third consecutive record year, re-elected two Directors, elected a new Director and bid farewell to a long-time member of the MFGI Board of Directors.

MFGI Board Member Richard J. Pope, who is retiring from the MFGI Board and the Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors, provided shareholders with perspective on MFGI’s long and consistent growth. Pope, the Chairman of the Board, WinCraft, Inc., has served the Merchants organization as a Board member for 36 years.

Joining Pope in making presentations were MFGI President & CEO Greg Evans and MFGI CFO Sue Savat. Savat provided a detailed look at the past year, while Evans provided overall industry perspective and took a look ahead at MFGI’s future.

MFGI formally reported net income of $20,878,465 for 2017. The record earnings report includes $14,297,105 in earnings from Merchants core business activity in 2017, which surpassed 2016’s record earnings total by $140,000 on its own. Additionally, Merchants recorded an accounting adjustment of more than $6.5 million as a result of the reduction of a deferred tax liability, necessitated by the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 occurring before year-end.

ShareholderMeetingAward

From left to right: Sue Savat, Scott Biesanz, Dick Pope and Greg Evans. Pope was recognized for his 30+ years on the Merchants Financial Group, Inc., Board of Directors and the Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors.

“We are thankful for our customers’ trust, the efforts of our employees and the support of our shareholders,” Evans said. “We are especially grateful for the guidance our boards of directors provide to our banks as we grow, sharing their understanding of the communities we serve. Dick (Pope) has been vitally important to our growth because of the insight he has shared, and his influence will continue to be felt as we continue our growth.”

Ann E. Merchlewitz was elected to a three-year term as a new Director for the MFGI Board. Merchlewtiz is Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. A Winona resident, she has been a long-time member of the Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors.

Re-elected to three-year terms as Directors were Michael F. Cichanowski, Chief Executive Officer of We-no-nah Canoe, Inc., and Bruce E. Ryan, President of Ryan Windows & Siding, Inc. of Rochester.

Also recognized was Steven G. Kohner, President of Modern Ready Mix, who retired after 15 years on the Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors.

Evans also noted that MFGI Director Timothy J. Murphy, Partner at Hammell & Murphy, P.L.L.P. of Caledonia, is stepping off the MFGI Board after many years of service, but will continue as a member of the Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors and the Advisory Board of Directors for Caledonia, Lanesboro, Rushford and Spring Grove, where he serves as Board Chairman.

MFGI owns 21 Merchants Bank locations, including Minnesota locations in Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, La Crescent, 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 Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. Additionally, MFGI also owns Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

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.

B.J. Hamilton Joins Merchants Bank as an Assistant Vice President/Mortgage Lender

B.J. Hamilton has joined Merchants Bank in La Crescent as an Assistant Vice President/Mortgage Lender, according to Steve Christiansen, Merchants Bank President in La Crescent and Onalaska.

“B.J. has built a strong following in our area because of his commitment to meeting and exceeding the needs of his customers,” Christiansen said. “Our customers will value his knowledge of lending and benefit from his ability to make sure their needs are taken care of from start to finish.”

Hamilton had been a mortgage lender at Altra since 2013. Before that, he spent nearly ten years in Montana, both working in home lending for Montana banks and working as a project manager for a construction company.

“Merchants has impressed me since I moved to the Coulee Region. Merchants has a great reputation for taking care of its customers, and it offers a full range of mortgage products. I’m especially excited for my customers who are considering building because of our 5 percent down construction loan. That can really help them get started building right away,” Hamilton said. “Plus, I had a former co-worker that was so happy when she made the move to Merchants that I had to consider it when an opportunity was available.”

Hamilton is involved in the area. He is a member of the La Crosse Area Builders Association and the La Crosse Area Realtors Association. He is a former member of the Great Rivers United Way Funds Distribution Committee and a former Board member of the St. Thomas Child and Family Center in Great Falls, Montana.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including its location in La Crescent, and other Minnesota locations in 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 Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. Loans are subject to approval. Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance is also a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Meet Mike Stangl, Mortgage Lender and Home Loan Expert

 

MikeHiking

Mike spending time enjoying one of his favorite things – the outdoors.

 

Get to know Mike Stangl, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank in La Crescent.

When did you start your banking career?

Mike: I started in 2001 in my hometown of Marshfield as a personal banker. Then I became an assistant branch manager and then a branch manager as well as consumer lender. I became a mortgage lender in 2007 and have been working with customers to get them into homes they love ever since.

What is your best mortgage tip?

Mike: Be prepared. When you start thinking you want to buy a house, sit down with a lender to figure out your finances and find out what your budget is. Buying a house is exciting, and I’m here to make sure you’re looking in a price range you can feel comfortable with not only during your house hunt, but after the purchase as well.

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

Mike: Anything I learned about keeping track of my finances my mom taught me. She did tax preparation and accounting, and is always meticulous about tracking all transactions and writing it all down. I’ve definitely inherited that. I balance my checkbook daily. It has served me well and it’s a helpful hint I try to pass on to my clients too.

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

Mike: I would splurge on some big land to run around on. I love being outside: hunting, four-wheeling, we also do some gardening, so it would be fun to have plenty of space to do all of that. Uga Mae, our dog, would probably like it too.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Mike: Green beer! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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

Mike: I require a really nice shower and kitchen. I do all the cooking, so I like to have a nice, capable space to spend that time in.

Shawn Haines promoted to Assistant Vice President/Credit Manager

Shawn Haines, Credit Manager at MBEF

 

Shawn Haines has been promoted to Assistant Vice President/Credit Manager at Merchants Bank Equipment Finance (MBEF), according to Corey Hothan, Vice President of Operations at MBEF.

“Shawn has demonstrated a positive attitude, excellent customer service skills and continues to be a valuable contributor to the MBEF team and our success,” Hothan said.

Haines has been with MBEF since 2011, serving most recently as Credit Underwriting Manager. He has over 20 years of financial analysis experience, which includes equipment leasing and floor planning.

“It’s very nice to receive the recognition,” said Haines, “Merchants really supports its team by growing and developing our employees. Plus, the fact that we’re employee owned and our stock evaluation continues to improve is a sign of a great organization.”

Haines is responsible for overseeing underwriting, reporting and maintaining credit quality at MBEF.

“The people I work with are great,” said Haines, “There are so many important pieces, and we work well as a team. We get the job done.”

Today, MBEF has 11 employees and has continued to make a significant impact to the bottom line for Merchants Financial Group, Inc. MBEF primarily provides equipment lease and loan financing options to businesses located throughout the central U.S. and also partners with other finance companies in equipment finance transactions outside its marketing footprint.  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.