Meet Kirk Muhlenbruck, Market President in Northfield

Kirk Muhlenbruck, Market President

Kirk has a long track record of leadership in banking and now he’s ready to bring his career into the community he’s called home for almost 20 years.

Will you briefly outline your banking history?

Kirk: I sure can. I started serving customers in the retail space, then moved into commercial banking and team leadership. Now I’m excited to work close to home and spend more time serving the Northfield community.

What drew you to Merchants Bank?

Kirk: In the previous markets I’ve worked, Merchants has had a distinct presence, specifically, a great reputation and loyal customer base. When I heard about Merchants coming to the Northfield community, I knew it’d be a great fit here. With a focus on serving our communities, long-term stability and honoring local history, it made perfect sense for me to join the Merchants team. Our servant leadership philosophies align and I will have the opportunity to more fully integrate into my home community.

How do you approach working with customers?

Kirk: I want my customers to feel and know that I hold their best interests at heart. We’re here to be your trusted business partner. I like to ask questions to find out not only what customers need now, but how we can support them down the road. I take a holistic approach to their situation and we find the best fit from there.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard?

Kirk: Something my first manager emphasized has stayed with me to this day: it’s all about building lasting relationships. And that’s what I focus on to this day, is building mutually beneficial relationships and helping our local families, businesses and community grow.

Favorite thing about the Northfield area?

Kirk: You know what they say: location, location, location. The variety of the Twin Cities is easily accessible and some of the best healthcare in the world is close by as well, but in Northfield you still get that local, small-town familiarity and pride.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Kirk: Our family spends a lot of time outdoors; Hiking, fishing and golfing. When our three children were growing up we went camping a lot as well. It’s such a beautiful region. My wife and I are looking forward to more extended travel.

Our Commercial Bankers are always ready to discuss ideas, opportunities and options for your business. Give your local Merchants Bank a call – we’re ready to support your business as you embark on supporting your business goals.

Master Adaptability to Keep Your Business Viable – Expertise from CCO Mark McGrory.

Mark McGrory, Chief Credit Officer

It has become clear that making sure your business can be adaptable to new situations is essential for its longevity. Chief Credit Officer Mark McGrory shares what his team has seen work to help businesses stay viable when the world asks us to keep up.

What are some things you’ve seen businesses do to stay relevant in this pandemic-influenced environment?

The two biggest things I’ve noticed that have helped businesses are:

  1. Adapting day-to-day business operations
  2. Really knowing who your customer is and how to reach them.

When adapting your day-to-day operations, making sure you have a grasp of what the new business cycle (as in, the natural highs and lows of your income flow) will look like for you is essential – anticipate challenges and figure out how to address them.

Consider your needs and expenses (and find ways to limit those) and then work that information into a modified business model. In other words, understand how changes will affect your specific business process and what makes you unique in your industry.

Secondly, taking a step back to really make sure you understand your customer is so important as well. The more a business is able to say, “I know my customers. I know what they need and how they function. I know how to reach them to make sure they know I’m open and can still help them,” the more a business may be able to start finding ways to stay open or at least operate. For most businesses this past year, it meant making sure their technology was ready to connect with their customers, primarily by having an easy-to-use website (more on that later).

How can businesses take advantage of the relationship they have with a community banker?

It’s always advantageous to maintain a good line of communication with your Commercial Banker. If you can schedule meetings, maybe over the phone or even a video conference, it’s great to keep them up to date on what’s going on with your business. Make sure they know the challenges you’re dealing with and any opportunities that might be beneficial to pursue. Your banker can help analyze those challenges and opportunities, as well as review different financial options.

Other than your banker, it’s always helpful to have good relationships with these professionals as well:

  • 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.

What will help businesses keep their footing long term? 

After last year, it’s hard to say anything with certainty anymore. But something that has proven to be beneficial for businesses is to make sure your technology is up to date and user friendly for your customers – especially your website and how you take payments (our Treasury Management Services can help with that).

These are the three key things you want to make sure your technology can do:

  • Help customers contact you
  • Help you meet their needs
  • Have easy ways for them to pay you

Making sure you have this fundamental business process down can help maintain cash flow and liquidity.

Any silver linings to be seen in retrospect?

Seeing our local economies and communities struggle is difficult, but we’ve been happy to see some success stories from our customers, and those really come from being able to look at a situation and see the opportunities.

The folks that have managed to stay viable have been keeping an open mind, thinking about how they can still help their customer and pursuing those opportunities, rather than letting the uncertainty and fear take over their mindset.

Our Commercial Bankers are always ready to discuss ideas, opportunities and options for your business. Give your local Merchants Bank a call – we’re ready to support your business as you work toward your business goals.

Kirk Muhlenbruck Named Market President for Merchants Bank in Northfield

Northfield, Minn. – Long-time Northfield resident and experienced community banker, Kirk Muhlenbruck, has been named the new Market President for Merchants Bank in Northfield, according to Dan Massett, Central Region President.

Muhlenbruck has more than 30 years of banking experience, serving mainly in senior commercial and retail leadership roles. Since 2005, he had been with Think Mutual Bank in their Rochester and Eagan locations. He was also previously with Wells Fargo in Rochester as well as Community Bank President for Wells in Northfield.

“Kirk brings a broad background related to strategic leadership, commercial banking and community involvement to Merchants, which will be extremely beneficial to his role in Northfield. Moreover, he embraces the community service culture that Merchants Bank embodies,” said Massett.

“I’ve lived in Northfield for 19 years with my wife, Lori and our three children. We love this community,” said Muhlenbruck. “I’m very much looking forward to ‘coming home’ to Merchants and being a resource for our customers, employee team and our Northfield community. I’ve always been an active community volunteer and have served for nonprofits such as Laura Baker, Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce and the United Way.”

Muhlenbruck attended Simpson College, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Management & Marketing. His hobbies include spending time outdoors hiking, fishing, camping, golfing and traveling with his family.

Since 2019, Merchants Bank has been a community partner in Northfield, when they acquired First National Bank of Northfield. As a regional banking leader, the Bank offers a full array of traditional banking and mortgage solutions, wealth management services and can assist businesses of any size with their business financing and treasury management needs. Merchants Bank is a full-service community bank with 21 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.5 billion in assets and is the 4th largest bank chartered in the state of Minnesota. Merchants was founded in 1875.

3 Essential Small Business Security Practices

BronkKerriSecurityOfficer

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 savings 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.

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 in Small Business Online Banking or Commercial Online Banking or credit card transactions through mycardstatement.com. You can also use our mobile card controls – CardValet for debit cards and our Merchants Bank Credit Card App – 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.
    • Small Business Online Banking and Commercial Online Banking: Once you have set up your account with you as the owner, you can add or remove secondary users and define account access per user at your convenience. If you have any questions or need help with user setup, contact our:
    • 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 Treasury Management Specialist or a Customer Service Representative.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc., Announces Dividend increase resulting from strong First Quarter Earnings

Greg Evans, President & CEO

WINONA, Minn. – Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) announced first quarter net income of just over $9,666,000 according to MFGI President & CEO Gregory M. Evans.

As a result of the strong earnings performance, the MFGI Board of Directors authorized a semiannual dividend increase from $.75 to $.80 cents per share to shareholders during its quarterly April meeting. Dividends will be paid in June to shareholders of record as of May 21, 2021.

“I remain very proud of the efforts of our entire team and the ability to adapt to the ever-changing economic environment,” said Evans. “We continue to be intensely focused on meeting the unique needs of customers at what continues to be an unsettled economic time.” 

Net income is $4.2 million ahead of MFGI’s plan for 2021 and nearly $5.8 million ahead of 2020 performance, which was impacted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic during the March timeframe.  The large drivers of Merchants performance continue to be strong residential mortgage lending volume ($233 million in loans in the first quarter) and the Bank’s commitment to origination of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans through the Small Business Administration. Approximately 65% of the Bank’s PPP loans that were originated in 2020 had been completely through the forgiveness process by the end of the first quarter, and the Bank has originated an additional $74 million of PPP loans during the current round of funding for the program in 2021. 

“Homeowners continued to take advantage of the low interest rate environment for purchasing homes and refinancing existing loans,” noted Evans. “Also, rapid acceleration of PPP loan forgiveness allowed recognition of income from loans generated last year, across all regions of the company.”

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. is a publicly-traded Company. Ownership is made up of its more than 440 employees and mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

Merchants Bank is a full-service community bank with 23 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.5 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875.

Lucas Stangl Promoted To Treasury Management Support Officer Lead

Lucas Stangl, Treasury Management Support Officer Lead

Winona, Minn. – Lucas Stangl has been promoted to Treasury Management Support Officer Lead at Merchants Bank, according to Kerri Bronk, Vice President/Senior  Operations/eChannel Officer.

“Lucas is a strong leader for our Treasury Management support team. He consistently provides excellent customer service to our business clients and demonstrates a strong work ethic. Because of his strong relationships with our Treasury Management clients he has a deep understanding of their digital banking and security needs and plays a critical role in continually enhancing our processes and offerings,” said Bronk.

Stangl has been in banking for nearly 10 years and joined Merchants in 2013. He led the Merchants Electronic Banking team until 2019. When the department grew, he transitioned to Treasury Management Support Lead for the company to focus solely on the digital needs of the Bank’s commercial treasury clients.

“Merchants Bank is a regional leader in Commercial Banking and continues to make technology investments in Treasury Management services,” said Stangl. “Our customers have access to premium efficiency and security options. Being at the table to develop and design our updated Treasury Management suite has given me the opportunity to be a real advocate for our business customers.”

The Merchants Bank Treasury Management & Commercial Lending team is comprised of more than 40 local experts, available throughout our regional footprint. Merchants’ Treasury Management Specialists help with cash flow strategies, custom account protection tools and effective options for collecting and making payments. As a regional banking leader, Merchants Bank can assist businesses of any size with their business financing needs, including traditional commercial loans, leases and special loan program offerings. Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 23 branches in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. Headquartered in Winona, MN, the Bank has more than $2.5 billion in assets and was founded in 1875. Subject to credit approval.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc Reports Strong Performance and Shareholders Re-elect Three Directors

Greg Evans, President & CEO

WINONA, Minn. – During its annual shareholder meeting, which was held virtually on Thursday, April 8, Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI), reported strong 2020 earnings growth and shareholders re-elected three Directors to the MFGI Board. 

MFGI formally reported net income of $21,511,521 for 2020, an 8.8% increase over 2019 earnings. The year’s results were impacted by the pandemic and resulting economic environment. Most notably, with a dramatic drop in long-term interest rates, Merchants booked unanticipated record residential mortgage loan volume of more than $950 million (a 77% increase over 2019). Year-over-year deposit growth was $376 million (a 21% increase over 2019), and Merchants originated nearly 1,600 Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans with total proceeds of $207 million. MFGI ended 2020 with $2.5 billion in consolidated assets, making Merchants the fourth largest banking organization chartered in the state of Minnesota.

“In our long rich history, never has our banking team been tested and challenged like we were last year,” said Gregory M. Evans, MFGI President & Chief Executive Officer. “We are proud of our continued growth, but even more proud of how hard we worked to serve the unique needs of our customers during a time of significant hardship in every one of our communities. The community banking industry played an important role to facilitate economic stability during a very difficult time and the responsibility that was demonstrated by our team in that regard was rewarding.”

Re-elected to three-year terms as Directors were: Michael F. Cichanowski, Founder and CEO of Wenonah Canoe, Inc; Ann E. Merchlewitz, J.D., Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota; and Bruce E. Ryan, Founder and President of Ryan Windows and Siding, Inc.

Additionally, Shareholders were made aware of an upcoming transition in Board leadership. Long-time Merchants Board member Scott K. Biesanz, will be stepping down from his role as Board Chair as part of planned succession that will result in Richard L. “Rick” Lommen taking on the Chair role. Lommen, 54, is President of Courtesy Corporation, an owner-operator of one of the largest McDonald’s franchises in the Midwest. Biesanz, who has served on the Merchants Board since 1988 and as Chair since 2012, will remain active as an MFGI Director for the final year of his current three-year term.  

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. is a publicly-traded Company. Ownership is made up of its more than 440 employees and mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin. Merchants Bank is a full-service community bank with 23 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.5 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875.

Staying Viable 2021 – Expertise from CCO Mark McGrory.

Mark McGrory, Chief Credit Officer

We’re all ready to move on from The Year That Shall Not Be Named. As we head into 2021 with optimism for the future, it’s important to acknowledge the lessons learned while we still experience the lasting effects of the pandemic. Chief Credit Officer Mark McGrory shares what his team has seen work to help businesses stay viable.

What are some things you’ve seen businesses do to stay relevant in this new environment?

The two biggest things I’ve noticed that have helped businesses are:

  1. Adapting day-to-day business operations
  2. Really noticing who your customer is and how to reach them.

When adapting your day-to-day operations, making sure you have a grasp of what the new business cycle (as in, the natural highs and lows of your income flow) will look like for you is essential – predict challenges and figure out how to address them.

Consider your needs and expenses (and find ways to limit those) and then work that information into a modified business model. In other words, understand how changes will affect your specific business process and what makes you unique in your industry.

Secondly, taking a step back to really make sure you understand your customer is so important as well. The more a business is able to say, “I know my customers. I know what they need and how they function. I know how to reach them to make sure they know I’m open and can still help them,” the more a business may be able to start finding ways to stay open or at least operate. For most businesses this past year, it meant making sure their technology was ready to connect with their customers, primarily by having an easy-to-use website (more on that later).

How can businesses take advantage of the relationship they have with a community banker at this time?

It’s always advantageous to maintain a good line of communication with your Commercial Banker. If you can schedule meetings, maybe over the phone or even a video conference, it’s great to keep them up to date on what’s going on with your business. Make sure they know the challenges you’re dealing with and any opportunities that might be beneficial to pursue. Your banker can help analyze those challenges and opportunities, as well as review different financial options.

Other than your banker, it’s always helpful to have good relationships with these professionals as well:

  • 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.

As we see what 2021 brings, what will help businesses keep their footing? 

After last year, it’s hard to say anything with certainty anymore. But something that has proven to be beneficial for businesses is to make sure your technology is up to date and user friendly for your customers – especially your website and how you take payments (our Treasury Management Services can help with that).

These are the three key things you want to make sure your technology can do:

  • Help customers contact you
  • Help you meet their needs
  • Have easy ways for them to pay you

Making sure you have this fundamental business process down can help maintain cash flow and liquidity.

Any silver linings to be seen in retrospect?

Seeing our local economies and communities struggle is difficult, but we’ve been happy to see some success stories from our customers, and those really come from being able to look at a situation and see the opportunities.

The folks that have managed to stay viable have been keeping an open mind, thinking about how they can still help their customer and pursuing those opportunities, rather than letting the uncertainty and fear take over their mindset.

Our Commercial Bankers are always ready to discuss ideas, opportunities and options for your business. Give your local Merchants Bank a call – we’re ready to support your business as you embark on developing your 2021 business goals.

Company Update from CEO Greg Evans

Greg Evans, President & CEO

As it did for everybody, 2020 presented challenges for me and my teammates at Merchants Bank. I am guessing you were as excited as we were to turn the page on the calendar and enter the new year with renewed hope and optimism.

Being tested as we all were last year, responding with resolve, and adapting to the many unexpected demands dictated by the pandemic and other global forces contributes to my tremendous appreciation for the dedication of our Merchants Bank team. Our people never wavered in their collective dedication to support the hopes and dreams of our customers and communities. Given the environment, our commitment in that regard probably has never been more important.

As we continue on in 2021, we will remain intensely focused on many of the same priorities that were so important throughout last year:

Health and safety

We all must remain vigilant in doing our part to prevent continued any re-surge of the virus. I am so very proud of the professional approach the members of our team have demonstrated in attempt to keep our customers, friends and neighbors safe.

Our lobbies opened on Monday, February 8, with the same precautions we’ve been practicing since March 2020. While we are thrilled to be able to see our customers again, we still highly encourage using alternative banking solutions and calling your local branch to schedule an appointment in advance. We are appreciative of your consideration for the health and safety of our employees, customers and communities.

Support for customers

We sincerely appreciate your patience and tolerance as we all have adapted to new service delivery solutions. We have worked very hard to leverage all available tools to assist in making sure we are available to serve you.

Our support for customers throughout the pandemic has also included affording relief to many customers impacted greatly by the economic fallout of the pandemic. Most notably, our participation in the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was a source of tremendous relief for many of our small business customers. We originated more than $200 million of PPP loans during the first round of funding. By year-end we had assisted more than 700 customers in securing the all-important loan forgiveness approval from the SBA.  We are now also taking applications for the next round of the PPP program in an effort to provide critical economic stimulus to our eligible small businesses continuing to struggle. 

Mortgage banking

Our commitment to residential mortgage lending is a real source of pride for us at Merchants Bank because of the hundreds of customers each year we help realize the dream of home ownership. With the historically-low interest rate environment throughout all of 2020, our team worked tirelessly to make sure customers were able to take advantage of low rates to buy a new home or save significant money by refinancing an existing mortgage loan. Last year, we closed more than 4,100 loans for a total of $950 million. Rates remain very attractive so far this year, and I would invite you to contact one of our talented mortgage lenders if you’d like to discuss opportunities you may be eligible for to take advantage.

Enhanced digital and card convenience

The utility associated with our digital banking solutions and card payment products has never been more important. We have made tremendous investments in these products over the course of the past year, and we know we must continue to do so. The stability and feature-functionality associated with our internet and mobile banking applications for both businesses and consumers is a top strategic priority.

In the past year, we also made major improvements in our credit card solutions for businesses, consumers and merchant processing customers. All of these tools are being enriched with important information security enhancements and digital application security monitoring capabilities. 

In closing, I want you to know that I have nothing but an extraordinary sense of hope and optimism as 2021 progresses. I feel that way largely because of the strength and resiliency of the communities we have the privilege to serve. Thank you for your business and loyalty as a Merchants Bank customer.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Announces Earnings of $21,511,521 for 2020

Greg Evans, President & CEO

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) announced year-end earnings for 2020 with net income of $21,511,521, according to MFGI President & CEO Gregory M. Evans. The earnings exceeded MFGI’s plan for the year by more than $1.9 million and is an increase of 8.8% over 2019 earnings.

“Despite the challenges we all encountered in 2020, I am proud of our team and our continued commitment to be a financial partner helping our customers fulfill their hopes and dreams. We wouldn’t be the strong community bank we are without loyal customers, community supporters and our dedicated team of employees,” said Evans.

A significant increase in mortgage lending and deposits were two contributing factors to Merchants’ 2020 core earnings results – both driven by the economic changes due to the pandemic. Evans noted that a low-rate environment for much of the year made mortgage refinancing appealing to many and Merchants’ residential loan volume exceeded $950 million for the year, an increase of 77% over 2019. In addition, reduced outlets for spending and changes in consumer habits saw others put more money into the Bank. Year-over-year deposit growth was $376 million, a 21% increase from 2019.

As a source of financial relief for business customers, Merchants originated $207 million in loans through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Over a third of these loans had been successfully processed through the loan forgiveness aspect of PPP by year-end.

“Our focus on helping customers never wavered and we look forward to continuing to be there as a trusted advisor as we move into 2021 together,” shared Evans.

Merchants is also proud to continue its tradition of community leadership through charitable contributions. Through 2020, MFGI donated more than $609,000 to hundreds of local organizations across its footprint.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. is a publicly-traded Company. Ownership is made up of its more than 440 employees and mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 23 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.5 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875.