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 will open 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 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.

Meet Shelly Zimmerman, Mortgage Lender in Cannon Falls

Shelly Zimmerman, Mortgage Lender

What’s your professional background?

I’ve spent nearly my entire career in banking – almost 25 years. I’ve spent most of my career in the mortgage lending area, so I’m very familiar with mortgage loan program options.

I’m a life-long Cannon Falls resident – it’s a wonderful community. I spent about 10 years working for the school district and 12 years as an EMT with the ambulance service.  I’m a member of St. Pius V Church and serve on the finance committee.

What drew you to Merchants Bank?

What drew me to Merchants was the dedication to being a trusted advisor for their customers. The Mortgage area is full-service: from origination to underwriting to loan servicing – it’s all local and staffed with experts to streamline the process and help them make informed decisions.

What do you like best about being a mortgage lender?

I love helping people reach their goals of home-ownership as well as being a resource and guide for helping customers make informed decisions about financing their homes.

How do you approach working with your customers?

The home-buying process can be daunting, and I want to make it as easy and smooth as possible. It’s my goal to provide an exceptional experience to every home buyer or builder that steps in my office, and with our fantastic processing and underwriting teams, I’m able to focus on that.

What is your top advice for home buyers?

Ask lots of questions! It’s important to understand the decisions you’re making. Don’t worry about sounding silly, we’re experts in this industry and here to help you make sure you’re comfortable with the process.

What is the most memorable piece of advice ever given to you?

I’m a fan of the classic golden rule: treat people as you’d like to be treated. It’s tried and true.

What do you hope your customers say about you?

I hope my customers say they felt I was committed to a quality experience for them. That we evaluated all their options and they were able to make an educated decision that was best suited for their unique situation.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

My husband, John, and I have four children and four grandchildren so spending time with them is at the top of the list! We like to go camping with family & friends and John and I enjoy riding his motorcycle.     

Shelly Zimmerman Joins Merchants Bank as Mortgage Lender

Shelly Zimmerman, Mortgage Lender

Shelly Zimmerman has joined Merchants Bank as a Mortgage Lender, according to Jon Dahl, President for Merchants Bank in Cannon Falls.

“Shelly’s tenure in mortgage lending and banking, along with her deep connection to the Cannon Falls community, make her an exceptional mortgage lender. I know she takes great pride in helping her friends and neighbors realize their dreams of home ownership,” said Dahl.

Zimmerman has been in banking for nearly 25 years in Cannon Falls and the Southern Metro area. For the last 15 years, she has been a Real Estate Loan Officer with First Farmers & Merchants Bank. With the majority of her career spent in the mortgage lending area, she is familiar with both traditional and specialized mortgage loan programs.

“I’m looking forward to continuing to help people through the mortgage process and making something that may seem daunting as easy as possible for my customers. It’s my goal to provide an exceptional experience to every home buyer or builder,” said Zimmerman.

Zimmerman is a lifelong Cannon Falls resident. She and her husband, John, have four children and four grandchildren and they enjoy spending time with their family, camping and motorcycling.

The Merchants Bank Mortgage team is comprised of nearly 20 local mortgage lenders, available throughout our regional footprint, backed by our in-house mortgage processing, underwriting and loan servicing teams. In addition to traditional mortgage loans, Merchants mortgage lenders can assist with mortgage pre-approval, construction loans, and specialized mortgage programs such as VA, FHA, Rural Development and more available through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We’re committed to being there for our customers after loan closing and service nearly $2.6 billion in mortgage loans annually.

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.

Nicole Williamson, Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender, Now Serving Lanesboro & Rushford

Nicole Williamson, Mortgage Lender

Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender, Nicole Williamson, is now serving the Bank’s Lanesboro and Rushford locations, helping clients who are interested in home buying, building or refinancing.

Williamson will be serving these new markets in addition to Rochester, where she has been a Mortgage Lender for Merchants Bank since 2019. She has more than 10 years of experience in mortgage lending and banking and is a Chatfield, MN native.

“Helping people fulfill their dreams of owning or building a home is the best part of my job,” said Williamson. “I’m proud to be able to offer one of the best construction rates in the area for home builders and look forward to being a resource for customers in the Lanesboro and Rushford areas.”

The Merchants Bank Mortgage team is comprised of 20 local lenders available throughout our regional footprint and more than 50 support staff. Merchants’ Mortgage Lenders understand the variety of traditional mortgage and specialty programs available today, as well as construction loan options, and can assess which make the most sense for an individual situation.

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.

Blake Koebke Promoted to Assistant Vice President/Commercial & Ag Banker at Merchants Bank

Blake Koebke, Assistant Vice President/Commercial & Ag Banker

Blake Koebke has been promoted to Assistant Vice President/Commercial & Ag Banker at Merchants Bank, according to Jon Marley, President for Merchants in St. Charles.

“We congratulate Blake and thank him for his service to our clients. Blake excels at understanding the possibilities we offer to help fulfill our clients’ needs and dreams,” said Marley.

Koebke has been with Merchants Bank since 2013, beginning his career as a Credit Analyst working alongside the Commercial team as part of the loan approval process. In 2015, he was promoted to Commercial & Ag Banker for Merchants Bank in St. Charles. Koebke is a southern Minnesota native, growing up in Spring Valley and attended the University of Minnesota, obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Applied Economics.

“I feel fortunate to work for a company that aligns with my personal values and seeks to make service to others a priority. It’s about looking out for the best interests of the customers…playing a part in helping them achieve their goals and making their dreams or ideas a reality is very rewarding,” said Koebke.

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 bankingSBA loansfloor 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 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. Merchants was founded in 1875. Loans are subject to credit approval.

10 Days of Giving at 260,211 Pounds for 2020, The Second Highest Year, Bringing All-Time Total to Over 4 Million Pounds

The final total for the 10 Days of Giving food drive through the end of the day on Wednesday, December 16 was at 260,211 pounds of food. This is the second highest total since 2013, when over 280,000 pounds were collected. The 10 Days of Giving supports the food shelf at Winona Volunteer Services.

“On behalf of everyone at Merchants, I want to extend a very warm thank you to all of those who donated and our community partners for supporting 10 Days of Giving campaign. Thanks to your generosity, this year we collected our second highest total, an incredible accomplishment given all of the circumstances this year,” said Merchants Bank Winona and Southern Regions President Andrew Guzzo.

“Seeing the community come together, safely, of course, to show this much support for friends and neighbors really warms your heart,” said Chair Jennifer Welch. “We are so glad that new events like our Kick Off Red Trailer Lunch and Pack the Bus to Drive Out Hunger, which both took place outside in our Downtown location parking lot, were so well received.”

The year total breaks down to $123,566 in cash and 13,079 pounds of food. For the purposes of the total, two pounds of food are counted for each dollar. Last year’s total was 236,495 pounds. The total for 32 years now stands at 4,008,957 pounds. 

“Once again we are so moved by our community’s generosity, especially during a difficult year. We are so appreciative of everyone who supported this worthy cause. Despite being in and out of school and work, together we were all able to make a difference. We are fortunate to have such a warm, caring community,” said Chair Jennifer Welch.

Merchants collected monetary and food donations at its locations via the drive-up facility as well as at participating organizations around the area (view a full list).

The 10 Days of Giving food drive is an annual community collaboration between Merchants Bank and Winona Volunteer Services to make sure no one in Winona County goes hungry each winter. Since 1989, the drive has collected more than 4 million pounds of food and helped thousands of people in Winona County. In addition to the Winona drive, other Merchants Bank locations partner with their respective local food shelf in a similar effort. Learn more about the 10 Days of Giving food drive in your area.

Meet Larry Bodin: Market President for Onalaska and La Crescent

Larry Bodin, Market President

Larry has been in banking for 31 years, and nearly 20 of those he has spent in the La Crosse area. With extensive experience as both a Commercial Banker and Market President, Larry knows what’s important for the local economy: community-minded leadership.

Q: What drew you to the La Crosse area? How long have you lived there?

My wife Elaine, along with our two sons, Justin and Trenton, moved to the La Crosse area in 2003. Previously I worked in the Madison, WI area, but La Crosse County was in my market territory. It made sense professionally to move up a little farther North and there were interesting opportunities in this region.

Q: What drew you to Merchants Bank?

The reason I chose Merchants Bank had everything to do with the local leadership team, including Steve Christiansen (who is now retired) and Shawn Sackman. At my previous position, I competed against them in banking as well as sat alongside of them on various Boards. I knew if I were to move away from a large bank atmosphere, the community-oriented Merchants Bank would be my employer of choice.

Q: What are you looking forward to in your new role as Market President?

I am excited to get to know more of my coworkers across the region (even if it’s just over the phone or a video call) – we spend a lot of time with each other and it’s always nice to know your teammates.

I firmly believe it is important to continue developing leadership skills within our local team, and of course that includes me. When we work with customers our biggest role is to represent our organization in a positive and professional manner. 

Merchants Bank is also fortunate to have a very talented local Advisory Board of Directors.  I am extremely excited to have the privilege of learning from their successful leadership in our communities.

Q: What do you think is important for all businesses to know?

Whether in your professional or personal life – it is so important to build meaningful relationships. Not all banks can fulfill that “Trusted Advisor” role, but when there is mutual respect and understanding between you and your banker, you know you have someone who truly cares about what’s best for your business and will be a partner in helping you make smart financial decisions.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Being a man of faith, I like the advice given in James 1:19 which applies to everyone – “Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.” 

In most situations, but especially in a leadership role – this is very good advice.

Q: What organizations are you part of?

Currently, I serve on the Board of Directors for Chileda, Inc. and the VARC Foundation. Previously I’ve held board positions with the Dahl School of Business at Viterbo University, the La Crosse Area Family YMCA, Junior Achievement, and Holmen Area Rotary.

I enjoy volunteering because of course if feels good to serve your community, but it’s also a great opportunity to meet people.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

When I have free time, it’s about relaxing and having fun. My wife and I enjoy walking, golfing, fishing and flying as a private pilot, often taking trips to explore locations around the region and Midwest. We enjoy watching professional and college sports, especially football.

I am also (for the past 25 years) a WIAA, MSHSL, and NCAA licensed Men’s and Women’s Basketball Official. Between Thanksgiving and March, I officiate over 75 contests as well as weekend tournaments. This is a rewarding professional hobby and I honored to have officiated many local Wisconsin and Minnesota high school athletes that have gone on to college and into the NBA.

Larry Bodin to Lead Merchants Bank Locations in Onalaska and La Crescent

Larry Bodin, Market President

Larry Bodin has been promoted to Market President for Merchants Bank locations in Onalaska and La Crescent, according to Andrew Guzzo, Regional President.

Bodin’s primary responsibilities will be to provide leadership for Merchants Bank’s Onalaska, WI and La Crescent, MN locations; along with meaningful community engagement in the Coulee region. He will also continue serve as a Commercial Banker and trusted financial advisor for business clients. Bodin succeeds Steve Christiansen, who retired as Market President for Merchants on December 1.

“With nearly 20 years of community leadership in the market, Larry is a natural fit to oversee our Onalaska and La Crescent locations,” said Guzzo. “His familiarity with the local economy and dedication to putting the customer first will help us continue to grow Merchants into the future.”

Bodin has been with Merchants since January 2020 and has been a banker in the La Crosse area since 2003, with experience in both business banking and bank market leadership. He is also a veteran of the United States Navy.

“As a community bank, Merchants plays a vital role in the economic health and welfare of our communities. This has never been more important than it is today. I am extremely proud to be a part of the Merchants team and look forward to serving alongside them as we continue to build strong communities together,” said Bodin.

Bodin and his wife, Elaine, have lived in the Holmen area since 2003 and are active community volunteers. For the past 25 years, Bodin has been a licensed WIAA, MSHSL and NCAA basketball official. He also currently serves on the Board of Directors for Chileda, Inc., and the VARC Foundation. Outside of work, he enjoys fishing, golfing, and flying as a private pilot, often taking trips to explore locations around the region and Midwest.

For decades Merchants Bank has been a community partner in both Onalaska and La Crescent, helping individuals and businesses achieve their financial goals. With a focus on mortgage and business financing, Merchants has been fortunate to grow as each community has grown. In addition to traditional banking services, the Bank also offers a full line of business loan, lease and floor plan finance solutions, digital banking, security apps, treasury management tools and wealth management services.

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. Loans are subject to credit approval.