Meet Sarah Danielson, Commercial Banker

Sarah Danielson, Commercial Banker

Get to know more about Sarah Danielson and how she approaches working with businesses every day.

When did you start your banking career?
Sarah: I started working as a Teller in 1994. At the time, I worked mostly with commercial customers and really enjoyed learning about that side of banking. When I had the chance to apply for a job in the Loan Review area, I took it. In Loan Review, I spent my time analyzing business financials and while I really enjoyed it, I missed being in front of people. Ultimately, I knew the best path would be to become a Commercial Banker so I could use all of my knowledge and interact with customers again.

What do you like most about your job?
Sarah: I enjoy being there for my customers through the ups and downs of their businesses. Owning a business isn’t always easy – I know first hand – and I can relate to what it’s like for my business customers day in and day out. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. It’s so encouraging to see people believe in themselves and have the courage to take the next step in establishing or running their business.

Share your top business/commercial banking tip.
Sarah: The secret to success is having a full understanding of what you’re doing. You might wonder how that’s possible. Start by surrounding yourself with a team of trusted experts, like a lawyer, accountant and a banker, just to name a few.

What do you hope your customers say about working with you?
Sarah: I hope they see me as a trusted partner…someone who has knowledge to share, but also looks out for their best interests.

Can you help businesses assess which business banking options would be most beneficial? How does this process work?
Sarah: Definitely. It’s as simple as sitting down and taking the time to listen to a customer. I try to uncover their true needs and pair that with my knowledge from being in such a wide variety of banking positions helps me make the best recommendation(s).

What does community banking mean to you?
Sarah: It’s gratifying to be part of a banking team where employees are so dedicated to improving the community professionally, through their work helping businesses grow, and personally, through volunteer and service work. I believe in community and community banking.

What are some of the biggest benefits to a business to working with a Merchants Bank Commercial Banker?
Sarah: I think we’re different because our team is interested helping businesses with their entire banking experience, from loans to deposits and cash management tools. I’m not just your lender. I want to be your banker and someone who provides the best guidance about your financial picture.

Business Finance Expertise From Our CFO, Sue Savat

Sue Savat

Chief Financial Officer Sue Savat has over 25 years of banking experience. For 20 of those years, she has been assessing our financial health and keeping the business numbers straight. She has a familiarity with business finances like few others. Sue took some time to share with us her financial management essentials.

Q: What financial numbers would you recommend a business owner review to assess the health of their business?

Sue Savat: Every business is different, but the important thing is for each business owner to understand their key performance measures and have efficient ways to review those frequently. For some businesses, the balance sheet drives the earnings and for others it may be the cost of goods sold or cost to service each customer.

I would recommend you reach out to your industry association and compare your numbers to your peers and then work to improve those key drivers of performance.

Q: Which financial experts/advisors are an essential to helping a business thrive?

Sue: Your business will need:

Your commercial banker and treasury management officer can help ensure you’re managing your finances and cash flow efficiently. An attorney, accountant and tax advisor can help you make sure you run a “clean” business and can focus on growing your business rather than addressing litigation or examinations.

If you are an expert in your business but not an expert in taxes or finances, it is key to have good employees with that expertise, if you are at a size to afford those, or key partners if you are small and it doesn’t make sense to have that expertise on staff.

Q: What do you like best about working in finance and why?

Sue: I love numbers and I love people, so working in finance and banking is a perfect fit!

While in my role I don’t work with our customers on a daily basis, it is really fun to hear of the ways we have helped customers grow their business or use technology to help them run the day to day better, faster and less costly.

Q: Who/what are some of your favorite financial resources to follow?

Sue: As CFO for Merchants, the health of the economy and our communities is critical to our success as well as our customers.

I follow a lot of different individual economists (because they all have a different viewpoint!) and also Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Our industry associations also are a great resource and I would recommend to any business owner to get involved with their industry association as a resource and support tool.

Q: What’s your number one tip for business owners who don’t feel managing finances is a personal strength?

Sue: If you’re a large business: If it makes sense for the size of your business, I would advise having an accountant or finance person as an employee.

If you’re a small business: If you have a very small business, maybe just starting out, then I would suggest you use the services of an accountant that also has some tax knowledge so they can help get your systems set up right from the beginning.

How are you with numbers? If you have a good comfort with numbers, there are online courses that can help further educate, but if you are just not a numbers person and still want to run your sales or operations-side of the business, then you should hire someone to help with the numbers.

The important thing is: surround yourself with people that have different skill sets but follow the same vision and you will succeed!

 

Add us to your business’s team. Contact a banker to find out how we can help your business thrive.

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

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

Experts’ Take on New Technology: Commercial Online Banking

Becky Zoellner, Tammy Johnson, Annette Bleninger

Becky Zoellner, Tammy Johnson, Annette Bleninger

You may or may not be aware, but we transitioned our treasury management and commercial customers to a brand new, shiny, beautiful, squeaky clean online banking system, “Commercial Online Banking,” in November. We’re very excited to have this incredibly capable tool for our customers.

Any transition takes time and effort, but this one has been more than worth it. Our Treasury Management Sales Officers share their favorite features of this system and shed some light on what Commercial Online Banking and Treasury Management Services may be able to offer your business.

Q: Do you have a favorite feature of Commercial Online Banking?

Becky Zoellner: This system is so capable, there are so many features that offer enhanced efficiency and clarity to the banking function of a business. The notice options available are one of my favorite features. You can get alerts and notifications for when almost anything happens on your accounts. Most importantly, you can customize the notices you’d like to receive right at your fingertips through the portal. As the needs of your business and office change, so can your notices. It makes it easy to keep an eye on things while you’re out of the office, which is a considerable security enhancement.

Tammy Johnson: I’ve never been so excited about reports before! The reporting options this system offers are great. Being able to generate audit reports and export business banking transactions and activity offers the opportunity to really be able to clearly see what is happening in your bank accounts.

Annette Bleninger: I love how streamlined the system is – you can access your bank accounts as well as your treasury management services, including Positive Pay and ACH Blocks and Filters, all in the same system – that means one set of login credentials, because who needs more of those to remember?

Q: How can using a robust system like this benefit a business?

Tammy: With all the functionality this system offers, you can access everything from one platform; it is such a great time-saver. I also love the dashboards that help you quickly navigate to the functions you use the most.

Q: How can Commercial Online Banking save a business money?

Becky: It’s cliché, but time is money. The efficiencies that this system provides save time and headaches. Routine processes and functions can be automated and records easily accessible. Your team will be able to get back to serving customers and spend less time working on housekeeping processes.

Annette: Of course there’s a learning curve with a new system, but once you get used to where things are, and how to do certain functions, you can do them with ease. Plus, we have an incredible new Treasury Management Support Team to answer any and all questions about how to use the system.

Q: If customers need help or feel anxious about using the new system, what can they do?

Tammy: Customers can contact our Support Department – they’ll be able to assist with any questions.

Annette: We also created a variety of tools for users, including a user guide and a couple of tutorial videos (take a look at the system here*). There is also a “Help” function on each screen in the system.

Q: What are customers saying about the new system?

Tammy: I’ve had customers tell me that once they got logged in and explored, it proved to be very user-friendly. And I know we’ve mentioned them, but our Treasury Management Sales Support department is such an asset. They specialize in this system and have a direct phone number and email. Having their expertise and focus is priceless.

Annette: My clients are really excited about all the features that are now all accessible from one place, especially our fraud management tools!

Becky: Something that leadership teams from our customers say is that the system provides clarity to the banking function of their business: they can see the history, pending and future transactions. They also have the ability to see audit trails to fully understand their employees activity; it provides transparency to their cash flow: what’s going where and who is moving it.

Ready for State of the Art Tech and Superior Service?

If you are interested in how Treasury Management services could help your business run smoother, faster, better, stronger, contact our Treasury Management Sales Team.

If you’re looking for help with Commercial Online Banking, meet our Treasury Management Sales Support Team.

 

*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.

Get Your Business in Gear for the New Year

HappyNewYear

The new year can mean many things for your business. What will the next 12 months look like? Do you have goals for your business and how you plan to get there? Now is the time to review your past financial performance and make plans for the upcoming year.

With this in mind, we’ve put together five financial New Year’s resolutions to help your business make this one of the best years yet.

1. Review Last Year’s Financial Highlights

How did your business perform this past year? At the most basic level, you should review your business income, expenses, profit and sales.

In addition, ask yourself these questions:

  • How do these numbers compare to last year? Are they better or worse and by how much?
  • Do these numbers align with my business projections for the upcoming year? Why or why not? Are there new income or expenses that should be accounted for?
  • In what area(s) of my business did I see the most growth?
  • What lessons can I learn from last year’s business data?

2. Set New Goals
Goal setting does not have to be complicated, especially now that you’ve taken the time to review key numbers from the past year.

It’s as simple as writing down 2 or 3 things you’d like to see your business achieve this year. It could be a goal to reduce expenses in a certain area, to produce a new product or hire additional expertise.

The most important part about goal setting is to be specific so you can measure your success throughout the year. Attaching time frames, numbers, steps it will take to meet your goal and other details can help you know if you’re on track or not.

Once you’ve established your goals, here’s a fun way to keep them top of mind from the SCORE business blog.*

3. Update Software and Processes

Payroll and other business processes can be affected by the change to a new year. Make sure your systems are up-to-date and ready for the new year. It’s also a great time to review your security protocol and procedures, especially if your business collects personal information from your customers.

4. Check in With Your Business Team
Catch up with your accountant, tax advisor, lawyer and banker at the beginning of the new year. Communication between you and your team of expert advisors can be crucial to your business’s success. After all, they want your business to succeed just as much as you do.

“During this time of the year, I like to check in with my business customers and see how they felt about the past year’s performance and what’s on tap for the upcoming year,” said Mike Swanson, Commercial Banking Officer in Hastings. “For example, what went well for them last year and what didn’t? Are there any new opportunities or internal changes coming? It’s about keeping the lines of communication open, so I can provide the best solutions going forward.”

As you share your upcoming business plans, your team can also provide updates on things that may affect your business. For example, there may be new taxes or loan programs, changes to business laws and much more.

5. Celebrate Small Successes

We’ve saved this resolution for last, but it’s certainly one of the most important – you deserve to celebrate your business’s successes. Being a small business owner can feel like a never-ending job, so take a minute to give yourself (and your team) some kudos. Celebrating small successes are the steps to celebrating larger ones!

Our team of Commercial & Ag Bankers and Treasury Management Specialists are ready to talk about your business plans. Visit our website to meet our local experts.

 

*By clicking above 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.

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

Julie Augedahl, Mortgage Lender

What do you like best about being a mortgage lender?

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

How do you approach working with your customers?

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

What is your top tip for homebuyers?

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

How do you stay busy?

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

What is something people don’t know about you?

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

Whether you’re looking for your cozy first home, something bigger for your growing family or the peaceful lake cabin you’ve dreamed about, you can find your local Merchants Bank Mortgage Lender here: http://bit.ly/2zmcYC1

Is Your Business Bank Account Costing You Too Much?

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

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

Infographic explaining how to assess your current banking account for potential savings and earnings increases.

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

Want to share this infographic? Click to download.

 

Meet the Leadership Team: Mark McGrory, Chief Credit Officer

LeadershipSpotlightMarkMcGrory

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

What has your professional career path looked like?

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

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

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

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

Have you seen any risk trends in different industries?

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for managing a stable business?

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulate New and Promoted Staff

NewPromotedStaff-Blog

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

Katelyn Anderson Katelynn Anderson, IT Operations Coordinator, Winona
Brandy Anderson Brandy Anderson, Lead Teller, Cottage Grove
Elena Beck Elena Beck, Teller, Onalaska
Kyle Brodt Kyle Brodt, Credit Analyst, Winona
John Fitzgerald John Fitzgerald, Custodian, Winona
Cindy Grable Cindy Grable, Credit Admin, Winona
Teresa Holland Teresa Holland, Teller, Caledonia
Mark Jangula Mark Jangula, VP/Senior Regional Vendor Finance Manager, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance
Andrew Millis Andrew Millis, Teller, Onalaska
Melissa Peterson Melissa Peterson, VP/Commercial Banker, Eau Claire
Maria Skradde Maria Skradde, Teller, Eau Claire
Kayla Wegman Kayla Wegman, Credit Analyst, Winona

Transfers and Promotions

Amy Gutierrez Amy Gutierrez, Trust and Estate Specialist, Winona
Alejandra Hernandez Alejandra Hernandez, Customer Service Representative, Lakeville
KringsMarcus Marcus Krings, Credit Card Officer, Winona
ZoellnerBecky Becky Zoellner, Treasury Management Officer, Onalaska

Retirement Account Options: IRA Savings or CDs

Save Money - IRAs

It’s no secret that saving for retirement is important. Whether you’ve been saving for years or aren’t sure where to start, it’s helpful to evaluate your long-term savings strategy.

With so many retirement savings options, just getting started can feel overwhelming. And if you have a savings plan already, it never hurts to consider potentially more profitable or flexible options. Some retirement saving methods to consider:

  • Individual Retirement Account (IRA) Savings
  • IRA Certificate of Deposit (CD)

These accounts are similar to standard savings or CD accounts, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) determines maximum contribution and minimum withdrawal guidelines, which are designed to enhance the benefit of your retirement saving efforts. For comprehensive details on contribution and withdrawal guidelines, visit the IRS website.

The First Step: Traditional or Roth?

There are two options for IRA accounts: Traditional or Roth. There are benefits to each kind of account – consult your tax advisor regarding which account would be best for your situation.

At the most basic level:

  • For a Roth IRA you pay taxes on the money you contribute now. The main benefit is tax-free investment earnings. Since you already paid tax on your contribution, the money is not taxed when you withdraw it.
  • For a Traditional IRA you pay taxes when you withdraw money in retirement. You will not pay tax on your contributions, however, the money will be taxed when it is withdrawn.

IRA Savings for More Flexibility

An IRA Savings account functions essentially the same as a regular savings account: you can continue to make contributions as you see fit within the IRS guidelines and you can make withdrawals penalty-free if over the age of 59 ½. It is often used as a “parking lot” for funds until you’ve decided how you’d like to invest them.

You may benefit from an IRA Savings if you:

  • Are just starting to work on your retirement savings plan. This is a good holding place for your funds as you develop a more complex plan.
  • Have had a recent career adjustment – a job change or retirement – to roll accounts from your previous employer into, so you can continue to contribute or withdraw, depending on your situation.

The Pros of an IRA Savings Account:

  • More flexibility to make contributions and withdrawals as you see fit, within IRS guidelines.
  • Penalties for withdrawing before age 59 ½ are generally less compared to withdrawing from a CD.

The Cons:

  • Generally, interest rates on a savings account are lower than a CD.

IRA Certificate of Deposit for More Earnings Potential

An IRA Certificate of Deposit generally offers higher interest rates on your money for a designated period of time – that designated period of time is called the “term”. You are guaranteed to make that fixed rate on your money during the CD term.

A CD is started with one lump sum of money. That lump sum of money will sit in the CD, earning interest for the term of the account, for example, 24 months. If you are 59 ½ or more, you may make withdrawals penalty-free.

You may benefit from an IRA CD if you:

  • Have a larger sum of money that they can leave untouched for a longer period of time.
  • Are 59 ½ or more, as you may have the option to make penalty-free withdrawals.

The Pros of IRA CDs:

  • CD terms make earning interest very clear; it is guaranteed to make that interest rate when left to grow.
  • Generally, higher interest rates are paid on CDs, which could increase your earnings potential.

The Cons:

  • Withdrawing any portion of your deposit before age 59 ½ would most likely result in a large fee.

Other Retirement Options

If you’re interested in learning more or opening an IRA Savings or CD, contact your local Customer Service Representative.

If you’re looking for help creating a complete retirement strategy, visit with one of our Wealth Management experts.

Meet Dave Engstler, Consumer Banker at Merchants Bank

Dave Engstler, Consumer Banker

How long have you been with Merchants?
Dave: More than 15 years. In that time, I’ve always been a Lender with Merchants and always in our Rochester Green Meadows office.

What is your top banking tip?
Dave: Live within your means.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?
Dave: Basically, save first.

If you won the Powerball, what’s the first thing you would do?
Dave: I would make sure my son had enough money for college.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?
Dave: I really like pine trees. In Northern Minnesota, it’s pine trees and water. I love that part of the state…just smell and the fresh air.