From the President’s Desk: Fall 2017

Greg Evans, Merchants Bank President & CEO

By Greg Evans, President & CEO

A few weeks ago, Merchants Bank was featured prominently in a Sunday news feature in the Business section of the Star Tribune newspaper. I sincerely appreciate the response I have personally received from so many friends and Bank customers about the exposure for the Merchants organization.

It’s gratifying to be associated with a company that is recognized throughout the state of Minnesota as a leader in our industry. The extraordinary business growth that Merchants has enjoyed over a period of many years was one of the reasons the Star Tribune reached out to us for purpose of doing the story.

The story focused on two primary things:

  • What has been the formula for our sustained track record of success
  • What perspective does our organization have in regards to the regulatory environment we operate in and what, if any, reform is appropriate for the banking industry

Addressing the first topic of the interview was the easy part. As I’ve already shared with you in previous submissions to our E-newsletter, our success is driven 100% by our people. At Merchants, we have made talent acquisition, retention and development a critical strategic priority. Nobody on our Merchants team is perfect, but we are purposeful in filling our team with difference-makers, people capable of providing great customer service and demonstrating community leadership.

Everybody on our team understands the importance of living up to our brand promise of being the Bank that Service Built. When we fall short of meeting our customers’ expectations, as we at times do, our goal is to learn from our mistakes and take the opportunity to get better.

Something that does create conflict at times with our intense desire to be customer-centric in all that we do is regulatory requirements. As I shared in the Star Tribune article, I do believe strongly that the banking industry – particularly the community banking sector – is over-regulated.

There is no question that there was a need for reform coming out of the Great Recession, and that increased regulation was enacted with the hope of protecting consumers. Unfortunately, corrective action resulted in unintended consequences associated with intense regulatory burden. As you may have experienced yourself, getting loans is more cumbersome, more costly and more onerous in terms of documentation today than prior to these regulations.

I believe strongly there needs to be some regulatory burden normalization. The reality is that for Merchants Bank we are fortunate to be of adequate size to absorb the additional burden and stay the course in being a major contributor to the economic vitality of our communities and this region. We have been able to put processes and best practices in place to help our customers work through documentation requirements. We rely on our team members to understand the impact of regulations and guide customers step-by-step through borrowing transactions.

In the community bank space, I believe we are driven to be as customer-centric as we can be in light of regulatory requirements. Banks like Merchants… with significant presence in outstate markets… are tremendous drivers of the economic vitality of the communities we serve. Playing that important role is one of the most rewarding things about this profession. The work we get to do each day allows us to have a powerful impact in changing people’s lives in positive ways.

The Best Home Projects to Finish Now

Backyard Deck

If you’ve been considering an outdoor house project, now’s the time to get it done. From decks, to driveways and roof replacements, it’s important to finish up these popular projects before the snow falls.

personal loans

Connie Fort, Vice President of Consumer Loans

“Many local homeowners come in at this time of the year to get financing to wrap up a project or two,” said Connie Fort, Vice President of Consumer Loans. “I truly enjoy finding affordable financing options for their home projects.”

To help you decide where to focus your dollars, here are cost estimates and what to consider for four projects that can be impacted by cold weather.

  1. Building or Repairing a Deck
    Average Cost to Build – $6,973*
    Average Cost to Repair – $1,490

A new deck adds value to your home – plus who doesn’t love another way to enjoy Minnesota and Wisconsin summers?

The cost of building or repairing a deck depends on several factors: size, materials, and extras such as stairs, railings or staining. To help you make an accurate estimate, consider that the average deck size is 10×12 feet and most deck builders charge an average of $35 per square foot. 

  1. Replacing a Roof
    Average Cost – $7,092*

Maintaining the quality of your roof is critical to keep your home protected and dry. Winter weather especially can aggravate small leaks and other problems, so take the time to assess your roof now.

If replacing your roof is necessary, there are several factors that impact the overall cost including size, pitch, materials, code requirements and special features like skylights or chimneys.

Make sure to get quotes from several different roofers so you have a solid price range for your potential cost. Be cautious of any business that bids extremely low – it’s most likely too good to be true.

  1. Installing Landscaping
    Average Cost – $3,328*

Whether you’ve moved into a new home or want to upgrade the look of your existing lawn and outdoor area, landscaping can be a great way to give your house a facelift.

When it comes to your landscaping projects, costs range based on how big your project will be and the size of your property. For example, are you simply looking to add some color with flowers or are you removing trees? Each piece of your project may involve hiring one or more professionals, so consider if you’ll need help with designing a garden, installing a patio, or even adding a water and irrigation system.

  1. Replacing or Adding a Driveway
    Average Cost – $3,916*

Having a driveway can be a huge convenience for you as a homeowner and can also add value to your house.

Durability is the biggest and most important factor when making decisions about your new driveway. Make sure you pay attention to which materials make sense for your landscape, climate and the amount of work you’re willing to put in to maintain the driveway. A professional can help steer you in the right direction based on your situation.

So now that you’ve settled on which home improvement project you’ll tackle this fall, how can you pay for it? At Merchants Bank, our Home Equity Line of Credit can help qualified applicants pay for fall home improvements or repairs. If you have equity in your home, now is the time to take advantage of our great introductory rate of as low as 2.9% APR for the first six months and 4.00% APR after that.**

Contact your local Merchants Bank Personal Banker to get started, or apply online now.

*http://www.homeadvisor.com/cost

**Subject to credit approval. As of June 15, 2017, the Annual Percentage Rate on a home equity line of credit with an 80% or less loan-to-value and a credit score greater than or equal to 700 was 4.00%. This special offer has fixed-rate pricing as low as 2.9% APR for the first six months, based on relationship reward discounts. Following that six-month period, the rate will become variable, subject to change, based on U.S. Bank, N.A., prime rate plus a margin that is determined based on the loan-to-value in your home and your credit score at the time of application. Current rates vary from 4.00% to 6.75% APR. Maximum possible APR is 18%. Minimum possible APR is 4.00% An origination fee may apply, in addition, you are responsible for certain fees to third parties, such as appraisers, credit reporting firms and government agencies, which are generally from $100–$1,000. Following the first year, there will be an annual fee of $25. Offer available on new home equity lines of $10,000 or more only or on existing lines of credit with an increase of at least $10,000. Consult your tax advisor regarding the deductibility of interest expense. Property insurance will be required. Limited time offer.

Andrew Guzzo Joins Merchants Bank as Regional President

Andrew Guzzo, Merchants Bank Regional President

Andrew Guzzo has joined Merchants Bank as Regional President, according to Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) President & CEO Greg Evans.

Evans said Guzzo’s primary responsibility will be to provide leadership for Merchants Bank’s Winona locations, along with meaningful community engagement for the Winona area. Additionally, Guzzo will have supervisory responsibility for the strong team of Market Presidents in Onalaska and Eau Claire, WI, and Minnesota locations in La Crescent, Caledonia, Spring Grove, St. Charles, Rushford and Lanesboro. He will have a presence in all of the markets for the southern tier of Merchants’ service footprint.

“We are excited to have Andrew leading our team in the region,”Evans said.  “Andrew brings an intense passion for customer service and community leadership. He also has had significant sales and management experience, both outside and inside the banking industry. We believe his skill set is the right mix to help facilitate our continued growth for our community banking organization.”

Guzzo has spent the past 11 years in the banking industry, working for American Bank & Trust in the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois) area, and most recently leading NXT Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Prior to that, he had more than 15 years of sales and sales management experience for US Foods.

“I look forward to helping to establish, build and grow long-term customer relationships around our region,” Guzzo said. “By every measure, Merchants Bank’s enviable culture and customer-centric commitment to the communities it serves continues to raise the bar among community banks across the region. I am humbled by the responsibility to customers and shareholders and excited at the possibilities that come from working with this team.”

Guzzo and his wife, Dawn, have four children, two boys and two girls.

The Merchants organization has reached record earnings each of the past two years and is tracking for another significant year in 2017.

Since the retirement of former MFGI President & CEO Rod Nelson in January, Evans has been serving as the Winona Bank President, as well as overseeing the banking operations for all of Merchants Bank’s 21 locations, in addition to his role as MFGI President and CEO.

With the addition of Guzzo, Merchants will have three regional presidents reporting to Evans – Guzzo for the Winona and Southern region, Dan Massett for the Central Region and Lawrence Stovern for the Twin Cities Region. Evans points out that all are supported by local presidents who have decision making responsibilities in their markets.

“Real local decision making is one way we stand apart from others in our industry. It allows our local leaders to positively influence the people and the communities they serve,” Evans said. “We recognize it is a unique model, but it best serves our customers.”

Leading Merchants’ locations in the region are: Steve Christiansen in Onalaska and La Crescent, Matt Schuldt in Caledonia and Spring Grove, Larry Accola in Eau Claire, Ken Graner in Lanesboro and Rushford, and Jim Allen in St. Charles.

MFGI owns 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.