Merchants Bank Hires New Chief Information Officer

Stephen Swenson, Chief Information Officer

Stephen Swenson has joined Merchants Bank as Senior Vice President/Chief Information Officer (CIO), according to Greg Evans, President & Chief Executive Officer. Swenson will replace current CIO, Rodney Nelsestuen, who will be retiring in May.

“The expertise Stephen brings to Merchants as a technology thought leader will be a benefit to all of our stakeholders. The specific experience he has had in the financial services industry will help ensure our digital banking services evolve with customer needs and expectations while also maintaining our disciplined focus on information security and customer privacy,” said Evans.

Swenson has more than 25 years of experience in information technology and operations as both as an executive and consultant to the financial services industry. He has helped provide leadership and consulted for U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, Alerus, Cornerstone Bank and other financial institutions to implement large-scale technology solutions, facilitate change management and improve operational processes.

“I’m excited to join Merchants because of their commitment to innovation and leveraging technology to create a better customer experience,” said Swenson. “The combination of Merchants’ service culture and investment in digital banking tools is a strong foundation to build on as we look to the needs of customers into the future.”

Swenson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Business, also holds a Master of Science in Computer Information Systems and is a Certified Public Account (CPA inactive).

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 19 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. As the parent company for Merchants Bank, Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) also owns the First National Bank of Northfield, with two banking offices in Northfield and a loan production office in Bloomington, Minn. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2.1 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875.

Merchants Bank’s Leadership Class Completes Service Project to Benefit Hospitalized Children and Ronald McDonald House

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16 leadership class students along with Training Director, Kristine Valk; Chief Human Resource Officer, Bed Ede and Merchants Bank Equipment Finance President, Rick Barry packed 244 Cheer-Up Boxes.

Merchants Bank staff members partnered with Cheeriodicals to deliver 244 Cheer-Up Boxes to patients at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center and families at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester, MN on January 14. The boxes were assembled and delivered as part of a service project for Merchants Bank’s I Believe Leadership Series class.

“Servant leadership is a key theme of the I Believe Leadership Series, which was created to help grow and develop leaders at all levels of the Merchants organization. Each class selects a service project and this year’s class selected Cheeriodicals to give back to families in need in the Rochester area,” said Kristine Valk, Training Director and Leadership Series creator.

Leadership class participants raised $18,460.00 to purchase supplies for the 244 Cheer-Up Boxes and partnered with Cheeriodicals to coordinate box assembly and delivery, with the majority of the funds donated by Merchants Bank staff and board members. The Cheer-Up Boxes are made up of age-appropriate magazines, activity books, puzzles, craft projects and games for children to enjoy during their stay at the hospital or Ronald McDonald House. An additional $3,100.00 was donated directly to the Ronald McDonald House.

The I Believe Leadership Series program is a yearlong, homegrown leadership development curriculum for Merchants Bank employees. The program focuses on servant leadership to align with the company focus on making a positive impact in the communities Merchants Bank serves. This year’s class is made up of 16 employees from across the organization’s locations and includes staff from both customer-facing and support departments. As part of the annual curriculum, the class chooses a service initiative. This year the class selected Cheeriodicals.

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Lucas Stangl, Ellen Morehouse, Maralee Berg and Mollie Brink pack Cheer-Up Boxes on January 14.

“Everyone in the leadership class felt privileged to be able to make the Cheer-Up Boxes and spread some joy. The experience of hand-delivering them to patients and families and seeing their smiles was something I won’t forget,” said Ellen Morehouse, Credit Support Manager and Leadership Program Project Co-Chair.

Merchants Bank is a full service community bank with 19 bank locations in southeastern Minnesota, two bank locations in west-central Wisconsin and a leasing division, Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, in Edina. Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) also owns the First National Bank of Northfield, with two banking offices in Northfield and a loan production office in Bloomington, Minn. Headquartered in Winona, MN, MFGI has more than $2 billion in assets. Merchants was founded in 1875. Member FDIC.

Merchants Homegrown Approach to Leadership Development

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L-R: Alberta Rosburg, Heidi Viestenz, Alissa Gibson, Mike Swanson, Andrew Althoff, Libbie Longfield, Marcus Krings, Vicky Kamrowski, Sarah Danielson, Dawn Stenberg, Sue Blagsvedt, Kim Kubis, Jim Vrchota, Wendy Cagle, Rachel Larson, Ken Graner and Kristine Valk.

We all want a team of talented staff. A business with skilled employees who care deeply about their customers is on the road to success. The people who work for your business can make a big difference. At Merchants, we feel this combination – our talented team coupled with personalized service – is what sets us apart from other financial institutions.

Attracting and retaining difference-makers as part of the Merchants team has always been important to us. We also feel it’s one of the reasons we’ve celebrated so many successes. That’s why we’re proud to have launched the I Believe Leadership Series, Discovering the Leader In You! in 2018. The program was designed by Merchants’ staff Kristine Valk, Training Director and Alberta Rosburg, Chief Human Resource Officer and is based on the philosophy of servant leadership.

“After recognizing that Merchants needed a leadership program, Kristine and I tried to find one that we could send our employees to,” said Alberta. “However, we quickly realized that if we wanted a program to reflect the Merchants’ culture, we needed to develop it ourselves. I’m so proud of Kristine, all of her hard work and the end result. The 15 students currently attending are growing in new ways to help them be servant leaders for our co-workers and customers.”

Students in the I Believe Leadership Series are from several areas of the Bank, including customer-facing departments such as Credit Cards, Mortgage and Commercial Banking as well as support departments like Compliance & Risk, Human Resources, Marketing and Mortgage/Loan Operations. The program curriculum covers a wide range of topics, relevant for those working with customers face-to-face or behind the scenes:

  • Temperament assessment and working with different personalities
  • Effective coaching skills
  • Understanding and applying strengths
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Communication and conflict resolution
  • Leading through change
  • Employee motivation and accountability
  • Team building

At this time, students are approximately halfway through the series. Many are already seeing a positive impact in their day-to-day interactions with customers and co-workers.

“The I Believe Leadership Series has been such a valuable and positive experience thus far. Fifteen of us have learned about servant leadership and how to focus on traits that lead to good, productive interactions on both a professional and personal level. The section on Finding your Strengths has been one of my favorites to date. A test identified five of our strengths as well as ideas on how to use them to strengthen communication. It’s exciting to think about how each of us will benefit from these new skills and knowledge. “– Wendy Cagle, Loan Review Officer in Winona.

“The information from the program has helped me be more focused on my conversations with customers and associates during my daily interaction,” – Ken Graner, Market President for Lanesboro and Rushford.

In addition, Training Director Kristine Valk has witnessed the impact of the series firsthand: “Before the program began, some of our participants didn’t really know one another. As we continued through the program, attendees have learned more about one another and are embracing each other’s talents. It’s really become an environment of trust and openness that’s resulted in more collaborative work.”

The program will run on an annual basis with current students graduating in April 2019 and a maximum of 20 new students beginning the series shortly after that. As part of one of five strategic priorities for the bank, talent management and leadership development will continue to be a key focus for Merchants in the years to come. Our I Believe in Leadership Series graduates will help all of us strive to serve each other and you better.

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