From the President’s Desk: Fall 2018

From the President

By Greg Evans, President & CEO

As I’m writing this the day after Labor Day, the youngest of our four grandchildren is starting her first day of pre-school. It was a big day for Avery… about as big as it can get for a 3-year-old girl and hopefully the start of a discipline of life-long learning. A bit surprisingly, she wasn’t nervous or afraid; she was dressed, ready and wanting to go to school almost two hours before it was time for her to start. I doubt it will always be that way.

Aside from making me feel old, this gave me pause and made me think of the tremendous opportunities and challenges that all children heading back to school will encounter as they navigate through life in this day and age. Many of the challenges today are vastly different from when I was in school. Some… like the basic fundamentals associated with fiscal fitness and financial literacy… are quite the same.

As new freshmen reported to Winona State University for orientation two weeks ago, one of our Personal Banking Managers in Winona, Chad Woyczik, was asked to conduct one of the orientation sessions and provide an important tutorial on the important components of sound money management. Helping people of all ages in that regard is what makes the profession of community banking so rewarding.

Being fully committed to assisting all of our clients in realizing their financial hopes and dreams in a disciplined manner is a critical component of our brand promise to be The Bank that Service Built. Like all banking organizations, Merchants offers a wide variety of financial products and services designed to meet the needs of both local businesses and different generations of personal customers.

What we hope is different about our delivery of those products and services is our commitment to trust-based servicing of our client relationships — matching service recommendations with clearly identified needs of our customers. This method of listening to our clients, thinking about the solutions we have that can solve financial objectives and recommending the appropriate solutions when it makes absolute sense is the approach we expect all members of our banking team to follow.

So, what are some of the key ingredients to strong fiscal fitness?

Have Advisors You Can Trust

Whether it be with professional members of the Merchants team or elsewhere, develop a strong sense of confidence that the people advising you on financial matters have your best interests in mind.

Pay Yourself First

A critical foundation of any strong approach to financial management is making a savings strategy a priority. At Merchants, we can assist in numerous ways based on your personal needs with banking and wealth management products and services.

Borrow Wisely

When it comes to financing options that may be appropriate for achieving some hopes and dreams (a new house, starting a business, a dream vacation, as examples), borrowing money in a disciplined manner is critically important.

Working again with a trusted advisor who is willing to challenge you and be transparent about the challenges that come with taking on too much debt is the type of approach that will allow you to make well-informed decisions as it relates to credit.

Protect Your Information

In today’s age of e-commerce and the continued digitization of banking solutions, we have unbelievable convenience in accessing financial services and solutions. With this convenience comes increased risk associated with the protection of your private personal information.

Be diligent in following important security protocols advised by your providers. If something seems strange about a request for private personal information, assume that it probably is. Be cautious and diligent in verification anytime you are asked for information related to your private identity or your financial affairs.

In alignment with our community service commitment, we encourage our bankers to be a resource for building strong fiscal literacy throughout our entire service footprint. If you have a group or school that would benefit from having a Merchants team member provide some instruction on topics associated with personal financial management, simply reach out to your local branch. We welcome any opportunity to serve as a resource for something as important as this.

Lisa Franxman Named Market President for Merchants Bank in Rosemount

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Respected, relationship-focused area banker Lisa Franxman has joined the team at Merchants Bank as Market President in Rosemount, according to Twin Cities’ Regional President Lawrence Stovern.

“Lisa is well known in the Rosemount and Farmington area as an exceptional banker and someone who is committed to making the area a better place to live,” Stovern said. “We are excited to have her as part of the leadership team here in the Twin Cities as we continue to grow.”

Before joining the team at Merchants, Franxman had been with Anchor Bank since 2000. She was named President of the Farmington location in 2011. In addition to her leadership skills, Franxman is an accomplished commercial and SBA lender, with a background in credit analysis. She is focused on enhancing and building long-term business relationships. In 2015, she received the Exceptional Business Woman award from the Dakota County Tribune.

“As a community banker, Merchants shares my values for making the communities we serve better places to live, work and grow,” Franxman said. “I’m looking forward to sharing my expertise, connections and knowledge in helping the Rosemount bank meet the needs of the area.”

Franxman has a long history of community involvement. She serves on the Executive Board of Hope for Tomorrow, currently leading the Farmington chapter. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce, where she chaired the Women’s Conference committee in 2015 and 2016. She is a member of the Dakota County Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Council. She served on the Board of Directors for the Rotary Club of Farmington and was President of the Club in 2015-2016.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Rosemount, Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings and Lakeville. Other Minnesota locations include Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, La Crescent, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing and Hampton, Merchants has Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance is also a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

From the President’s Desk: Winter 2018

PresidentsFeature-BlogHappy New Year! I want to thank those of you who favored Merchants Bank with your business in 2017. We remain committed to meeting your financial services needs in the year ahead with a high degree of personalized service and attention that we believe sets Merchants apart from other banking organizations.

Over the course of the next few weeks, you will likely read/hear about another record year of earnings performance for Merchants Bank. As a publicly-traded Company which is owned primarily by Winona area families and our employees, we do take great pride in our financial performance and delivering a return on investment to the local owners of Merchants, many of which have placed confidence in our organization for decades.

We also know that our customers are the reasons for our success. We sincerely appreciate the loyalty of all of our customers. They are the reason Merchants continues to grow in providing financial services to an expanding service area throughout southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

It’s also important to share with you why I feel so strongly that our continued financial strength is a tremendous advantage to all of our customers and communities. Our performance is the driver of our ability to make meaningful investments back into our business and in our communities. Direct ways our customers and communities benefit from the financial performance include:

  • The safety of our customers’ deposits – stewardship of the deposits we are favored with is the foundation for the trusted relationships we have with our clients and for us goes well beyond the security provided in the form of FDIC insurance.
  • Direct contributions to the economic vitality of this region – the commitment we make to the stewardship of our customers’ deposits include prudent deployment of those dollars in the form of loans that help families and business-owners in our communities. In 2017, we made $389 million of new residential mortgage loans, helping hundreds of families buy new homes. We made $250 million in new business loans, helping business-owners throughout the region expand, add jobs and contribute to economic growth.
  • In 2017, Merchants Bank made $584,000 of direct financial contributions (2.74% of pre-tax earnings, well in excess of our minimum standard of 2%) to organizations in our communities. Priorities of support include education, health/social services and the arts.
  • Investment in technology – while we will always be an organization committed to personalized service, we know we need to continue to up our game in the delivery of digital banking solutions as the needs of our customers evolve. In 2017, we increased our technology spending by more than 33%, with priority emphasis on protecting the information security of our customers’ accounts and enhancing our strategic digital banking roadmap for future solution enhancements
  • Investment in our people – at Merchants, we will continue to staff our branches with local decision-makers and customer-focused people with a passion for taking care of clients. That’s why we continue to add jobs, while many in our industry are making personnel reductions and closing branches.

Everything we accomplish at Merchants is a total team effort. And that starts with the loyalty of our customers. We appreciate our customers’ loyalty and do not take it for granted. And, as we continue to enjoy financial stability and performance success, please know that we will continue to reinvest in significant ways that are good for customers and our communities. 

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.

From the President’s Desk: First Quarter 2017 Edition

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By Greg Evans, President and CEO

In today’s commoditized banking arena, we know we must continue to find value-added ways to differentiate Merchants from a myriad of traditional bank and non-bank competitors. Our primary differentiators are aligned with the community banking business model we deploy.

Our community banking model includes our commitment to deliver an unparalleled level of personalized service and care to our customers. We choose to staff our local market branches in a manner that allows us to deliver on our brand promise to be the Bank that Service Built. The staffing model also includes our commitment to having Market Presidents who are empowered and required to deliver on an expectation of community engagement and leadership.

Another aspect of our Brand that I believe is a differentiator is our ownership structure. One thing that I’ve come to realize is that many of our customers are not aware that Merchants is a publicly-traded Company. That might seem somewhat irrelevant, but the ownership structure of the Merchants organization is unique, and has absolutely contributed to our business success over our history of more than 140 years.

Our employees own approximately 18% of the organization through an Employee Stock Ownership plan. Pride of ownership on the part of our employees helps drive the commitment we make to serving you in a manner that results in customer loyalty and business growth.

In addition to being an employee-owned Company, the balance of the ownership structure for Merchants is loosely held by approximately 600 individuals and organizations, mostly in the form of friends, neighbors and business leaders throughout our service area footprint. Our stock is available to anybody who might be motivated to take an ownership interest. Merchants Financial Group, Inc., shares are traded over the counter (OTC) under the symbol MFGI. If you would personally have an interest in acquiring Merchants stock, contact Merchants Bank for more information.

I personally take a great deal of pride in having an ownership interest in our Company, but value even more greatly the fact that ownership is comprised of my teammates and business leaders in our communities that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I do believe this ownership structure has been critical to our long-term success.

The long-time loyalty of our shareholders has allowed us stay the course with an intense focus on slow, steady growth. In addition to holding management accountable for meeting financial performance expectations, our shareholders also have high expectations for us to deliver on community leadership responsibilities. As customers, they also demand a high level of personalized service and attention to their many banking needs.

This ownership structure really is a differentiator for Merchants. It allows management to take a disciplined approach to strategic thinking, one that allows a long-term focus. Local ownership is a strength of the Merchants Brand. If you have an interest in becoming another of our local Shareholders, contact Merchants Bank for more information.

Merchants Financial Group, Inc. Reports Record Year to Shareholders and Appoints Directors

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Greg Evans, President & CEO

During its annual meeting Thursday, the shareholders of Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI) heard about the organization’s second consecutive record year, re-elected two Directors and elected a new Director to the MFGI Board of Directors.

Re-elected to three-year terms as Directors were: Kenneth J. Mogren, Retired President Winona Agency, Inc., and Richard T. Lommen, Jr., President/Owner Courtesy Corporation. Elected to a three-year term was Gregory M. Evans, President & Chief Executive Officer, Merchants Financial Group. Also recognized was Rodney R. Nelson, who retired as MFGI President & CEO and the MFGI Board at the end of January, 2017. Evans succeeded Nelson. Also recognized for his long service was MFGI Director David H. Keller, Retired President Lucas Body Systems, NA. Keller retired in 2016 after 31 years of service to the MFGI Board, including more than 15 as Board Chairman.

“One of the reasons we were able to experience a second consecutive record year has been the leadership of the MFGI Board of Directors and the leadership Rod exhibited as MFGI President and CEO,” Evans said. “With the support of our customers, shareholders and employees, we look forward to meeting our responsibility to continue to grow this exceptional community banking organization.”

During the meeting, Evans formally reported MFGI’s 2016 record year of $14,154,891 in net income, surpassing 2015’s record year if $13,454,698. Other high points reported were a loan growth increase of 6.8% over 2015. Deposits increased by 9.1% and MFGI’s share price grew 27.25% in 2016, ending 2016 at $54.50 per share. Total assets ended 2016 at $1.623 billion.

“Our shareholders provide all of us with exceptional support,” Evans said. “We are fortunate to be able to formally celebrate our achievements with them and look forward to the year ahead.”

Evans, Chief Financial Officer Sue Savat, and Chief Credit Officer Mark McGrory were featured speakers during the meeting.

MFGI owns 21 Merchants Bank locations, including 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. All banks are FDIC members and equal housing lenders. Additionally, MFGI also owns Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

The ownership of Merchants Financial Group is made up of its more than 440 employees and its shareholders, mostly individuals and families from southeastern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin.

Greg Evans Appointed Merchants Bank President/Chief Banking Officer

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Greg Evans, President/Chief Banking Officer

Greg Evans has been appointed Merchants Bank President/Chief Banking Officer, according to Rod Nelson, Merchants Bank President and Executive Vice President of Merchants Financial Group, Inc. (MFGI).

“Greg is a true community banker. He gets involved in the community and provides leadership for community efforts. We look forward to him sharing this leadership with all of our locations,” Nelson said. “He is passionate about providing the very best customer service, and his focus on building customer relationships will contribute to our organization being even more successful in the future.

Evans is a Winona native and spent the first 18 years of his banking career in Winona, ending as the Senior Vice President of Marketing before moving to Cannon Falls in 2007, where he currently serves as Merchants Bank’s northern regional president with oversight of the Cannon Falls, Red Wing and Hampton locations.

“I am grateful, humbled, and excited for the opportunity,” Evans said. “I’ve been fortunate over my time with Merchants to work closely with most of the employees throughout the organization. They are talented, energetic, and they care about our customers and the communities they serve.

Nelson will be succeeding Richard L. Mahoney as MFGI President & CEO as of January 1. A date has yet to be set for Evans to take over his new role, which will include a broader role in providing direction and oversight to all of Merchants Bank’s 20 locations. With the help of a national search firm, Merchants Bank conducted an intensive search for the position

“Perhaps most important to me is our corporate culture. That is the true defining aspect of what makes any business great, and that will stay in place,” Evans said.