Simple High Performance

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Our secret formula: Culture + technology = performance

By Mark Finstad

By almost any measure, Ultima Bank Minnesota has proven to be a consistently high-performing community bank. By recording a 2.37 percent return on assets and 26.13 percent return on equity last year, our community bank ranked among the 25 top-performing ICBA member institutions in our $150 million- to $300 million-asset class, as we have in previous years. As a result, we often hear from peers, competitors, vendors and even several regulators, “What’s your secret?”

I’d like to say there are one or two clear reasons why Ultima Bank Minnesota achieves high-performing results year after year. But as most know who watch the community banking industry, it takes a combination of leadership, technology and hard work by a dedicated staff to produce consistently high performance.

Let’s start with leadership. I cannot overstate the value of setting high goals and standards, and communicating them to your team through regularly updated strategic plans and a well-thought-out annual financial plan. We put a great deal of effort into outlining lofty objectives in our strategic plans, then working toward those goals through annual planning from the branch and cost-center levels of the bank on up. Near double-digit-asset growth led by a strong lending team, an emphasis on upholding minimum net interest margin requirements and a focus on pursuing efficiency throughout the company are hallmarks of our planning and execution.

Competitive compensation and an innovative incentive compensation plan tie our team member performance to the results expected. This not only leads to high financial performance of the bank, but has the side benefit of low staff turnover. Over the last 10 years, we have had no management or loan officer turnover, with the exception of two retirements. The continuous growth of Ultima Bank Minnesota leads to opportunity for those employees looking for advancement, and everyone likes working for a winner.

Our community bank has never been afraid of investing in the best external technology. But we do have one “secret” to our success that is unique to our community bank—an internally developed software package we call the Ultima Dashboard Suite, or simply UDS. This software, created and maintained by our internal development team, brings it all together for us. From credit administration to sales and personnel management, planning, forecasting and regulatory compliance—efficient and paperless solutions are built into UDS.

As a community bank manager, it is a very powerful tool to have a software application that was built, and is continually being improved, to serve the specific needs of running our bank in the most efficient and profitable manner. Our loan approvals and meetings are paperless and can be conducted from anywhere at any time, much like the delivery of our banking services.

Risk ratings, pricing guidelines and approval levels are automatically provided to our lending staff through the UDS Credit module. Loan officers and managers are able to use the system to easily conduct “what if” scenarios to help them develop and deliver credit solutions to their clients or to achieve desired results in their respective profit or cost centers.

One of our new managers recently commented that Ultima Bank Minnesota has a culture of willingness to adopt and embrace new ideas and technologies, rather than the normal resistance to change that had to be overcome at his previous employer. Where does that culture come from and how is it developed? That is the key to success in any organization.

Hire and train the best people you can find, provide them the tools to do their jobs well, set high standards and reward strong results accordingly. It is not an easy combination, but it is one that works.


Mark Finstad (mark@ultimabank.com) is president of Ultima Bank Minnesota in Fosston, Minn.

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