Long-haul banking

At the end of the day, we offer the same products as other banks. But how you offer them and how quickly you can get those out to the marketplace can be a big differentiator.”
—Rick Beall,
Peoples State Bank

He went from sports broadcasting in Texas back to his family’s century-old community bank in North Dakota. When it comes to Peoples State Bank, Rick Beall is willing to go the distance.

By Judith Sears

This year, Peoples State Bank celebrates 102 years in business. Family-owned and run for four generations, the Velva, N.D., community bank proved its staying power during the Great Depression by opening the Monday after Black Friday—the only bank in town to do so.

Rick Beall became CEO in January. He started with the bank as a teenager, working there after school and during vacations. However, neither he nor his parents wanted him to enter banking just because it was the family business. So, after graduating from college, Beall, a self-described “sports nut,” took jobs in sports broadcasting, first in Bismarck, about a two-hour drive south of Velva, and later in Dallas, Texas.

But after four years, banking won out. “My heart was always in banking,” he says. “Being away from family was hard, too.”

In 2007, he returned to North Dakota. Thinking it would be an advantage for him to get banking experience in a bank not owned by his family, Peoples State partnered with the over $100 million-asset First State Bank of Buxton, in Grand Forks, N.D., to employ Beall for two years as a commercial lender. He also worked with the CEO and CFO on the “back side” of the bank.

At the end of the day, we offer the same products as other banks. But how you offer them and how quickly you can get those out to the marketplace can be a big differentiator.”
—Rick Beall,
Peoples State Bank

“That was an awesome learning experience,” Beall declares. “It was a crash course in getting a broader understanding of banking.”

In 2009, he joined Peoples State Bank full time, helping to open the bank’s first branch in Minot, N.D., and eventually taking over as branch president. The Minot branch was an immediate, nearly overnight success: Peoples State grew from $32 million in assets in 2009 to $115 million in 2016. In the process, its loan portfolio mix went from 95 percent agriculture to roughly half agriculture and half small business.

Growth advantages
Beall acknowledges that North Dakota’s oil economy—booming at the time—accounts for some of the growth. In addition, the bank hired two established loan officers who brought significant business with them. Beall is proudest, though, that Velva customers who had moved to Minot quickly returned their business to Peoples State Bank once a branch was opened there.

That loyal customer base confirms the bank’s fundamental goal of developing long-term relationships and business. Its strategy is basic: Be honest, know your customers and deliver good service. “If you don’t truly have the best interest in that community, people will catch on and you won’t last long,” Beall says. “We’re there for the long haul and we’ve always carried through on the promise to stand by our word and do what it takes to take care of the customer.”

Peoples State Bank employees strengthen their relationships with customers by bringing the personal touch to every interaction, Beall says. He notes that new customers frequently tell him that after just a few visits, the bank staff knows them by name. Loan officers routinely meet customers at their place of work, which may be in the middle of a wheat or corn field.

“At the end of the day, we offer the same products as other banks,” Beall says. “But how you offer them and how quickly you can get those out to the marketplace can be a big differentiator.”

Peoples State also encourages employee engagement with civic and charitable organizations and pays membership dues for groups such as Sertoma, a North American network of service clubs; Young Professionals Network; and Women’s Leadership Program.

Quick change
As the only bank in the area with less than $1 billion in assets, Peoples State Bank embraces its “little guy” role, touting its flexibility and ability to get things done quickly. “Mom and Dad and I joke that we have board meetings at the lunch or dinner table once or twice a week,” Beall laughs.

It’s a different world from sports broadcasting, but Beall has found that his early experiences have a direct application. “In sports broadcasting, you’re telling the stories of individuals and communities,” he observes. “As a bank, we’re helping people develop their own stories.”

He notes that the authenticity he learned as a broadcaster also applies in banking. “People pick up on it quickly if they feel you’re not a genuine personality,” he says. “It’s the same way with banking.”

For the future, Beall hopes to explore current technology. “It’s something the consumer base has switched to more and more,” he acknowledges. So far, Peoples State Bank has adopted a mobile app, and its insurance agents use iPads or crop insurance. The bank even has a Facebook page. “That was the scariest thing for my father,” Beall laughs. He adds that his parents have supported the bank’s moves to deploy more tech.

“In sports broadcasting, you’re telling the stories of individuals and communities. As a bank, we’re helping people develop their own stories.”
—Rick Beall,
Peoples State Bank

However, Beall’s underlying hope for the future is to continue the family’s four-generation legacy. “The greatest fulfillment of this job is seeing the impact our bank’s had on a small community, whether through funding enterprises or making donations,” he says. “The growth we’ve seen over the last few years means that some people have been able to reach their dreams, whether it’s opening hair studios or expanding seed companies.

“We’ve helped the community grow, and I intend to keep that going.”


Judith Sears is a freelance writer in Colorado.

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