Traveling banker Jim Wermuth brings banking to the people
By Ed Avis
National Award Recipient
Capitol Bank – Madison, Wis.
Service Program: Traveling Banker
Bank Website: www.capitolbank.com
Many community bankers greet their customers by name when they walk in the lobby. Others hobnob with their customers and neighbors at various community events. A few even make occasional house calls when people need personal attention. But none of those sociable connections has anything on Jim Wermuth.
Known as the “traveling banker,” each week 81-year-old Wermuth rolls his suitcase full of banking accoutrements to 13 retirement communities in and around Madison, Wis., on behalf of Capitol Bank, a $310 million-asset institution.
“Every Tuesday there’s a long line of people waiting for Jim,” says Michelle Naegle, apartment manager of All Saints Senior Apartments in Madison, one of Wermuth’s regular service stops and, coincidentally, where he and his wife have resided for the past two years. “He’s so personable. He’s a wonderful banker as well as a friend to a lot of these residents. They enjoy chatting with him, and it makes their banking so convenient.”
Capitol Bank’s traveling banker program, which has existed since 1996, has earned the bank a 2016 National Community Bank Service Award. And Wermuth is the heart, if not very embodiment, of the service program today. He cashes checks, accepts deposits, notarizes documents, makes change, opens new accounts and even sells stamps during his visits. He works Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. until about noon or 1 p.m., depending on how busy he is.
“I can cash 30 to 35 checks, take half a dozen deposits and open a few accounts [on a typical customer visit],” Wermuth says. “It just depends—you don’t know.”
The banking side of Wermuth’s visits is essential, since many residents of the retirement communities he visits do not drive. But he’s also a friend and confidant. “I don’t consider these people just customers, they’re more like friends,” he says. “You do this for 10 years for somebody, and they’re not Mrs. Smith, they’re Mary.”
Naegle confirms that philosophy: “The banking is very important, but he’s so personable and will take the time to talk to people and make them feel better while they’re dealing with these important matters.”
After visiting his day’s allotment of retirement communities, Wermuth returns to Capitol Bank and handles the computer entry side of the job.
Wermuth was already retired from a 25-year career in banking when Capitol Bank reached out to him shortly after the bank was founded in 1995.
“Several of us had worked with Jim at another bank, so when we started Capitol Bank we convinced him to work for us part-time,” says Ken Thompson, now the bank’s president and CEO. “He had always worked in a customer contact role—as lobby staff, as a personal banker and on the teller line. And being a Madisonian himself, he knew half the town. So we felt he was perfect to represent the bank.”
Wermuth started at Capitol Bank as a part-time teller, but soon he was asked to visit a couple of retirement homes where many of the bank’s customers resided. Eventually more retirement homes sought his services, and the traveling banker program was born.
Despite its focus on routine banking transactions, the program is more of a community service than a profit center, Thompson says, especially considering the expense of the security guard who accompanies Wermuth on his rounds. In addition, each of the retirement communities must be registered with FDIC as a branch, which adds to the cost.
“My theory is that if I can make one person’s day every day, I’ve done my job.”
—Jim Wermuth, Capitol Bank
“As the business grew, we felt the program was a valuable contribution to our community,” Thompson says. “We hear from people who say, ‘Oh, you’re the bank that provides the traveling banker who helps my mother or father.’”
The people Wermuth visits hold collectively between $6 million and $7 million on deposit at Capitol Bank, so there is some financial upside to the program, Thompson says. But what’s most important is that the program provides a needed service to people, he says.
For that reason, the program will continue after Wermuth retires—again—assuming they can find someone with similar knowledge and qualities. But his retirement is not imminent.
“My theory is that if I can make one person’s day every day, I’ve done my job,” he says. “I’m having fun. When it isn’t fun anymore, I’m through.”
Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.