Ninety-eight percent. That’s the percentage of community bank employees who would recommend their employer to others. In a tight labor market, that number is something to shout about—so we are. Based on anonymous employee responses, our first-ever Best Community Banks to Work For awards recognize banks that have built exceptional work experiences for their employees. Read on for profiles of the winners in each asset class, and dive into all eligible entrants’ data. Bottom line? You have a lot to be proud of.
Farmers State Bank: Culture is everything
Community bank executives often speak about how important their bank’s culture is, but Farmers State Bank goes above and beyond to build a positive culture. The $172 million-asset community bank in Hartland, Minn., has a culture committee and a nine-page culture document.
“Our culture statement is the cornerstone of everything we do,” says Mark Heinemann, president and chief financial officer of Farmers State Bank. “We use it for hiring, we use it for promotions, we use it for dealing with any conflicts that arise and we use it to inform our strategic planning discussions.”
Farmers State Bank
Assets: $172 million
The community bank’s culture is one major reason why Farmers State Bank is a great place to work, employees say. Financial controller and culture committee member Abby Stoa explains that the culture attracts people who work well together by encouraging creativity, independence and fun.
“What sets Farmers State Bank apart for me is the people I work with,” she says. “I feel like I could go to every single person here and say, ‘I need help with this,’ and everybody would jump in and help. The people here are go-getters. They take responsibility and see that things get done, and I feel we all have fun while doing good work.”
The culture document spells out seven aspects of the community bank’s culture, such as “high performance” and “embrace change.” The six-member culture committee ensures that those tenets are part of everyday life at the bank, which has 28 employees and three branches. For example, the committee runs employee-engagement events such as Lunch Lotto, in which four or five employees and board members are randomly chosen each month to enjoy a free lunch. “That’s a chance for employees from different branches and board members to get together,” Stoa explains.
If people see that we enjoy working here, they know they’ll enjoy being a customer.
—Mark Heinemann, Farmers State Bank
But the committee also handles employee problems that they may not feel comfortable addressing with their supervisor or leadership. “The committee promotes the culture and is the go-between between employees and leadership if there’s an issue or concern,” explains compliance officer and chief deposit officer Susie Miller, who serves on the committee.
An important part of Farmers State Bank’s culture is that it empowers employees to make decisions without the fear of leaders contradicting or micromanaging them.
For example, when the community bank launched a Facebook page in June 2017, leadership and the board trusted marketing director and culture committee member Jessica Tomschin to handle the important customer-connection tool without a lot of top-down influence. “Leadership has given me a lot of freedom to post whatever I want,” she says. “They’ve been very supportive of me.”
Heinemann says leaders give employees the leeway to make decisions, because the hiring process, which is informed by the culture statement, promotes trustworthiness.
“We hire high-performing people and give them a lot of responsibility over day-to-day decisions,” he says. “They know they are supported by leadership when they make those decisions. They know their decisions won’t be second-guessed or reversed, except in a very rare instance.”
And, ultimately, happy, high-performing employees foster a healthy business, Heinemann says. “We create a great return to shareholders by having long-tenured, satisfied employees, and we do that by living our culture.”
Farmers State Bank’s Top Tip
Farmers State Bank employees may be high performers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like to have fun. “During the last Winter Olympics, we did the FSB Olympics,” says Mark Heinemann, president and chief financial officer. “We had an office chair bobsled, Frisbee curling and a bunch of other Olympic-themed events. We all had a blast and a ton of laughter. Sometimes we even do things during bank hours to show customers what it’s like to work here. We’ve had bean bag tourneys and a Masters putting contest that involved customers.”
The fun events are often featured on the community bank’s Facebook page. Doing that is good for business, Heinemann says.
“I get comments from customers who say, ‘Geez, do you guys ever work? You’re always having fun on Facebook,’” he says. “But there’s value to that, because if people see that we enjoy working here, they know they’ll enjoy being a customer.”
Timberline Bank: Empowering employees
When Sadye Saad was looking for a new job last summer, a friend of hers who worked at Timberline Bank in Grand Junction, Colo., brought her on board.
“She had nothing but good things to say about Timberline,” says Saad, who is now the $315 million-asset community bank’s marketing and communications specialist. “She talked about the team, the support systems, the communications—everything. When I got here, everything held true.”
Grand Junction, Colo.
Assets: $315 million
Saad is not an anomaly. According to Heather Cutts, Timberline Bank’s human resources officer, the majority of new hires are the result of referrals from existing employees. That fact confirms how desirable it is to work at the community bank, which has 63 employees and three locations.
“Our staff has grown since our founding 15 years ago, but many of the employees from day one are still here,” says Jeff Taets, who shares the title of CEO with Jim Pedersen. “We are a team. We work hard, and we have fun while we win.”
A culture gaining traction
Many companies adopt the traction business model, which uses employee teams to set and advance goals. Leaders of Timberline Bank have discovered that the model has helped them strengthen the bank’s culture.
“A traction team meeting starts with good news, and that puts all of us in the right frame of mind,” says Roxanne Green, chief risk officer and chief operations officer. “The teams make sure we get feedback from every employee and that we’re all rowing in the same direction.”
Teams are formed of employees from every level of the bank, Green says. The fact that everyone has a chance to provide input fuels the sense that each person is important. “We find that our team members are very interested in making the bank better,” Taets adds.
An emphasis on personal growth is also essential to Timberline Bank’s culture. For example, one employee began as a teller but expressed interest in learning about information security. The bank provided him with continuing education, and now he is the bank’s information security officer and leads a group of four, according to Green.
“We find employees’ strengths and provide them with continuing education, support and coaching to help them realize their full potential and empower them to do the best job they can in the area they are best suited for,” she says.
Work hard, play hard
Another reason employees say they love coming to work at Timberline Bank is the family atmosphere. The community bank plans activities to foster that feeling. Friendships that start at work often extend to off-hours, according to Austin Smith, a business banking officer at Timberline Bank.
“It’s great to be part of a group of hardworking people who like to have fun and consider each other family,” he says. “On the weekends, I’m with a lot of the same people I work with, rafting or paddleboarding or hiking.”
Timberline Bank’s Top Tips
- Develop an employee onboarding process. “We have made a concerted effort to indoctrinate everyone in the culture of the bank, and that starts on day one with the onboarding process,” says Jeff Taets, one of two CEOs at Timberline Bank in Grand Junction, Colo. “Every new employee is told about our core values and focus, what our three-year and 10-year goals are, what the Timberline way is, and how we treat customers and each other.”
- Listen to employee ideas. “We tell employees that there’s not just one way to do this business,” Taets says. “If they know a better way to do something, whether they heard about it or a former employer of theirs did it, we tell them, ‘Let’s talk about it and see if there’s a way to implement that in our organization.’ It would be silly to think the president or CEO knows more about accounting than the CPA in our accounting department, or more about teller operations than the person who has worked behind the teller line for 20 years.”
Norwood Bank: Built on trust
When a member of Amy Sobchuk’s family experienced a serious illness last year, leaders at Norwood Bank immediately gave her the flexibility she needed to deal with the situation.
Assets: $565 million
“The bank was amazing in allowing me to work flexible hours and not have to use all my time off up front,” says Sobchuk, a compliance specialist at the $565 million-asset community bank in Norwood, Mass. “There are other people here who just need to run out briefly because their child is ill or a parent is ill, and it’s nice to know that no one here is ever going to question that you’re doing your job just because you have to run off to do something for your family.”
It’s nice to know that no one here is ever going to question that you’re doing your job just because you have to run off to do something for your family.
—Amy Sobchuk, Norwood Bank
That kind treatment of employees is a key reason Norwood Bank came top of its asset class as one of this year’s Best Community Banks to Work For. “Of course, we have regular employee guidelines and a paid time off policy, but, on occasion, somebody’s life might not fit into those guidelines,” says Carrie Shea, Norwood Bank’s senior vice president of retail banking. “So, we will be as flexible as possible for people to get their family life accomplished.”
The family-friendly atmosphere at Norwood Bank is fostered by John Galvani, the community bank’s president and CEO. In his three years at the helm, Galvani has taken the time to get to know each of the bank’s 56 employees.
“When I became president, we started something called Lunch with the President,” he says. “I went out to a restaurant with 10 employees at a time and asked them about themselves, what they liked and disliked about the bank, and what we should fix.”
The relationships launched by those lunches have grown with casual conversations in the hallways of the bank and during after-hours events. “John has made it clear that everyone at the bank is as important as the other,” Shea says. “We truly do value our employees.”
Employees at Norwood Bank know that when jobs above them open, they will have a good chance of getting the nod if they are qualified. “I started as a teller and was given the opportunity to be a teller manager, then a branch manager,” Shea says.
From there, she moved steadily up to her current senior vice president spot, which she has occupied for 19 years. “We ask all of our employees if they’re interested in learning or doing more,” she says. “If they are, we give them training and even pay for tuition reimbursement.”
Ideas bubble up
The respect that senior leaders have for employees is evident in the weight they give to employees’ ideas. “I can honestly say that I go into every single meeting thinking that I am not the smartest person in the room, and I better listen to everyone to make sure we get this right,” Galvani says.
For example, about a year ago, Galvani and his colleagues met to discuss ideas for keeping their residential lending business strong. “Somebody came up with a new product that I wasn’t crazy about,” he recalls. “But we talked it out and decided to try it, even though I was not convinced it would be successful—but it was. Now it’s one of our most successful loan products.”
The employee-first attitude of Norwood Bank pays off, Galvani says: “My philosophy is if you’re happy here, you’re going to be a better worker and more productive.”
Norwood Bank’s Top Tip
Norwood Bank’s eight-member events committee plans monthly off-site events that encourage employees to get to know each other without their work faces on. Recent outings have included miniature golf and bowling, accompanied by food and drinks.
“We’ve also had a couple of trivia nights, and we made the teams up so that everyone was on a team with people they don’t normally interact with at the bank,” says John Galvani, president and CEO of the Norwood, Mass., community bank. “That makes it much easier to say hi to people you might not see very often. It makes us all be comfortable with each other.”
Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.
Vista Bank: A people-first philosophy
Vista Bank has put its own twist on the usual customer-first strategy. The golden rule—“people first”—at the $864 million-asset community bank in Dallas, Texas, starts with its own employees.
“More than anything, we want to connect with our people so they know they are more than a teller or a credit analyst or a lender; they are an important part of Vista Bank,” says John D. Steinmetz, CEO and president. He credits Vista Bank’s culture and people with being instrumental in its success, which includes more than a century in business and explosive growth in the past decade.
Assets: $864 million
Vista Bank was founded by the McLaughlin family in 1912 in Ralls, Texas. For much of its history, the community bank focused largely on consumer and agricultural lending in West Texas. The bank has made a concerted effort in recent years to diversify its lending activity with commercial and industrial lending, real estate lending and expanding its business services. It has also expanded its geographic footprint. Bank assets have jumped significantly from about $166 million in 2009.
Aside from the acquisition in 2017 of an $80 million-asset bank, all of that growth has been organic. Over the past 10 years, Vista Bank has nearly tripled the number of its full-time employees, from about 60 to nearly 150. Steinmetz believes the fact that the bank has maintained its company culture amid rapid growth is another testament to the effectiveness of its people-first mantra. “What has differentiated us over the years and has allowed us to have this success is our people,” he says.
What has differentiated us over the years and has allowed us to have this success is our people.
—John D. Steinmetz, Vista Bank
There for its people
That people-first focus goes beyond just a friendly smile and a head nod. Employees at all levels of the organization genuinely want to connect with others and to know how they and their families are doing, says Joy Holly, assistant vice president and human resources director at Vista Bank. That philosophy helps encourage people to go the extra mile for others, she adds, because they feel they are being treated that same way.
Vista Bank supports its employees through a variety of programs, such as LOVE, or Leaning On Vista in times of Emergency. Through the program, employees can apply for financial assistance to help with an unexpected or challenging expense, or employees can nominate a colleague confidentially. LOVE has provided financial assistance for a number of issues, from medical bills to home repairs following severe storms. “It’s a way that we can reach out and help our employees, not just in a work setting, but in a home setting as well,” Holly says.
Other examples of that commitment to employees include a profit-sharing program and efforts to reduce out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. Vista Bank pays for a majority of healthcare insurance costs and also contributes $1,200 per year to an individual’s healthcare savings account to help keep healthcare affordable for both individuals and families.
“I have always believed that loyalty has a direct correlation with a company’s long-term success,” Steinmetz says. “‘People first’ is a very intentional approach that is a commitment at every level within the company.”
Vista Bank’s Top Tip
Vista Bank embraces an inverted pyramid structure that puts employees at the top, followed by clients and then shareholders.
“The thinking behind that is that by taking care of our people, they will take care of the clients,” says John D. Steinmetz, CEO and president at Vista Bank in Dallas, Texas. “In turn, we will continue to exceed our shareholders’ expectations.”
He says that even as automation and artificial intelligence continue to move into the banking industry and change the way banks operate, it’s important to remember the critical role that people play in the success of any business.
“Regardless of the size of an organization or the industry it serves, it is important to never forget that it’s people who get the job done,” Steinmetz says. Hiring the right people and investing in them is an important part of growth, and that growth in turn helps to attract the best in the industry, he adds.
First Citizens Bank: A culture of engagement
Nicole Rognes Olson was a customer of First Citizens Bank for nearly eight years before she joined the $1.3 billion-asset community bank in Mason City, Iowa, two years ago as its chief wealth management officer.
First Citizens Bank
Mason City, Iowa
Assets: $1.3 billion
“From the outside, it looks like a great culture, and I tell people now that what you see on the outside is absolutely what’s happening in the inside,” Olson says. People care about the business and the community, she adds, and that is something that is ingrained in the company culture.
A big part of First Citizens Bank’s culture centers on supporting employee involvement in the communities it serves, whether that is coaching a children’s basketball team or volunteering to serve meals at the local community kitchen. The community bank has a foundation where nonprofits can apply for financial support, which requires an employee’s endorsement.
“We certainly try to create an open and fun culture for everyone, but one of the key components is that we try to make sure that all of our locations and all of our employees are part of their communities,” says Marti Rodamaker, the community bank’s president and CEO.
Retaining and attracting employees in the tight labor market is a challenge for any employer today. First Citizens has found that focusing on community involvement not only helps to build a strong culture that attracts and retains hires; it also keeps employees engaged, Rodamaker says.
Sharing in the bank’s success
Offering a competitive benefits package is always important in keeping staff happy, and First Citizens Bank has an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) that owns about 12% of the company.
Over the past 25 years, the bank has grown from $346 million in assets and 132 full-time employees to nearly $1.3 billion in assets and 200 employees. “I think it has given everyone an opportunity to be a part of that success and excitement, with everyone working toward a common goal,” Rodamaker says.
When interviewing potential hires, First Citizens Bank managers make a point to ask them about their goals and objectives. One of the things that comes up time and time again is the desire to have a better work-life balance.
“I think that is something that we live every day,” says Dan McGuire, the community bank’s chief human resources officer. “If there is something that a person has to be at as a parent, a child or a spouse, we want them there, and our managers make that a priority.”
Olson is an example of how the bank aims to support families and work-life balance. She believes the fact that she interviewed and landed the job while she was eight months pregnant with her third child speaks volumes about the bank’s culture. She adds: “Our leadership team understands that family is an integral part of being successful in your work, and there are days when it might not be 50-50, but you can balance both.”
First Citizens Bank’s Top Tip
First Citizens Bank in Mason City, Iowa, maintains and improves its workplace environment by emphasizing internal communication.
President and CEO Marti Rodamaker hosts a listening session once a month with a small group of randomly selected employees. Each employee is asked to bring questions and offer feedback. “It usually ends up that they ask more questions of me, but I always start out with, ‘I’m here to listen,’” she says.
The community bank hosts periodic focus group discussions and conducts an employee engagement survey every other year. Those efforts help to gauge what the bank is doing well and what areas need improvement. For example, one of the things that came out of employee feedback was how important paid time off is to employees, which prompted First Citizens Bank to revise its policy to make it more accessible.
“I constantly remind people that communication also means listening,” Rodamaker says. “It’s not just telling people things all the time, but it’s listening to what they have to say. So, it’s a two-way track.”
Beth Mattson-Teig is a writer in Minnesota.
Here’s a look at how all participating community banks fared in our employee survey.* Overall, it’s a rosy picture, with some clear opportunities. How would yours stack up?
top benefits are clear …
… but we saw differences among age groups’ responses
Each self-nominated community bank’s full-time employees were asked to complete a workplace survey hosted by Avannis, an independent research agency. Access to the survey was protected by a PIN unique to each bank. Only banks that met a minimum of 40% employee participation were eligible for the recognition. The survey consisted of 38 scaled responses where positive responses earned the most points. For example, a bank whose employees selected only the most positive responses would achieve an index score of 100%. Eligible banks were sorted into five asset classes. The bank with the highest index score in each asset class was chosen as the winner in that class.
If you are interested in nominating a bank for next year’s awards and would like to be notified when the nomination process opens, please sign up here.