Northwestern Bank: The Experience to Keep Building Strong Communities During Challenging Times
V1 Staff |
Throughout its 116-year history, Northwestern Bank and the communities it serves has been through world wars, economic expansions and recessions, and natural disasters. This year, the bank and its employees have had to tap into that experience and combine it with the flexibility and focus necessary to meet the needs of hometown businesses during unprecedented times.
“That hard-earned knowledge, wisdom, and experience, has given us the tools to withstand the current pandemic and (hopefully) most things that can be thrown at us,” said Jerry Kuehl, Senior Vice President for Sales and Marketing at Northwestern Bank.
Chippewa Falls-based Northwestern Bank – which also operates six other branches in the region, including one at Altoona’s River Prairie – was closely connected enough with its clients that it was able to make about 250 loans in short order as part of the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
“It’s been a huge project for us, and one that came out of nowhere,” Kuehl said of the PPP, which was created by the U.S. Treasury this spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic. “The challenge we had was to ramp up a program on the fly, with almost no notice, while it was changing daily.”
Taking part in the loan program was just another chapter in NB’s long history of helping small and growing businesses throughout the Chippewa Valley.
“It was very rewarding calling a small business and letting them know they would be receiving a PPP loan. The owners felt a sense of relief knowing they can continue to keep their employees working,” said Tracey Smiskey, NB’s Market President for the Eau Claire area.
NB’s deep roots in the community are key to its success and the success of its clients. “So is the experience of its staff,” said Smiskey, who noted that NB’s President Jerry Jacobson has been with the bank for 42 years and that another employee has worked there for 50 years.
“The dedication and the longevity of our employees is unique,” Smiskey said. “You don’t see that as much these days as you once did. This is a very community-focused institution. Our specialty is working with the people in the community and a wide variety of businesses.”
“This is a very community-focused institution. Our specialty is working with the people in the community and a wide variety of businesses.” –Tracey Smiskey, NB’s Market President for the Eau Claire area
Smiskey said this attitude is encapsulated in the bank’s mission statement: “Building Stronger Communities Where People Matter.” Among its latest outreach to strengthen communities is the “Change for Kids” effort, which has a goal of raising $25,000 for Hope Gospel Mission to provide shelter, training, and counseling for families in need. From 8am to 5:30pm on Tuesday, Aug. 11, families are encouraged to bring their loose change (cash and checks are welcome, too) to Northwestern Bank branches in downtown Chippewa Falls, Lake Wissota, or River Prairie, as well as to Down To Earth Garden Center and Hope Gospel Mission’s office.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
NB’s long history hasn’t kept it from being nimble in the face of the curveballs thrown in 2020. “This year,” Smiskey said, “Flexibility took on a much different definition. When bank lobbies were closed, traditional phone calls were key to connecting with clients, as were visits to the drive-thru window, emails, and electronic signatures.”
“Frankly, creating relationships – at least pre-pandemic – was all about being in close proximity,” Kuehl added. Current efforts to maintain physical distancing have made in-person visits a challenge, but that doesn’t mean the bank isn’t busy serving customers. “While the pandemic has caused some businesses to struggle, others are having a banner year,” Kuehl said.
“For example, businesses involved in home improvement, computer networking, or producing personal protective gear have all experienced record demand. In addition, there has been a sharp uptick in the demand for home mortgages – especially home refinancing – as interest rates have plunged.
Reflecting on what has been a challenging year so far, Kuehl said, “We really have been doing our very best to meet the needs of our clients and the business community.”
Offices in Chippewa Falls, River Prairie, Lafayette, Boyd, Cornell, and Thorp
(715) 723-4461 (Chippewa Falls)
(715) 839-8642 (Altoona)