American National Bank Fox Cities started out as just an idea of several Fox Valley business owners. The founders saw a need for a bank that provided financial services for the area’s small businesses. They decided to create a bank that would have a local focus and provide the kind of personal service they did not find at the big holding company banks. The dream became a reality through the efforts of the bank’s first President, John Hennessy (pictured left), and a group of entrepreneurial bank organizers. American National Bank Fox Cities opened its doors on June 14, 1993 as a full-service commercial bank, nationally chartered and FDIC insured.
American National Bank Fox Cities is a full-service bank that truly provides distinctly different and completely personal banking. We focus on being the best rather than the biggest. We specialize in business banking, although we offer a full spectrum of personal banking, financial planning, investment opportunities, and advice. We work with you every step of the way, offering practical solutions to your banking needs. Our current President is David Blohm (pictured right).
Our Story 1993-2013 | Celebrating 20 Years
Walking through the doors of American National Bank, you are greeted immediately with a warm welcome. The coffee is on, and there may even be cookies. A cashier is helping a family, asking the kids for their latest updates. You may even catch the eyes of a dog happily wagging its tail.
When American National Bank opened for business on June 14, 1993, they knew that they had something truly special to offer. Seeing that the small businesses in the Fox Cities were being under-serviced by larger banks, American National set out to carve themselves a niche: a small local bank to support small local businesses. Over the last twenty years, American National Bank has grown its operation while maintaining a loyal original customer base, providing all of its customers with top-quality banking at an uncommonly personal level.
The bank’s first president, John Hennessy, had just retired from a career in banking that spanned four decades, the majority of which was spent as president of Northern State Bank. It wasn’t long before a few community members in Appleton urged him to delve back into the banking world. Once Hennessy agreed, business fell into place immediately. Original investor and organizer Jack Voight recalls Hennessy’s strong connection to the community and his influence on their original customer base. He explains that customers were willing to move their banking services over to him from elsewhere.
Hennessy himself seemed surprised at the original success of the bank. “Our goal was to be a $10 million bank in 12 months and we became a $7 million bank in three months,” he commented. The growth continued: in 1997, American National Bank was ranked the fourth fastest-growing community bank founded in 1993 in the country. The bank was renovated in 2001-2002, adding a second story and a full basement to the original structure, quadrupling the bank’s size. The old bank could hold 12 employees and $70 million in assets. At the time, they were operating with 18 employees and $94 million in assets.
Another viable option for housing the overflowing growth would have been to simply open another branch. But American National Bank prides itself on having only one location. Shelly Rohde, who started as a teller at the bank when she was in high school in 1996 and is currently a bank officer, Retail Operations Manager and Assistant Cashier, agrees that the one-branch bank is significant. “We have a family [-like] atmosphere at the bank, and that comfort level is relayed to the customers.” She adds that there are no barriers between the bank and its customers. “There’s always time for some small town chit-chat,” she laughs.
Vivian Huth, another original investor and organizer of the bank who still attends board meetings, also helped contribute to that “family” ambiance. Huth has always appreciated the bank’s “welcoming” and “non-intimidating” atmosphere. The space created is essential in providing the openness and intimacy that American National has to offer as a small bank.
Though Huth recognizes that American National Bank has made large loans to bigger businesses, she believes on a broad scale that big banks are for big businesses, and that small banks are for small businesses. Rohde agrees that American National Bank’s niche is small businesses because the bank itself is a small business: “We know the history of the bank, and how it has grown, so we understand what building a business is about.”
Dan Nisler, 11-year employee and current Executive Vice President and Senior Lender, explains that the key to maintaining low overhead was the bank’s singular location. When all of the decisions are made in the same location, American National Bank’s efficiency level is significantly better than that of its peer group banks. “If [the customer] needs an answer today, we can get them an answer today,” Nisler declares.
At American National Bank, the customer can be assured that those answers were made by an experienced and thoughtful team of bankers. Nearly half of the employees have been with American National Bank for 10 years or more. Gerry Vanden Heuvel, Vice President and Cashier, has been with the bank before they even officially opened their doors. Over the years, she has watched the bank grow, adapted to changes in management, and watched the customer’s kids mature. In general, there has been very little staff turnover in the bank’s history, which allows for continuity in the bank’s operation. Nisler adds that since all employees are in one location and work together to get things done, the employees are more well-rounded. Not only do they understand their responsibilities, but they understand how those responsibilities fit into the operation as a whole.
Once the bank experienced its initial growth and stabilized, Hennessy once again retired from banking. Current bank president David Blohm, who took over Hennessy’s position in 1997, recognizes that Hennessy “earned a place of extreme trust from the board and stockholders.” The transition between presidents went quite smoothly. Blohm’s vision for the future of the bank aligned much with Hennessy’s. “[The future] is not all about growth, it’s about functioning profitably,” asserts Blohm. The transition was also aided by Hennessy’s presence on the board for a few years following his retirement.
“Functioning profitably” does not equate to stasis, however. Since Blohm’s time as president, he notes the difference of the bank’s size and scope. One of Blohm’s initial responsibilities, after all, was to build a loan portfolio and bring new customers in. Blohm explains that American National has “always grown as fast as our capital has allowed us to grow.” Banks that grow too fast have to go back to their stockholders to request more capital. “We have never done that,” Blohm proudly states.
Though American National Bank’s business is money, they value their customer relationships more than the transactions themselves. Similar to the low turnover of employees, the bank’s customer base has proved to be loyal. When the bank loans money, they want to make sure that both parties will benefit from the transaction. Says Blohm, “mutually beneficial relationships are the key to long-term relationships.”
In his time as president, Blohm has been proactive about adding certain technological amenities to the bank. Hennessy was notorious for being an old-school, low-tech banker. He did most of his work with a typewriter, in fact. “We gave him a typewriter when he left,” Blohm recalls.
Now, American National Bank offers online banking to their customers, and they will be launching a mobile banking option in June of 2013. Technological capabilities such as these allow the bank to offer the same conveniences as the big banks, but with personal service. The more technology the bank would have to offer, the less need there would be to meet face-to-face. Nisler explains that there is already less need for personal interaction on the retail side of the bank’s operations with online loan applications and the incoming mobile banking. Yet, he adds, it is still very necessary and beneficial to the bank to meet in person on the business side. The bank has been very careful to ensure that their technological additions keep them at the forefront of what small banks have to offer, but do not impede on their original mission.
The past twenty years of American National Bank have been successful, and they are looking forward to a bright future. Now a $250 million bank with 29 employees, American National’s status of earnings, margins and low overhead are all in very good shape. “We are in a unique position to continue to prosper,” says Blohm. In the next five years, it is likely that the bank will be transitioning to new leadership for the first time in almost 20 years. Blohm hopes to leave as seamlessly as Hennessy did.
Change in personnel is ultimately inevitable, but the great amount of care that every employee has for the bank ensures the continuation of the original mission of the bank: serve small businesses with superior professionalism and unmatched intimacy.
By Cameron Carrus