Focusing on Service: Equitable Bank Builds on Elkhorn Area Growth

Equitable Bank’s second Omaha location at 20112 Pierce St. in Elkhorn
has opened in one of the most financially dynamic areas of the state. However, Community Bank President Doug Nodgaard — a 37-year industry veteran — said the $3.5 million investment in the land and building needs to be tempered with an admonishment: “Service is the ultimate form of respect.”

The new 4,300-square-foot location in a retail flex-space building has 10 employees. Equitable Bank’s other Omaha location at 10855 West Dodge Road, with six employees, is part of a state-wide full-service community bank with additional locations in North Platte and Grand Island.

Overall, Equitable Bank has 80 employees. Fremont native Brandi Peatrowsky, with a 13-year background in financial services, is manager of the Elkhorn facility.

Building a family

Nodgaard said he remembers at age 7 or 8 when he and his mom, a legal assistant who did work for U.S. Senator Roman Hruska, would visit the former Center Bank near 42nd & Center streets to make routine financial transactions. He said the precision and professionalism of the tellers helped him build a respect for

the importance of customer service with small $5 and $10 deposits.
Years later as a young banker at Douglas County Bank & Trust, a mentor

drove home the cliche’ “It’s the customer that signs your paycheck.”
“It’s the little things that add up building the customer relationship,”

Nodgaard said. “Answering the phone call on the first ring, offering the person who walks into our office a beverage and greeting them appropriately remain important and help differentiate our services from those of our larger competition.”

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The Elkhorn facility, southeast of 204th & Pacific streets, offers flexibility for growth as Nodgaard and his staff enhance the market share in one of the city’s fastest-developing and wealthiest areas. The objective is to attract a younger demographic in both customers and employees. The firm offers full-time employees with at least one year of service participation in an employee stock ownership program, a decision that Nodgaard feels encourages a greater degree of engagement with a pride in ownership.

“We want parents and kids to come into this facility,” he said, stressing the investment in technology and digital banking platform.

A centerpiece of attention in the lobby is a $16,000 coin-counting machine

that is an attraction for kids as well as parents who run concession stands at games and community fundraisers.

While such equipment is an anomaly today, the 59-year-old Nodgaard said, it sends a strong message to both youth and the community overall.

Community focus

Since 2013, Equitable Bank’s deposits have increased six-fold and employment numbers are up four-fold.

Nodgaard said newer customers are queried as to how the services of Equitable Bank compared to those offered by their former financial institution. For example, two-income households appreciate the convenience of Saturday morning availability and the relationship opportunities that can flourish from a community banking approach.

“In a family it may start with a savings account, then progress to a small business loan, and then a first mortgage,” he said. “We have a long-term vision on relationship building and needs for additional products or services may not show up for five years or more.”

As an instructor and committee member of the Nebraska Bankers Association, Nodgaard said veteran bankers know that about 80% of bank preference is based on what institution the parents used.

Traditionally, community institutions such as Equitable Bank have grown via placing a strong emphasis on operational efficiencies and minimizing overhead by

making more judicious decisions regarding branch expansions.
“It’s enabled us to best compete with the larger banks and it is done with the

knowledge that we don’t have as much room for error,” Nodgaard said.
A one-year goal is to grow deposits by 10%.
Three to five years down the road will likely see the increased use of interactive

teller machines (ITMs) with live tellers. The technology will require an investment of at least $100,000 per machine and it will augment the alternatives available to community bank customers.

Nodgaard said there will always be an important niche for community bankers to go the extra mile in a one-to-one relationship with customers. Examples of these efforts include a banker trying to troubleshoot a customer problem right up against deadline and a credit issue while riding his personal vehicle through a car wash line, helping an engineer who needed an exemption to a credit limit while traveling during the holidays in Seattle, or assisting a honeymooning couple with a debit card with a worn and smeared 3 that looked like an 8.

“We’ve found that in such cases the attention we give to helping them is appreciated to the point where they will often bring all of their business to us,” he said. “Banking is a person-to-person, relationship business and we think we’re good at building the relationships.”

Equitable Bank traces its roots back to 1882 as Grand Island Building & Loan Association. In 2015, depositors and shareholders of Equitable Bank voted to approve a stock conversion making the institution one of the few banks in Nebraska to become a fully traded stock company as Equitable Financial Corp.