THE NEW 5,000 SQUARE FOOT NORTHWEST BANK LOCATION AT 168TH & BEDFORD STREETS MERGES TRADITIONAL AND MODERN BANKING BY ELIMINATING TELLER LANES, ADDING COMMUNICATION PODS AND INTERACTIVE TELLER MACHINES. Each of the 20 branches of Northwest Bank benefit from the ability to do largely autonomous, community-based decision-making. Veteran banker and Omaha Region President John Bothof […]
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THE NEW 5,000 SQUARE FOOT NORTHWEST BANK LOCATION AT 168TH & BEDFORD STREETS MERGES TRADITIONAL AND MODERN BANKING BY ELIMINATING TELLER LANES, ADDING COMMUNICATION PODS AND INTERACTIVE TELLER MACHINES. Each of the 20 branches of Northwest Bank benefit from the ability to do largely autonomous, community-based decision-making. Veteran banker and Omaha Region President John Bothof said measured decisions have been crucial to the performance of the institution with more than 400 employees which at present is just shy of $2 billion in assets. “We’re not focused first on growth but rather our 25-year strategic plan and good sound thinking in each of our markets,” Bothof said of the family-owned entity based in Spencer, Iowa.
Northwest Bank Adapting for the FutureNorthwest Bank’s operational territory broadly follows from Sioux Falls to Lincoln and across Southern Iowa to Indianola and north of the I-35 and I-90 rectangle. The institution opened in Omaha in 1998 in an approximately 6,000-square- foot building at 14320 Arbor St. A Sarpy County branch is located in a shared building at 9719 Giles Rd. in La Vista. Earlier this year work began on a 5,000-square-foot structure in fast-growing Northwest Omaha at 168th & Bedford streets. About $3.25 million is being invested in land acquisition, construction, and technology for the venture. Seven employees will be assigned to the facility, that was slated to open this month. “It will reflect a change in the expectations of our customers and it is a transitional facility for us,” Bothof said. “It will not have traditional teller lines but will accommodate millennials who tell us they wish to bank on the phone or on the computer.”
Customers can use customer communication pods, engage with cash dispensing machines, but also know that customer-service personnel nearby can offer assistance. Bothof, whose father ran a sale barn and auction facility in Slayton, Minnesota, said Northwest Bank owners Neal and Dwight Conover are investing heavily in technology. Important to the new Omaha facility, as well as remodels within their branch network, is the use of interactive teller machine (ITM) technology. Each unit costs about $35,000. “It allows customers to visit with a live banker and that person is a Northwest Bank employee,” he said. Common transactions include deposit of checks, check cashing, and a myriad of questions from users. It also provides for customer transactions to be made from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. ITM technology will be added to the Arbor Street and La Vista facilities by the end of the year. Earlier this year about $12 million was invested in a new Northwest Bank operations center in Spencer, Iowa. Consumer banking enhancements include online capabilities for mortgage applications, car loans, and deposits. Venmo and Zelle transfers are receiving increased usage. Business banking enhancements include remote deposit capture, online banking, and automatic clearinghouse of wire transfers, among others. Bothof said Northwest Bank — while expanding its reach to customers with technology — gives strong emphasis to safeguarding its “tens of millions of dollars investment over the past 10 years” from security breaches.
While the technology can make bankers feel they don’t need brick-and-mortar locations, Bothof said the overall customer-service relationship is the driving factor when expansion of any type is discussed. “We realize that customer service and the relationships built are the most important — its our future,” he said. “Technology is important to offer for customer convenience but we know a bit more conversation and interaction is what many want.” Bothof said Northwest Bank’s focus will remain on the Douglas and Sarpy counties and that a fourth location could be in the fast-growing southwest Sarpy area. A location could involve a new building or a strategic acquisition. On the business side, Northwest Bank has three mortgage lenders and seven business bankers responsible for the Omaha market area. Two new positions have been added in the latter category.
Loans can be made as large as $25 million to $30 million. The bank is a Small Business Administration-approved lender. Low interest rates nationally squeeze margins for lenders, Bothof said. This comes at a time when more firms are seeking financing for erecting their own building, seeking equipment loans, purchasing franchise rights in additional markets, financing technology, among other things.
Stepping UpNorthwest Bank’s lean staffing in each of its locations was tested in April 2020 when processing work had to be done quickly for more than 1,200 small businesses that sought aid from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. While Bothof anticipated the great demand for PPP monies, staff did not know how long it would be available, so they were prepared and were able to complete all of its existing customer applications during the first weekend.
“As a result, many of our customers referred others whose financial institution was not as prepared as Northwest,” Bothof said.
Leaders are EssentialBothof, who moved to Omaha in 1981 to work for Commercial Federal, then left for San Diego, before returning to Omaha in 1992 to join American National Bank, said his five years away from Omaha helped him appreciate the sincerity and work ethic in Nebraska. That attitude has taught him to identify employee retention as an important value at Northwest Bank. A management-training program started in 2017 has resulted in 10 of the trainees being hired. Nine members of that group remain with the bank. The sole exception went to law school. “I learn something everyday and I’m excited about what I do,” Bothof said. Four goals adopted by the Conovers drive decision-making and daily operations: being an employer of choice, a bank of choice, keeping the institution safe and sound, and being market centric. Continuing education is encouraged for Northwest Bank’s employees. Community involvement is equally stressed. For example, Sam Hamrick of the La Vista branch and Ryan Schlabs of Omaha recently earned the Champions Circle designation from the 500-member Nebraska Mortgage Association.
Bothof started his career in 1977 as a sixth-grade teacher and baseball coach in Ruthven, Iowa, a community of about 700 residents. While he had always been competitive and involved in athletic and non-athletic activities in high school and as a scholarship baseball player his senior year at Buena Vista University, Bothof found that his work ethic as a teacher exceeded that of a few colleagues who were receiving the same compensation as him. It was at that point that he left teaching after a year and identified the financial field as his new career interest. Bothof, in reflecting on his multi-decade banking career, stresses that he never wants to forget what differentiates a community-owned bank and the need to build and enhance customer loyalty. “In the early 2000s we determined that we wanted to maintain our levels of concentrations,” he said. “There were certain segments that had a more difficult time through that period than others. Therefore, we emphasized serving our existing customer as opposed to growing and taking on more concentration risk.” The 66-year-old Bothof, who completed additional classes in banking at the University of Nebraska at Omaha has never looked back.