As the economy shows signs of improvement, bank stands ready to help with the recovery

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Officials at The Bank of Elk River are facing the new year with renewed optimism.

While there’s no doubt the last two years have been challenging for the Elk River area, bank officials say they feel the community has turned the corner.

“Consumer confidence seems to be up,” said Bill LaVigne, the bank’s chief operating officer. “We want to do everything we can do to fuel that growth in 2012.”

He and Stewart Wilson, senior vice president, said the bank is ready to do its part to help with the recovery.

They believe the experiences of the last few years have made the bank’s staff better employees and managers as they rose to meet the challenges.

“It has made us much better and sharper,” Wilson said. “We have become much better bankers. We learned a lot and because of it we will be that much stronger when we come through this completely.”

Bank was established in 1885  

The 127-year-old bank was established in Elk River in 1885. It has weathered the Great Depression and two world wars and, more recently, experienced the hectic years of rapid housing and business growth that made Sherburne County one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation before the economic downturn took hold.

Through it all, The Bank of Elk River has remained a family-owned bank with roots that go deep into the bedrock of the community.

“We really live and breathe what it means to be a community bank,” LaVigne explained. “It’s about supporting the communities in which we do business.”

One way The Bank of Elk River does that is through sponsorship of several key community events, including the wildly popular Riverfront Concert Series held at the park overlooking the Mississippi River in downtown Elk River. (See more information at right.)

Many of the bank’s employees have strong connections to the community as well. In 2011, for instance, bank employees volunteered more than 2,500 hours at 71 different organizations.

“It’s just who they are,” said Tammy Andrews, the bank’s marketing director.
Some of the bank’s top leaders also play key roles in the community. Wilson, for instance, is a veteran member of the Elk River Housing and Redevelopment Authority and serves as its chair.

Pat Dwyer, who is retired as bank president but continues in other roles at the bank, has been on the city’s Economic Development Authority for a number of years.

Both bring many years of experience to the bank as well. Dwyer has worked there for 45 years and Wilson for 36.

Wilson said it’s been a pleasure to work for the bank for those years and form trusted relationships with many of the bank’s customers.

While he and Dwyer are still very involved in the bank’s day-to-day operations and both serve on the bank’s board of directors, Wilson said they’ve had a wonderful opportunity to pass the leadership baton to capable and experienced people like John Babcock and Bill LaVigne.

Babcock became bank president in 2010. He also serves as chairman of the board and chief executive officer. His ancestors have been involved in the bank from its beginning, and he is the fifth generation of Babcocks to lead The Bank of Elk River.

LaVigne was recently named chief operating officer and manages the bank’s day-to-day operations.

“Stewart and Pat have set the tone for what it means to be a community banker,” LaVigne said. “They have set the bar high and it’s our intention to continue in the same fashion.”

Community banking a good fit for bank’s chief operating officer

For LaVigne, the bank’s values mirror his own.

Shiver Soldiers Against Hunger from The Bank of Elk River planned to jump into Lake Orono during the Shiver Plunge to raise money for CAER. Photo (l-r); Bill LaVigne, Chief Operating Officer; Christina Oval, Loan Analyst; Jessica Kyllo, ER Walmart Branch Manager; John Babcock, President.

He grew up in Silver Bay, a small town along the North Shore of Lake Superior. LaVigne worked for one of the big banks in the Twin Cities before joining The Bank of Elk River 11 years ago.

He has found community banking to be a good fit. While working at a big metropolitan bank taught him a lot about the numbers side of the business, he said it was somewhat of a culture shock.

Community banking better lines up with the things he learned growing up in a close-knit community.

“It matches more of what I was brought up to believe and how to treat people. You look at a customer as a person and what you can do for them,” LaVigne said.

He has held a number of banking positions since joining The Bank of Elk River. He initially managed one of the bank’s branch operations in Elk River then, six years ago, opened the bank’s Zimmerman branch and worked as its manager for four years. LaVigne currently works out of the bank’s main office in downtown Elk River as chief operating officer. In this role he has over 70 employees under his direction and leadership within the seven departments he oversees. The departments include:  Retail, Marketing, Security, Consumer Lending, Operations, Compliance and the Investment Center.

LaVigne and his family live in Zimmerman. He and his wife, Kelly, have four children, ages 8, 2, and twins age 6.

Elk River Mayor John Dietz (left) accepted a ceremonial check from John Babcock, president of The Bank of Elk River, and Bill LaVigne, the bank’s chief operating officer, at the Dec. 5 City Council meeting. The bank donated $14,000 to support a number of community events in 2012.

Committed to service,  latest technology

Excellent customer service and cutting-edge technology are two areas where The Bank of Elk River has excelled.

Customer service remains a top priority and is something the bank has always strived for, LaVigne said.

What does it mean to have excellent customer service?

He said it’s more than greeting customers with a friendly smile.

“It’s about building a relationship, a long-term relationship with a customer–and trust,” he said.

Being at the forefront of electronic banking is another hallmark of The Bank of Elk River, beginning with the launch of its website in 1995.

The Bank of Elk River had one of the first banking websites in the state, Andrews said.

The bank was also an early innovator in mobile banking, which it began offering four years ago.

A crowd gathered at River’s Edge Commons Park in downtown Elk River for the Riverfront Concert Series. The weekly concerts are free and sponsored by The Bank of Elk River. See the 2012 schedule at right.

“We’ve always been right at the forefront of technology,” Wilson said. “We feel it’s our obligation to give customers all the choices.”

Now another new feature is just around the corner.

The bank plans to roll out a new and enhanced business bill-paying product in the second quarter of this year. It will be focused on small- to medium-sized businesses and will offer a lot more enhanced features.

As Wilson puts it: “We just want to give our customers more tools at their disposal.”

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