A Message from Bell Bank President & CEO Michael Solberg
I want to start by saying thank you for being our partner. We never take your business for granted – especially in times like these. Throughout this COVID-19 crisis, I have been filled with amazement and gratitude for our employees, who have worked tirelessly to support our customers in new and innovative ways, and for our clients and correspondent banking partners like you, for weathering this storm right alongside us.
I saw a great quote recently that made me think about how we want to serve as advocates for our correspondent banking partners: “When times are good, we want to be a good partner – and when times are bad, we want to be a great partner.”
Here are some of the ways we’re committed to being a great correspondent banking partner for you and why you can be confident in having Bell on your side:
- As a privately owned company, our focus is on being good stewards of our resources, to ensure that we emerge from this crisis stronger than ever and continue to thrive over the long term. By being smart, nimble and efficient now, and taking a conservative approach to our business, we will be able to enhance our momentum moving forward. Our new reality mandates a more conservative budget model, to build up our reserves, so we will be able to handle a more extended downturn in the economy, if necessary.
- Bell Bank has never been better prepared to encounter a crisis of this magnitude, thanks to the financial strength we are fortunate to have today, including record bank capital and record liquidity, our strongest-ever YTD earnings, and the strength of our holding company, State Bankshares, which has no debt.
- Bell is uniquely situated to get through this crisis better than many of our competitors, due in large part to 2 main factors:
- The conservative nature of our underwriting and credit culture
Our growth has never been achieved through taking undue risk. Instead, we’ve grown with exceptional service to clients and competitive pricing – and our conservative approach is a strategy that will pay huge dividends and continue to serve us well through any downturn.
- The diversity of our business lines
Like many in the industry, our core business is gathering deposits and making loans to our customers. However, unlike so many other financial institutions, we have many other sources of revenue, such as our world-class mortgage team, wealth management division, insurance department and HealthcareBank division, which provides servicing and operational support for health savings accounts (HSAs) nationwide.
- Bell remains committed to correspondent banking. We have a dedicated correspondent banking department, which continues to be a growing part of our company. We started in the 1990s by helping a few smaller North Dakota banks with participation loans. Then, when many banks got out of correspondent banking during the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, Bell expanded. We now actively do business with more than 300 banks in a 16-state region and have more than $1 billion in committed assets.
We’ve all had to make adjustments. Our “new normal” includes frontline staff in gloves and masks, mostly helping customers in the drive-through or in lobbies by appointment only. We have had team members from credit, retail and correspondent all working on SBA Paycheck Protection Program loans. And our customer service call center team is taking call volumes that are 20% to 40% higher than last year’s daily average.
Like you, I’m sure, we’re also finding ourselves reassuring customers that their money is safer in the bank – insured by the FDIC – than it would be at home.
In the long history of our company, we’ve been through crises before, and we’ve always emerged stronger. When we talk about our vision for Bell, we always think long-term, not short-term. Today, that long view means making good decisions that will take our company through this crisis and have positive impacts for years to come.
We know our customers, our company and our country will be in for more financial challenges ahead – but these last few weeks have shown me there is nothing we can’t accomplish as a unified team. You can be confident that Bell and our correspondent banking team will remain “open for business” – even though that might look a little different than usual. Thanks again for your partnership. Let me know if I can help you in any way. We will all get through this together.