Bell Bank Branch President Joins Correspondent Team

Shortly after Jeff Restad started working for Bell Bank, his son was born 3 months early. A month later, severe health complications almost took his baby’s life.

Richard Solberg, then Bell’s president and CEO, stopped by Jeff’s desk to tell him to go home and be with his family, not to worry about his job, and to come back when he could. That was how, 14 years ago, Jeff learned Bell’s people-first culture was more than a nice idea.

“That doesn’t happen everywhere,” Jeff says. “That was a telltale sign for me, culture-wise, when not just my boss, but the head of the company told me to go take care of my family. And from my co-workers, we were showered with meals, gift cards and well-wishes.”

Now, as the company’s new correspondent banking business development manager, Jeff will share Bell’s culture and the story of Bell as a company with our correspondent banking partners. 

“That’s the easiest part of my job,” Jeff notes. “It’s a great story. It’s a fun story; it’s a fun culture to talk about, whether it’s the Pay It Forward program, the employee stock ownership plan, I could go on and on about the great things Bell Bank has done.”

Jeff will also support Bell’s correspondent lenders and help lead the team’s sales and marketing efforts as Bell continues to grow its correspondent relationships.

“Just doing business deals isn’t our sole purpose,” Jeff remarks. “It’s about building relationships and friendships. Our job in correspondent is to help community banks when they need help, but it’s also about building friendships out of those business relationships.”

Having worked in banking his entire adult life, the last 12 years as president of Bell’s Alexandria, Minn., location, Jeff understands what banks might need in a correspondent relationship.

“I’ve been in a lot of their shoes, so I understand what it takes to do things like manage asset liability and go out and get direct business for your bank,” he comments.

When Bell opened the Alexandria branch, the community – a county seat of about 11,000 people nestled in the lakes country of west central Minnesota – was a new market for the company and, at the time, the farthest the company had ventured from its Fargo headquarters.

“It was a test market for us, really, to see how well our brand would resonate in other markets,” Jeff notes. “Since then, Bell has expanded into Wahpeton, N.D., Breckenridge, Minn., Fergus Falls, Minn., and the Twin Cities area. And of course, our correspondent team is now doing business in 11 states.”

In Alexandria, Bell’s branch has grown into one of the largest banks in town and has influenced the community in many ways – from financing many local commercial projects to supporting people and organizations in need through Bell’s Pay It Forward program, which gives employees money to donate where they see fit.

“I’m very proud to have been part of Alexandria’s growth over the years,” Jeff comments.

Working in correspondent lending, he says, has intrigued him for a long time.

“It’s a place of great growth potential for me and the bank,” he remarks. “The opportunity to be a part of even more growth at Bell is the thing that intrigued me the most.”

Ever since he was 15 or 16 years old, growing up in the small town of Langdon, N.D., Jeff knew he wanted to be a banker.

“It seemed like an honest, responsible career that always interested me,” he remarks.

Two days before graduating from Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in finance, he got his first job in banking working as a collector. One of his responsibilities was to retrieve cars after a loan went past-due.

“The first car I had to repossess was parked in front of a bar with big picture windows. I was 21 or 22 years old, and I was so nervous,” Jeff remembers. “After 90 days, the dealer wouldn’t take the car back, and this was the 89th day. I jumped in the car, the keys were still in it, and I think I ran the stop sign driving away because I was so nervous.”

Jeff has also worked in residential real estate lending and commercial lending – something he really enjoyed. He says the hardest and best career decision he made was taking a job at Bell. Out of loyalty to his former company and co-workers, he refused a few attempts Richard Solberg made to recruit him. He eventually relented and hasn’t looked back. 

“The way Bell treats people is what sets the bank apart,” Jeff notes.