Private Banker Finds Creative Solutions to Unusual Problems

Chris Theis doesn’t like to say “no” when a private banking customer approaches him with a rather unique loan request. Instead, he prefers to get creative and come up with an option that works for both his customer and the bank.

As Bell Bank’s vice president and private banking team lead in Duluth, Minn., many of Chris’ clients are high-income or high-net-worth individuals who might need non-traditional loans.

One example is land lease financing. Because Minnesota Power owns and leases out the land around Island Lake, Boulder Lake, Fish Lake and Whiteface reservoirs, a standard mortgage can’t be used to finance housing on the property.

That’s where Chris Theis and Bell Bank come in. Chris, who has worked in private banking and specialized lending for years, designed Bell’s special loan program to help private banking clients purchase property or refinance a loan on Minnesota Power-leased land.

“Typically, rates and terms on unique loans like this can come with short terms and much higher standard interest rates,” Chris explains. “I am confident this is the best land lease loan option in our area.”

For qualified borrowers, Bell’s special loan program includes:

  • 10-year term and up to 30-year amortization
  • Interest rates almost as competitive as current mortgage rates
  • No origination charges (borrowers may still have to pay fees from the title company, Minnesota Power and the cost of an appraisal, if needed)

“The reason we’re able to offer such a great loan option is we’re not a huge bank, and we’re not a small bank,” Chris remarks. “Bell is the perfect size to offer a loan like this. It’s an attractive option for our private banking clients.”

Another example of the non-traditional lending Chris handles is financing for physicians.

Duluth has a lot of large, old mansions near the hospital, but many need some work. When new doctors come into town, they often want to live in those homes, but they need loans for renovations. Because the doctors are just out of medical school and have a lot of student loans without much savings, many banks won’t help them.

“You need someone who can get creative in situations like that,” Chris says. “A lot of bigger banks won’t even go down that road, and a lot of smaller banks don’t know how to get that done. I don’t say, ‘No.’ I say, ‘I’d love to take a look at it and come up with a plan.’”

From Number Crunching to Relationship Building

A finance major at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Chris’ first job out of college was with the accounting department of a large corporation in Minneapolis.

“It was terrible,” Chris notes. “I worked on the 14th floor in a sea of cubicles, crunching numbers all day. I didn’t talk to anybody.”

Chris wanted a job that involved both numbers and relationships, so he talked to his dad, who worked in banking.

“I found out the coolest part is getting to know people and building relationships that last for years,” Chris comments.

He moved back to Duluth and started in personal banking in 2002. A couple of years later, he was promoted to branch manager. Along the way, he attracted many customers who earned higher incomes, which led to Chris working in private banking in 2006 – something he’s continued with ever since.

“When you have high-net-worth customers with unusual ideas, you need someone who thinks outside the box to help make their dreams come true,” Chris explains. “I don’t like to say ‘no’ to people. Instead, I like to come up with a plan that works for my clients and the bank.”

Chris was working for a small community bank in Duluth when that bank was bought out, and he and many of his colleagues found the culture no longer seemed like a good fit for them. They had worked with Bell Bank for quite a few years through Bell’s correspondent banking department (which provides loans and other services to community banks), so they knew what the culture was like. When they learned Bell wanted to open a Duluth branch, they eagerly switched to a bank they knew they would love.

“We wanted to move to a bank that had the kind of people-focused culture we were craving,” Chris affirms. “We found it at Bell.”

To connect with Chris on how he might be able to help you, email ctheis@bell.bank or call 218-673-5956.