NORTH LIBERTY– Perhaps North Liberty didn’t need yet another bank, conceded Bart Floyd.
“But we did have a need for a different kind of service offering,” said Floyd, and Great Western Bank is well-equipped and well-prepared to fill that need.
The bank opened its doors to the North Liberty community on June 18, at 655 Community Dr., just off Highway 965.
Floyd said most people are used to choosing between two categories of banks; either a small, localized bank that has flexibility, is able to move quickly and can customize its services to the local community, but may be limited in its scope and access to certain products; or a big bank with a large geographic area, a wide variety of stylish products and access to cheaper lending, but without flexibility and the ability to tailor to its customers.
At Great Western, said Floyd, customers no longer have to choose.
“We bring the best of both worlds,” said Floyd. “We are in the small bank category, but our single shareholder is the National Australia Bank, one of the top 15 largest and safest banks in the world. So even though we are independent, state-chartered bank, we have access to all their resources. We have the capacity of a big bank, with the flexibility of a little bank.”
Great Western Bank, based in Sioux Falls, S. D., has close to 200 offices in seven states, including Iowa, though none were in the southeastern part of the state. Floyd joined the company in December as its Eastern Iowa President, and now four locations have been added to Southeast Iowa, with an ultimate goal having eight to 10 sites. But North Liberty will remain Great Western’s Eastern Iowa headquarters.
“When a lot of banks have come to town over the years, they have come from smaller places to expand their footprint and take advantage of Johnson County’s resources. We are little different; North Liberty is the headquarters of our eastern Iowa group, and this is where the brain trust will reside,” said Floyd.
One member of that brain trust is Lori Meyer, Great Western’s Market President for Eastern Iowa and a well-known figure in the North Liberty community and its banking history. With 32 years in the banking industry, Meyer is one of the bank’s biggest assets, said Floyd.
“There is no one who is a stronger brand, and no better banker than Lori Meyer,” he said.
And a banker’s reputation is as important as a bank’s offerings, Floyd believes. While the Internet has introduced additional conveniences and everyone still compares rates from bank to bank, he said, “really, you want a trusted advisor.
“We may be a new bank, but we have a lot of familiar faces. And banking is still a relationship–oriented business. All the people here have strong personal brands and reputations in the area. So that’s what makes us valuable; not the company we work for, or the name on the sign, but who we have assembled and the trust they have built in this area. That’s what makes us different.”
Meyer said all together, Great Western’s North Liberty team of 10– with the likelihood of growing to 11 or 12 by year’s end– has 110 collective years of experience in the banking industry, and 85 of them specifically in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area.
“We have two of the strongest commercial lenders in the Corridor,” said Meyer. Great Western’s Rick Oehler comes with 25 years of experience, Melissa Schooley has 20 years of banking history, and their expertise is business. “I can talk to anybody who is interested in a business loan, no matter the size, and then turn them over to our own experts in that area.”
Because everyone at Great Western has experience in almost all areas of finance, “whatever needs to be done has been done by all of us at one time or another, from setting up computer systems to hanging pictures on the wall. The entire team has just jumped in and asked what needs to be done,” she said.
In addition to its staff’s versatility, Meyer also noted Great Western’s flexibility in its loan process.
“We don’t have to turn customers over to another branch,” she said. “We have local decision making here, so we can help virtually any request that comes in, without going outside the area. There is no loan committee to go to. We can put in that request and get it processed and worked out right away.”
In addition to business loans, Great Western has all the typical bank products, some with benefits that create additional conveniences and savings for customers.
“Always free checking,” said Meyer, as well as no-minimum-balance accounts, CDs, safe deposit boxes, private banking, home equity and construction loans for both new buildings and remodeling. Loans for remodeling are based on the specifications of the job, Meyer noted. “It’s a very good, unique product.”
And Great Western is a good bank with a unique way of helping its customers and its community, she added.
“Community participation is huge at Great Western. We want to, and have always tried, to use local businesses to do our work,” Meyer said. “That’s really giving back to the community. It’s something everyone should do as a banker.”
In addition to patronizing local businesses, Great Western partners with the Iowa City Community School District Foundation, raises funds for the United Way, is involved with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program and was a Thanksgiving in July partner with the North Liberty Community Pantry. “You have to do that, because there are so many people who are struggling today. We have to look after each other,” said Meyer.
While some might think it risky to open a new bank in an economy that is still climbing back from a deep recession, Meyer said she expects the bank to expand in the future.
“Our parent company allows us to be a different type of bank,” she said. “We are unique; we are a bank for everybody, which will allow us to grow like we want to.”
It will also allow Meyer to help customers the way she, Floyd and the rest of the team finds most successful.
“I’ve always operated that my friends are like my family, and my family are like my friends. My customers are my friends and my family. You just take care of people the way you want to be treated,” Meyer said. “That’s what we’re here for.”