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Dane County Small Business Awards: Small business, big impact

We honor six local companies that embody the best in Dane County small business.

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Settlers bank: Evolving with banking

For a small business that launched the year before a near economic collapse, Settlers bank was in a unique position to thrive. In that 2007 environment, taking the same risk that other small business owners take, and taking it as a bank in a crisis that resulted in bank failures nationwide, struck some as an exercise in futility.

But when you think about it, CEO Tom Spitz and President David Fink had a lot going for them. For one, they did not exist at a time when some were engaged in questionable lending practices, they were in a better capital position than some, and they had a cleaner balance sheet than most banks.

“Everybody here works very hard to take care of our customers and grow this small business, so it means a lot to be recognized by other small businesses that appreciate the hard work that goes into starting and growing a company.” — Tom Spitz, CEO, Settlers bank

They also have been able to grow from seven to 35 employees and from $10.5 million in assets to $250 million. “We certainly didn’t know the economy was going to take a turn when we were planning and getting ready to start the bank,” says Spitz. “We were preparing ourselves for how to tell people that it’s okay to do business with a new bank, and all we really had to say is that our balance sheet is okay and we have money to lend.”

In a lot of cases, competitors were facing trouble and needed to shrink their balance sheets in order to get in compliance with different regulatory ratios. In order to do that, they needed to shed some of their customers and that made it easier for Settlers to pick them up.

When the bank opened, little did the founders know the speed of banking soon would accelerate. This technologically driven reinvention enabled Settlers to create a paperless environment, which created efficiency, allowed the bank to expand into different markets, and enabled employees to work from home. “We’re constantly using and empowering the people we have to bring us new ideas as a way to find better ways of doing things, or better technologies to embrace,” states Fink. “Frankly, with many of the technology companies that we use, we push them to come along with the pace we want to set and the direction we want to go, as well.”

It was the staff that recommended Settlers management seek a dementia-friendly business certification, which requires staff training to look for signs of dementia in visitors. “As the workforce continues to tighten, we find it to be incredibly important to engage our staff in their ideas about how to grow the business, and therefore the quality of their work life is a great thing to get their involvement in,” notes Spitz. “They help choose the social causes we support. They value that the bank has a social purpose beyond just the shareholders, and it makes us all work with a greater sense of purpose on the things that matter to each of us.”

(Continued)

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