2011 ICBA NATIONAL COMMUNITY BANK SERVICE AWARD RECIPIENTS
WHETHER REACHING KIDS THROUGH SCHOOLS OR ADULTS OVER THE AIRWAVES, COMMUNITY BANKS GET CREATIVE AT FINANCIAL LITERACY
GARY TRAPKUS, Hilltop National Bank, Casper, Wyo.
Casper, Wyo., is a small city of 51,000 people with Wyoming's largest hospital. It's where former Vice President Richard Cheney and his wife, Lynne, grew up. It receives about 71.5 inches of snow a year.
It's also the home of familyowned Hilltop National Bank, which has 165 employees at six branches. For the past 25 years, the community bank has helped local residents understand banking jargon, concepts, products and services through radio and TV spots.
For most of those years, Gary Trapkus, vice president of marketing, worked behind the scenes. He wrote more than 600 threeminute scripts for the bank's first radio show, "Financial Straight Talk."
From 1986 to 1999, the scripts were recorded by N.P. Van Maren, then the bank's president. They aired every weekday morning on KTWO, a small AM radio station. At first, the bank spent $1,000 of its advertising budget on radio ads each month. In exchange, the radio station aired the interviews, which always ended with "Presented by Hilltop."
Trapkus' education was mainly in finance, not writing. Besides his bachelor's degree in psychology from Illinois' Augustana College, he took several graduate-level finance courses at the University of Iowa, then in 1983 completed a three-year graduate banking program at the University of Washington, Seattle. Trapkus, who writes everything from brochures to banking advice articles for a local magazine, likens words to verbal erector sets: The fun and challenge, he says, is putting them together in different ways that create an engaging picture for readers.
Although the radio program was designed as a community education tool, it also promoted the bank, positioning it as a trusted source of information. "We've received positive responses from our clients and across the community," adds John Jorgensen, Hilltop's president. "Gary's written pieces are excellent examples of his ability to communicate with our customers and prospects."
Economy inspires shows
During the mid-1980s, the oil business experienced a severe financial downturn. So did Casper, which is nicknamed "the oil city." Local headlines focused on foreclosures and business failures.
In 1988, Hilltop set out to lift the community's spirits. The bank spent hundreds of ad dollars each month sponsoring radio spots featuring successful local businesses, even those that weren't Hilltop customers. KTWO cold-called employers, searching for stable or growing companies to tell their stories. It recorded three interviews per month, each two minutes long, and aired them multiple times a month. So far, more than 1,000 shows have been aired under the Financial Straight Talk banner.
Around the same time, the bank also began airing 60-second business testimonials by Hilltop customers on TV stations, mainly KCWY, the local NBC affiliate. The bank pays KCWY up to $4,000 a month to videotape and broadcast the spots. It then uses the audio track for radio ads and converts testimonials into newspaper and movie theater ads.
More than 200 testimonials have been broadcast, including several during Super Bowl XLV, which cost Hilltop an additional $8,000. The testimonials not only promote Hilltop but turn employers into local celebrities, expanding their customer base.
One such ad "showed my brand-new office and equipment," says dentist Kent Doing, whose testimonial ran for nearly two years. "It drew a lot of people in. It definitely increased business."
Ten years passed before the bank sponsored another radio show. From 2000 to 2003, it spent several hundred ad dollars a week producing two-minute morning-drive spots, "Mike and Mark in the Morning," hosted by two Hilltop consumer lenders. They bantered about banking questions and offered advice and tips for how to deal with bankers.
In 2006, Hilltop featured an IT employee in 60-second TV spots called "Digital Fortress Minute." They aired each Monday during the evening news. Trapkus focused each script on safety issues such as bank fraud and identity theft. When the employee resigned 18 months later, Trapkus stepped in as the bank's on-air personality.
For more than two decades, the bank spent thousands of dollars each month on radio and TV ads that also educated consumers. The payoff? The bank's asset size soared from $77 million in 1986 to $500 million today. Its Trust and Financial Services Department jumped from less than $10 million to $750 million.
Trapkus is sure these radio and TV spots were the linchpin. "If you really try to get on the customer's side of the desk and start with their perspective, it guides you, and everything else falls into place," he says. "Our customers are fiercely loyal. We have customers in 49 states and five continents."
The community bank's success can also be attributed to off-air talent. As part of Hilltop's 2009 Community Reinvestment Act efforts, half of its 176 employees donated more than 5,100 hours off the air to local organizations, many of which target low- to moderate-income individuals and small businesses.
Off the job, Trapkus has started writing a book about the dozens of animals he and his wife, Bonnie, have rescued from the Casper Humane Society. "My monthly vet bill used to be the same as my house and car payment," he says, hoping that the book's proceeds will support the animals. "I've always had a fascination for words."
APRIL INDIE BANKER PROFILE
BANK Hilltop National Bank
LOCATION Casper, Wyo.
ASSETS $500 million
SERVICE Teaches financial literacy through radio and TV spots
After years of working behind the scenes writing promotional and educational material for Hilltop National Bank, Gary Trapkus, vice president of marketing, is now also the bank's on-air personality.
KAREN DENAS, Cardinal Bank, McLean, Va.
When Karen Denas was interviewing for bank tellers in 2005, she asked one candidate about her experience with handling money. "Sometimes my mom borrows money from me," replied the 10-year-old student at Elizabeth Vaughan Elementary School in Woodbridge, Va.
To teach children about banking, Denas-senior vice president and retail division manager at $2.07 billion-asset Cardinal Bank, based in nearby McLean-was working with the school to set up a real bank to be managed, operated and even marketed by the school's fourth- and fifth-graders.
Denas learned about money from her father, an avid coin collector who saved spare change in a jar. She often accompanied him to the bank to cash in the contents. She says these childhood experiences taught her how to handle and save money.
Today, fewer people go into a bank branch-and with direct deposit, credit and debit cards, electronic transfers and automatic payments come fewer opportunities to handle cash. "There's a huge gap in financial literacy among students at all levels," says Denas. "When we open accounts for people at age 18, they have no idea about banking. It's kind of scary. It's taught me the importance of starting that [education] at a very young age."
In 2005, Lillie Jessie, then Vaughan Elementary's principal, was seeking student activities to teach financial literacy-the more hands-on, the better. Children learn best when they're engaged in authentic practices and are excited about a project, she says.
While attending a local Chamber of Commerce event, Denas heard that the school her sons had attended needed volunteers. Jessie brought up the idea of setting up a mock bank. Denas replied, "Why not set up a real bank?"
"I thought it would be a little bank down the hall with play money," recalls Jessie, now retired. "She helped me expand the vision of our bank beyond our school doors."
Soon a rolling cart set up in the school's main hallway or cafeteria became Wildcat Bank & Trust. Students can't make withdrawals; cash deposits are taken to a Cardinal Bank branch the same day. Early on, the bank opened for an hour two days a week; now it's open once a week. The minimum to open a traditional savings account is $10-but that's not enforced, says Denas-and the interest rate is 2.51 percent.
In the past, only fourth- and fifth-graders could apply for jobs as a bank teller, marketing director or bank manager. This year, the program was expanded to third-graders. They fill out applications, offer references and interview with adults from the school and Cardinal Bank. Denas recalls one prospect who changed clothes before her interview.
Participants learn teamwork and economic terms such as budgeting and saving, adds Karen Schultz, a fourth-grade teacher who oversees Vaughn's banking program. "Students start learning that by putting away money now, they will be able to afford things in the future," notes Schultz, who hopes the school bank will soon be able to set up college savings accounts.
This year, 24 students were "hired" out of 50 who applied and will be rotated throughout the year. While working, they wear a blue vest purchased by the bank. Those chosen as tellers handle bank deposits. The marketing director creates signs throughout the school and makes public-address announcements about bank hours. The manager opens accounts, handles problems and oversees daily operations with help from a Cardinal Bank representative.
During parents night, Denas and several co-workers set up a table so parents could open accounts for their children. Because half of the school's students speak English as a second language and many parents don't at all, the community bank created fliers and applications in Spanish. Without these, Denas believes many families would not have opened accounts.
This program offers a powerful, real-world experience for all students, says Jessie-many of whom take a field trip to a Cardinal Bank branch, where banking concepts are "learned at a deeper level," she says. The school bank has been featured on local TV news several times and received an award in 2005 for best practices in school-to-business partnerships.
Student and bank success
Today, 10 elementary and middle schools in Cardinal's service area have their own bank. More than 1,400 savings accounts have been opened, with more than $400,000 in balances.
Denas oversees the entire program, now staffed by some 20 Cardinal Bank employees, and mentors about a dozen who help at the schools. She says the 26-branch bank's 260 employees feel that the students are an extension of Cardinal's workforce. The community bank even includes the school branches as part of its footprint in annual reports.
Parents are also pleased. "We've had great comments about how important the lessons are," she says; some parents review their children's account statements with them. Because more schools want to participate-each branch works with just one school due to time constraints-the bank may hire a separate staff to manage the successful program.
School banks have helped Cardinal Bank build its brand among different generations, says Alice Frazier, chief operating officer. Several months ago, a college student who was a student branch manager returned to Cardinal Bank to open a checking account.
"We are very focused on financial literacy," says Frazier. "It begins early, and if we can make an impact now, it will really help us all."
APRIL INDIE BANKER PROFILE
BANK Cardinal Bank
LOCATION McLean, Va.
ASSETS $2.07 billion
SERVICE Teaches children financial literacy as they operate real banks in schools
Under Karen Denas, senior vice president and retail division manager, Cardinal Bank teaches area students financial literacy through 10 elementary school banks, which host a combined $400,000 in account balances.
Carol Patton is a writer in Las Vegas.
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