Associated of Wis. Reaps Dividends of Its Changes

By Gordon, Jennifer | American Banker, December 31, 2007 | Go to article overview

Associated of Wis. Reaps Dividends of Its Changes


Gordon, Jennifer, American Banker


Ten months after becoming the president and chief operating officer at Associated Banc-Corp, Lisa Binder says it has made progress in improving internal processes, increasing market share, and shifting the loan portfolio into more lucrative areas.

Ms. Binder, 50, said she is optimistic about those efforts and about the $21 billion-asset Green Bay, Wis., company's ability to weather the current environment.

"The housing markets we're in - in Wisconsin largely and Minnesota and Illinois - those are stable markets relative to the rest of the country," Ms. Binder said in an interview last week. "We feel good about the stability of the consumer loan and mortgage business."

The former retail executive at Citizens Financial Group Inc., a Providence, R.I., unit of Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, has set an ambitious goal of boosting Associated's deposit share so that it matches or exceeds the percentage of branches it holds in a given market. For example, if the company has a 15% branch share in a market, it would like to have at least 15% of that market's deposits. Associated, which has 300 branches in three states, is at or near that goal in just two Wisconsin

markets. In its home market of Green Bay, it had a 44% deposit share and 16% of the branches on June 30, according to the most recent data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. In LaCrosse, it had a 19% deposit share and 14% of the branches. To help boost share in other markets, Associated has switched to performance-based compensation for employees, and it is improving the technology they use, Ms. Binder said. For example, it has enhanced its intranet to keep employees up-to-date on company plans and products, and it is bringing major and core operating systems in-house to allow the company "the flexibility ... of controlling our own destiny of technology."

Also, Associated has developed a leadership team made up of the 100 most senior people in the company, she said; the group has met four times this year. And the company has adopted a centralized decision-making model for retail banking, replacing one where each region determined products and initiatives. Now all products, services, and marketing efforts are uniform, Ms. Binder said.

Ms. Binder would not disclose the cost of all the changes, though the company's noninterest expenses for the first nine months of this year rose 6% from a year earlier, to $394.8 million.

Early this year, as Associated prepared to evaluate its business and bring Ms. Binder aboard, Paul Beideman, its chief executive, explained the changes to analysts. "I want to reinforce that it's not about changing strategy.

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