Minnesota bank CEO recognized as top SBA 504 lender

Perry Forst was recognized as the 2020-21 Amplio 504 Lender of the Year May 12 during the organization’s annual meeting in St. Paul. The picture includes Citizens State Bank Norwood Young America Senior Vice President Dan Traxler, Forst, Amplio Business Development Officer Scott Hoeschen, and Citizens State Bank President Jason Winter. (Photo by Alex Carroll Photography)

Minnesota community banker Perry Forst was recently recognized as Amplio’s 2020-21 SBA 504 Lender of the Year during the organization’s annual meeting on May 12 in St. Paul. 

Forst, CEO of the $116.6 million Citizens State Bank Norwood Young America, will retire from the bank at the end of this year after 37 years, paving the way for the next generation of leadership.

A farming background  

A New Ulm, Minn., native, Forst grew up on a successful farm. His two older brothers would take over the family business, leading Forst to pursue a career in banking. 

An economics and ag business major at Brookings-based South Dakota State University, Forst began his career as an ag lender during the depths of the foreclosure crisis, in 1985. He quickly understood the importance of connecting both professionally and personally with his ag clients. Farmers needed to know that their lenders understood their operations and equipment, and he fit the bill as a former farm boy. 

“You have to hire a person that has a farm background to be an ag lender … It’s important to have the understanding and the language and understand the right words when you are speaking with your ag clients,” he noted. 

Forst’s career trajectory took off in the following years. The smaller size of Citizens State afforded him the opportunity to learn the different aspects of the bank. He was officially named bank president in January 1999 at the age of 36 to replace the retiring Clinton Kurtz, at approximately the time the bank changed owners. 

During Forst’s 23-year run as president, the bank has started a dedicated strategic planning process. “The local bank and the local banker have to be supportive of the community and the businesses in it and the organizations,” he said. “I’m committed to that, and when called to lead or there is a need to lead, you step up and lead, but at the same time you don’t dominate or smother or stifle the process.” 

This approach has worked. A team of more than a half-dozen lenders worked briskly through about 500 Paycheck Protection Program loans worth a total of $10.3 million over four months. “I have a good staff,” he said. “And I’d come in on my days off, or if a customer needed something.” 

That approach is emblematic of his strong work ethic: Forst is usually in the office by 7:30 a.m., and stays late into the afternoon, sometimes 6:30 p.m. “I have two jobs: One is to deal with the customers, the other is to deal with the bank,” he said. “You always make time for the customer work, and you squeeze in the bank work.”

Forst is a community banker in the true sense of the word. He spends as much time discussing non-business-related items with his lending customers as he does their operations.  “There’s more to banking than non-transactional banking,” he noted. “It’s the personal part of it and the personal connections. That trust and respect that can form over years … that probably means as much to me as anything.”

Establishing a legacy

The next leader at Citizens State Bank has already been announced: Jason Winter, 41, who joined the bank in 2012 through its now-closed mortgage company. 

Even after he retires, Forst has no plans to leave the area after he retires: Both of his daughters, Laura and Ellen, live within an hour’s drive of his 20-acre rural Norwood Young America where he lives with his wife, Shelly. 

“It’s been a very methodical process and it’s been very open, and I’m super-appreciative of the opportunity I’ve had here for 38 years,” he said. “But at the same time … if those spots hadn’t opened up for me, then I would have left. I’ve done my part. I’ve got great people in place. The bank’s in great shape. I could work here many years yet, but then I’m backing up the system. Let the next person take over and let the bank prosper under some other leadership.”