Schmalz compels ABA to focus on community bank issues

Charles Schmalz

EDITOR’S NOTE: The American Bankers Association holds its National Conference for Community Bankers this month in Honolulu. Charles Schmalz, president of East Wisconsin Savings Bank, Kaukauna, is vice chair of the committee that planned the conference. Schmalz visited with BankBeat Publisher Tom Bengtson about his work on the ABA’s Community Bankers Council and the challenges facing his bank.

Q: Tell us about the mission of the ABA Community Bankers Council and your involvement?
Charles Schmalz: The 100-member Community Bankers Council (CBC) brings together CEOs representing community banks nationwide. This group’s role is to increase community banker involvement in the ABA. I had served [the CBC] for six years prior to being appointed vice chair. Participating on the Council has been a tremendous opportunity for me to meet bankers from all over the country, stay current with legislation and regulation affecting our industry, and most importantly, do my part to promote and support community banking.

Q: Have you attended many of these events? What valuable things have you gained by attending in the past?
C.S.: I have attended NCCB for at least 15 years. In my opinion it is the premier conference for community bankers that was created by, and continues to be run by, community bankers. Every year I have come back with actionable ideas on the operational level for my bank. Additionally, networking with bankers from around the country gives me other points of view on issues we all face. My best relationships in banking have come from being involved in this conference and committee. This year’s conference theme is Destination Transformation. Community banks are transforming — and the industry continues to experience a paradigm shift. With an ever-changing definition of success and survival, the fast road ahead begins with versatility. Sessions will focus on transformative steps needed to get to that next destination.

Q: Tell us about the economy in eastern Wisconsin. How is loan demand?
C.S.: The Fox Valley is fortunate to have a pretty diverse and stable economy. East Wisconsin Savings Bank is primarily a mortgage lender and loan demand for mortgages has been steadily growing the last couple of years.

Q: What are the major issues affecting your bank in the housing arena?
C.S.: The largest issue by far in the home lending area is TRID. It is very difficult to comply with, very expensive, and very difficult to explain to consumers. TRID and QM rules are the most onerous rules ever applied to mortgage lending and they do nothing to provide consumers clarity or cost savings. In fact, they do the opposite.

Q: What is your most significant challenge at the bank?
C.S.: I believe one of the most significant challenges currently in banking is how we deliver products and services to our customers. That dynamic is constantly changing. Our people have to adapt quickly but still be able to transact in traditional ways. Competition is always a challenge in any business; unfortunately in the banking industry an unfair playing field has been created. Whether it is the lack of credit union taxation or regulation not being applied evenly, it is very short-sighted and wrong.

Q: How important is technology to keeping up with customer demand?
C.S.: Technology has always been something we have embraced. As a small community bank, we see technology as an equalizer to national competitors. We are certainly not tech innovators nor are we bleeding edge adaptors, but it is critical to stay as current as possible and leverage technology for efficiencies. I see fintechs as an opportunity for some “outside the box” solutions or innovations that could benefit both the industry and consumers.