Rising Stars 2021: Indiana banker envisions growth, potential

Through Girls on the Run of Michiana, Amanda Morris-Feldman empowers youth to believe in themselves.

When Amanda Morris-Feldman met Don Groenleer, she was a 25-year-old CPA working for Crowe Horwath LLP, her first job out of college, and he was chief financial officer at First Federal Savings Bank in Rochester, Ind. At the time, she had no reason to envision herself in his role. But five years later that’s exactly where she was. 

Now, Morris-Feldman is the $521 million bank’s executive vice president, treasurer and CFO. She’s also a BankBeat magazine 2021 Rising Star in Banking.

It was 2006 when Groenleer, who was ready to retire and looking for his replacement, met the young CPA. He offered Morris-Feldman a position at the bank with the spoken hope that his role would be hers. Initially, she didn’t see what Groenleer saw. She had been in her position just shy of three years, and was without experience in banking. She’d never imagined herself in the shoes of the 57-year-old banking veteran. Groenleer, who became a steadfast mentor, helped Morris-Feldman overcome her uncertainty. 

“He really showed me a lot of confidence,” Morris-Feldman said. “The simple fact that he wanted to hire me spoke volumes.” 

Morris-Feldman fulfilled the prophesied timeline, becoming the bank’s CFO before she turned 30. (Eight years later, Groenleer passed away.)

Morris-Feldman is a runner. “It gives you time to think, be alone, and clear your head,” she said. “And all the while you’re feeling powerful as you’re doing it.”

Cleared of life’s soundtrack, she ran with thoughts surrounding the new senior position. She imagined herself performing in the role, feeling both strong and weak. At the end of the run, however, just after “you feel like you’re gonna die,” she said, “that runner’s high makes you feel like you can conquer the world.”

Standing at five feet, nine inches with a heart for mentoring and investing in young people, Morris-Feldman coaches basketball and is a member of the finance committee for Girls on the Run of Michiana. Having experienced the parallels of lessons learned in athletics and life, she hopes that through the programs, young girls’ belief in what’s possible for them might expand beyond what their mind had previously conceived. 

Some of the girls who participated in the running club had never run a 5K race before, and with their track record a blank slate, had no reason to believe they could. “That’s where empowerment comes in,” Morris-Feldman said. “If somebody shows just a little bit of belief in them, and confidence that they can do this, then they start to believe it,” Morris-Feldman said. “Maybe they’re not getting that anywhere else.”

As someone who’s “kind of unflappable,” Morris-Feldman is acutely aware of, and comfortable with, what she doesn’t know. Even as a trained accountant, she found the technicality of her work to be her weakest blade. “But I like people,” she said, which inspires growth beyond her qualifications.

Amanda Morris-Feldman

“Amanda’s combination of accounting acumen and outgoing people skills makes her an asset to the Indiana banking community,” said Laura Wilson of the Indiana Bankers Association.

In 2019, Morris-Feldman was appointed to the IBA’s leadership board, whose members exhibit a variety of leadership qualities. The reach of the leaders’ differences, Morris-Feldman said, is functional and even necessary. 

“Not everyone can be the same type of leader,” she said. Some give voice to vision and innovation, some are the hands that serve and shape, and others are the feet that travel. “If we were all that outgoing idea person, there wouldn’t be anybody there to really implement the ideas, put together events or reach out to fellow bankers for initiatives.”

Different strengths and perspectives within the group break the stale comfort of quotidian momentum, which can otherwise stunt a bank’s growth and potential, Morris-Feldman said. “It’s easy to just every day, do the same thing over and over, and not really stay up on what the hot topics are, what’s really important to customers, what’s important to bankers.”