Sociability is Fidelity Bank & Trust’s differentiator

Fidelity Bank & Trust’s Bryan VanderLee (left) and Mindy Burds, interview James Kennedy, Jr., president of the Dubuque, Iowa-based bank, on a recent edition of “Fidelity Talks.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the fall of 2020, Newsweek magazine pointed its lens at the banking industry to assess the product-and-service offerings at America’s banks. Partnering with LendingTree, the magazine analyzed a host of metrics — from account offering to fee structures, from the frequency of consumer complaints to the bank’s responsiveness, from the availability of digital offerings to their ease of use — in order to identify stand-out institutions that people might want to consider doing business with. BankBeat isolated the Best Small Banks in our readership area, and reached out to the smallest ones to learn the story behind the metrics. Previously, we covered Security First Bank in Lincoln, Neb., and TrailWest Bank in Lolo, Mont.


National recognition by Newsweek surprised the team at Fidelity Bank & Trust, Dubuque, which serves 27 communities in northeast Iowa, plus two in Wisconsin and one in Illinois. The $1.5 billion bank is “very social,” said Kathy McAllister, chief retail and marketing officer. Getting a boost from a national magazine injected some octane in the bank’s already high-performance marketing strategy. In terms of its competitive edge, McAllister points to the bank’s social engagement and its investment in being the “local” provider.

In 2020, the bank launched a video series called “Love Your Local” as a boost to small-business customers. One business is selected per month from across the bank’s footprint. The marketing team conducts an on-camera interview with the business owner, shoots the b-roll, and performs all of the editing. Each video closes with a $50 drawing good at that business. The drawing too is designed for maximum engagement. Customers can only enter if they visit the featured business, McAllister explained. “That gets them inside the business; gives them an opportunity to look around.” A recent “Love Your Local” video received 7,000 views, McAllister said. 

In the thick of the pandemic when many businesses had to close, the team pivoted to create “Love Your Local Heroes,” featuring first responders and front-line medical workers.

In 2021, Fidelity Bank & Trust turned its camera inward to launch a talk show — “a bit like Regis and Kathie Lee,” McAllister said. This program is for employees. “Fidelity Talks” is hosted by Bryan VanderLee, chief financial officer, and Mindy Burds, chief operating officer. In each episode — and the bank plans to produce 40 this year — product education is sprinkled between coffee talk, jokes, prizes, canned laughter, and short interviews with employees. These videos are also shot and edited by the in-house marketing team. 

“It has to be fun if you want the staff to watch,” McAllister said. The laughs keep people engaged long enough to learn something new — such as how one of the bank’s checking account rewards programs worked. “We thought there was some confusion on that account,” McAllister said. Once the program was explained on “Fidelity Talks,” the bank saw an increase in sales for that account type. “It’s so funny,” McAllister said. “We’re laughing all the time.”

And in a throw-back to a simpler time, the bank remains bullish on its Five Star Club, an active (except for in 2020) travel club for ages 50 and up. Day trips, domestic and international tours all will resume in the second half of 2021. Many of Fidelity’s competitors have moved away from travel clubs in recent years, McAllister reported. But in small communities, where bankers know their neighbors and vice versa, the pent-up demand to see the world is palpable. “We are very excited to get going again.”