Byron Bank has grown from a single location in Byron, Ill., to a multi-branch bank that’s now a leader in Ogle County’s financial market. Discover how this bank has achieved success throughout the past 45 years.
Brent Baker believes the success of small-town banking comes from treating customers like family. It’s easy for Byron Bank, a third-generation, family-owned and -operated business.
Brent, Byron Bank President, and his wife, Jen, Vice President – Finance, are the third generation. Jen’s grandparents, Bud and Irene Thompson, purchased the bank in 1967. Their daughter, Gail, and her husband, Ben Barton, joined the bank in 1976 when it had just $9 million in deposits and eight employees. Over the next 35 years, Ben and Gail worked side by side in offices next door to each other, growing Byron Bank to nearly $255 million in deposits and 75 employees.
About 15 years ago, the Bartons began looking at succession plans. Succession is the No. 1 reason community banks are sold, says Brent, but the Bartons wanted Byron Bank’s tradition and legacy as “the community bank for you” to carry on through their family.
“At the time, we lived in southern Illinois. I was coaching college basketball and Jen worked as a CPA,” Brent says. “Her sisters – Jan, a pharmacist, and Julie, an architect – weren’t interested in banking, but Jen was and I was ready for a career change.
“I began my banking career in customer service and served as the branch manager when our first standalone branch in Poplar Grove [Ill.] opened in July 2006,” Brent continues. “Later, I joined our flagship location in Byron as the business development officer before moving into commercial lending. In July 2007, we opened our second branch in Davis Junction [Ill.] and we’ve also operated the ‘Mini-Bank’ out of County Market in Byron [Ill.]since September 1982.”
It’s certainly not just family members who have helped Byron Bank grow.
Mike Kohlstedt joined Byron Bank in 1990 and served as the president of Byron Bank for 20 years. But in 2018, he was ready for a change.
Kohlstedt assumed the role of Senior Vice President – Commercial Loans and Baker stepped into the presidency.
Since the 1980s, Byron Bank has been on the forefront of mortgage lending. The bank was the first institution in Ogle County and the Rockford area to become involved in Freddie Mac home loan lending, says Brent. Byron Bank now has a portfolio of more than 2,600 mortgage loans. What Brent finds even more impressive is the fact that these loans are serviced in-house. If a customer has a question or a problem, they call their local lender at Byron Bank – not an off-site 1-800 number. And when customers call Byron Bank, they speak to a person right away, not a pre-recorded message.
It’s that level of customer service that Brent credits for Byron Bank’s success in such a competitive market.
“We have grown through the help of many key people,” he says. “When Jen and I came to the bank in 2004, Ben and Gail told us they hired ethical, outgoing, community-minded people who enjoy working with customers. We are continuing that tradition. Our employees are key to our success, and they don’t just come to work. They are involved in our community and they know our customers. That’s crucial.”
“Our employees volunteer and attend local events like ByronFest, the Boone County Fair, Stillman Valley Fall Fest, and many others,” Brent continues. “Our employees are members of local Kiwanis chapters, Rotary clubs, American Legion posts, and hundreds of different charities. At Byron Bank, we believe in giving back to the communities who have supported us, and our employees believe in that mission, too.”
While Byron Bank staff members have always prided themselves on top-level customer service, they have also worked to stay up to date as technology advances, to ensure they are doing everything they can to protect their customers.
“Our most recent challenge, as is most businesses’, is addressing advancing technology and keeping our customers’ information safe while, at the same time, offering modern conveniences,” Brent says. “We have a knowledgeable IT and Fraud Department that keeps our customers’ information safe. At the same time, they are also improving the services we are able to offer our customers. Just recently, we launched the Byron Bank Mobile Wallet for storage on your smartphone for debit and credit cards, and we plan to continue expanding the products and services we offer as we continue to grow.”
The bank that Bud and Irene Thompson purchased decades ago has undergone significant growth and changes. But as Byron Bank approaches 45 years as a family-owned community bank, its mission has remained constant: to provide customers with unrivaled financial service, professional attention to detail and personalized service.
Byron Bank continues to hire high-quality, community-minded individuals to deliver everything that customers want and need, says Brent.
Jen and Brent Baker plan to continue the mission and traditions of Byron Bank. They don’t work side by side like Ben and Gail – their offices are down the hall from each other – but they do try to work tirelessly to provide top-level customer service and financial products and hope to grow “the community bank for you” into its fourth generation and beyond.