Rockford Community Bank: Small-Bank Charm, Big-Bank Clout

The newest extension of the Wintrust banking system brings the sort of local control customers have come to love about local banks while still packing the sort of punch that comes from bigger banks. It all adds up to more options for local consumers.

The team at Rockford Community Bank can make their own decisions on lending and many other services, just as you’d expect from a community bank. Because they’re part of the Wintrust network, they can also plug into the strength of a regional banking powerhouse.

Rockford’s newest bank might seem like a newcomer, but its January 2022 debut was actually years in the making. Since 2017, the parent company of Rockford Community Bank has been issuing personal mortgages and commercial loans as an extension of Wintrust, the Chicago-area network of small-sized banks. This new location is simply an extension of growing demand.

“Our business customers and the mortgage customers wanted us to grow,” says Michele Petrie, president of Rockford Community Bank. “They wanted us to be able offer everything that Wintrust as a bank can offer.”

The message was received. Rockford Community Bank, located on the corner of Rote Road and Perryville Road, opened on Jan. 2, bringing with it a full-service retail banking outlet and the newest brand in the 15-charter Wintrust family.

As the branch’s president, a lot falls under Petrie’s purview, including one of Wintrust’s major competitive advantages: a flexibility that isn’t found at their Goliath competitors. Although it’s part of a large network of banks – together worth more than $50 billion in assets, according to the FDIC – Rockford Community Bank retains many of the qualities people have come to love about smaller, locally owned community banks.

“I get to make decisions that I couldn’t make at a larger bank,” says Petrie. “At larger banks, the roles are much more defined, with a lack of human intervention. Here, I’m able to make decisions based on specific needs and situations.”

Decisions like helping a local business to handle PPP loans, waiving penalties and fees, or holding portfolio loans would be almost impossible at institutions that staff tens of thousands, she says. With a smaller, more autonomous staff, Rockford Community Bank stays nimble and approaches issues on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re right in that sweet spot where we have some muscle,” says Petrie, “but we also have people here who are empowered. That makes it work.”

Another advantage is that, with the assets of Wintrust behind it, Rockford Community Bank offers the same level of services someone might expect at a large bank.

“By opening an account with Rockford Community Bank, you have a personal relationship with us,” says Petrie. “From there, you can expand into home equity loans, mortgages, personal investments and trusts. You name it, and we can provide that financial service to you.”

And that includes the ability to portfolio some residential mortgage loans, another small-bank approach that customers appreciate. While many banks will automatically sell a mortgage to another institution, Rockford Community Bank keeps the servicing of some of those loans in-house, ensuring the client a continuing relationship.

“If the mortgage is unique and doesn’t exactly fit into a box, we can hold that portfolio loan in our books,” explains Petrie. “It’s just another advantage to the local decision abilities we have here.”

For all customers, digital services also come with the same wide range as larger institutions.
And Wintrust customers also enjoy the benefit of no-fee ATM services, no matter what machine they use.

“You can use any machine in the United States, even non-Wintrust ATMs, and we will rebate the fee charged to your account the next day,” says Petrie. “It’s handy for people on the move, or if you have older kids who have their accounts attached to yours but who live in another part of the country.”

For customers who own their own business, Rockford Community Bank has two commercial lenders on-site, and they can help companies from startup phase to revenues around $500 million. Commercial underwriting is done in Rockford and all lending services are handled on-site, giving business owners a chance to have their questions answered without any need for a toll-free number.

Wintrust got its start in 1991 when the company’s founder and current CEO, Ed Wehmer, set out to provide high-touch community banking as an alternative to big banking chains. Wintrust’s first outlet, Lake Forest Bank & Trust, was an immediate success, leading Wehmer and his partners to open similar banks in Hinsdale and Wilmette. More than 30 years later, Wintrust operates 15 charter banks, many with multiple branches and a myriad of services under 70 brand names.

“Part of the reason we name each bank differently is because we want them to reflect the communities they serve,” says Petrie. “They’re all still part of the same family.”

This means a Rockford Community Bank customer is also plugged in to every other bank and service in the Wintrust network. Someone who moves from Rockford to another Wintrust community doesn’t have to go through the upheaval of closing all accounts, transferring assets and filling out tons of paperwork.

“You can go to any of our Wintrust banks, and it’s the same experience as visiting the bank you opened your accounts in,” says Petrie.

In just a few months, the response to Rockford Community Bank has been positive, Petrie adds. “Our methods work, because it takes the power of a big company and puts it in the hands of the local people who work here and who know the city better than anyone.”

Petrie hopes this location is just the beginning. She envisions the bank one day expanding north, south and even around downtown Rockford. For now, though, Rockford Community Bank remains an extension Wintrust’s St. Charles Bank & Trust charter, which also has locations in St. Charles, Geneva, Elgin and Aurora. Even with that kind of size, community service is baked into the core of this operation.

“Sometimes, people say we’re not really a community bank and I have to scratch my head,” Petrie says. “The people who work here also live here. They know the city and have the talent and the power to make decisions that are right for their customers. That is exactly what a community bank is and what it’s supposed to be doing.”

What’s more, the banking team has a presence on many community boards, and their organization is an active participant and donor for several local initiatives. Petrie has served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Crusader Community Health Foundation, the Rockford Chamber of Commerce and the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, and she’s currently part of their umbrella organization, the Greater Rockford Growth Partnership. She has been a member of the Board of Directors for the Rockford Local Development Corporation for over 10 years. As a bank president and a Rockford resident for more than 15 years, community service is something she considers essential.

“It’s not just a ‘like to have.’ It’s a requirement of our founder and the center of our culture,” she says.

Since its inception, Wintrust has built banks that are part of a community’s public square. Rockford Community Bank is no exception. In fact, located within Rockford Community Bank is a gathering space named the Community Room, and it hosts local groups that need a place to meet. The room has a large table, comfortable chairs and a separate entrance from the outside.

“We want people in Rockford to feel that they’re coming to our bank for more than just a transaction,” Petrie says. “You’re coming here because our bank is a credible place to gather in the community and there are good people here.”