You could say that the story of banker John Keach Jr. this year is old dog learns new tricks.
But, truth is, he's still doing some of the teaching.
Keach, a longtime Indiana banker, recently joined the board of First Internet Bancorp (FIBP) in Indianapolis and his advice will be sought as the online-only bank seeks to diversify into commercial lending, the bank's chief executive says.
News of the appointment last week was surprising considering Keach, 60, early this year seemed to epitomize the classic community banker whom time, fairly or not, was passing by. He had agreed to sell the family business, Indiana Community Bancorp, the holding company of Indiana Bank and Trust. Co., in January for $79.2 million. He fought back emotion the day of the deal announcement as he described why regulatory and economic challenges left little choice but to sell the bank that his grandfather, father and he had led — and what it was like to break the news to employees.
"That's obviously one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made professionally," he told American Banker at the time.
Yet Keach has decided to open a new chapter — and that is something other bankers in similar situations could learn from, says David Becker, the chairman and CEO of First Internet.
"He understood the problems that his bank faced and instead of worrying about it being a weepy day and woe is me, he jumped on it and looked for other opportunities," says Becker, who recruited Keach to the First Internet board on the recommendation of another director who had known Keach for more than 25 years.
"I praise him for taking an offensive posture and [selling his bank] before it became fire sales for community banks all over the country. His foresight, deciding to sell when he did and the ability to understand and look at a different model, and really absolutely know what we are doing — I thought it was fantastic."
First Internet, founded in 1999, is profitable and claims customers in all 50 states. It has $627 million of assets, has offered consumer deposit services and loans and this year announced it had established a commercial and industrial lending division. That move and an expansion into commercial real estate a few years ago are meant to broaden First Internet beyond mortgages and retail banking.
That is why First Internet reached out to Keach — and why other bankers who have built banking businesses in the past will be in demand, Becker says.
"We've got the Internet side pretty well whipped after 13, 14 years working that and the retail component," Becker explains. "Obviously John has learned a lot of lessons [about commercial banking] over the years. He's probably forgotten more about that area than I'll ever know. Getting him on board to help guide us in that direction is a valuable asset. … It's a great wealth of information for somebody like myself who is kind of putting it together and starting afresh in those areas. It was a great match."
Keach declined to comment for this story through a First Internet spokeswoman, but his remarks in the press release announcing his board appointment embraced a modern style of banking.
"With its low overhead, First Internet Bank is nimble and can respond quickly to new opportunities," Keach was quoted as saying in the press release. "I look forward to making a positive contribution to the bank's continued success."
Keach showed that kind of understanding from their first meeting, Becker says. Veteran bankers with that kind of open-mindedness would be attractive hires for many banks, he says.
"I would think there would be a lot of opportunities for people in his position," Becker says.