Most Powerful Women to Watch: Jeanne Crain, Bremer Financial

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President and CEO

This past year Jeanne Crain has been enmeshed in an unusual fight to save her bank from a forced sale. But she still managed to position Bremer Financial for growth while fending off the court battle that threatened its future.

The biggest challenge in her view has been to ensure the St. Paul, Minn., bank’s 1,700 employees in three states stayed focused on their work while keeping them up to speed on the legal twists and turns.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important it has been to share both the encouraging and the ‘hard to hear’ news,” said Crain, who has led the privately held, $15 billion-asset Bremer since 2016. “It is impossible to eliminate the uncertainty and fear someone might be feeling, but it is important as a leader to demonstrate empathy and acknowledge how people are feeling.”

Bremer employees managed to stay intensely focused this spring, when the bank generated such a heavy volume of Paycheck Protection Program loans in its home state that it rivaled even large competitors like U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo.

And it did so without an online application form. Crain redeployed hundreds of employees to ensure every applicant for a loan through the Small Business Administration’s emergency program was able to speak with someone at the bank about the process.

“We had people setting alarm clocks so they could get up in the middle of the night and upload documents,” Crain told the Star-Tribune, which reported that 21% of Bremer’s nearly 6,900 PPP borrowers across three states had not been existing customers of the bank. “This is definitely a moment in my career I will never forget.”

Crain also created Bremer’s first-ever staff position charged with monitoring and supporting corporate social responsibility.

For the first time, American Banker's Most Powerful Women in Banking celebration is open to the whole financial community. Join us virtually October 6-8 to hear our 2020 honorees' stories and experiences. Register here.

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