Robert DeMeulenaere, president of Brenton Banks Inc., has seen the future of banking, and he's worried.
That's why he's moving quickly to reshape the Des Moines-based Brenton into a sales-oriented institution, in what he says is the most dramatic change undertaken at the company since it was formed 113 years ago.
"I think it's a mistake for a bank in any size community to think they can avoid this" change, said Mr. DeMeulenaere, who was named president of the $1.5 billion-asset Brenton a year ago. "As you look at our industry, at our bank, we are more dependent on fee income. If we don't (sell better), it will move away from us. We can't continue at the same pace."
Mr. DeMeulenaere's goal is to improve sales efforts at its 44 locations amid increasing bank and nonbank competition over fee income products and services.
Over the years, Brenton has met with some success in its efforts to sell new products and services, such as investment brokerage, trust, mortgage, insurance, cash management, and 401(k).
But under Mr. DeMeulenaere the transformation to a sales culture will be felt throughout the company. For instance, Mr. DeMeulenaere wants to add 45 people to its 30-person brokerage sales staff over the next three years. The bank also plans to improve its sales incentive program to encourage employees to sell more products.
One of the most sweeping changes is the plan to merge 13 separately chartered banks into a $1.47 billion-asset bank. The move will create the second-largest bank in Iowa and it is expected to save the company about $2.5 million, Mr. DeMeulenaere said.
But Mr. DeMeulenaere said money isn't the company's main motivation for the merger.
"It's easier to change a culture if you're all together," he said. "I would have made that decision without cost savings. I truly believe it is the best way to manage our company."
The merger, which is subject to regulatory approval, should be complete in six to nine months, he said.
Savings would come from improved margins from operating as one entity and standardizing a number of operations such as check processing that now are performed 13 different ways, he said. Brenton also should see regulatory and organization membership savings as one bank.
"I view the consolidation as very positive," said Gregory R. Gersack, an assistant vice president at Howe Barnes Investments Inc., Chicago. "I don't see how they could go wrong."
He said Brenton's stock has been undervalued because the company isn't viewed as a takeover candidate: Insiders own 33% of the company, and they are committed to keeping it independent. However, the changes may make it more attractive to investors, he said.
In the reorganization, individual bank presidents will retain their titles and decision-making authority. And boards of directors will continue as advisory boards.
The reorganization is seen as a boon to the presidents, who will be able to reduce the amount of time they spend attending to examiners and other day-to-day operational activities.
Mr. DeMeulenaere expects the presidents to double the amount of time they spend calling on customers. Currently, they are spending about 25% of their time in this endeavor.
Mr. Gersack, who is a former examiner, said examinations can sidetrack a bank president from daily duties.
"This will allow those people to continue to focus on the bottom line."
Job cuts relating to the consolidation are not yet known, Mr. DeMeulenaere said.
In addition to reducing reporting and regulatory activities, switching to one bank charter also will let customers use all Brenton bank locations, which they previously could not do by law.
Brenton's back-room operations won't be affected by the reorganization because they were consolidated about a year and a half ago. The bank names will also remain the same, said Catherine Reed, vice president and marketing director.
The company's Brenton Savings Bank, Ames, will remain separate because of branching opportunities available to savings banks in Iowa.