In this tiny town about 75 miles southwest of Lincoln, the state capital, it's hard to separate the bank from the community: Bruning is not just the town's moniker, it's also the name of the only bank and its best-known banker.
Frank L. Bruning, president of Bruning State Bank and grandson of a founder of both town and bank, wears about as many hats as there are places in town where his surname is blazoned. But the modest, 71-year-old cattle rancher may be best known for building a complete financial services company from a $3 million-asset bank.
Now holding $76 million of assets, Bruning State Bank has a lock on the local financial services market and a product line that larger banks would drool over, including insurance, securities, and real estate sales.
It is one of a growing number of rural community banks that are adopting the one-stop-shopping model for financial services. By offering customers a smorgasbord of products, the small banks keep their deposits from leaving rural America with the city-bound younger generation.
"All of those products mean we have a better chance of keeping the money in our community," Mr. Bruning said. "I predicted we would be pumping gas out back by now."
Mr. Bruning, known in town as "Banker Frank," has been following an internal expansion strategy since he became president of the bank in 1964. Although his is the only bank in town, competition from the Farm Credit System, agribusiness lenders, and loan officers from other banks who drive into the Bruning market area has heated up in recent years. Meanwhile, Bruning's population has been stagnant, making it necessary to grow primarily by cross-selling to existing customers.
Bruning State Bank has responded with an arsenal of products.
Like many rural Nebraska banks, Bruning State has sold insurance policies since the turn of the century. And after Mr. Bruning took over from his ailing father, it opened a trust department to keep customers from venturing out of town with their trust business.
Mr. Bruning also moved a local real estate agent's office inside the bank building-the closest thing to direct ownership allowed under Nebraska law.
Four years ago, the bank started an investment services department to sell securities to customers, manage individuals' portfolios, and play host to four investment clubs.
Mr. Bruning said he believes it is best to develop products and services in-house rather than contracting out to a third party. Outsourcing, he said, is like giving customers to the competition.
"Your customers get on a mailing list, and that list goes all over," he said.
Bruning State Bank's new products are often the result of staff meetings at which bank employees toss around ideas about what customers may want or need. Mr. Bruning said he collects other ideas at industry conferences and by reading farm and banking publications.
With Bruning State's current product line, the bank is able to better serve the customers most likely to leave it. For example, if a city- dwelling son or daughter inherits a Bruning-area farm, the bank's in-house real estate agent can auction the farm and deposit the proceeds in the bank. Then the investment department can invest the funds in securities.
"You've got to be everything to all people," said Fred Bruning, Frank's son and a bank vice president. "If people know us and trust us, they don't need to go to Lincoln or Omaha with their money." The younger Bruning is being groomed to succeed his father.
And Frank Bruning isn't stopping there. Plans are in the works to expand the trust department to include legal services. He also wants to add a winter educational program for farmers in which outside experts would teach detailed financial planning, the kind Bruning State Bank requires before extending a line of credit.
At the bank's current size and with an ever-expanding product line, Mr. Bruning said he believes it is poised for survival in a rapidly condensing industry.
At stake is the Bruning family legacy, a tradition that the elder Mr. Bruning takes quite seriously. His grandfather founded the 340-resident town with his four brothers, and the Bruning family has been managing the townspeople's money since 1891.
Mr. Bruning, who was a full-time cattle rancher until his family asked him to run the bank, said he will never sell. He and his like-minded sister, Marjorie Dalton, hold the biggest stakes among the bank's 30 shareholders and could block any sale. Mrs. Dalton, a former journalist, doesn't work at the bank.
Family members have also ruled out further expansion through acquisition because they believe Nebraska community banks are overpriced. "It's like buying a farm when land prices are high," Mr. Bruning said.
His strategy appears to be working. The bank's asset size has grown about 25% during the last three years while its customer base has been stable. Bruning State's returns on assets and equity have lagged national averages, however, at 1.14% and 9.36%, respectively, which Mr. Bruning attributes to being overcapitalized. The Brunings believe in holding excess capital because cash saved the bank during the 1980s farming crisis.
"We love that safety net," Mr. Bruning said. "Growth is more important than profits."
Industry observers and fellow bankers say Mr. Bruning is on the right track.
"Frank is the epitome of an old country banker, but he's created a modern bank-a facility other banks in a metropolitan area would envy," said Philip M. Burns, president of Farmers and Merchants National Bank in West Point, Neb.
John M. Blanchfield, associate director of agricultural and small- business banking at the American Bankers Association, agreed.
"On a micro scale, Frank has realized what the megabanks are just realizing-that we have a whole lot of information on a whole lot of customers that we just need to put to better use," he said.
The bank's goal is to have customers buy at least five products each, Mr. Blanchfield said. But aside from knowing each customer's buying habits, the bank doesn't keep track of how many products it sells per customer.
George Beattie, executive vice president of the Nebraska Bankers Association, said he expects more banks to follow in Bruning State's footsteps and rapidly diversify their product lines.
"There's a need for these banks to take care of everything for the community," he said.
Mr. Bruning's successful banking career earned him the first-ever ABA agricultural banking lifetime achievement citation, which was named the Bruning Award in his honor. It is to be given annually; Mr. Bruning was honored at the trade group's annual agricultural banking convention in November.
Mr. Bruning does not like all of the fuss about his banking career and worries that too many laurels may bring bad luck.
"If people say too many good things about you, you sometimes have to turn around and eat crow," he said.