Growing up in Kansas, the state of sunflowers and bison, Brent Eichelberger found his career calling immediately after college in the River City. After quickly developing a strong interest in commercial credit analysis, he returned to college and earned his Master’s of Business Administration from Bradley University. Over the next 20 years, the father of four worked up the management ranks to become the current president of the Peoria area Commerce Bank. But he doesn’t just deposit his success in the banking industry, he’s a strong believer in fostering community outreach and serves on the board of a number of not-for-profit organizations including the Economic Development Council for the Peoria Area, Peoria Civic Federation, American Red Cross and W.D Boyce Council Boy Scouts. He also volunteers for the committees of the Illinois Bankers Association, Easter Seals and the Institute of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Eichelberger, his wife Renee and their four children live in rural Tazewell County.
Tell about your background, schools attended, family, etc.
I grew up in a small community near Wichita, Kansas, met my wife-to-be (native of the Peoria area) at college in Kansas, and was offered my first job as a commercial banking credit analyst here in Peoria upon graduation. After a few years on the job and a strong interest in leadership and management, I decided to go back to school, and earned my MBA from Bradley University. I’ve been in the Peoria area 20 years now.
My father taught me the importance of a strong work ethic while I worked with him in a family-owned construction company during summers from middle school through college. I am thankful my parents also helped instill in me the importance of my faith, and fundamental values like being involved in your community and treating others like you want to be treated.
My wife Renee and I have four children, and we thoroughly enjoy spending time as a family and attending all of their activities, including sports, music, dance and various school and church activities.
Describe your career path leading to president of the Peoria area Commerce Bank.
I’ve been in the banking industry 20 years. My early years in the bank were focused in commercial credit analysis and eventually management roles in that area. I believe these roles ultimately helped equip me with the skills and experience to take a more consultative approach regarding business clients’ banking needs. Various sales, sales management and bank management roles followed, working with business clients from small family-owned firms to large publicly-traded companies.
I am motivated each day by the opportunity to work with so many talented people, both clients and the team at Commerce, in an effort to reach mutually beneficial goals. I feel very fortunate to have had some great mentors along the way in my career, and certainly look for opportunities to return that favor to others.
Did you originally want to get involved in the financial field?
Yes. However, while the technical aspects of finance have always been of strong interest to me, the most appealing aspect of what I do is working with people—our clients, my team and the community. Banking is very much a relationship business, and I enjoy that opportunity to interact each day with so many people in an effort to make a difference.
Explain how the banking industry has changed in the past 10 years.
Some of the primary areas have been consolidation, technology, regulation and competition. There are some 9,000 bank and thrift institutions in the U.S. today, down from about 13,000 just 10 years ago, and the FDIC projects this number to continue to decline over the next five years principally in the smaller bank segment. At the same time the number of commercial banks declined by one-third, the average asset size nearly doubled as banks acclimated themselves to deregulation, technological change and new market pressures. Currently, the 50 largest bank holding companies maintain approximately 68 percent of all commercial bank assets compared to 55 percent in 1990. Factors driving mergers and consolidations include increased efficiencies, the desire to leverage technology, changing laws/regulations, diversification and product offerings. While regulation is certainly required to maintain the safety and soundness of the industry, the current price tag for all banks combined to comply is around $40 billion each year. As this figure continues to grow, this certainly puts more pressure on the cost of doing business. Technology investments of banks are trending away from short-term cost reduction toward more strategic investments— sophisticated product solutions which deliver more value to clients and increased returns to the bank.
The trend with larger banks seems to be Internet or automated banking, while smaller banks tend to promote the personal banker. How do you describe Commerce’s approach to recruiting new clients? What is unique to Commerce Bank?
With the strength of a 140-year track record, Commerce is quite uniquely a “Super-Community” bank—l arge enough to offer the sophisticated products, service and technology of a large, national bank, while maintaining the personal commitment and dedication of a community bank, including local management and decision making. This way of doing business truly sets us apart. In addition to our full-service retail branches throughout the area, all key business lines are staffed with local teams right here in Peoria, including Trust & Investment Management, Commercial, Treasury Services, Private Banking, Brokerage & Capital Markets, Small Business, Merchant Services and Mortgage Services.
Our customer promise—Ask, Listen and Solve—summarizes the bank’s service philosophy. This means utilizing an experienced team of local bankers to understand our clients’ needs, and be able to offer ideas and solutions to help them achieve their goals. Furthermore, our local Advisory Board of Directors is made up of community and business leaders, which is an integral part of our knowledge of and commitment to the Tri-County area. The principles of accountability—both internal and external—have been a driving focus for our entire company, and something we refer to as the “One Commerce” approach speaks to our team approach to building relationships with our clients. Employee engagement and customer satisfaction are two critically important metrics that we measure regularly and take very seriously. In fact, in terms of our key corporate goals, these represent two of the four major metrics we review closely at Commerce.
As a last point on differentiation, early this year, Commerce Bank was just recently ranked #2 in the U.S. among the Top 150 publicly traded bank companies in Bank Director magazine’s 2006 Bank Performance Scorecard. The ranking measures each institution across three important categories—capital adequacy, profitability and asset quality for the period from June 2005 to June 2006. We were thrilled to be recognized as a leading bank in the U.S. for strength, performance and soundness.
You are very involved in the community. What is the philosophy of Commerce Bank in regards to community outreach programs?
Commerce goes beyond offering financial advice and services to consumers. Our employees support numerous organizations and initiatives in an effort to give back to our communities where we live and work. Community involvement is deeply embedded in our culture at Commerce Bank, and we believe that the vitality of our banking business goes hand-in-hand with this involvement. We actually have a formal Community Service Committee here at the bank, and this group is actively involved in events and fundraising with our employees and the public for the benefit of local area charitable organizations. A recent example of this committee’s work is the creation of a special cookbook of employee recipes. Hundreds of these cookbooks will be sold with 100 percent of the proceeds going to a local not-for-profit organization to assist in community outreach.
Community involvement is a personal commitment for me, and I am presently serving on the boards of the Economic Development Council for the Peoria Area, Peoria Civic Federation, American Red Cross and W.D Boyce Council Boy Scouts. I also serve on committees for the Illinois Bankers Association, Easter Seals and Institute of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.
Commerce has been building branch banks in the area. Are there plans for further expansion?
Yes. Our newest full-service branch at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie is proving to be a great investment in the growing northwest side of Peoria, and we will continue to look for opportunities to expand our delivery channels not only here in the Peoria area, but in the greater central Illinois area. We entered the Champaign market this year and plan to open our new full-service branch there in February 2007. In Bloomington, we plan to open another new full-service branch in 2007. Thereafter, we are looking at options to expand our branch presence locally in Tazewell County and also in markets like Springfield.
How do banks compete in the same territory for their clients? How do you stay abreast of the competition?
This answer is probably not too different from any other service industry—we must differentiate our organization and people, and represent the best overall value to our clients and prospective clients. Our value proposition was outlined above in an earlier response. While we stay attuned to what the competition is doing, our driving focus remains on our clients—listening to and understanding their needs, and following with the development and delivery of leading solutions.
We are constantly warned to take precautions against identity theft. What does Commerce do to ensure security?
Client trust and confidence are vitally important to Commerce, and we take the security of accounts very seriously. We maintain stringent privacy and security policies that are designed to guard sensitive client data, which include the following:
• We have a formal program in place to maintain physical, electronic and/or procedural safeguards that comply with federal standards.
• We actively monitor accounts for potential fraud and employ fraud detection software to review account transactions. These systems are working 24/7.
• Information of the highest sensitivity is strictly limited to only a few individuals and its access is monitored and documented annually to ensure security measures are in place and operating as intended.
• We require that all third-party vendors conform to our strict policies and procedures.
We believe educating the consumer is important, and would offer a few simple suggestions to help you safeguard your identity: Memorize your PIN—never write it down; keep your wallet, cards, and personal information close at hand; never give out personal information such as your Social Security number, any credit or debit card, or account information to unsolicited callers, and only conduct business with reputable firms. Make a separate, secure record of all account numbers and contact information for easy reference if a card is lost; shred sensitive documents when discarding them; and review transaction activity regularly on your monthly statements or through online banking.
How do you see the future of banking in the next decade? Paperless? Kiosks on every block, etc?
As trends and forecasts have come and gone, the U.S. consumer continues to tell our industry they want the convenience of multiple delivery channels—branches, ATMs, Internet banking and telephone banking. According to Gallup/American Banker, the following is a breakdown of Americans’ favorite way to do their banking: Traditional Branch—34 percent, Drive-thru Teller—24 percent, Branch ATM—21 percent, Online—17 percent and In-Store Branch—4 percent. The nearly 90,000 bank and thrift “branches” in the U.S. today represent a number that has increased almost every year since 1993, in spite of the fact that the number of banks has declined through mergers and consolidation. Interestingly, there are nearly four times more deposit-taking institutions in the United States than in the 15 nations of the European Union, Switzerland, Canada and Japan combined. Almost 400,000 ATMs exist in the U.S. today, up from 120,000 only 10 years ago. I believe these national trends reflect the trends here in central Illinois.
Today there are many more touchpoints and opportunities to interact with your bank—branch, ATM, cards, phone and online banking. As a client-driven company, Commerce will continue to develop and invest in new delivery channels. At the same time, Commerce will continue to place absolute priority on personal relationships and local, experienced bankers serving our clients.
How does the local economy affect deposits at Commerce?
It has a direct impact. Our success is dependent upon the success of this community and the strength of the local economy. As a result, we have a vested interest in all key issues impacting Peoria. Our response is to remain actively involved—personally and corporately, both with time and resources.
On this topic, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the current strength of our local economy, and significant opportunities we have to continue to position our community for the future. Investment in new infrastructure in the area is at an unprecedented high, with over $2 billion of major public and private projects either underway or in the planning phase. This investment will continue to enhance quality of life issues in the Peoria area as we retain and grow our workforce. Peoria’s “brand” is absolutely on the move and a transformation is underway!
What would you like our readers to know that hasn’t been asked?
While banking is a very competitive industry like so many others, there are certainly opportunities for the banks here in the Tri-County area to work together on projects to spur economic development, and we do. Without naming specific projects, there are some very visible improvements and enhancements to the community that required a group of banks for the financing to happen—and Commerce is proud to participate.
What is a commonly held misperception among the public regarding the banking industry?
Banks are all the same. While money certainly is a commodity, relationship management and the resources that are brought to bear are in fact not the same. Experience, technology, capacity and local commitment/resources set Commerce and our team apart.
At Commerce, we get to know you. We ask the right questions, listen carefully to understand your specific needs and then provide the appropriate financial solutions to meet your needs. It’s called Ask, Listen and Solve, and it’s our customer promise. IBI