A Publication of WTVP

According to State Bank of Speer President and CEO Mike Stahl, the bank was established in April 1902, making it the oldest bank in Stark County. “In 1902, it opened with under $250,000 in assets; today, it’s grown to nearly $100 million in assets. It was one of the first banks to reopen following the Depression, and the main bank is still housed in the building originally built in 1924, along with an addition, which was constructed in 1996. Peoria Banking Center, a branch of State Bank of Speer, opened in November 2002,” he said.

Stahl said the founding vision of the bank in 1902 was to serve the financial needs of the agricultural community in and around Speer, as well as the various businesses. “The vision has expanded to include a larger market area for agricultural, commercial, and consumer business. Our market area extends to all of central Illinois.”

State Bank of Speer offers all types of banking services, said Stahl. “Our goal is to serve our people in the best possible way at a fair, reasonable rate. I might add that we’re quite competitive with all of our deposit and loan products. We offer fast, personal, friendly, efficient service to our people. State Bank of Speer has offered free checking accounts to our customers since the early 1970s. By free, I mean we pay for the printed personalized checks; there are no minimum balances required, no monthly service charges, and no maintenance fees. The larger institutions in the Peoria market are now advertising their free checking products, but read the small print. Our entire staff is involved in offering innovative, new products that will benefit our customers.”

Stahl said the bank has expanded by diversifying its products, as well as its market base. “We can attribute the growth of our business to the fact that people still want personal service. Yes, they want all of the modern banking services, but they want to be known. We get acquainted with all of our people, and we care about them. If they have problems, we want to share their needs and concerns.”

In a competitive market like banking, he said State Bank of Speer stands apart because of its leadership in technology development within the bank. “Our first in-house computer system was purchased in the late 1970s, and last year, we began check imaged statements. We’ll continue to be innovative with all of our banking products.”

Banking has gone through many changes over the years, and Stahl said one of the biggest has been the amount of paperwork involved. “This became evident with the passage of Regulation Z (Truth in Lending). Regulation Z required disclosures on all consumer loans for finance charges and any other related charges. The main thrust for our industry came with 9/11; we’re now inundated with laws that deal with terrorism and privacy. With these new laws also comes the risk of becoming more impersonal and less friendly, but we must look at these laws as a change for the better. These laws are to protect all of the citizens in this country. Also, people must realize that identity theft is becoming quite common, and every action must be taken to curtail this thievery, which can have disastrous effects for the innocent victims.”

He said one misperception he runs into is that many people believe all banks are like the “mega banks.” “This simply isn’t true. Our bank is a part of every community it serves; we know and care about the people we serve. I believe all community banks are good neighbors in the communities they serve. Another big misperception is that our bank is smaller than we actually are. State Bank of Speer has the capacity to offer all of the banking products and services any consumer or commercial account might require, with the exception of trust department services.”

While all companies worry about attracting and retaining the right employees, Stahl said his bank has been fortunate to have very low turnover. “Presently, there are 26 full- and part-time employees between the main bank and the branch here in Peoria. The average tenure of the entire staff is well over 10 years, and we’ve hired six or seven new people in the last three years. I joined the bank in 1967; vice president Steve Leuthold came on board in 1993; cashier Frances Knobloch started her career with us in 1983; and assistant cashier Dolores Cox began her duties in 1982. State Bank of Speer is competitive in its compensation and benefit package it offers employees.”

The most challenging aspect of the banking business is going through a severe economic downturn, Stahl said. “I’ll always remember the ag crisis of the early 1980s; there were many sleepless nights for me, as I was greatly concerned about many of my farm customers. The most rewarding aspect of this business, however, is to help someone start a business and become very successful through hard work. Over the years, I’ve sounded like a broken record to prospective business owners when I tell them they can make money if they’re willing to make sacrifices and do a lot of the work themselves. If they sacrifice and really work, they can be successes.”

When people hear “State Bank of Speer,” many may not realize that Peoria has direct access to the bank. “I want our Peoria friends to know we’re there to serve their financial needs,” Stahl said. “Come to see us at the Peoria Banking Center, and you’ll have a memorable banking experience.” IBI