A Publication of WTVP

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 1865, as the Civil War was ending, a small Missouri bank—the Kansas City Savings Association—opened its doors with just $20,000 in capital. Two years earlier, First National Bank had made a similar debut 400 miles to the east in Peoria.

The Missouri bank eventually became Commerce Bank, and many years later, that bank merged with the Peoria bank as it continued to grow. On December 22, 2014, Commerce was named one of the top ten on Forbes’ annual list of America’s Best Banks, for the sixth consecutive year. This year, Commerce also joins an elite group of financial institutions that have reached the ripe old age of 150.

The world, of course, is a much different place than it was in 1865. Even a service as simple as a drive-up window was utterly inconceivable on the automobile-free prairies of the undeveloped Midwest. And yet, a quick look back over Commerce’s history demonstrates how little about the bank’s basic values has changed.

Personal service still matters. Back in the beginning, “personal service” meant a local banker who knew you and your family by name and who could personally attend to your banking needs. The same holds true today. The difference is, today’s consumers don’t necessary want—or need—to come inside a bank building to have their needs met. Newer technologies—think ATM machines and smartphones—conveniently provide the round-the-clock access consumers prefer. Today’s tellers, meanwhile, are evolving into true “personal bankers” who help improve a customer’s banking experience with the array of choices now available to them.

Success depends on a business’ ability to manage risk. Many banks thrive when the economy is robust. It’s how they perform during recessions, depressions and economic crises that separate the strong from the weak. Traditional values, coupled with sound business practices, have enabled Commerce to perform well during good times and bad. After the 2008 recession, for example, we were one of the largest banks in the country to decline TARP funds from the federal government. If we outperform other banks—and national rankings suggest we do—it’s because we know how to navigate safely through storms and rough waters.

Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s challenges. The only constant in life, it’s said, is change. Commerce has outlasted many other banks, not because we jump quickly on the latest business fads, but because we watch for opportunities that other financial institutions miss or downplay. That approach has enabled us to identify niches—such as business payment systems and credit cards—where we can build leadership positions. And once we have them, we refuse to rest on our laurels, constantly seeking better ways to improve on serving customer needs.

Successful businesses grow. It sounds obvious. But the long-term success of a bank, like any business, depends on its ability to grow. The original $20,000 in capital upon which our bank was founded has produced an incredible return. We’ve grown from a single bank in Kansas City to 350 locations in five states, and a payments system that operates nationally. By working with our customers, we’ve helped countless successful businesses grow, including our own. That growth has enabled the bank to raise its regular cash dividend every year for 46 consecutive years.

Successful businesses give back. A bank’s growth is intertwined with the growth of the communities it serves. That is why Commerce has long placed high priority on charitable contributions and volunteer efforts. From our support of the United Way to the hundreds of hours our Peoria employees volunteer each year for organizations like Rebuilding Together and The Salvation Army, we remain committed to contributing wherever we can to our communities’ future health and prosperity.

The knowledge we gain from these experiences is invaluable. It keeps us close to what matters. As we prepare for the next 150 years, we want to continue to be the bank that understands what the community needs. iBi

Brent Eichelberger is Illinois president of Commerce Bank.