Jeff Newgard celebrated in July his four-year anniversary as president and CEO of Bank of Idaho.
Founded in 1985 by a group of area businessmen "who saw far too many mergers and acquisitions in that era," Bank of Idaho is a community bank, committed to small business owners, Newgard said.
Newgard, 47, of Idaho Falls, who grew up working at his family's small service station in Polson, Montana, is continuing the founders' vision for Bank of Idaho. He calls small business owners "the true heroes among us."
Newgard credits his upbringing for fostering his modern-day commitment to small business.
"It was hard work, but I loved it then, and I love it now," he said. "I find myself in a different position today where I can actually help the same types of small business that I grew up being a part of to be successful; to grow and thrive according to their own goals and aspirations."
Headquartered in Idaho Falls, Bank of Idaho has grown to nearly a dozen branches and offices within Idaho, from Ashton to Boise.
"That initial philosophy continues to permeate our culture today," Newgard said. "We love the work we do; so much so that we added a heart to our logo with a branding update back in 2015."
Newgard was interviewed by the East Idaho Business Journal via email about serving eastern Idaho customers, including individuals and businesses, and some of the challenges they face.
East Idaho Business Journal: What do eastern Idahoans look for in a local bank?
Jeff Newgard: I think getting personal care and service, and knowing that someone has your back at the end of the day is something we all look for. We make every effort to make sure our customers know we care and we are here to help them succeed. Again, for us, it’s all about the heart in our logo.
EIBJ: Bank of Idaho is both a business and a tool for other businesses. Wearing those two hats, what is your vision for the company's role in the community?
JN: Our tagline is “Committed to Community.” It’s not just lip service for us. We are big supporters of the arts, educational advancement and literally dozens of nonprofits and charities around the state. We are expected to be good corporate stewards, and we strive consistently to be just that.
But, you are correct in stating that we are a business as well, so we have an obligation to take care of our employees and our shareholders. The two hats are not always easy to wear at the same time, but I think we do a pretty good job of it. We will continue to support many worthy causes in the communities we serve. I wish we could do something for all of them, but that just isn’t realistic. But we see education and the arts as vital to the prosperity of our communities, and because of that, we will always work to support programs that fit into those categories, first and foremost.
EIBJ: How does Bank of Idaho's success impact the small business community at large?
JN: If we are successful, it is because our customers are finding success as well. This is kind of a “chicken or the egg” situation. We cannot succeed unless our customers succeed. But when things align and we see growth and success, it means we are able to get out there and make more great things happen for other businesses, which keeps the circle going. And that is exactly why I love doing this job.
EIBJ: What challenges do small businesses face in terms of financial security, and how does Bank of Idaho help businesses meet those challenges?
JN: As a bank, we want to support our customers and help them succeed. Small business owners have faced more than a few uphill battles. From challenging agricultural economies and low commodity prices, to the collapse of the building and trades, still fresh in our minds, challenges never seem to be lacking. As a bank, we see that, and because we are a local community bank, we understand it better, because we are living it right along with them.
Really, it all comes down to education for all of us. Bank of Idaho has tools to help business owners map their own success. We have experienced lenders who have ridden the cyclical wave of the economy more than once. And we stand at the ready to deploy the tools we have. Our goal is to keep businesses away from the line that crosses them into troubled territory. Our philosophy is the best defense against trouble is to have a strong defense before there is trouble.
EIBJ: What challenges do individuals face?
JN: Consumers are not unlike small businesses in the financial challenges they face. But the thing we seem to be seeing way too much of is debt. In a strong economy, it’s easy to justify using the credit card for a purchase that might be just out of reach. My advice: Don’t give in to the temptation!
When things turn, as we know they eventually will, and things get tougher, the people saddled with excessive debt always seem to suffer the most. That may not be something you would expect to hear from a banker, but honestly, we want our customers to experience true financial fitness. And we want to help our customers achieve their goals. It’s a lot more fun for us to help manage a customer’s wealth, so we focus on ways to help our customers set and achieve goals to better their own situation. If we can do that, we have hopefully gained a customer for life. For us, that kind of loyalty means something.
EIBJ: Banks today seem to be grappling with consumer preferences moving online. Some banks are closing branches and focusing on digital banking tools. How do you approach banking in the digital age?
JN: We see some migration to digital platforms, but not what some of the big banks have experienced. I think it speaks to the types of customers we have. We work well with clients who appreciate some face-time with their banker. Small business owners really do appreciate knowing that their banker knows them and understands their business. Personal service in our realm is still very much alive and well.
Now, that’s not to say that we ignore the digital sphere. To do so would be detrimental to our continued existence. So we make sure we offer these channels as well. And, for us, the element tied in to this that is of greatest importance is the security of our customer and their personal financial information. While not a cheap endeavor, we believe it is worth the cost to take aggressive steps to protect the information with which we have been entrusted.
Regarding bank closures? For us, no way. We are growing and expanding. We are looking for opportunities to extend our footprint. We recently opened up over in Boise, and we’ve seen great success there already. We will continue to seek out other opportunities and leverage some of the disruption in the market caused by other banks doing the merger and branch closure thing. But our intention is to keep growing, for sure.