Rewarding Empowerment Efforts

By Laine Crosby

When Ben Joergens was in college, he wanted to be a teacher. He always put a high priority on education in his life, and on giving back to the community. He began working as a teller at Old National Bank and learned that the bank’s CEO Bob Jones put a high priority on giving back to the community also. Upon graduation, Ben received a job offer from the bank, and while it was not in the role of teacher, Ben knew he loved working with the bank, and he accepted the position.

Ben continued working in various roles and giving back to the community whenever possible, and in 2013, Jones asked Ben to assume the role of the bank’s financial empowerment officer. The role was not one that existed 20 years ago; however, with increasing technology, new ways of committing fraud, and a lack of financial education in schools, there is an increasing need today for financial education. Banks are in a good position to teach financial literacy while in the process of learning about their customers’ financial needs.

Ben was a shoo-in for this new position based on his long record of philanthropic involvement, leadership with charitable organizations, and work on financial empowerment initiatives. “I always wanted to be a teacher, but I loved working with the bank. Now I get the best of both worlds,” Joergens says, “Education does something good for people. It helps them feel good about themselves and financial education helps put money back into our own communities.”

When Joergens first became the empowerment officer, he felt like he had the chance to do something unique. Joergens had met someone who needed financial help in the Henderson County Detention Center, and one of his first initiatives became a program called “12 Steps for Financial Success” which became part of the Henderson County Detention Center’s Substance Abuse Program.  Read more about this program.

With an eye toward giving nonviolent offenders the tools they need to avoid reincarceration, Joergens custom-developed the “12 Steps to Financial Success” financial literacy program for female inmates who have been incarcerated for substance-abuse crimes. At the center of the program are money management classes that he teaches. Through this program, Joergens serves as a trusted source and empowers participants to make financial and personal changes in their lives. Thus far, more than 150 inmates have completed the program, and several have shared emotional testimony about how the program has changed their lives.

“Seeing the women cry when they finish the program, really hit me,” Joergens says. “They learn and it sticks with them, and they are so proud of themselves. . . I love my job; giving them guidance and support; helping them along the way. That’s what motivates me to go to work.”

In his role as, Joergens is responsible for managing and enhancing Old National’s financial literacy initiatives and help to create more sustainable communities through partnerships with schools, colleges and universities, businesses, and nonprofit and government agencies. By implementing financial empowerment programs––most of which he custom-creates for the audience––he leads the bank’s efforts to enhance the lives and empower the futures of individuals and families throughout Indiana, Southern Illinois, Western Kentucky and Central and Western Michigan.

Joergens has partnered with 27 nonprofit and educational organizations to make 144 financial education presentations to over 5,000 individuals this year alone. In addition, he has touched hundreds of individuals throughout the area Old National serves through additional programs and services including:

  • Evansville’s local high schools during 2014.
  • Basics of Banking Programs at the Salvation Army.
  • Basics of Banking Programs through Alcohol Recovery Centers.
  • Summer Youth Employment Programs: The importance of committing to automatic savings through payroll deduction while working in high school.• Pre-Kindergarten Students were taught the Basics of Money and Saving.
  • Kentucky Wesleyan College: Basics of Banking (Freshmen Orientation).
  • Churches Embracing Offenders incorporated the Basics of Banking into their recovery program.

The ABA recognized Ben Joergens with the 2015 George Bailey Individual Distinguished Service Award. This award was created by the ABA Foundation to recognize a banker who demonstrates outstanding initiative, effectiveness and inspiration to others. It was named after the character of George Bailey, memorably played by Jimmy Stewart in the movie classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The award seems apt for Joergens, who has the enthusiasm of George, and much better luck (and financial skills) in his banking career.

Laine Crosby is the editor of ABA Bank Compliance magazine.