Tim Marshall’s Formula for Growth

By Karen M. Kroll

Bank of Ann Arbor has enjoyed a near-doubling of deposits in the past seven years—and since 2010 its average annual income growth has topped 22%. Tim Marshall, president and chief executive officer, credits the strong performance to the institution’s experienced, growth-oriented employees, its sustained focus on credit quality, and its commitment to the community. “There’s rarely a community event without some level of engagement from Bank of Ann Arbor,” he said.

This isn’t Marshall’s first time leading a financial institution through a period of high growth. In 1994, he joined Salin Bank, a privately held bank in Indiana with about $240 million in assets. While that could be considered a reasonable size for an institution located primarily in rural areas, Marshall saw opportunity. He charted a growth path that included entering some of the state’s larger markets, like Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. When Marshall left in 2004, the bank’s assets were nearing $1 billion. “It was a great run,” he said.

And a great track record, we might add. We wanted to know what his secret was. Turns out all we had to do is ask.

Moving to the front of the house.

Marshall came to banking after deciding the math and computer science degree he’d been working toward at Purdue University would lead him toward back room positions. “My personality is more front of the house,” he said.

He transferred to Purdue’s Krannert School of Management with a goal of getting into technical sales. “I had a tech background, and loved people and sales,” Marshall said. At graduation, he landed seven offers.

Five came from banks. The field had captured his attention while he was a student and working at the Lafayette Country Club in Lafayette, Indiana, where a banker took him under his wing. “It really meant a lot to me and opened my eyes to the banking industry,” Marshall explained.

Moreover, Marshall was graduating just as the banking industry was shifting to a more sales-oriented approach. He took a job with a community bank, later purchased by Bank One. It paid the least, but offered creativity and was “moving down the path of incorporating sales and sales planning into their institution much more quickly than others,” he said.

Focusing on credit quality, careful branding, and intense community involvement.

When Marshall joined Bank of Ann Arbor in 2004, it held $350 million in assets. He set about attracting motivated, sharp individuals interested in joining a growth-oriented institution. “We’ve created a bank in which, as I like to say, ‘We work hard, do our best, and have fun,’” he said.

The bank’s focus on credit quality has helped it survive and thrive, even through the recent recession. Management continually fine-tunes its loan portfolio and watches for concentrations of credit. “Banks that lose sight of portfolio concentration tend to perform worse during downturns,” he explained.

Bank of Ann Arbor’s branding campaign is another point of differentiation. Its ads never include pictures of bankers, products, or interest rates, Marshall told us. “We’ll never say, ‘we’re a local bank,’ and we’ll never say how great and seasoned we are.”

Instead, the messages focus on the community. Sonic Lunch, Bank of Ann Arbor’s famed summer concert series, is just one of the hundreds of organizations—from Adopt-a-Refugee to the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra—to which the bank provides volunteer hours and/or financial support.

“I don’t know of any locally-owned bank that’s so generous to so many nonprofit organizations,” said Kenneth C. Fischer, president of the University Musical Society (UMS). Housed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, UMS is one of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country. “They’re not just generous, but deeply engaged,” he added.

Marshall appreciates the role both the arts and economic development play in the community, Fischer said, noting that the arts are a $100 million industry in Ann Arbor, a city of just 114,000 residents. “He recognizes that the arts aren’t a frill or afterthought.”

Under Marshall’s leadership, Bank of Ann Arbor was a founding member of Ann Arbor SPARK, an economic development agency that assisted more than 1,800 businesses in 2015. “Having an organization that helps create GDP and employment makes the community a better place to live, work, and play,” Marshall said. He’s also a board member with the Washtenaw County Shelter Association, which is dedicated to ending homelessness one person at a time.

#BankofAnnArbor has a #SocialCEO.

Marshall also is leading the bank in using social media to create a community. In 2016, Bank of Ann Arbor earned more than 48,000 followers or likes. In 2014, its tweet about remaining open on Columbus Day—which cheekily noted that Columbus is, after all, located in Ohio, Michigan’s cross-border rival—earned more than four million impressions. “Our whole branding campaign has really created a niche for us, a real point of differentiation,” he said.

Of course, encouraging employees to use social media, especially in an industry as heavily regulated as financial services, poses risks. While the bank doesn’t try to manage employees’ personal accounts, it does “manage the connection to the bank,” Marshall said. Employees who link to bank colleagues and customers are expected to maintain a level of professionalism.

By encouraging both participation and professionalism, Bank of Ann Arbor has been able to harness social media as another tool to sustain its growth. “I think new technology is critically important to the future of our industry,” Marshall said. “The future isn’t great for institutions trying to operate like 1980s banking institutions.”

Karen M. Kroll is a business and financial services writer and content marketer based in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Email: [email protected].