A Teacher Turned Banker

By Brian Nixon

After Stan Jenks graduated from Western Illinois University, he became a teacher, a profession that the Monmouth, Ill., native was quite happy to pursue.

A year later, when Security Savings Bank, also based in Monmouth, came calling with a job opportunity, he decided to give banking a chance. The year was 1976 and since then, Jenks and Security Savings Bank haven’t looked back.

The mutual institution, which has $185 million in assets and two offices, has grown steadily, including shifting from operating as a traditional building and loan association (it was founded in 1882) to one more focused on commercial lending with an agricultural focus. The institution also formed a mutual holding company in the event that an expansion opportunity presented itself.

The institution’s leaders—including Jenks, who grew up on a farm, and a majority of board members who were farmers or owners or operators of agribusinesses—supported a strategic move into ag lending in the 1980s and ’90s. “Things went a little faster than we had originally projected,” Jenks recalls. “So, our ag lending grew really well. We were careful, of course, in the credits we were taking on. That has worked very well for us.”

It’s a story of a community bank adapting to meet the needs of its customers and community, one that Jenks is happy to tell as chairman of ABA’s Government Relations Council. The story is nearly universal, reflective of America’s diverse banking system and a powerful way to connect the dots of political advocacy—both legislative and regulatory—for lawmakers and policymakers.

Think of Jenks’ term as the GRC chairman as a gigantic teachable moment.

“There is a teaching aspect to banking,” he says. “It’s wanting the student, or the consumer if you will, to fully understand what they’re asking for and what product best fits their needs. You have to enjoy working with people and you’re trying to help them make good decisions and be better informed.”

In Washington, and with political advocacy, education is also key: “It’s about what is important for legislators to understand about our banks—how banks fit in to our diverse economy,” says Jenks. “Banks are extremely important in getting the economy rolling and getting the economy going. Political engagement is a conversation. It’s about drawing that legislator out. What’s important for us should be important to their constituents. That’s why they are there.”

Security Savings is based in Illinois’ 17th congressional district, which includes the state’s half of the Quad Cities and is served by three-term Rep. Cheri Bustos (D). When Bustos—who currently serves on the House Agriculture Committee, was first elected in 2010, Jenks contacted her office and invited her to come visit the bank. She did, along with one of her staffers.

“Cheri was extremely open and receptive and asked some great questions,” says Jenks of that first visit. “The in-bank visit works. She’s always been available. When we call, she knows who we are. We don’t see eye to eye on every issue and we understand that. We just want to have that conversation.”

Those conversations and relationships are critical for the banking industry to advance its advocacy priorities (see The Time is Now) during the 115th Congress. Jenks is optimistic, but it’s up to bankers across the nation in every state and congressional district to take an active part in the industry’s political advocacy. “There are opportunities,” Jenks says, “but we have to be smart about how we go about it. It’s not wise for us to call for repeal of Dodd-Frank or the dismantling of the CFPB. We want to focus on the changes that can be made within those constructs to make banking more relevant. We’re being very positive in our approach. We know the election was a little different from what many people expected. We have an opportunity to pursue some things that might not have been there before.”

With that said, “We need to be engaged,” he emphaszies. One example, he adds: “We need to bring more people to Washington for our Government Relations Summit in March.”

Linda Koch, president and CEO of the Illinois Bankers Association, says Jenks leads by example in advocating for all banks. “Stan is the perfect choice to lead ABA’s Government Relations Council,” she says. “He is a very active and engaged member of our IBA Board of Directors, and we have appreciated his keen insight and expertise on the many important issues affecting the banking industry and the customers it serves. I’ve come to know him well through the years and truly value his thoughtful leadership and genuine concern for his community and the banking industry.”

As an ag lender—60 percent of Security Savings’ portfolio is in ag-related loans—Jenks also feels the pinch of the tax-advantaged competition from the Farm Credit System and the tilted playing field that needs to be corrected.

“Farm Credit is very strong in our community,” he says. “We have a lot of our customers who come to us and say they’ve been offered a low rate from Farm Credit. Many times we have to say ‘good for you’ because our customers can’t pass it up. At the end of the day, they’re running their business and they’ve got to make the best decision for their operation. Others are willing to overlook the Farm Credit advantage and stick with us.”

Jenks sees similarities between the farming community and the banking industry. “I liken farmers to bankers,” he says. “Farmers just want to farm, to grow food. That’s what they do. Farmers also have understood that they need to get out front and tell their story. I see that with bankers. We need to tell our story. We need to be engaged. We are the face of banking.”

In some respects, he adds, bankers need to overcome their innate politeness and reluctance to be perceived as bragging about what they do. “There is a right way to tell that story and explain that what we do is a good thing,” Jenks says.

“It’s important for us to be engaged and to protect our legacy and industry,” he adds. “No one else can do what we do. We are a part of our communities. That’s an important message and something that we need to continue to tell.”