Tag Archives: banking

Banking on Relationships

February 12, 2015 by

You may have noticed FW Bank’s recent media campaign. Throughout the year the bank has run ads featuring their business customers who express appreciation for how the bank has helped them reach their goals.

Intrigued by the campaign in the context of this B4B column, I reached out to CEO Chris Murphy to inquire about the bank’s philosophy in this realm. “It seems logical that your banker is the one who should be for you,” he says. “But it’s amazing to me how many of our business banking customers first come to us because they just weren’t feeling valued by their bank. Not only are we the perfect size to get to know our customers on a personal level, we make it our business to do so. We are built around a service philosophy that inspires us to embrace our customers’ goals and do all we can to help them achieve them.”

FW Bank cut its teeth in the business as First Westroads Bank in 1967. Murphy says it is the bank’s history and heritage of serving the greater Omaha community that keeps them grounded in being for the businesses they serve. “We realized long ago that our strength would be in helping others be strong and grow in this community. It’s the old aphorism, ‘high tides raise all boats,’ and when business wins in Omaha, we all win,” he adds.

By all counts FW Bank’s customers are in the boat. Their comments range from, “It’s more than the best rate. It’s about the best relationship” to “They work hard to find solutions for our needs.” “Our companies grew up together. We care about the same things,” another customer professed.

Everyone wants an advocate in business and in life. Businesses being for other businesses is something beyond the technical, the specifications, the contracts. It’s visceral, meaningful, and garners results.

If you’re ready to tell your B4B story, contact B2B editor Robert Nelson and we’ll get you on the docket.

Wendy Wiseman is creative director at Zaiss & Company, a customer-based planning and communications firm. What’s your B4B story at your company?  Let us hear from you and you may be our next feature. Contact our editor, robert@omahamagazine.com

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The Reality of the American Dream

March 25, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The apartment’s living room is warm. Blankets are on the couches, an old TV is playing cartoons, and 5-year-old Hana is mimicking the enthusiastic English of the monkey onscreen. Her grandmother, Zinab Abdelmote, watches from the couch, quiet and smiling.

Amna Hussein tells her daughter to lower the sound. “Zuza!” she calls her by nickname. Amna sets down a silver tray with one glass of juice. “From Egypt,” she says, gesturing to the delicate tray. Dinner, she says, is cooking.

She’s experiencing her first full winter in Omaha. She arrived in February 2013, after a circuitous route from her home country of Sudan that spans several years. Six of those were spent in a refugee camp in Egypt. Though Amna lives in a small apartment with Hana, her mother, Zinab, and her younger sister Elham, three of her siblings are still in Egypt. Two sisters, Najwa and Suzan, live close by in Omaha. Two other siblings are in Libya, two are missing in Darfur, and the eldest is living in the U.K.

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There were 16 of them once upon a time. Amna laughs at the shock the number incites. “How did she do it?” she asks, gesturing at Zinab.

Amna is obviously proud of her mother. She, Najwa, and Elham take turns watching out for Zinab throughout the day. Her heart is bad, she has kidney problems, and high blood pressure. Her current dream, Amna translates, is to learn English. “Her willingness to study has stayed with her to this moment.”

Zinab’s daughters living in Omaha are already deep into studies at Metro Community College: a few hours a day of ESL, per the requirement to receive temporary aid for needy families (TANF). Their knowledge quickly outgrew the English classes provided by Southern Sudan Community Association, where they still receive some case management.

“We’re comparable to Lutheran Family Services,” says Marni Newell, SSCA program coordinator. “Just a lot smaller.” Newell explains that as a federal resettlement facility, they have 90 days to offer in-depth information on a wide variety of complex topics: Medicaid, food stamps, banking, job searching, English classes, cultural orientation, and driver’s ed. Other assistance includes helping to apply for relatives’ resettlement, applying  >for citizenship, and demonstrating how to ride the bus.

Amna reflects on how much she’s learned just in the year she’s been in Omaha. She and Elham entered the U.S. through Miami. The use of Spanish everywhere in the airport threw her off. “I asked a caseworker, are we really in America?” Amna recalls. She can laugh about it now. After a stop in Washington, D.C., the sisters arrived in Omaha. “I was thinking…I have been to small villages before but…” She chuckles again.

But she says, “Omaha’s like a land of knowledge. A land of peace. It’s a friend to all refugees to find a right beginning for their life. To resettle correctly, this is the right beginning. Leave the dreams for a while. Then later on, you can go.”

Elham sets down a plate of beans with tomato paste and spices, some thin bread, and two slices of American cheese. Amna excuses herself to get Hana her dinner.

Elham’s English is only slightly less fluent than Amna’s, but the confidence is there.

“Refugees see America as a dream,” Elham says. “But when they start their life, they face real problems. Many become, like, lost. Because their families back in the refugee camp think they will send money. And people in refugee camps think life in America is very easy. You can find money and jobs anywhere. But since February [2013], I haven’t got a job. I’ve interviewed many, many places.”

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It’s a difficult life—going to school, finding work. “Najwa,” Elham says, referring to her elder sister who lives with three grade-school children, “is father, mother…everything. Here, you have friends to help you with these things.” But if you’re new to the country, she says, who do you have? She shrugs. “You can’t get a car without a job. And you can’t have a job without a car.”

Amna returns, saying it’s time to have tea. Her conversation is gentler than Elham’s as she stands over the stove, but she mirrors her younger sister’s opinions.

For example, she’s learning how to drive, but money has a lot of other places to go first. “At the beginning when we came,” Amna explains, “the organization does it for us. But three months is not enough. After three months, they require us to find a job. Some people can’t start school for two years because they’re running here and there to support the family. Even now, for me to go to a job and to school, it’s a problem.”

Still, she says she hopes to start work at Walmart soon as a cashier. The goal is to study at Metro and work at the same time. Of course, daycare is a problem. Due to Hana’s September birthday, she missed the cut-off date for kindergarten. Transportation, as always, is a headache.

But studying is important. “Here, there is no limit to education,” Amna says. “No matter your age, we can study what we like. We’re greedy to learn as much as we can.” She and her sisters hold college degrees in a variety of fields, but “the technology that America has reached, we feel that we are behind. In technology, development, education…”

Amna, for example, has a bachelor’s in English and sociology from India, as well as a diploma in health and social care from the U.K. She’s thinking of eventually taking up nursing studies.

“We will study according to what the market needs,” Elham chimes in. “If I studied geography, maybe I’ll do nothing. You must start with what the market needs. That is first.”Amna sets down a glass of hot tea with a single clove for fragrance. “You can take it with you,” she says, nudging the mug. “You will come back. It’s fine.”

Another winter day, another trip to the small apartment. A variety of pastas and glasses of nonalcoholic liqueur cover the dining room table. The atmosphere is intimate. The headscarves have come off, and the talk becomes frank.

“I lost my job,” Amna confides. Her voice is still gentle but frustrated. The buses, she explains, can’t reliably get her to Walmart on time and home again.

“I must work,” she says. “Someplace where I can walk to.” She mentions a few places she’s thought of and is unfazed when told it would take an hour to get there. “It’s good exercise for me.”

But here, in the small, warm apartment, frustrations are put aside for a moment. Elham brings tea to the living room, and Amna produces a small bottle of homemade perfume. “For after dinner,” she explains. “To cover the scent.”

Arabic and English swirl around the room as six women chatter about anything and everything and nothing in Omaha, Nebraska.

Editor’s note: As of late January, both Amna and Elham have found employment.

Strict Banking Requirements

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Great Western Bank

With interest rates having been at all-time lows for over a year and forecast to remain at record lows for the foreseeable future, it’s likely that either you or someone you know has refinanced their home recently. But does the same hold true for commercial building owners? Have business owners and those with commercial leases been able to take advantage of such low rates? Have entrepreneurs seeking new loans been able to set their dreams in motion, even in these tough economic times?

According to Gary Grote, Omaha group president for Great Western Bank, while commercial loans may not have been impacted by the low rates as much as residential loans have, there still has been a significant effect in the commercial market.

“The difference between residential and commercial is that in the commercial loans…there may be pre-payment penalties that apply until the maturity day,” explains Grote. “So you can’t always just pick up the phone and…refinance on a whim like with a residential mortgage.” He does add that though it may not be as “easy” to refinance a commercial loan, “many people have already taken advantage of the low rates…and we continue to see opportunities.”

Craig Lefler, senior vice president and manager of commercial banking with Mutual of Omaha Bank, agrees with Grote, saying while there may be a few more obstacles for commercial loans to be refinanced, there are still ample opportunities for businesses to seek lower interest rates on existing loans. “A lot of commercial real estate loans are done by banks on a five-year type of basis and some of those, depending on the bank, may have a penalty for early payoff. That would certainly be a consideration for [when it comes to the] cost of refinancing the loan.”

“The difference between residential and commercial is that in the commercial loans…there may be pre-payment penalties that apply until the maturity day.” – Gary Grote, Great Western Bank

Both Grote and Lefler say that although rates are at historic lows and there are many opportunities available for commercial loans to be granted as well as refinanced, the process and underwriting standards are higher than ever.

“After the financial crisis, credit certainly tightened up and [banks] returned to more prudent, conventional underwriting standards,” says Grote.

Lefler agrees that there are more stringent standards and more in-depth analyses today than in the past. However, those are countered by the benefit of lower interest rates. “It’s a mixed bag,” he says.

Interest rates for commercial spaces are different than those for residential mortgages. Grote explains that the typical five-year loan originated from the trouble that the Savings and Loans went through in the 1980s. The S&Ls offered CDs for two to four years at fixed rates. They then would loan money at fixed rates for 10- or 15-year loans. “When the rates went up, they got burned because their cost of money increased but their loans were at a fixed rate.”

He shares that banks typically keep five-year commercial loans on their balance sheets while traditional home mortgages are sold off to other organizations.

“A lot of commercial real estate loans are done by banks on a five-year type of basis and…depending on the bank, may have a penalty for early payoff. That would certainly be a consideration for [when it comes to the] cost of refinancing the loan.” – Craig Lefler, Mutual of Omaha Bank

As another option, Grote says that some banks, such as Great Western, may offer certain clients 10– and 15-year fixed rates. But he says that this is a unique situation.

Thirdly, he shares that the Small Business Administration has a popular product called the SBA 504 Program, in which a portion of the loan allows the borrower to do a 10- or 20-year fixed rate. “So there are options out there, and it just kind of depends on the property and the borrower and where they’re at in their life cycle and what makes the most sense for them.”

Depending on whether the loan is for owner-occupied real estate or investor real estate, Grote explains that the lender will underwrite the occupant’s financial statements or the investor’s ability to rent space. Both men recommend that businesses have their financial records in order and ready to be submitted for review.

“Be organized and be able to quickly produce their financial statements in an organized fashion,” says Grote. “That helps banks respond quickly and be able to give good guidance and good answers.”

Lefler adds that, in addition to the financial records, the lender will also consider “the projection, going forward, of how the space will be used and ultimately, from the lender’s point of view, will the debts get repaid.

“My sense is that there is a feeling that banks are not willing to lend money on new business ventures and to projects like this, but I would say that this is not true,” says Lefler. “In our market, which is stable, banks play an active role in these spaces on a daily basis.”