By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — In October 2016 Heritage Bank and Stratford State Bank announced a “merger of equals” agreement that would eventually form the basis of Partners Bank of Wisconsin.
The banks have a great deal in common. Both were established in their respective communities in 1908, and they maintain similar assets and cultures.
Heritage Bank’s beginnings
Headquartered in Spencer, Heritage Bank was formed in 1908 as Spencer State Bank. Growing steadily over the years, the bank added a branch in Marshfield in 1994.
When it later expanded its Marshfield facilities, the financial institution was renamed Heritage Bank. By the end of 2016, Heritage Bank held $107 million in assets and capital of $12.8 million.
The start of Stratford State Bank
In 1908 the team of Robert Connor, H.L. Klemme, W.F. Goetz, Jacob Wachtl, and Christ Franzen filed a Certificate of Incorporation for Stratford State Bank.
The following year, the land was purchased for a permanent bank building. That building served the bank and its customers for more than 60 years until it became facilities for the village of Stratford. The bank moved to a new building on Highway 97 in Stratford in 1973.
By the end of 2016, Stratford State Bank held $112 million in assets and capital of $14.5 million.
“When we first started talking, prior to Jeff (Lappe, Stratford State Bank president,) taking over as president of Stratford State Bank and prior to myself taking over as president of Heritage Bank, there had been a long history of the banks working together to a certain extent — separate organizations, separate markets but at the same time similar cultures, similar ways of doing business,” said Marty Reinhart, Heritage Bank president. “For a number of years, when we had gotten involved in situations where each bank is subject to a legal lending limit, we can only loan so much (based on size and capital). So if we had a situation that came along — maybe it was a community project that we wanted to support or a large loan relationship that we wanted to bring into the bank — we were limited because of our size.
“We partnered with each other through a document called a participation agreement. That way we could accommodate the loan request.”
That set the basis for a working relationship between the two entities.
“Both banks had a desire to grow,” said Reinhart. “So when we started talking about what would be the best way to do that, we kind of looked to each other and said that it would be a natural fit if we could try to make a merger work.”
The initial conversation occurred in October 2015. The holding companies finally merged June 1 of this year with a planned merging of the banks over Father’s Day weekend.
“June 19 will be the first day that we will be open as Partners Bank,” Lappe added.
Following the merger, Partners Bank will have branches in Spencer, Stratford, and Marshfield.
Impact for staff, customers, and community
With the merger, both banks will be able to retain the staff members at each of their locations.
“Everybody is staying,” said Lappe. “Some people are just changing different jobs, kind of a promotion for them. We felt that the employees in a bigger bank will have more advancement opportunities than being in two small banks.”
“There is a tag line that goes along (with the Partners name) that says, ‘Better Together,’ and the ‘Better Together’ is designed to describe that two banks being better together. It’s designed to describe that we feel that we will be better able to work together with our customers, our communities, and so on and so forth,” explained Reinhart.
“One of the things we looked at being a $100 million bank, both banks really are community oriented,” Lappe added. “By going to a bigger bank, let’s say Spencer has something going on this year. Hopefully we will be able to donate more money to Spencer, and let’s say the following year will be Stratford and then Marshfield. … Hopefully as a bigger bank, we will be able to do more for our communities than we could as a smaller institution.”
Reinhart and Lappe said that the signage will not reflect the merger until mid-July.