Where everybody knows your name: An alternative to big banks

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Bankers celebrate First Chicago Bank & Trust's Norridge location opening with a customer appreciation event at the bank. | SUPPLIED PHOTO

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In a fast-paced world where technology is constantly evolving and new inventions seem to pop up every day, we don’t always associate progress with ideas that have been around for decades. However, for one Chicago-based company, progress means carving out a new space for something that’s already here — your local community bank.

Wintrust, founded in 1991, is committed to finding a place for community banking. The company was created with the belief that there is still a need, and desire, for a true community bank — where tellers know their customers by name, bankers care about local businesses because they frequent them, and the bank invests in the neighborhood because it’s actually part of the neighborhood.

More than 20 years later, Wintrust is thriving. The company has more than 100 community banking locations in the Chicago area and southern Wisconsin, and $17.5 billion in assets, proving the initial theory — people want an alternative to the big banks — right. Along the way, Wintrust has had to reinvent what a community bank is in order to help it survive.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), in the last few years, more than 40 banks have failed in Illinois and hundreds more across the country. The market has not been conducive for community bank survival. A shaky economy, increased regulations and heightened competition have made it harder and harder, and those that remain may have a tough time moving forward. Many of the banks that have failed have been pillars of the local community.

“That’s where Wintrust comes in,” said senior vice president of Wintrust Marketing Matthew Doubleday. “What sets us apart is our commitment to keeping our banks community institutions while giving them the resources they need to be successful and compete with the big banks.”

Wintrust Community Banks offer the same technology and financial solutions as the big bank competitors with a level of customer service and community focus that can only be found at a local community bank. The banks provide customer support that goes beyond financial services. Many offer events such as shred days for customers to safely dispose of sensitive documents, FDIC accredited Money Smart seminars aimed at providing financial literacy and even host coin and antique appraisals. Wintrust Community Banks also hold events for kids in the area through the Junior Savers Club — a group committed to teaching children the importance of saving — and sponsor trips for senior citizens through the Platinum Adventures Club.

“Most importantly, our banks invest in local communities,” Doubleday said. “We are all active in local charities, local government, school boards and community development. Our banks are active on local chambers of commerce and sponsor major community events.”

Wintrust Community Banks are also dedicated to providing support for local businesses. The banks highlight small businesses through the Shop Local program and feature area businesses in testimonial ad campaigns. Wintrust has also partnered with national organizations, such as SCORE and the National Organization for Women Business Owners, to offer resources for local entrepreneurs.

In our technologically advanced, fast-paced world, Wintrust believes the need for a bank that gets to know you, offers you a cup of coffee when you walk in the door and goes above and beyond to provide more than just financial services is still there. As big banks pop up on every corner, Wintrust is carving out a spot for community banks.