FOX47 NEWS - Common Sense Banking

Jeff Angileri
Mar 2, 2009, 10:44 PM

In an era of bailouts and stimulus packages, one bank in southern Wisconsin is defying the odds and holding its own in a recession.

Little has changed in Evansville, Wisconsin in the last one hundred years -- from historic store fronts to brick-paved streets. Now, that connection to the past is keeping the city's community bank afloat in a recession.

We stuck to the basics of banking -- underwriting loans as we always have, doing business in our community which is what community banks do well -- and taking care of the local customer, said Stephen J. Eager, senior vice president of Union Bank & Trust Company.

Motivated not by greed, but by the community's well-being, Eager says, Union Bank and Trust refused to buy into the hype of sub-prime loans.

It was difficult as we saw the large banks gain market share, when all the sub-prime lending started, and watching the train go speeding past, Eager said.

Instead, Eager said, they created reasonable loans, and worked with their patrons when the economy soured. Sticking with their instincts turned out to by the right thing to do. While Wall Street crashed & burned, raining down foreclosures, Union Bank and its customers are holding their own. More than 60 homes in Rock County went into foreclosure in January -- Union Bank had only two all of last year.

The vast majority of community banks in Wisconsin were profitable last year, said Daryll J. Lund, president of Community Bankers of Wisconsin. They're strong, well capitalized, open for business to make loans right now.

While Wall Street banks are now surviving on billions of dollars in bailout funds from the federal government, Union Bank and Trust declined all help from Washington. Leaders say they did it for their patrons.

Would you want the federal government as part owner in your business? I think everybody would be a resounding 'no,' said Eager. That was one of our overriding factors in our decision not to participate.

Leaders of Union Bank and Trust, family-owned since 1916, say they are proof that any bank, managed the right way, can weather any recession, and so can a community.

Said Eager, As a community banker to be able to work with friends and neighbors, the business people up and down the street that make the community tick -- it's great to be able to help people achieve their dreams.

For people who are having trouble paying their mortgage, bank leaders in Evansville said the first step is to call your lender. They'd rather hear from the borrower and try to find a solution - than jump into foreclosure.

Wisconsin foreclosures by RealtyTrac: http://www.realtytrac.com/MapSearch/FreeSearch.aspx?a=b&StateSel=wi&accnt=137302

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