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Three decades of supporting small businesses

American National Bank Fox Cities celebrates its 30th anniversary

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January 26, 2023

APPLETON – It started with a vision – support small businesses in the Fox Cities.

For the past 30 years, Paul Northway, American National Bank Fox Cities president and CEO, said that vision has remained the focus of bank operations.

“(The bank’s founding members) thought the market wasn’t being responsive enough to small businesses in the Fox Cities at the time,” he said. 

Northway said the bank was founded in 1993 by local entrepreneurs in the living room of founding CEO John Hennessy with a unique approach to banking, fueling opportunity for business owners in Northeast Wisconsin.

“There was a group of business owners, men and women – and I say that because 30 years ago, you didn’t see a lot of women on bank boards,” he said. “We had a real entrepreneurial group. We had doctors and surgeons. We had a lady who owned a well-known glass company. We had a lady that made her name in warehousing. A CPA – just all local businesses.”

In an effort to get things off the ground, Northway said the folks in Hennessy’s living room began writing checks.

“They literally got out their checkbooks and started to write checks because it was going to take a certain amount of capital to start the bank,” he said. “They were the first phase of it. After that, they were going to go out and find additional shareholders. But that’s a cool story because things like that don’t happen every day.”

Northway said he began working at the bank shortly after it started.

“It was 1995 (that I first started at ANB) – I always say it’s probably my first bank job that I really cut my teeth at,” he said.
Northway said at that time, he did everything.

“The bank probably wasn’t even $30 million in assets, a startup – I always joke, but I’m not kidding, when it was snowing, I was outside shoveling,” he said. “Our story and how it resonates when we’re working with small businesses – we’ve lived that life and we still are.”

Northway said after moving back to Green Bay for a few decades, he returned to ANB, taking over as president nine years ago.

Paving its own way
Northway said for a bank, 30 years old is pretty young.

He credits part of the bank’s success to its continued focus on small businesses.

“We have stuck to our original purpose – and that is helping business owners,” he said. “We’re a business bank. We stuck to that niche. We haven’t tried to do everything else. We are not trying to be the biggest bank. We’re trying to do the best we can. We’re trying to do what we set out to do.”

Northway said in addition to the bank’s office at 2200 N. Richmond St. in Appleton, it has a “loan-production” office in downtown Green Bay.

And though American National Bank (ANB) offers retail services – such as checking, savings and mortgage loans – Northway said the bread and butter of the bank’s focus is in small business services.

“The reality is (retail services) are not a big part of our business,” he said. “When I say we’re a business bank, most of our clientele, most of the bank’s business, is small business owners all over Northeastern Wisconsin, from the Upper Peninsula and Door County down to the Fox Cities is a lot of the area we cover.”

Paul Northway

These business services, Northway said, include anything from deposits, treasury management tools and fraud protection to financing for acquisitions, expansion and receivables.

“Some of the things we feel good about would be the ability to get personal with our client base and to have those types of relationships because we’re not a big organization,” he said.

Northway said ANB’s focus is a win for small business – “having someone that’s dearly attentive to our smaller businesses in the community.”

He said much is often said about shop local – “this is bank local.”

“All the decisions, everything we do – it’s all right here,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s as quick and easy as we get some of the team in the office, and they walk into my office, and we sit around and talk, and 10 minutes later and boom, done. That doesn’t happen everywhere.”

In terms of change, Northway said the biggest is the industry’s expanding use of technology, as well as a deeper focus on culture.

“Even me being gone and then coming back,” he said. “Our commitment to, and I don’t want to use things that are too cliche, but our commitment to being that employer of choice – meaning we are providing people an opportunity to excel. We are going to commit to coaching, mentoring, leadership, development, flexibility, putting people in a position to accelerate their own development and get done what they want to get done.”

The story behind the name
Northway said banks have the option of being a state bank or national bank.

State banks are chartered and regulated under state laws and are supervised by a state agency.

National banks are chartered and regulated under federal laws and are supervised by a central agency.

“When you’re a national charter, you will either have the word national in your title or you will have ‘NA’ somewhere in your literature,” he said. “We thought there was a certain amount of prestige being a national bank, more regulations. So, that’s why national is in the name.”

As far as the American portion of the name, Amanda Krueger, ANB chief marketing officer, said it was “chosen largely so we would appear on top alphabetically in directories.”

Giving back
Northway said when you focus on the “right things,” desired results tend to come.

“We have a simple saying, ‘If it’s important to our employees, it’s important to us,’” he said. “It’s our duty as a local business to serve our community and make it a healthier place for us all to live and work.”

Northway said when people bank with a bank like ANB, they are in turn helping their community.

“For example, those deposits are all redeployed inside the community,” he said. “So, you’re helping your other community members and your neighbors. Even if you’re not a small business, but you’re banking with our bank, your deposits are continually put back to work in the community.”

Northway said that also extends to ANB’s work with nonprofits.

“We do a lot of great charitable work,” he said.

In 2019, ANB received the Fox Cities Chamber Corporate Citizen Leadership Award – which recognizes organizations with a philosophy of giving and community involvement that have made significant differences in the health and well-being of the Fox Cities.

Northway said ANB leadership supports a culture of giving – encouraging all staff to invest in the community.

He said employees are encouraged to join nonprofit boards, committees and attend fundraisers to better understand and address the community’s needs. 

“We believe our personal and professional growth comes, in part, from our community involvement,” he said. 

Northway said by being a small business itself, ANB understands the challenges that it brings.

“It’s one thing to be a banker, but you have to understand business first,” he said. “I think what makes us unique is we run a small business ourselves. If I’m with a client or prospective client and they are talking about things that might keep them up at night, things they’re challenged with – those are all the same things we talked about at the bank. I don’t think there are many times you’re going to run into that kind of a banking relationship – you’ve got somebody that can lean forward and say we know exactly what you’re talking about.”

Offering support during pandemic
Northway said it’s been an interesting few years for the banking industry.

“Small businesses needed their bank when the COVID-19 pandemic hit,” he said. “There were so many unknowns, and people did not know where to turn or what to do.”

Through government programs, Northway said ANB supported its small businesses with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. 

“We ended up helping our small business owners with in excess of $50 million in PPP loans that we put together through the government programs,” he said. “They were used wisely in this case. They allowed small businesses to keep people on the payroll and probably helped build up some liquidity and some balance to weather the storm.”

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