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From teller to president/CEO, Jacobson being honored for his 45 years of service

Jacobson named Banker of the Year by Wisconsin Bankers Association

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March 18, 2024

CHIPPEWA FALLS – Working in the industry for 45 years, it’s safe to say Jerry Jacobson knows a thing or two about banking.

In recognition of his years of service, Jacobson, president/CEO of Northwestern Bank in Chippewa Falls, was recently named the Banker of the Year by the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA).

The award is presented to one Wisconsin banker annually in recognition of outstanding service to their bank and the continued vitality of their community and the banking profession.

“On behalf of our association, it is my honor to congratulate Jerry on earning this recognition,” Rose Oswald Poels, WBA president/CEO, said. “He is a highly accomplished, yet humble, individual who leads by example in his bank, his community and at the state and national levels of the banking industry.” 

The Banker of the Year award got its start in 1986, with Jacobson being the 38th banker honored with the distinction.

Starting his career at Northwestern in 1978, Jacobson said he worked as a teller, auditor, cashier and executive vice president before becoming president in 1998.

The 70 year old received the award at the largest banking industry event in the state – the WBA Bank Executives Conference – held in the Wisconsin Dells last month.

“I’m truly humbled and honored with the award – especially with me being closer to the end of my career,” he said. “(What makes it even better is) that my fellow bankers recognized me. It means a lot to have my peers think my career is notable. I’m also appreciative that my management team nominated me.”

Jacobson said being selected for the award “was a surprise to me.”

“My senior management team, along with almost everyone else in the bank, was in on it,” he said. “A few weeks before the (WBA Bank Executives Conference), the head of the WBA association (Oswald Poels) was concealed in the elevator. My peers at the bank told me the elevator broke, so I went to it, and suddenly, the door opened – there she was. I said, ‘what the heck is this?’ It was a fun day and a fun time.”

Giving back

Getting to know staff on a personal level and providing opportunities for professional success are his priorities, Jacobson said.

As an example, according to the Northwestern Bank website (, Jacobson walks to the post office most days to get the mail and then sorts it and hand delivers it to the Chippewa Falls branch employees, allowing him to greet most employees daily.

He said he also takes time out of every week to go to all of Northwestern Bank’s locations – Boyd, Cornell, Lafayette, River Prairie and Thorp – to visit with staff.  

Over the years, Jacobson said he has volunteered with more than two dozen civic and community organizations – including helping establish the Community Foundation of Chippewa County, which provides a means for individual and corporate donors to financially support communities throughout the Chippewa Valley.

In addition, Jacobson and his wife, Mary, have created a leadership family endowment with the foundation for the benefit of future generations.

Jacobson said he’s also helped establish Blugold Beginnings, a program designed to inspire underrepresented, low-income and first-generation students to attend the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Volunteering, Jacobson said, is also encouraged amongst the more than 80 employees at Northwestern Bank, who collectively share approximately 1,600 hours annually with community organizations. 

Throughout his career, Jacobson said he has also taken on leadership roles with organizations such as the Chippewa Falls Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Chippewa Falls Business Improvement District. 

He has also served on the boards of the Community Bankers of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Bankers Association.

At the national level, Jacobson said he’s been re-elected to serve a second term, which began Jan. 1, on the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Board of Directors.  

“The bank has always been a giver, but I’d say during the last 25-30 years, we’ve (put more of a focus on it),” Jacobson said. “I’m not going to say I started the philanthropic nature of the bank because when I started, the bank was already encouraging people to be United Way members, etc. It’s not Jacobson-driven – it’s board-driven, and the culture that has been here a long time.”

With that said, Jacobson said his passion has had a trickle-down effect.

“That goes down to the employees and the board when they see how passionate I am,” he said. “I’m part of it but not all of it.”

Where it all began

After graduating from Chippewa Falls High School, Jacobson said he then attended UWEC, where he received a bachelor’s degree in economics.

“After that, I went to the University of Chicago for a couple of years and got an MBA in finance,” he said. “It was then that I realized I didn’t care for big cities, so I moved back to Chippewa Falls and looked for a job.”

Working his way up

Jacobson said he knew Northwestern’s philosophy before accepting the job, but the philanthropic nature of the bank made it easier for him to join the team – first as a teller.

“When I started at Northwestern in 1978 – and for someone with a master’s degree – I started low on the totem pole,” he said. “I’m certainly glad I stayed with it – the bank fit (with) what I wanted in life… I wanted to be in a position to help the community I was living in.”

Jacobson said he had a plan when starting at Northwestern more than four decades ago – stay at the bank and move up.

“I’m not saying maybe it isn’t the right way of thinking, but there are people out there who think the best way to advance is going from job to job,” he said. “I think it’s easier to do in bigger cities with more job openings – it’s more difficult to do that in the Chippewa Valley.”

Under his leadership as CEO, Jacobson said Northwestern Bank has seen asset growth quadruple from $152 million to $607 million (as of December 2022), while the bank’s net income quintupled from $2 million to $10.7 million over the same period. 

The future

Jacobson said he feels fortunate to have been at the same job for 45 years, but “I know I can’t work forever.”

“Many people can’t say they’ve stayed at the same job for 45 years,” he said. “Chippewa Falls is my hometown, and I feel fortunate to give back to the people and organizations in the Chippewa Valley. For me, it’s been a great career.”

Jacobson said he plans to retire at the end of 2025 – making it 47 years at Northwestern.

“Northwestern Bank recently celebrated 15 employees with more than 30 years of banking,” he said. “It is important banks find ways to transfer that community-minded culture to new employees and nurture the same passion for banking that has been the norm in the past several decades. We need younger minds who are enthusiastic to replace the Baby Boomers who are retiring.”

As of now, Jacobson said there is no concrete plan for his successor.

“I think by this time next year, there will be someone in place to take over for me,” he said.

When that day comes, what does retirement have in store for Jacobson?

“I realize this winter has been unusual, but I think going someplace warmer during the colder months is the plan,” he said. “I’m going to live in Chippewa Falls – it’s always been my home and where I’ve spent nearly my whole life – but winters like this might not happen that often.”

For the next 22 months, Jacobson said you can expect him to do exactly what he’s been doing – giving back to the community he loves. 

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