Northwest Business Magazine

Success Story: Crystal Lake Bank & Trust

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Discover a McHenry County bank that offers the friendly customer service of a small bank, with the additional services of a big bank.

Keith Hogan, executive vice president of Crystal Lake Bank & Trust, says he enjoys the close interaction he has with the local community. (Brian Hughes photo)

Keith Hogan, executive vice president of Crystal Lake Bank & Trust, says he enjoys the close interaction he has with the local community. (Brian Hughes photo)

Many banks boast of excellent customer service, but not every financial institution can deliver the goods. Then there are banks like Crystal Lake Bank & Trust.

Sure, staff members greet customers at the front door, armed with cookies, coffee, even complimentary dog biscuits for furry friends at home. But it’s about more than that. It’s about developing close-knit relationships with customers in McHenry County.

“It is so important for us to service the customer and ensure that they’re satisfied, because the word of mouth is a big part of what we do,” says Keith Hogan, executive vice president and McHenry County market president. “When folks are looking for a place to house their assets, there isn’t much more you can rely on other than testimonials from friends, family and neighbors. It’s crucial for us to provide clients with the best service. Whether they share that experience with others or not, we need to ensure the client is satisfied and keeps coming back to us.”

Crystal Lake Bank & Trust is part of the Wintrust Financial Corporation, a financial services holding company based in Lake Forest. With assets of $17 billion, its banks provide services that include traditional community banking, wealth management, commercial insurance premium financing, mortgage origination, short-term accounts receivable financing and administrative services, such as data processing of payrolls, billing and treasury management services.

“Wintrust is a bit unique in that the structure of the organization allows for 15 different charters,” says Hogan. “Each charter has its own management team, its own board of directors, and is able to operate in the community in which it serves. They are managed locally, but have the support of the holding company. It allows for some autonomy and lets us entrench ourselves in the markets that we’re servicing.”

Crystal Lake Bank & Trust has two full-service facilities in town, located at 70 N. Williams and 5100 Northwest Highway, plus two drive-through locations, at 27 N. Main St. and 1000 McHenry Ave. In addition, the Crystal Lake Bank charter encompasses McHenry Bank & Trust, 2730 W. Route 120 and 2205 N. Richmond Road; Cary Bank & Trust, 60 E. Main St.; and Algonquin Bank & Trust, 4049 W. Algonquin Road.

The McHenry, Cary and Algonquin locations have their own bank presidents. Jim Thorpe, Crystal Lake Bank president, serves as company CEO.

“As a smaller bank, you tend to wear many hats,” says Hogan, a 20-year banking professional who joined the bank six years ago. “What I really enjoy about our organization is the ability to work closely with the community. I get the opportunity to meet folks who have started their own businesses, grown their own businesses, or who are looking to start their own businesses. What’s exciting to me is to be part of those organizations and to help them meet their goals, to be their partner on the banking side.”

Three years ago, Curt Ames retired from the Marine Corps and intended to open a microbrewery in McHenry County. The prospects looked grim, however, when loans fell through while he worked with two national banks.

But then Ames found McHenry Bank & Trust, which helped him to obtain a Patriotic Express loan, a small business loan that’s available to veterans and members of the military who want to establish or expand a small business. Ames was able to close on his building in 30 days and recently had a pre-launch attended by 800 people. The Chain O’ Lakes Brewing Company officially opens for business in August.

“The bank bent over backwards for me,” he says. “It was a pleasant experience working with a local bank. They offered exceptional customer service, walked me through the process and helped me to secure the financing I needed to fulfill my dream.”

Crystal Lake Bank & Trust was a startup organization chartered in 1997. The bank was solely located in Crystal Lake before it expanded into McHenry, Cary and Algonquin.

“We’ve progressed from a startup bank into one of the larger banks based in McHenry County, with $750 million in assets,” Hogan says. “We have a full board of directors made up of individuals representing companies within the county. That knowledge base helps us to understand the needs in the community, and helps us to tailor our products and services to better serve those needs.”

Being a locally owned bank has certain advantages. For example, most staff members live within McHenry County, which allows them to volunteer for various nonprofit organizations. Every vice president and above is involved in at least one nonprofit organization.

“We have a pulse of what’s going on in our community, because we live here and are active participants,” says Hogan, who serves as chairman of the board for Adult Child Therapy Services in Woodstock. “We try to give back the best we can.”

A local bank has on-site control and can set its own rates. “We understand the marketplace, and we understand competitive pressures,” Hogan says. “We take that in conjunction with the risk and we’re able to formulate financial solutions.”

Crystal Lake Bank & Trust also relies on its partnerships within the community to build its roster of clients. “On the commercial side, we really try to build longstanding relationships with local service providers, such as accountants and attorneys,” Hogan says. “They have numerous clients and, hopefully, because of their experience working with us, they’re comfortable sharing our name with their client base.”

The bank has 75 full-time employees who offer a wealth of knowledge and experience. “They’re very customer-centric,” Hogan says. “We have a well-tenured staff in the areas of retail, commercial and mortgage services, as well as trust and investment services. We have a great deal of breadth and depth within the local organization. We can compete with any of the large or small banks from a service and product standpoint.”

Over the years, the biggest challenge within the industry has been the increased regulatory burden that banks have been required to take on, says Hogan.

“It’s become a huge part of day-to-day activities,” he explains. “The rules and regulations the banking industry need to follow have become enhanced and highly monitored. Hence, we have to perform much more reporting and auditing to ensure that we’re meeting all of the new requirements and following all of the rules.

“It’s an extremely expensive aspect of what we have to do in order to comply and report. It’s becoming more and more difficult for banking organizations under $1 billion in size to absorb those kinds of cost. The cost comes in the reporting system enhancements, in addition to adding staff and technology to monitor and report.”

As part of its ongoing commitment to the community, Crystal Lake Bank & Trust hosts a variety of annual events, including summer shredding days at various branches. Customers are allowed to drop off up to three boxes of shreddables, at no cost.

Crystal Lake Bank & Trust also supports Bernie’s Book Bank, an organization that provides books to infants, toddlers and school-age children throughout the Chicago area. Since 2009, Bernie’s Book Bank has distributed nearly 1.5 million books.

The bank has a Platinum Adventures Club for customers age 50 and over. Members are treated to a variety of activities including day trips to Galena, overnight trips to Branson, Mo., and seminars on timely financial topics. In addition, the bank annually hosts outdoor picnics that give customers and other folks an opportunity to enjoy burgers and meet staff members.

Hogan says these types of offerings will grow in scope and size.

“We want to continue to grow within the county,” Hogan says. “We’re always looking at ways to keep pace with the customers’ desires and needs. At the end of the day, it’s all about the one-on-one experiences that we have with our customers.”

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