It’s not surprising that retired banker Bill Berenz likes to mountain bike.
In the past 32 years as a Colorado Springs banker he’s been over the rough terrain and bumpy economic road that came with the banking territory. This summer, Berenz, 65, retired from his position as ANB regional president for southern region banking centers. ANB is formerly known as American National Bank.
Berenz traded in his business suit for a more recreational look and has hit the mountain biking trails around town. He’s even secured a few scrapes and bruises, he said. It’s a little like his ride in the banking industry.
Berenz started his banking career in 1974, just out of college, and then arrived on the Colorado Springs banking scene in 1980.
It was, for a moment, a great time to be a banker. There were 14,443 chartered commercial banks across the U.S. — with 97 percent were community banks. Berenz, a Wisconsin native, jumped right into interest rate deregulation and then life in the banking industry suddenly got more competitive, he said.
“Prior to that change, banking was pretty much — you were profitable no matter what,” Berenz said. “When you had to pay interest on deposits, things changed.”
At the time, Colorado Springs was on a growth tear. The city was hopping with big technology companies — MCI, Hewlett-Packard and Digital Equipment Corp., to name a few. A lot of real estate was moving, which was good for the banking industry.
Then, in the late 1980s came the savings and loan crisis — when 747 savings and loan banks, also known as thrifts, went under. It rippled into the entire banking industry and into Colorado Springs. Berenz recalls a 60 Minutes show that deemed Colorado Springs the foreclosure capital of the world.
“They said, ‘last one to leave, please turn out the lights,” he said. “A little bit of that was exaggeration. But, we were hit hard.”
At the time, there also was great fear in the community that Fort Carson would end up on the Base Closure and Realignment list. Fort Carson survived and the city rejoiced, said Berenz, who joined ANB in 1989.
“It just seemed like the city took off — there was rapid expansion, jobs etc.,” Berenz said. “I mean we had bumps along the road with the dot-coms and all of that — nothing as major as 2008 when we had a major crash. It was a long run and it was fun.”
Throughout the 1990s, there was a lot of growth in the financial industry in the Springs — a lot of expansion, Berenz said. Congress removed limitations on bank sizes and there were many mergers. Today there are more than 40 bank charters in El Paso County and more than 100 locations.
“It developed a mixed market for smaller community markets,” he said.
Community banks were able to hold their own against the big banks by building relationships, he said. Although ANB Bank has 35 banking centers in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Missouri, and its parent company, Sturm Financial Group, Inc. has $1.9 billion in assets, its still considered a community bank.
“Maybe that market was a little ignored by the larger banks,” Berenz said. “We were developing new business, but we also wanted to retain our existing clients, we didn’t forget about them.”
Berenz had a good coach and mentor who taught him that a banker should be involved in the community, he said. He has been a board member of the Pikes Peak Regional Development Corp., Colorado Springs Sports Corps., the Pikes Peak Hospice Foundation and the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. — a part of the job he calls the best. Serving on the boards and finance committees helped him stay in tune with the needs of the Colorado Springs, he said.
In May, Berenz was presented with a “Bankers of Distinction” award from the Colorado Bankers Association — an award that recognizes the importance of the community banking spirit and dedication and support of activities vital to the health of local institutions and people in the community.
“We have the most generous community,” he said.
The past four years have been a rough road for bankers, Berenz said. The 2008 financial crisis still lingers. Banks were blamed and lawmakers started making serious regulatory changes.
“It’s been the most difficult time in banking,” Berenz said. “It’s been a lot tougher and harder than the S-and-L crisis — it just seems like it lasted a lot longer than we ever thought it would.”
It seemed like a good time to hit the bike trails. Berenz retired in July.
On Aug. 16, Lonnie Parsons was named ANB regional president of the Southern region banking centers. Parsons has been in the banking industry for 33 years. He has plans for remodels of two Colorado Springs ANB branches and has plans to grow, he said. He is scouting sites for two new branch locations, which he would like to open within two years.
Like Berenz, Parsons has been in banking through major changes. He started his career in 1980 when a big wave of regulatory changes hit the industry. From the 1980s through the 1990s, 10 percent of U.S. commercial banks failed — compared to almost no failures in the 40 years prior.
“Bankers have developed a good ability to adapt and be flexible,” he said.
But, he loves it.
“I get to see a lot of small business owners — they talk about their business much like a parent talks about a child,” Parsons said. “If we can do things to help them be better — that is the reward.”
Berenz agrees. He still plans to use his banking expertise working with the nonprofit Pikes Peak Regional Development Corporation, where he will be part of the loan committee which works with local banks on SBA-backed loans.
“There are so many banks, ANB included, that are looking to build their loan portfolios and it’s gotten real competitive in the market for good loans,” Berenz said. “There shouldn’t be any reason why a good sound business, or growing business, should not be able to access credit in this community.”
In the meantime, look for Berenz out on the mountain biking trails.