In a Nutshell: First National Bank and Trust has a nearly 140-year history of helping people and communities in Wisconsin and Illinois. The family-focused institution manages more than $1.4 billion in assets, and combines the values of a community-based bank with a full range of personal and business products and services. First National Bank also offers a free financial wellness center that encourages everyone to reach their personal goals.
In towns across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, banking at First National Bank and Trust is part of a tradition stretching back almost 140 years.
The bank was founded in 1882 in Beloit, Wisconsin, a farming town with a population of just a few thousand. Through four generations of family leadership, the institution has grown alongside the communities it serves and now operates 16 full-service branches in 13 small cities and towns.
Generations have continued to bank at First National because its mission is to treat customers, employees, and shareholders like family.
It does that by offering a full range of right-size personal, business, and financial management products and services. These include credit-building checking and card offerings that underserved community members can access.
It even offers rewards checking products that make supporting local merchants easy.
The family focus continues with First National’s comprehensive financial education platform, which includes free online modules to help people reach their goals.
The bank also reaches out through area high schools and employers and engages in volunteer and charitable efforts to make a difference across its service areas.
It all adds up to an exceptional banking and community experience in the small towns around Beloit.
“What started as a family-run business more than 130 years ago continues to be a family-run business today,” reads the First National website. “We firmly believe that our rich history and strong connection to the community is what allows us to continue to provide top-notch banking services.”
Checking and Card Products Designed to Build Credit
First National’s commitment to families and communities starts with its lineup of personal checking products.
First National provides a Standard Checking account for customers as young as 16. It can be a good first step into financial services. As with all First National checking products, the low-cost, no-minimum-balance Standard Checking account includes a debit card linked to the bank’s rewards program.
Customers who may have experienced setbacks within the banking system turn to First National’s Renew Checking product. For a low monthly service fee and a low minimum opening balance, Renew Checking enables financially challenged community members to reenter the system and eventually start a credit-building journey.
“That’s the account that helps people who are looking for a second chance,” said Theresa Wendhausen, CFMP, Vice President, Branding and Communications Manager at First National. “There’s debit card access, but users can’t overdraw with their debit card, and that helps them learn to manage their account.”
First National also offers a full range of consumer credit cards, and a logical next step for many Renew Checking customers might be the bank’s Secured Card. The card includes free credit score access, automatic bill pay, and fraud liability protection. It aims to put emerging consumers in control of improving their financial habits.
There’s no annual fee associated with the Secured Card, and customers establish their own card balances by depositing funds into a dedicated savings account. Customers in good standing can later move into one of First National’s unsecured offerings.
“That’s what our folks use in terms of counseling when they’re talking to customers about building credit,” said Laura H. Pomerene, CFMP, Senior Vice President, Marketing Director. “We’ve also taken quite a few applications in the homebuyer workshops to help those customers build credit.”
Wellness Center Highlights Financial Education Efforts
Workshops are a staple of First National’s community financial education efforts.
“We bring in agencies and lenders to encourage new homebuyers to learn in a non-judgmental setting,” Pomerene said. “Our lenders are there to prescreen credit and give them some steps and tools to take back with them if they aren’t quite hitting that level.”
First National also partners with area high schools to provide financial literacy programs to teens.
“The idea is that we’re building a good foundation for those folks before they can get into trouble,” Pomerene said. The bank also offers free resources for local teachers.
First National’s financial education program is highlighted by a wealth of online resources known collectively as Sound Advice. Information on achieving personal milestones, including homeownership, paying for college, and retirement planning, is accompanied by advice on small business and financial management. Calculators and tools help customers, and community members learn what they need to do to meet economic challenges.
Another free online public resource is First National’s Financial Wellness Center, a collection of 52 interactive modules that teach users how to make the right everyday financial decisions to set themselves up for long-term success.
“Modules address topics like building credit, taxes, homeownership, and investing,” Wendhausen said. “They’re all driven toward helping people understand how to manage their money better.”
Users can log on to the site and save their progress. Each module provides a series of brief interactive learning experiences to prepare users with the right skills to be financially productive.
“We have our own employees do them as well,” Pomerene said. “The series has also been well received by our business customers, their employees, and the general community.”
First National Bank and Trust Gives Back to Communities
First National is also on the front lines of helping customers connect to area businesses. For example, First National’s free checking rewards program includes additional rewards savings through BaZing Benefits. The program offers more than 300,000 deals from name-brand retailers as well as local merchants.
“We also include identity theft protection, roadside assistance coverage, cellphone insurance — and a whole slew of benefits,” Wendhausen said.
“The cellphone insurance alone is sometimes more than the cost of the service, so that’s a huge benefit,” Pomerene said.
First National supports area charities and community wellness agencies along several pathways. Charitable contributions are a cornerstone of those efforts, as is employee volunteerism, which takes many different forms.
“We have dedicated programs in place, including helping with financial literacy at Junior Achievement,” Wendhausen said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the bank instituted an employee-directed donation drive to determine where contributions would do the most good.
Employees also stepped up during the pandemic shutdowns. First National led the way as a Paycheck Protection Program loan provider, processing around 1,300 loans during the two separate rounds in which the program operated.
“We were there all hours of the day and night trying to get those loans churned through just as fast as we could because we knew how important they were to the livelihood of our small businesses,” Wendhausen said.