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Meet Beardstown Savings, The Community Bank That’s Speaking The Same Language As Its Multilingual Community

Community Partners

Rich Eckert never expected to become the president and CEO of a community bank. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-native aspired to work in collegiate athletic administration, which he did for a short while before moving with his wife to her hometown of Beardstown, Illinois to start a family. However, a chance encounter with the then head executive of Beardstown Savings ultimately changed Rich’s career trajectory and opened the door for him into the world of community finance. “He asked me if I wanted to work in the bank,” Rich recalled. “I said ‘I’ve only stepped my foot in a bank one time in my life, and that was to open my account.’”

Rich Eckert, President and CEO of Beardstown Savings

Rich interviewed for the position, and in late 2015, Beardstown Savings hired him as a loan officer. According to him, getting into banking felt both like a natural fit and a full-circle moment. Growing up, Rich’s parents had a house foreclosed on them, which was an experience that left a lasting impression on him. At Beardstown Savings, that formative memory translated into Rich wanting to do everything he could to help people in his community. “Community banks, as a whole, don’t want to pull the rug out from under our customers,” he said. “Personally, I’ve seen the other side of how that can destroy and displace a family. We don’t want to do that. We want to work with our community members through the whole process of the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Despite Rich’s new-found passion for banking, he felt like he still had a lot to learn. According to Rich, he benefited from on-the-job training and mentorship from the bank’s leadership team, who encouraged him to attend banking school. Therefore, Rich enrolled in the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received high-level training in areas ranging from human resources and banking technology to marketing and leadership. Simultaneously, Rich continued to rise up the ranks at Beardstown Savings. By 2017 he was the vice president of lending, and a little over a year later, he took over as the bank’s president and CEO. The learning curve was steep, but Rich had no choice but to learn as quickly as he could. With the support—not to mention patience—from Beardstown Savings’ board and his colleagues, Rich was ultimately able to settle into his leadership role, develop his management style, and find new ways for Beardstown Savings to serve its community.

Banking the Whole Community

Beardstown Savings is a mutually owned bank that was founded in 1880. Today, the bank has two locations and 15 employees, including team members who’ve been there for decades and others who are work-study students just launching their careers. Unsurprisingly, the town in Central Illinois has transformed significantly since the bank’s inception, shifting from a small, rural, predominantly white community to a small, rural melting pot. Newcomers include migrant workers who are drawn to the area’s two largest employers: JBS Foods and Dot Foods. Rich estimates that between 70 and 80% of his community works for either of those two companies.

As Beardstown has changed over the years, so too has Beardstown Savings had to evolve to keep up with those shifting demographics. For example, the community bank has hired bilingual staff members who can better connect with and serve customers in both Spanish and French. Additionally, Beardstown Savings forged a partnership with Worldwide Tech Connections, thus becoming the first bank in the country to sign up with the translation services software company. According to Rich, although customers still prefer to be able to interact with a bilingual staff member in person, given the growing linguistic diversity of Beardstown’s residents, it’s not always possible to have someone on staff who speaks the same language as a community member. Today, through a mobile or desktop device, the bank can communicate one-on-one with customers, either through voice or text, in more than 50 different languages and dialects. The software also allows Rich and his team to translate letters, emails, notices, and signage within seconds to better serve customers, regardless of what languages they speak.

Last year, Beardstown Savings’ efforts were acknowledged by the Community Bankers Association of Illinois (CBAI), who selected the community bank’s entry, “Banking the WHOLE Community,” as the recipient of the Excellence and Innovation FORVIS Award. “We pride ourselves in offering bank services to all customers regardless of background or demographics, which includes language barriers,” Rich said. “As a small bank, we are accomplishing a lot and doing a lot of good work in our community with our limited resources, and we are tremendously honored to have received this award.”

Tackling the Housing Crisis

Language barriers, however, are by no means the Beardstown community’s biggest challenge. Instead, like the rest of the United States, the town is in the throes of a housing crisis. In Beardstown, the average mortgage for first-time home buyers hovers somewhere between $40,000 to $70,000. However, that’s not the problem. The challenge is that, as Rich puts it, “Beardstown doesn’t have that next home” for when people want to grow their families or move into a larger space. That issue is compounded by the reality that it costs more than $125,000 to build that next $125,000 home.

Subsequently, two things are happening. First, the pool of homes available to first-time homebuyers is shrinking. Second, Beardstown’s low housing inventory means that people are moving in with relatives, which can sometimes result in upwards of eight or nine people living together in the same small house, said Rich.”That’s unsafe in a lot of ways, but it’s not because these families don’t want to buy a house or that they’re skirting the system. They just don’t have anything to buy.”

To assist his community where he can, Rich is working with local leaders to change how Beardstown’s tax increment financing (TIF) programming works so that a portion of those monies can go toward creating new housing. Additionally, Beardstown Savings has partnered with Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, CNote’s Impact Cash® program, and others to channel both grant and investor’s impact dollars into helping to solve Beardstown’s housing woes. Such partnerships have allowed Beardstown Savings to keep its cost of funds as low as possible, which it then passes onto its customers in what Rich calls a “win-win-win” for everyone involved.

The impacts have been tangible. Given Beardstown’s small size, Rich says that Beardstown Savings is able to funnel outside dollars into its community very quickly, thus creating impact very quickly. “We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel, and we don’t need a fat bottom line,” said Rich. “We just need to be the service-oriented institution that we are, which means doing what we can to meet people where they’re at to solve these issues, not for Beardstown Savings, but for Beardstown the community.”

Learn More:

  • Beardstown Savings is a mutually owned bank located in Beardstown, Illinois that was founded in 1880.  Beardstown Savings offers an extensive product line that includes checking and savings accounts, MMDAs, CDs, home mortgage loans, and consumer loans . 
  • CNote is a women-led investment platform that empowers individuals and institutions to invest locally to further economic equality, racial justice, gender equity, and address climate change.

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