Irwin Financial Corporation traces its roots back more than 125 years, to the founding of a community bank in its hometown of Columbus, Ind. by Joseph I. Irwin. Irwin’s Bank is still a part of the corporation today, although its name is now Irwin Union Bank. The company’s guiding philosophy states in part that, “the purpose of our business is to create superior value for all our stakeholders through a dedication to service, treating others as we would want to be treated, a long-term orientation, and pursuit of the highest standards.” American Banker magazine, a nationally recognized publication, ranked Irwin Union 15th nationwide in its list of the top 100 best-performing, publicly traded banking companies.
Irwin Union Bank’s Carson City president, Greg Nixon, explained that the parent company focuses primarily on establishing community banks throughout the nation. Bank branches include those in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. “Locally, our market focus is Carson City and Lyon and Douglas counties,” Nixon said, although a branch recently opened in Las Vegas. The Carson City branch was the parent company’s first effort to establish business west of the Mississippi.
“With the mergers in banking, Irwin Union thought it could find qualified people,” he said of efforts to staff the Carson City office. “And they did. The proof is that we’ve gone from zero dollars in June 2000 to $14 million in deposits and about $11 million in loans today.” Nixon himself is a veteran of Pioneer Citizens Bank, which was purchased by Nevada State Bank several years ago.
Although Irwin Union Bank’s headquarters is located in Columbus, the local president has substantial autonomy, and most financial decisions are made locally. “When customers speak to me or to Chief Financial Officer Mike Grimm, they know they’re talking to a decisionmaker,” said Nixon. “We offer the best of both worlds — a community bank with local authority, yet one that is backed by a $2 billion holding company, so we can offer all the services of a big bank.”
Concentration on customer service and personalized attention seem to be catching on, causing larger banks to pay closer attention as they consolidate and merge. “We challenge potential clients to give us a chance, and the difference between Irwin Union and larger banks will quickly become evident,” said Nixon. “It’s the personalized approach that makes the difference.” According to a brochure distributed by the bank’s corporate headquarters, “Basically we want to see you succeed, and we’ll do anything we can to help make that happen.”
Underscoring the bank’s personalized approach to banking, Irwin Union’s activities are organized into lines of business, each having its own management team, income statement, balance sheet and equity base. The five business lines include: mortgage loan production and servicing; home equity lending; commercial banking in selected markets — Carson City is one of these markets; commercial equipment finance; and venture capital investments.
Individual performance targets are set on the basis of return on equity over time. This structure allows senior managers of each line of business to focus their efforts on understanding their customers and meeting the needs of the markets they serve. It is this approach that promotes creativity, responsiveness, motivation and accountability among the managers of each enterprise.
At the same time, the parent company works actively to add value to these lines of business through directly influencing their management teams. While business is good at present, Irwin Union realizes that banking is a dynamic process, and with this thought in mind, it reviews its current direction on an annual basis, adjusting it when signals indicate a need for change.
In Carson City, Nixon and his team aim to please their local clientele. “It doesn’t seem right to us that some impersonal banker thousands of miles away should determine the financial future of our neighbors,” he said. “We make our decisions locally, and we hire market presidents and business bankers who live and work in the local community to make those decisions. That means you’ll never wait around for loan approval, or be hung out to dry when you’ve got a question that needs to be answered. All of our offices have full authority to do what is necessary to ensure that your needs are met. Our bankers live here in this community, and we believe it’s important to take care of our neighbors.”