On Sept. 21, Riverview Bancorp, Inc., the holding company for Riverview Community Bank, announced that the Board of Directors elected Gerald L. Nies Chairman of the Board for the company and the bank, succeeding retiring Patrick Sheaffer.
The Vancouver Business Journal wanted to learn a little bit more about the new Chairman of the Board, so here is a Q & A we did with Mr. Nies.
VBJ: You’ve been on the Riverview Board since 2009. What are a few of the biggest changes you’ve seen Riverview Community Bank go through since then?
Jerry Nies: Riverview has grown from $914 million in assets to $1.2 billion and also added five additional locations. Along the way, we went through a major recession, and chose not to accept federal bailout funds, but survive on our own with really hard work and community support. We met the challenge of an activist group buying a large number of shares and demanding a board position, with the goal of selling the bank. We prevented that from happening and they are now off Riverview’s Board. We acquired a small bank and converted their branches to Riverview branches. We made the Russell 2000 small cap fund. We also were invited by NASDAQ to come to New York and open the financial market from Times Square. We invested heavily in new technology to better secure customer data and provide state-of-the-art digital banking for our customers. Most importantly, I have seen the successful succession of new directors and senior management to include Kevin Lycklama as CEO and of course Pat Sheaffer’s retirement as board chair.
VBJ: What changes and/or adaptations has Riverview had to make during the recent coronavirus pandemic? How has dealing with the pandemic changed banking?
Nies: Safety is the number one priority for our employees and customers. Early on we assembled a pandemic team to constantly monitor the situation as well as follow guidance from the authorities. In March, we closed our lobbies but kept our branches running through drive-up service, maintaining strict protocols for safety. Following these protocols also allowed for us to assist clients by appointment in our lobbies.
We also are a participating lender in the Paycheck Protection Program. Our staff worked tirelessly every day, night and weekend to ensure our clients were able to take part in the relief efforts. Through the almost 800 loans attributing to nearly $114 million, we were able to help keep over 12,000 local jobs. We haven’t seen the end of Covid, nor have we seen the end of changes to banking. Experts we consult with suggest that in the last six months, the adoption and acceptance of mobile and digital banking quickened to what was expected to naturally occur in the next six years. While we will never give up banking at branches, we are increasing our investment in digital banking with customer satisfaction being the driver. We believe our customers will continue to want a balance of “Bricks and Clicks.”
VBJ: What changes will you see in your responsibilities on the Board moving from vice chair to chairman?
Nies: We are Clark County’s only locally owned community bank. We take our role seriously in providing the best in banking, trust, and financial services. We also believe our employees should act and think like owners and through our Employee Stock Ownership Plan, each of them are owners.
As a publicly traded company, (RVSB on NASDAQ) our directors are required to hold shareholders’ interest to the highest fiduciary standards. Riverview’s directors believe we must consider all our stakeholders in every decision we make. These include our communities, employees, customers and shareholders.
Riverview is fortunate in having seven dedicated directors with varying backgrounds, experience and diversity that meet once a month with management and more often in various committees. My job as board chair is simply to continue the culture of financial strength and customer satisfaction that has been developed over the years by Pat Sheaffer, the Board and our management team. They make it easy and I look forward to serving them as chairman.
VBJ: You were very involved in the insurance industry for quite some time. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the insurance industry during the recent coronavirus pandemic? What are a few things you think people just starting out in the insurance industry should know about the current climate?
Nies: Buying and servicing insurance used to require in-person signatures and trips to agents’ offices. Not unlike we see in banking, online transactions no longer require this. I recently talked to an agent who said to protect his customers and employees, they closed their office until January. Everything would be done online. Perhaps this is the new norm.
VBJ: Can you tell me a little bit about your early career? How did you decide to start Nies Insurance Agency? What jobs did you have prior to working in insurance?
Nies: I grew up in Vancouver, a Hudson’s Bay grad, and then off to Clark and Western Washington. My father was a born salesman as they say, and at the time I was returning from Western, he had a business selling mutual funds. That was 1972. I had the urge to sell, too, and that same year we opened an insurance office in Battle Ground. Years later, I bought out my father, purchased several other insurance offices in Vancouver and Camas and grew to become the largest personal insurance agency in SW Washington.
VBJ: Tell me a little bit about your time as a Battle Ground City Council member. What years did you serve on the council? How did your experience on the council shape who you are today?
Nies: As a newcomer to Battle Ground, I needed to get to know the locals and support the community as they supported my insurance business. I joined the all-volunteer City of Battle Ground Fire Department. At the time, we responded to 25 to 30 calls a year. Ten years later with the same volunteers, we were responding to 300 calls including emergency medical. This was becoming an unsustainable burden on our volunteers – taking away from their jobs, businesses and family time. As Fire Chief, I looked for a solution and that was to become elected to the city council to better encourage the city to hire our first firefighter. With the fire department competing with the police, streets and other departments for a share in a sparse city budget, I then looked for a long-term solution to provide the best in fire and medical services for Battle Ground citizens. Together with Fire District 11, we negotiated a contract that allowed the district to provide these services to the city. All these years later Battle Ground still has a contract for fire and EMS.
The biggest lesson I learned from serving as a volunteer firefighter and a city councilman is how much physical and mental work it takes. Everyone loves a firefighter and we were very much appreciated. It’s not quite the same in politics. As a city councilman, there was just as much work, but not nearly the appreciation. Today, I have to say sincerely that the men and women serving in political positions deserve all of our thanks and appreciation, even if we don’t always agree on their positions. I also believe it’s worth the extra effort to look for win-win solutions. This served me well in business and council matters and continues to at Riverview.