Bremer Bank celebrates 75 years with new logo, new website and a sharper focus and motto ''Cultivating thriving communities''May 06, 2019Otto Bremer, a German immigrant, landed in Minnesota in 1886 knowing limited English but worked his way up the corporate ladder in St. Paul. The industrious Bremer became a bank bookkeeper and eventually a bank chairman, and ultimately he became the largest investor in bank stocks in the Midwest as well as an adviser to presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When the Great Depression hit, Bremer sold many of his assets to help struggling rural banks remain afloat, and in late 1943 he consolidated his stakes into a single bank holding company.
Now it’s time for a birthday party.
After 75 years, downtown St. Paul-based Bremer Bank is celebrating the fact it remains a visible player in commercial and residential lending throughout the Upper Midwest.
In fact, though it holds only 3 percent of the market, Bremer is the third-largest bank in Minnesota by deposits. And with 2,000 employees, it’s also a sizable employer.
But company officials agree it’s time to refresh the brand.
On Monday, Bremer Bank will celebrate its 75th anniversary by unveiling a new logo and icon — one without the distinctive 37-year-old eagle emblem — plus a redesigned website and what company officials are calling a sharper focus and motto: “Cultivating thriving communities.”
To bank president Jeanne Crain, the future holds a combination of sit-down, in-person meetings with farmers, agricultural business leaders and other core clients, on top of new 24-hour digital services.
“This industry is changing in leaps and bounds, and we’ve got a sharp new look that is changing with a purpose,” Crain said. “We’re sitting down with our customers. We’re listening to them. We’re learning from them. They value that personal connection.”
More changes are ahead.
The bank in December hired Elwin Loomis, a longtime technology director at Target, as its new digital director. On top of the redesigned website, Loomis is quietly working on a smartphone app tailored to farmers, among other digital services targeted to commercial clients in Bremer’s service areas of Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
The new icon shucks Otto the Eagle, who has soared next to the Bremer name since 1982, and replaces him with a bright, baby-blue bar above a dark-blue letter “B.”
“The bar above the ‘B’ is really about going above and beyond expectations,” Crain said. “We have an ongoing effort to really understand our customer needs.”
Those needs have evolved alongside modern farming. Commercial clients represent a majority of the Bremer balance sheet, with a sizable chunk of that being farmers and agri-business companies of all size.
They’ve been impacted by trade tariffs, shifting relationships with major buyers like China, sagging prices for grains and other commodities, farm consolidations, a tightening labor market and increasing transportation costs.
“We have worked with them for generations, and our intent is to work with them for generations to come,” Crain said. “All industries cycle, and farming is going through an especially long cycle. In every industry, there’s a lot of disruption going on, and technology is one of those disruptions. The next generation of farmers — a lot of younger farmers — are very interested in using technology … to better manage their operations. They’re looking at ways to be more efficient.”
OWNED BY TRUST
Crain said it’s too soon to discuss Bremer’s strategies, but for now, the redesigned website at Bremer.com offers a taste.
“We are very focused on digital solutions. We’ve hired new talent. We have developers that are working on digital capabilities,” Crain said. In the Twin Cities, “the marketplace is rich in that regard.”
Beyond longevity in the local market, one thing that sets Bremer apart is its structure.
In 1944, Bremer created the Otto Bremer Trust, a type of charitable foundation that provides grants to meet community needs throughout Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Bremer died a few years later at the age of 83.
The trust is operated by three trustees or co-CEOs — Charlotte Johnson, S. Brian Lipschultz and Daniel Reardon — and it owns 92 percent of the bank. Bremer Bank employees own the other 8 percent through an employee stock ownership plan.
The bank paid out $76.4 million in dividends to shareholders last year, including $70.3 million to the Otto Bremer Trust and $6.1 million to employees.
“It’s a pretty unusual model for banks,” Crain said.
Written by Frederick Melo with the Pioneer Press on May 6, 2019Contact:Matt Diethert, Business Banker(715) 246-8170