By Stacey A. Shannon—
MUNCIE, IN—First Merchants Bank is a familiar name for residents of Delaware County – as it should be since the bank recently celebrated its 130th anniversary. With locations in four states, First Merchants Bank has grown into a large corporation, yet is still headquartered right here in our backyard. However, its focus remains on being a community bank and enhancing the financial wellness of the diverse communities the bank serves.
“Our focus is to stay true to the people-first, attentive, local mindset on which we were founded,” said Mark Hardwick, First Merchants Bank CEO.
The bank’s unique approach to meeting the needs of its customers is working. For example, three years in a row First Merchants Bank has been ranked the number one bank in Indiana by Newsweek. And Hardwick was honored this year by the “Indiana Business Journal” as one of 250 most influential business leaders in Indiana.
From the leadership down, First Merchants Bank’s employees are dedicated to their jobs and serving customers in meaningful ways and different from every other banking experience. Employees like Alyssa Wagner, a client relationship banker, take time to listen to what customers truly need.
Wagner recently had a couple asking for a loan to help with their $70,000 in debt. Just paying the minimum amount left the couple spending $2,500 a month on their debt. Wagner sat down with them instead of simply doling out a loan and helped the couple consolidate their debt by using a home equity line of credit with a much lower interest rate.
“The process means that they’re saving an extra $1,800 a month that used to go towards paying down that debt,” Wagner said. “I think often people feel that with such a large amount of debt, there is no way out. But there is. And that’s what we’re here for as your attentive bankers. We’re here to help you get back on your feet and into a better financial situation so you can really prosper.”
Along with working individually with clients, First Merchants Bank also offers a variety of financial wellness education services for all ages. Bank employees have taught financial management at schools and for companies. Its programs, resources and online tools empower individuals, businesses and community groups to achieve their financial goals.
“We know being there for our customers and listening to understand them well are important toward being able to create solutions that truly help,” Market President Jeff Parsons said. “Our bankers are passionate about that. Our customers feel the difference.”
Dedication to businesses
As a financial leader in Delaware County for more than a century, First Merchants Bank also understands the importance of helping businesses grow within the community.
“Our community business lenders passionately and proactively seek to provide small businesses with access to capital,” Parsons said.
Beyond providing banking services and loans for businesses, First Merchants Bank works to make life easier – and safer – for the companies it serves.
Michelle D. Martin, senior treasury management officer with the bank, said First Merchants Bank focuses on security education for business owners to help avoid business email compromise.
“Business email compromise is when someone tries to access a business’s, organization’s or individual’s account information, personal information or data via email interactions,” Martin said. “Unfortunately, all businesses are susceptible to this.”
Educating business owners about these and other risks helps businesses avoid the hassle and cost of dealing with fraud. First Merchants Bank also has systems in place to flag suspicious transactions in an effort to stop fraud or identity theft in its tracks.
Looking out for the community
Having received numerous awards and accolades for the treatment of its employees, First Merchants Bank understands the community includes the diverse employees who work for the bank. The bank offers professional development and career growth opportunities for its employees along with educational reimbursement plans.
First Merchants Bank serves the greater communities in which it operates by helping provide affordable housing for families. The bank has down payment assistance grants to reduce the financial burden for qualified applicants by as much as $7,500 to cover closing costs, down payment funds or principal reduction.
Last year, for instance, First Merchants Bank provided approximately $150 million in community development loans for affordable housing. Those loans created more than 2,300 units of affordable housing.
Alongside working to help with housing needs in the community, First Merchants Bank is involved in a variety of philanthropic organizations to which the bank donates money and many employees volunteer. Most recently, the bank changed policies to provide employees with dedicated hours to serve in the community through their First Merchants Serves volunteer program.
“First Merchants is a part of our communities as much as they are a part of us,” Hardwick said. “Listening and taking meaningful action are ways we help build a better tomorrow.”
Since 2020 First Merchants Bank has been partnered with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition with a five-year goal of providing $1.97 billion to community partners and eligible organizations.
“We cannot accomplish what we do without the support of our clients, community partners and employees,” Hardwick said. “In a time when stability and confidence in the banking sector has come into question, we remain attentive to our communities and client needs. Our commitments are building on our customer history of philanthropy designed to create a brighter future for all.”
First Merchants Bank is an Equal Housing Lender, Member FDIC.