Bank First celebrates 125 years

Establishment of Bank First
Bank First is a relationship-based community bank focused on providing innovative products and services that are value driven. Headquartered in Manitowoc, Wis., Bank First was founded on May 4, 1894, with a capitalization of $50,000. The bank was located on the southwest corner of North Eighth and York streets in downtown Manitowoc.

A new home
The bank achieved great financial success during its first 33 years in business, and by 1927 it outgrew its original location. On Aug. 20, 1927, Bank First moved from the southwest corner of North Eighth and York streets to just across the street on the first floor of the Hotel Manitowoc building at the northwest corner of North Eighth and York streets (known today as Dali’s Café). The new bank building had a state-of-the art security system and a very elaborate interior. The entrance was constructed of three-quarter-inch-thick bronze. The nameplate of the bank was centered above the entrance with a monogram in the center. The elaborate bank entrance is still visible from Eighth Street to this day.

New look
In 1960, Bank First remodeled to stay in line with the changing times. Ceilings were lowered, air conditioning was installed, and fixtures were replaced with more modern furniture. Only the marble floor and the marble facings of the teller cages remained the same. At this time, banking equipment was also updated. Bank President Carl G. Nelson was quoted as saying, “A bank must be a pleasant place to come to and in which to do business. It must have modern accommodations and an aesthetic and psychological appeal as well.”

The next 25 years of Bank First’s history saw physical as well as monetary growth. In 1971, Bank First acquired the assets of the Francis Creek bank. The bank soon needed additional space at its headquarters to support its growth and selected a new site in the 400 block of North Eighth Street in Manitowoc. The construction of the new bank with approximately 22,000 square feet of space began in August 1973 and was completed in September 1974.

Strategic growth
In 1983, Bank First’s board of directors appointed Thomas Bare to the role of president and chief executive officer.

During Bare’s tenure, Bank First grew from $75 million in assets to $794 million in assets. Additionally, Bank First engaged in a number of strategic acquisitions and de novo offices, growing from two to 15 locations in northeastern Wisconsin. In 2001, under Bare’s leadership, Bank First expanded its offerings by purchasing the Vincent Group, an independent insurance agency in Manitowoc.

In 2008, Bare retired from his role as president, and the board of directors appointed Michael Molepske as his successor. Prior to joining Bank First, Molepske served as market president of one of the largest financial institutions in Wisconsin. Bank First’s board of directors recognized Molepske as a proven leader with remarkable vision and the ability to successfully execute the bank’s strategic initiatives. The board felt he was the right fit to grow the bank and increase its footprint in Wisconsin.

Under Molepske’s leadership, Bank First opened a new office in Valders and merged its St. Nazianz office into it. Additionally, after completing extensive remodels of its Mishicot and Custer Street offices, Bank First merged its Francis Creek and Newton offices into each, respectively. In 2015, Bank First constructed a new state-of-the-art facility in Two Rivers and relocated to 1703 Lake St., overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan. Bank First also strategically combined its insurance subsidiary with A.N. Ansay & Associates, an independent insurance agency headquartered in Port Washington, in an effort to focus solely on its core banking business. In recent years, Bank First expanded into new markets, including Appleton and Oshkosh.

In October 2017, Bank First closed on its merger with First National Bank of Waupaca, making it the third-largest publicly traded bank headquartered in Wisconsin. This was the largest acquisition carried out by Bank First to date, increasing its asset size by approximately $500 million. With the addition of six new offices, Bank First’s customers gained access to an increased lending capacity, a wider range of products and services, an expanded branch network and a larger team of bankers dedicated to providing superior financial solutions that are value driven.

Today, Bank First has assets in excess of $1.7 billion and operates out of 19 locations throughout Wisconsin. It has become one of the top-performing financial institutions in the State of Wisconsin. Bank First attributes its success to attracting and retaining top talent who are committed to excellence and adhering to the four key tenets of the bank’s promise: “We are a relationship-based community bank focused on providing innovative products and services that are value driven.”

Relationship based
At Bank First, we recognize the importance of family, community and financial growth and strive to deliver a superior banking experience by providing personalized customer service and beneficial financial solutions. We accomplish this by building relationships and being active and involved in the communities we serve. We know our customers by name, and all decisions are made by an experienced team of bankers who live in the community and understand the needs of local families and businesses.

Community bank
Bank First takes great pride in supporting our community. We believe by working together, we can transform lives and build stronger communities for our future generations. In 2018, Bank First contributed over $750,000 to more than 400 Wisconsin community events and organizations, and employees donated over 11,500 hours of their time volunteering as well.

Innovative products & services
As technology advances, Bank First is able to stay at the forefront of change through our co-ownership of UFS, LLC, a data processing facility headquartered in Grafton, Wis. The bank’s relationship with UFS allows quick access to the latest advancements in banking technology as well as the ability to offer customizable solutions that match or exceed our competitors’ offerings at a lower cost.

Value driven
The relationships we develop with families and businesses allow us to know and understand our customers on a personal level. This gives us the ability to provide flexible, customizable solutions that are value driven. We foster a culture focused on excellence and work hard every day to add value to the banking experience.

As Bank First looks to the future, it will continue to focus on its relationship-based model of community banking and expanding its reach throughout the State of Wisconsin. The bank will continue to grow in the form of de novo branches and strategic acquisitions in the coming years and is excited for the opportunity to provide superior products and services to a larger base.

As Bank First prepares to celebrate its 125th Anniversary in 2019, it is thankful for the support it continues to receive from its wonderful employees, customers, shareholders, and communities it serves. The bank looks forward to celebrating its milestone anniversary by hosting special events at each of its 19 offices throughout the year.

Contact Information:

Shannon Klahn
Marketing Communications Officer
(920) 652-3118
[email protected]

To view the entire 2019 Anniversary Celebrations edition, please click here.