Associated Banc-Corp unveils plan to turbocharge lending

Associated Banc-Corp in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is beefing up several of its lending units and shuffling executives in charge of these businesses as part of a plan to boost revenue in its markets across the Midwest.

New CEO Andy Harmening hinted at the moves during a call with analysts in July and the $34 billion-asset company made a formal announcement after the markets closed Thursday. Specifically, Associated plans to bulk up in auto lending, asset-based lending, commercial and small-business lending and wealth management and will make hefty investments in technology to improve its digital banking capabilities.

The plan will not be cheap. The company expects to book between $705 million and $711 million in expenses this year, up from an earlier estimate of $695 million, according to a presentation posted to the company’s website Thursday.

But the changes are expected to add $2.6 billion in new loans by the end of 2023, in addition to increases in the bank’s commercial loan and commercial real estate books, according to the presentation.

Associated forecasts the plan could draw in $20 million in new revenue next year and roughly $60 million in 2023.

“Given the strength of our Midwest markets and our already solid foundation, we have a significant opportunity to strategically drive revenue growth across our core business lines while also expanding our portfolio,” Harmening said in a press release announcing the plan.

A key part of the plan calls for $50 million in spending to improve the company’s technology and rely more on mobile banking. Harmening was brought on board, in part, because of his experience shaping tech products at the $175 billion-asset Huntington Bancshares in Columbus, Ohio, where he was a senior executive vice president.

Associated is in the process of consolidating eight branches this year with more expected to be closed in 2022. To save on real estate costs, the company is reducing its data center space and transitioning about 10% of its employees to work remotely. Associated is also combining its Green Bay service center and headquarters space, according to the presentation.

The company expects to save about $10 million from these moves to help offset the cost of the technology investments.

To guide the expansion of the commercial middle-market team throughout Milwaukee, Chicago and Northern Wisconsin, Associated hired two new team leaders and three relationship managers.

Associated also promoted Andrew Brueggeman, who had run the bank’s Paycheck Protection Program effort, to “drive significantly increased activity” in its Small Business Administration unit.

Associated also promoted John Thayer to executive vice president and head of wealth management, Stacy Stecker to director of private banking and David Kuipers to lead the investment services team.

The company also hired Raymond Temple to help expand its asset-based lending business. Temple had run a similar department at TCF Financial, which was acquired by Huntington this year.

The company is also planning to begin hiring in the fourth quarter a new team to expand its equipment finance business.

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