Community Connection

What was once a staple in small towns, community banks have become the unicorn of the financial industry. The right one doesn’t just become a partner in meeting your financial goals, it becomes a friend for life. Foundation One Bank in West Omaha was created 10 years ago with that intent, and continues today to provide its clients an exceptional, unexpected experience with a dedicated, long-term team of professionals who personally care about every client and each other.

When Foundation One’s CEO Randy Burns started in banking 50 years ago, it was with a small family-owned bank in Minnesota. The accountants used clipboards, loan documents were typed on non-electric typewriters, and employees took turns taking out the trash. The entire business was based upon providing loans to friends and family using investments from the same clientele. That belief in knowing your clients, coupled with today’s technology is a key differentiator of Foundation One Bank.

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Throughout his career, Burns has had the opportunity to charter several banks. When he set out to charter a new one in Omaha in 2007, the government set up restrictions preventing new banks from starting. Instead, Burns was able to purchase an existing bank—Western State Bank in Waterloo—which became Foundation One’s first branch. Today Foundation One has three branches throughout West Omaha.

“We wanted to create a successful, profitable organization that benefits shareholders, its customers, internal partners, and the community we’re in,” Burns said. “To accomplish that, we utilized certain concepts successfully developed by others.” Those concepts were mirrored after other Omaha success stories, namely Peter Kiewit and Warren Buffet. In fact, Burns’ Leadership Omaha class in the mid-80s had the opportunity to spend an afternoon discussing the legacy of Peter Kiewit with a panel of local influencers. On that panel was Warren Buffet. “I thought about what I wanted my own legacy to be, and part of that is caring for others and giving of yourself.”

Relationships are the cornerstone of every facet of life, and when relationships are developed between a client and their financial services partner, then it leads to individual long-term success for the client. Internal relationships at Foundation One Bank are also critical. Senior Vice President Greg Lovette recently moved back to Omaha from Phoenix and joined Burns at Foundation One because of its “we” culture. “Everyone makes decisions together, and everyone feels like they can make a difference in our client’s lives and in each other’s lives.”

The emphasis on team runs deep at Foundation One. Every employee is asked to run a monthly meeting, including making the agenda of discussion topics depending on what they feel is most important. The bank is also open evenings and on Saturdays to accommodate its clients’ needs, and every employee, including the executive team, takes turns working during those extended hours. Burns also has his personal cell phone number on his business card to ensure he’s available any time to any client. “Somebody once asked me, ‘What is the value of a relationship in banking?’ My answer was, ‘You’ll know it when you need it.’”

Foundation One Bank is truly a family business, with Burns’ daughter Molly Merrell joining the team in 2014. Having begun her banking career at a young age, she values the trust that people put in them. “I’ve had opportunities to work for larger banks, but I never did,” she said. “Being able to walk into your bank and the employees know your name and your children’s names, is something you didn’t even realize you were missing.”

“Servant leadership” is the term Burns uses to describe the philosophy at Foundation One. “We build relationships through activism,” he said. Every team member is involved in different activities and organizations in the community. They also hold client events throughout the year, such as Husker tailgate parties, photos with Santa, and document shredding days. All of their efforts have paid off too. Since purchasing the first branch in Waterloo 10 years ago, Foundation One Bank has grown just under 800% and plans to organically double in size over the next six years.

That success is due to making decisions based on a long-term vision, not on instant profitability. “We are active listeners for our clients and want to provide them with what they need, not just what is available,” Merrell said. Burns added that customization is considered risk in banking, but it’s a risk they are willing to take because they don’t just look blindly at someone’s financial record, but rather look at the individual person and their character. It takes extra time and effort from every single team member, but it’s why Foundation One Bank is trusted by the community.

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