Geis represents Wyo at national conferenceWritten by Saige Albert
“Rural bankers are facing regulatory and economic uncertainty,” says Geis. “This conference gives bankers what they need to help make sense of current trends, where the ag economy is headed, and finding the best opportunities going forward.”
Geis is the president and Chief Operating Officer of Platte Valley Bank in Wheatland.
“I grew up on a dairy farm, and I knew that I really enjoyed the ag industry,” comments Geis. “I knew that the people involved in agricultural production were good solid people with good core values that you can trust.”
Geis notes that he wanted to stay involved with the industry, but wasn’t looking to enter into production agriculture.
“I wanted to be closely associated with the group of people in the ag industry because of their value systems, and ag finance seemed to go hand-in-glove with that idea,” he says.
Ag lending career
With a career that started with a USDA internship in the mid-70s, Geis worked for USDA for five years, moving to Alabama and back to Wyoming. He moved to a position working with a company that is now known as Farm Credit Services of America.
“I worked with Farm Credit Services of America until 2002 when I was approached by Platte Valley Bank,” Geis says, “so I moved to Wheatland in 2002.”
As soon as he started at Platte Valley Bank, Geis took off running, building a banking facility in 2004 and growing the bank’s portfolio.
“We grew the portfolio from $4 million to $60 million in less than six years,” says Geis of his work at Platte Valley Bank.
He began working with the American Bankers Association’s Agricultural and Rural Banking Committee four years ago when he was nominated by Dave Johnson, who was the Wyoming Bankers Association Executive Director at the time.
The committee is comprised of 14 bankers nominated by their state banking associations. Members serve on the committee for three years.
“The committee selects one of their senior members as chairman,” explains Geis. “That individual serves as vice-chairman for a year, and then moves into the chairmanship.”
Geis is the chairman of the American Banker’s Association (ABA) Agricultural and Rural Banking Committee for the 2012-2013 year and will hand over his chairmanship next November.
Ag and rural banking
“As a committee, we get together four times a year and talk about the challenges – both locally and nationally – that may be on the horizon,” says Geis of his work on the committee. “They may be issues that may or may not have made it into legislative venues. We advocate for those things that make the ag industry and the ag banking industry a more positive environment.”
While working on a number of potential threats to the industry, Geis notes that they have successfully influenced changes that are beneficial to ag lending.
“The other thing we believe is that there is a place for ag community banks, and we want a level playing field as it relates to the farm credit systems of the world,” he says.
With the substantial role that community banks play on the local level, Geis says they are important to ensuring the livelihood of rural America.
“Community banks are leaders in small communities across our nation. They are the ones that help to fund hospitals, give to high schools and 4-H programs,” he emphasizes. “They not only inject capital into communities, but also the leadership and incentive to make communities a better place.”
“Rural America would look considerably different without community banks,” Geis adds.
Just as the rest of agriculture faces a number of challenges, agricultural lending faces trials as well. However, Geis notes that Wyoming is very fortunate, and our state is protected from many of the difficulties that plague other parts of the country.
“We live in a vacuum,” he says. “We don’t have to worry about broiler house regulations or what they do and do not allow in growing chickens or various other commodity subsidies, for example.”
As an whole, however, Geis notes that agriculture lending is facing the challenge of passing the baton to the next generation of leaders.
“From an ag lenders perspective, we need to provide value aside from just a loan. Along with providing good financial information, we need to be a sounding board and understand what it takes to raise a cow or grow a bushel of wheat or a ton of sugar beets,” Geis explains. “The question of where do we find those individuals and how do we pass on the information that has been learned over the past 30 years has come up.”
Finding young people to replace the aging population of ag lenders is not an easy task, but it is one that is essential to the survival of ag banking.
“There is a lot of gray hair when I go to the meetings,” he says. “There is going to be a transfer of lenders in the next five to seven years, and there are not a lot of young people that are going from farms and ranches that are going into ag lending.”
For the future
Though his term with the ABA committee expires next year, Geis notes that he won’t disappear from the forefront of the ag lending industry.
“I have always been actively engaged in a number of different venues, and been in the trenches to fight the battles for the right reasons and the right things,” Geis says. “There is a lot of satisfaction that comes from seeing that you are part of something that makes a difference in communities and individual lives.”
National Ag Bankers Conference
At this year’s National Agricultural Bankers Conference, attendees heard from a number of speakers about the outlook going forward. The conference, themed “The Supercycle Ag Banker,” looked at the effect of the expanding global economy and boom in demand for U.S. ag products.
“We had a great representation of Wyoming agricultural lenders at the conference,” comments Platte Valley Bank President and conference chairman Keith Geis. “Agriculture is the backbone of our great state. With the ever-changing ag economy impacting everyone, it is very important that we come together and find ways to best serve our communities.”
More than 320 bankers from across the nation attended the conference to hear the nation’s ag lending experts discuss the future of the industry. This year marked the 60th year of the conference, and the 100th anniversary of the American Bankers Association’s (ABA) Agricultural and Rural Banking Committee.
“I’ve enjoyed the ABA committee immensely,” Geis comments. “It has given me a broader understanding of the challenges that ag faces across the nation.”
“The ABA’s Agricultural and Rural Banking committee has made a tremendous contribution to the Agricultural and Banking industry over the pass century,” adds Geis. “It is an honor to be apart of this great organization.”