Jeanne Crain

Jeanne Crain

Best Book I’ve Read This Year:
And the Mountains Echoedby Khaled Hosseini

Red, White, or Beer?

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Jeanne Crain oversees St. Paul-based Bremer’s Twin Cities operation, Minnesota’s largest commercial bank, with $2.7 billion in assets, 321 employees, and 27 branches. She was appointed to her role in 2012 after serving as president of M&I/BMO Harris’s Minnesota region. She explores the current state of the banking industry with us.

What did you do prior to banking?

My father had his own jewelry/card/gift store in a couple small towns in central North Dakota, and both my parents were involved. My parents had eight children, so we were the hired help, so to speak. I learned the commitment it took to be attentive to customers, to be smart about running your business, to take some risk, to understand the constant requirements to be engaged.

The banking industry has been driven by consolidation and acquisition for some time now. How has that affected you?

I’ve been through a number of acquisitions in this industry by virtue of who I’ve worked for. In fact, I’ve been with nine different organizations and through five acquisitions; incredibly valuable lessons in terms of getting a sense of how you can be part of one single industry but understand that the culture within an organization can drive a very different strategy, business model, client experience, employee experience. There’s so much tied to who you are as a company that drives your success.

Describe your management style.

I’m more participative than not. I look for input from the team; I look for ideas to come from the team. I want my team to feel engaged in the process, to feel ownership. That being said, I’m a fairly decisive leader, so I know when I need to make decisions and move the business forward.

What differentiates Bremer?

We are absolutely a business bank. We have directed our resources, our investments, our assets, which are our people, to have expertise and experience in order to work and develop that client base. This is very much a commodity industry. It is so hard to distinguish yourself by virtue of the money you lend or the deposits that you design. Our key differentiator absolutely comes through our people.

What attributes do you look for in a borrower?

A strong management team is absolutely critical. It doesn’t prevent a business from having a challenging environment—that’s a natural part of any business’ existence. But having a team that we know well that has experience to work through that, that understands that the bank is their partner, that has good communication—we roll up our sleeves in those times. Our goal is always to stick with a customer through good times and bad, where we can have an open dialogue.

Any bank today is looking for a business that has a good understanding of where they’re headed, what they hope to accomplish, understanding the ingredients it takes to be competitive, the risks in their industry.

What’s the greatest challenge you’re facing?

There’s a fairly significant regulatory burden that all banks are feeling. We’re planning for that. We’re not afraid of it. It’s burdensome in that it’s more costly, the compliance regime is intense.

Our challenge is to make sure that we have strategically focused on where we can find growth opportunities. We’re not nearly the size we think we can be. We have to be smart about making investments. We have great capital to deploy, but we want to be thoughtful about how we deploy that capital.

We’re not going to try to be everything to everyone. We want to focus our growth opportunities on the business audience that we can really provide a great experience to.

Recent data suggests a slowing of profits at many Minnesota banks. How do you expect to continue growing?

The last 30 months we’ve had increased growth every month. It is one of our biggest challenges to understand how you keep that going.

We feel we have every opportunity to continue that growth. That said, there’s been a long-term, protracted low-interest-rate environment, and that has eroded our margins. And that’s challenging for banks. In many respects, we still make our money the old-fashioned way: We lend it out and we fund it by the deposits we collect; you can only go so low on those deposits in terms of what you’re paying. And you have a competitive marketplace that keeps you honest and focused to be competitive to find business opportunities when you’re lending money out.

We have looked and continue to look at other types of revenue drivers—whether that’s our fee-for-services businesses like insurance, investments, trusts, those are great opportunities for us.

What mark do you hope to leave on Bremer?

I hope I can drive continued growth for this organization by leveraging all the tools we have to work with. I love the variety of customers we have. I love seeing our bankers thrive and develop relationships with clients. I love the tools and, frankly, the difference we can make in our communities by virtue of how we can help businesses thrive.