A Community Bank at its Roots
Wintrust Construction, Engineering & Architecture: Specialists for a complex industry
Win. Trust. What an exceptional name for a bank.
President, CEO and founder Ed Wehmer founded Wintrust in 1991 to provide strong, homegrown community banking in the Chicago suburbs as an alternative to the big banks. At the time, big banks in the city were increasingly moving their client base “upstream,” focusing less on small business banking needs and more on corporate market clients. Noting this trend, Wehmer saw an opportunity to build a true community bank, where tellers know their customers by name and where bankers care about local businesses because they frequent them.
His vision was for a versatile bank with the interest and motivation to serve both the people and the small businesses of Chicagoland, while retaining the technology and balance sheet to also handle large clientele.
The CE&A Team
Five years ago, Executive Vice President Matt Doucet joined Wintrust as the lead of Wintrust Construction, Engineering & Architecture (CE&A), a specialized group that provides banking services and financing solutions specifically tailored to the construction industry. The team works with general contractors, specialty contractors, road contractors, mechanical contractors, electrical contractors and engineering firms.
Wintrust is one of only three banks nationally that specializes in the construction industry.
Doucet’s team consists of three lending officers, Dave Nelson, Chris Van Tassel and Jeff Steigelman, who source loans and manage front-end client relationships. The team also includes two portfolio managers, Lonnie Hu and Johanna Buiteweg, who work behind the scenes to monitor client portfolios and credit ratings.
Doucet started his career in the industry 30 years ago, providing surety bonds for contractors. Halfway through his career, he moved into banking, offering lines of credit, financing and financial solutions for contractors.
“I joined because the bank wanted to make a more concerted effort within the industry,” Doucet says. “Wintrust had always supported contractors, but they didn’t specialize in it. They wanted to really lean in and get it right.”
The Benefits of Specialization
The cyclical nature of construction, plus its seasonality and market volatility, make it a challenging industry in which to maintain a constant flow of business and income.
Some aspects of this are predictable. For example, every winter, road and building construction slows down considerably. Other aspects are far less predictable. Markets can fluctuate due to a wide variety of factors. As interest rates increase, access to capital decreases, and the construction industry tends to slow down.
Judging how a construction business will perform requires specialized expertise, something rare in banking, where generalists typically handle a range of industries and clients. In contrast, bankers with Wintrust CE&A have become members of the following Illinois-based construction organizations: Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA), Chicago Building Congress (CBC), Associated General Contractors of America, Inc. (AGC), Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA) and The Blue Book Building & Construction Network.
“That’s what separates us from other banks,” Doucet says. “We are a group that lives and breathes this industry.”
Doucet and his team’s insider knowledge allows them to see cyclical trends across the industry, appreciate the challenges faced by the businesses they serve, and take that knowledge into consideration when providing financing for contractors. The team’s knowledge base means they are able to take on greater risks. For instance, a construction company that fell on hard times because of a canceled job or a slow year would have a better chance of getting a line of credit or a loan from Wintrust than from another more traditional bank.
“We think to ourselves, ‘How are we there for our customers during those challenging times?’ “ he says. “We sit down to listen and try to understand their needs to figure out how we can better their business and bring the best solutions for them.”
Wintrust serves many types of client businesses and can help an emerging company that needs its first $500,000 line of credit, taking the time to understand what the company wants to accomplish in its business in order to best support it. The Wintrust CE&A team can also help middle market companies grow from, say $40 million, up to the next level of business and help a contractor valued at half a billion dollars manage enormous lines of credit.
The team offers their clients’ unique solutions, such as Wintrust’s employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), which helps businesses in the construction industry transition between generations, allowing companies to make smooth succession plans while also unlocking tax benefits.
Wintrust also provides its clients with networking opportunities to meet with developers and other contractors in the business and hosts educational events focused on topics that include fraud prevention, cyber security and wealth management.
A Growing Portfolio
In Illinois, a significant market fluctuation caused by a major pension liability issue has put a stranglehold on the economy and caused the construction industry to slow down considerably. To cope with these challenges, a few years ago, Wintrust CE&A began to branch out of the Midwest and nationally diversify and expand its portfolio. In doing so, the team gained access to more robust economies to compensate for the slowdown in its home region.
Over the last four years, the Wintrust CE&A team has doubled the size of the bank’s contractor portfolio, committing $750 million in capital to the industry. The majority of this success has been made locally, and the decision to begin working nationwide is expected to result in even greater rates of growth.
Despite its newly established national reach, the group is proud to be based in Chicago, home to its extended professional network, most loyal client base and corporate home office.
“All of our decisions are made here in Chicago,” Doucet says. “So, if our client needs something in a timely fashion, we can go directly to our senior management team for quick decisions. Our group has the support of our bank all the way to the top, including our CEO Ed Wehmer,” he adds.
More than 25 years after Wehmer started Wintrust, the CE&A team has stayed true to his original mission: be a community bank that puts its clients’ needs first.