Locke: McFarland Bank Fastest-Growing in Dane County

By Brian E. Clark

When David Locke started at McFarland State Bank 30 years ago, it had assets of $4 million. There were also 12,000 community banks in the United States at the time, 460 of which were chartered in Wisconsin.

The years have not been kind to small lenders, however. Due to consolidation, the country now has only 6,000 community banks, and Wisconsin has just 220 that are chartered here.

But McFarland State Bank, which is now owned entirely by Locke and his family, has thrived. Especially in recent years.

Its assets currently stand at more than $230 million and it has 4,000 accounts. It recently was honored by the UW-Oshkosh business college for its steady growth and community involvement. The contest also was sponsored by Corporate Report Wisconsin magazine and Associated Bank.

“These are exciting times and technology has been big asset to us,” said Locke, whose bank has doubled its size in the past few years. It is located in McFarland, a community of about 7,000 south of Madison on Highway 51.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., it is the fastest-growing bank in Dane County.

“And we don’t advertise,” said Locke, 57. “We’ve done it by word-of-mouth because we are quick on our responses. We also like to help people who are just starting out and hanging up a shingle.”

Because the bank is closely held, Locke said his bank has a much less bureaucracy than regional banks.

“They are not as nimble as we can be and our customers appreciate that,” he said. “They want answers quickly. We also continue to be viable because we take care of people at a personal level.

He noted that some employees have been at the bank for 25 years – nearly as long as his tenure. He cited one woman who has even gone out to the home of a senior citizen to help her with her banking.

“Try to get that kind of service at Wells Fargo,” he quipped.

Locke said his bank has a lean staff, with less than 35 employees – about half the average for a bank with its assets.

“But we are also extremely competitive,” he said. “There is nothing our bank can’t do that a big bank can do.”

Locke said he has had numerous offers over the years to sell.

“But we have not chosen to even talk to anyone about that,” he said. “We are independent and we will stay that way. This isn’t work for me, so I have no plans to retire anytime soon.”

Locke said he tries to coach the young lenders who work at his bank.

“I tell them you are not doing borrowers a favor if you don’t counsel them so they can succeed,” he said.

“But it is very gratifying to look back over the years at all the businesses we have helped start. Because the bulk of new jobs that are created in this country are by small businesses with the aid of community banks.”

Burk Tower, a management professor at UW-Oshkosh, said McFarland State Bank is a model for other community banks.

“They do well by their customers and it shows,” he said.

Mark Koehl, a partner at Wipfli accountants and consultants, nominated the bank for the award.

“They have been successful because they are focused on McFarland and the greater Madison community,” he said. “Due to how they are structured, they provide great customer service.”

Koehl said his firm works with many financial institutions.

“But McFarland’s rate of growth is at the top of the charts,” he said. “They provide the things that customers are looking for. They do a lot of stuff right.”

Tower said Locke also was honored because of its involvement in McFarland. Locke was specifically cited for helping fund a new library.

“We believe in giving back to the community,” Locke said. “To me that is a no-brainer. Local banks generally do a wonderful job with their communities. We have been supportive of our village and school district – and they of us.”

Locke said his bank helped get the village get its first business park started and aided in the redevelopment of the Highway 51 corridor.

The bank also sold its downtown site to the village at a $400,000 discount two years ago. And the family foundation recently pledged another $600,000 to the project.

“McFarland has given us a lot, so we are giving some back,” mused Locke, who said his family would be honored if the library is named after them.