Sunset Bank and Savings

As a 30-year veteran of the industry, Robert Eastman knows the formula for a successful financial institution.
When he decided in 1997 that it was time to start his own business, Eastman turned to the people of Waukesha for advice on how to build a better community bank.
In his Top 10 Small Businesses in Waukesha County award nomination letter sent to the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce, Eastman said he asked members of the Waukesha community what they liked and disliked about their banks.
"A few were pleased, but the vast majority complained about problems with service," Eastman said. "They complained about the changing faces and long lines. They complained about excessive fees and unusual charges. I knew these complaints existed, but not to what extent. When I started to tell people of our plans to open a new bank in Waukesha, the response was overwhelmingly favorable."
When the bank opened for business in 1999 at 521 W. Sunset Drive in Waukesha, Eastman said, Sunset had opportunities for customers that the competition did not. Sunset was the first bank in the local market to offer telephone banking and one of the first to provide Internet banking.
Since 2000, Sunset has grown from 12 employees to 30, and its annual revenue grew to more than $4.6 million in 2003.
Eastman said the key to his success is to take care of his employees who, in turn, give the customers what he calls personal attention banking.
"Service is how it is presented," Eastman said. "Good service with warm, friendly people administering it."
Eastman knows that treating employees on an individual basis keeps the quality of service high, and the bank has had little turnover as a result because the employees are happy with their jobs. He offers incentives such as three weeks of vacations for all employees, a 15-minute massage for each employee every other Friday and a company luncheon once a month planned by a selected group of employees.
"The success of any business is dependent on the employees," Eastman said. "You need to motivate them, make them part of the team and (give them incentive) not only with money, but with small, appreciated perks."
Sunset Bank wants to emit a warm, fuzzy feeling to the customer, Eastman said. In addition to service, new account holders receive a Gund stuffed bear as a free gift.
"My office is right across from the customer service desk on purpose," Eastman said. "I try to get up and shake every customer’s hand that I see. I thank customers for their business, but I also think it is just a decent courtesy to introduce yourself."
Six months ago, Sunset unveiled Global ATM to better serve its customers by reimbursing them for ATM charges from other banks.
"Global ATM enhances the value of the banking relationship," Eastman said. "Prior to that, we did offer an ATM access network where customers could go to 400 banks in Wisconsin for free. Now, we have it everywhere."
Sunset stresses value and convenience on the mortgage and commercial lending side of the bank, as well.
"Last year, we had over $100 million in mortgage lending because the trade is fast and quick," Eastman said. "We try to accomplish the goal around the customer needs. Most can be done in a week, depending on the appraisal."
Sunset Bank’s commitment to the community is also notable. In addition to donating money, Sunset Bank owns a Hummer H2 for promotional and fundraising purposes. The Hummer is loaned to charities holding fundraising events.
"We are involved because the bank is composed of local people who want to see us help improve the life of this community," Eastman said. "The Hummercraft is a way to boost the amount of money the charity takes in at the event."
Eastman said the bank has grown rapidly in part because of its commitment to the community and the wide variety of quality offerings available to the customers.
"We plan on expanding throughout the area and continuing to provide good service through friendly delivery mechanisms and by keeping employees happy," Eastman said. "I believe we will accomplish that goal."
Sunset also plans to introduce a new profit-oriented retail opportunity for customers, but the product is still in the research and development phases, Eastman said.
In the meantime, two new locations of Sunset Bank will open by the end of the year to better serve the company’s growing customer base in Waukesha County.
A drive-through and ATM location is scheduled to open Aug. 1 at 2500 N. Grandview Blvd., Waukesha, with three employees. Sunset will begin construction this fall for its new corporate headquarters and branch at 2017 Meadow Lane, Waukesha.
A mobile branch will open around Nov.1 on the Meadow Lane site to service customers until the new building opens for business. The Sunset Drive location will remain a full-service branch.
Eastman said a fourth Sunset Bank location is also in the works along Highway 67 near Interstate 94 in Oconomowoc, across from the Pabst Farms site. Eastman said the land has been purchased.
June 25, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Christine McMahon helps leaders develop strategies and improve speed of execution by developing leadership talent, creating alignment between business functions and improving communications and accountability up, down and across a business. She is co-founder of the Leadership Institute and is in partnership with the WMEP. For keynote presentations, executive coaching, sales and leadership training, she can be reached at: ccm@christinemcmahon.com.

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