The entrepreneur’s bank

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

Greg and Heidi Kolton are entrepreneurs, and they’ve made working with entrepreneurs and start-up businesses a priority for Foundations Bank.  The couple founded the Pewaukee-based bank in September 2005. Greg Kolton works as the president and chief executive officer of the bank. Heidi Kolton is its executive vice president and chief operations officer.

“We live this every day, like many of the people we do business with,” Greg Kolton said. “We have the same HR and marketing challenges. We have to wear multiple hats. And we work with passion. When someone comes and says ‘My wife and I or my son and I want to start a business,’ we get it. We understand their dream and we help fulfill it.”

Greg Kolton had been planning to start his own bank for more than 20 years, during his tenure at other large banks. Previously, he was the president and CEO of Marine Bank of Wisconsin. On one hand, he saw the power that big banks were able to bring to their clients because of the many assets and products they had. But at the same time, those banks weren’t flexible and we’re tailoring their products specifically to the needs of start-ups or existing small businesses.

“My wife and I were in the big institutions, and we wanted to be able to give (our clients) a more personalized experience,” Greg Kolton said. “(Big banks) have a difficult time customizing their products to the customers’ needs. A lot of time they need to fit into a slot. We do it the other way. We try to fit our bank into their business model, and match our products with their ideas and dreams.”

To support the entrepreneurs who Foundations Bank works with, the Koltons have created the Business Banking Center inside the bank. Located just outside the offices of the bank’s commercial lenders and near the commercial lending support staff, the center features computers with Internet access, two meeting rooms with multimedia tools for presentations and pitches, and a library full of business resources.

In the center, customers also have access to commercial lenders and support staff to answer questions or provide other assistance. When customers sign up to use the center, the bank assigns staff to help them while they’re working there.

“It’s designed to foster the establishment and growth of manager-owned businesses, and for starting or existing businesses that don’t have access to technology, HR or consultants,” Greg Kolton said. “Here they can start with an idea, build their business plan, incorporate their business, finance and open it, all in one place.”

The bank charges customers $200 per hour to use the center, largely because it includes support staff, use of computers, projectors and other high-tech tools and facilities.

“It’s not a profit center (for us),” Greg Kolton said. “It’s there ultimately as a tool. We’re just trying to cover our costs from that fee.”

To work better with entrepreneurs and their businesses, Foundations Bank has put a priority on using the latest banking software and technology.

“We’ve engaged a broad menu of bank products and services that are very competitive with the big banks,” Greg Kolton said. “Our strong suite (of products) can compete with and exceed what the big banks can deliver, largely because we have more hands-on service.”

Heidi Kolton formerly worked as the vice president of client services for Metavante Corp., the financial technology services subsidiary of Milwaukee-based Marshall & Ilsley Corp. There she helped identify and install many of the technology products and services the bank brings its customers.

Foundations Bank has its own credit cards, Internet based banking products, health savings accounts and investment and trust service division that it can offer to both commercial and retail clients.

“That’s above and beyond what most community-based banks are doing, making us a more complex bank,” Greg Kolton said. “That’s why we have more employees – we hired experts to help us build these components. Most of these people are coming from a big bank experience, and they’re used to working with a degree of complexity.”

Foundations Bank’s work with owner-operated businesses has paid off.

In early November, the bank moved into its new 12,500-square-foot headquarters at N35 W23770 Capitol Dr., Pewaukee. When it opened, the bank was previously located inside a much smaller space in a strip mall just east of its new location.

The building that houses Foundations Bank is 25,000 square feet in total size. It was built and is owned by KB Investments.

The bank now has 29 employees, including four commercial lenders and six support staff for commercial lending.

In early December, Foundations Bank had more than $80 million in total assets. The bank is on track to have $95 million to $100 million in assets by the end of December.

But that’s just the beginning.

Although Foundations Bank only has one location now, Greg Kolton has big plans for his relatively new bank. Within the next 10 years, he’s planning to have as many as 16 branch locations throughout Waukesha, western Milwaukee and southern Washington and Ozaukee counties.

“I’ve got them all laid out,” he said. “We’ll do our first branch in late 2007 or early 2008, more likely 2008. We might do as many branches as two per year.”

Some of the branches Greg Kolton is planning will be small, about 1,000 square feet with a single drive-through lane. They could be placed at a corner of a strip mall or another similar existing structure, Greg Kolton said.

Foundations Bank will also develop several full service branches, between 3,500 and 5,000 square feet each.

“Those will be like a mini-version of the main office,” Kolton said.

Starting Foundations Bank was a dream more than 20 years in the making for Greg Kolton, Heidi Kolton said.

“We looked at each other and the time in our life we were at, and our careers were at a point where we said it was time to do this,” she said. “It was right for both of us. He’s always wanted to do this and I’ve always supported that. I was more than willing to partner with him to do this.”

Being in charge of the bank with her husband has been a refreshing change for Heidi Kolton, after working with Metavante, Marine Bank and First Wisconsin Bank.

“And when it’s ‘yours’ or something where you’re in charge, it’s different,” she said. “It’s good. It’s better. I’ve done the big corporate thing and now I can get back to the grass roots. I get to do what I’ve done all these years and put it to use in a more practical way.

“You can see the fruits of your own labor in a small business. When you’re in a big business, you never know how much good you’ve accomplished.”

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