Utz to unify Associated Bank’s Milwaukee efforts

Biz News

A rendering of Associated’s new Milwaukee Private Client Center.

John Utz was recently named to the new role of Milwaukee market president for Green Bay-based Associated Banc-Corp.

John Utz
John Utz

Utz, who previously served as executive vice president and head of Corporate Banking North, has been the most senior business leader in the Milwaukee area for several years and will continue to be responsible for all Corporate Banking.

But his elevated position will unite the bank’s marketing, philanthropic and business development efforts in the market, Utz said.

“How do we coordinate that activity so we’re providing a single strategy to the marketplace and a common voice?” he said.

The bank also has a significant portion of its workforce, leadership and board members in southeastern Wisconsin.

“If you look at the amount of people that we have in the Milwaukee market, we probably have (900) colleagues that are sitting in the Milwaukee market. I think what folks don’t realize is we have five (of 15) of the bank’s executive team sitting here in Milwaukee.”

At the same time, Milwaukee-based Marshall & Illsley Corp.’s M&I Bank has been integrated into BMO Harris Bank since its 2011 acquisition, and there are fewer community-facing executives now that the organization isn’t locally based, Utz said. Associated is aiming to attract some of the customers who dislike the change.

“It’s amazing if you look back at what the old M&I created and what they meant to southeast Wisconsin from their involvement in the community, he said. What folks don’t like to talk about, because we’re really nice and kind here, is that that’s not the same place it used to be. The CEO of BMO isn’t waking up every day and worrying about what’s going on in Wisconsin. There’s a difference when you have executives that live and breathe and are part of the community.”

One of Associated’s new high-tech branches in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.
One of Associated’s new high-tech branches in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.

Associated Banc-Corp has $27 billion in assets and has more than 200 Associated Bank branches in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. That size and its Wisconsin headquarters make Associated a unique player on the Milwaukee banking scene, which is made up of a number of smaller local banks and several larger national banks.

“You’re $2 billion, that’s pretty small. So I look at it as there’s nobody like us,” he said. “How do I create the consistency of culture so I can be to this market what this market wants, which is somebody that operates like the old M&I.”

M&I had about 40 percent of the market share in Milwaukee in its heyday, and some of that is still up for grabs four years later, Utz said.

Part of the opportunity for Associated has been sponsorship and marketing opportunities with the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Milwaukee Film Festival and other prominent Milwaukee organizations, he said. Most of those commitments are $50,000 or more.

There are no strategic hiring plans in southeastern Wisconsin, Utz said, but the bank has been adjusting its footprint locally.

Associated Bank recently opened a Private Client Center to serve Milwaukee private banking clients in a former branch at 815 N. Water St. in downtown Milwaukee. About 41 employees will work in the Private Client Center, representing the Private Banking, Trust, Wealth Management and Retirement Plan Services departments. Some employees will be shifted from other offices, while new employees will be hired for other positions.

A rendering of Associated’s new Milwaukee Private Client Center.
A rendering of Associated’s new Milwaukee Private Client Center.

The bank is also in the process of closing 13 branches across its footprint as part of its ongoing brick-and-mortar consolidation. At the same time, it is opening new, smaller high-tech branches in strategic locations including Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward and Haymarket Square neighborhoods. The newer branches offer services such as virtual ATMs and online banking demonstration zones to keep pace with changing consumer banking practices.

“As we continue to grow the franchise, we continue to add employees in the markets that are growing,” Utz said. “If you look at the amount of talent that sits in southeast Wisconsin, it’s a hotbed of talent. My job is to empower talented people beneath me.”

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.