North Dakota’s Largest Bank Fueled by Growth of Twin Cities

North Dakota-based Bell Bank, inspired by a decade of success in the Twin Cities, opened a flagship office in downtown City Center in Minneapolis and added a retail business facility to complement its large mortgage office at “Bell Plaza” near Interstate 494 in Bloomington.

The expansion takes place in the middle of a city center that is slowly renewing itself.

“If we are to be ‘the bank’ in the Twin Cities, we need an office in the city center,” said Michael Solberg, CEO of Bell Bank. “It is still the beating heart of commerce in the Twin Cities.”

Bell’s office has a spacious and well-appointed space, as well as a patio that overlooks the corner of Seventh Street and the Nicollet Mall.

The Fargo-based financier, founded in the 1960s, entered the Twin Cities through the 2012 acquisition of Bell Mortgage, which won against the larger Wells Fargo, US Bank Mortgage and the former TCF.

After buying out the mortgage company, State Bank changed its name to the catchier Bell.

Since 2012, Bell’s profitability has doubled to $ 10 billion in assets, overtaking the state-owned Bank of North Dakota as North Dakota’s largest banker.

Twin Cities assets have grown from $ 90 million to $ 2.6 billion and are now the 10th largest bank in the Twin Cities region, according to the company and regulatory records. Bell has grown its assets profitably by 15% per year, taking market share. Employment in the Twin Cities has grown from 200 to around 550 since 2012.

“We never would have dreamed that we would be where we are in the Twin Cities,” said Solberg, 49, a seasoned banker and second-generation member of one of the two families that control the bank.

Bell is one of the largest family-owned banks in the country and is forecasting a record operating profit of around $ 125 million this year. The company’s equity, which exceeds $ 1 billion, has been bolstered by several hundred million dollars in one-time gains since 2019 from the sale of assets, including from a software company it incubated. , and the sale of deposits from its “health account” activity for employers. .

Bell executives believe they can double the size of the bank within seven years.

“Their secret sauce is that they never forgot their roots,” said North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who opened an account with Bell while a student at State University of Canada. North Dakota in the 1970s. “Banking isn’t just about finance. It’s about relationships. For them, it starts with treating their employees well. And they treat their customers well.”

He applauded the bank’s growth in the Twin Cities.

Burgum, 65, was the founder and CEO of Great Plains Software, a large Fargo-based company that was sold to Microsoft in 2000. He was also a downtown Fargo redevelopment contractor and a prior venture capitalist. ” be elected governor in 2016.

In an interview last week, Solberg, 49, and Todd Lee, 50, executive vice president of the company that runs banking and lending, said their No.1 constituent is employees.

“We focus on happy employees and that translates into happy customers,” said Lee, an accountant and lawyer Solberg hired after a successful banking practice in 2010. “The numbers support themselves. Employees are the reason for our success. “

Richard Solberg, Michael’s father, who retired as CEO in 2015, was the driving force behind Bell’s employee-centric culture. Bell pays competitively, promotes internally and offers abundant career opportunities multiplied by its growth. In recent years, it has also launched an employee shareholding plan.

Bell, which has also invested in Denver and Arizona, has hired many employees to come out of the consolidation and turmoil in the local banking business, most notably at Wells Fargo and the former TCF.

Paul Bees, a 30-year-old seasoned recruiter, most recently with Versique Search & Consulting, said Bell Bank is a great employer and operator.

“They just want to do good business and serve the community,” Bees said. “They do the things that make sense and generate good profits. They hire great people and keep them happy. For the most part, they allow employees to progress. When we go to the market for them, it’s an attractive sale for us. “

Solberg said that in addition to competitive compensation and fair treatment, the bank’s best investment is to give everyone $ 1,000 a year to a charity of their choice. And when the bank crossed $ 5 billion in assets in 2018, it gave its 1,800 employees $ 5,000 and asked them to share half of it with those who needed it. The company has invested approximately $ 20 million in the “pay it forward” initiative.

Bell’s board of directors and shareholders are publicly committed to an independent future. And the over $ 1 billion equity capital raised by Bell provides enough capital for Bell to grow economically in the Twin Cities and elsewhere, Solberg said. He doesn’t need a bigger partner.

Solberg said the family-owned Bell business is focusing on what’s best for stakeholders five to ten years from now. No quarterly income.

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