Banking Exchange logo215mar2015

The only bank in a town born during a flyover

Mutual of Omaha Bank serves as Laughlin, Nevada’s only financial institution

The only bank in a town born during a flyover
This city sign not only welcomes you to Laughlin, Nev., but commemorates Don Laughlin, the entrepreneur who turned a dying motel into a successful city. The Winnebago Bankers, Larry and Mary Ann Marik, visited Mutual of Omaha Bank, in Laughlin.

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New to this blog? After he hung up his president hat, bank chairman Larry and Mary Ann decided to sell their house, buy a Winnebago, and see more of America. They are now blogging about what they see about banking for Banking Exchange. Read more about the Mariks in “Chairman of the Open Road.” See the link at the end of the story.
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There are only two places to put your money in Laughlin, Nev.: the casinos that line the Colorado River or in the Mutual of Omaha Bank.

We suggest the latter.

Laughlin is at the very bottom of Nevada, in a little corner where the borders of Arizona, California, and Nevada come together.

Mutual of Omaha Bank is literally the only other place in town to put your money; it is the only financial institution in this community of 7,000, and it is doing an admirable job in that position, helping Laughlin to thrive and grow.

Donna Treague, community bank manager, and Steven Brown, River Region Market President, met us in Donna’s office. Donna has had multiple stops around the country in her 40-year banking career, but she has been in Laughlin for the past 14 years and with Mutual of Omaha Bank since 2008. Steven, also an experienced banker, has been with Mutual of Omaha Bank since it opened its doors in 2008 in Laughlin. His office is now across the river in Bullhead City, Ariz. Both bankers spoke with pride of their communities and their bank. (Mutual of Omaha Bank has 45 offices in 8 states.)

Mutual of Omaha Bank bankers Donna Treague (r.) and Steven Brown (l.) know the Laughlin market well. Right, customers can count on a friendly greeting when they visit the Mutual of Omaha Bank office in Laughlin.

Laughlin’s roots: from motel to hotels
Way back, Laughlin, originally called South Point, consisted of an eight-room motel, a bar, and a few slot machines. Frequented by the men building Davis Dam, the motel closed when the dam was completed in 1950.

In 1964, Don Laughlin, a Las Vegas businessman, was flying over the area and saw its potential. He purchased the property and moved his family into four rooms of the motel. By 1986, the eight-room motel had become a 14-story hotel, and a number of other casinos lined the river. Ferries carried people back and forth across the river from Bullhead City.

In 1987, Don Laughlin built a $3.5 million bridge across the Colorado linking Laughlin and Bullhead City and donated it to the two states. The bridge carries 2,000 vehicles daily. Today there are nine casinos, 10,000 rooms, and 60 restaurants. Five million visitors a year come to enjoy the casinos and water sports.  
At his own expense, entrepreneur Don Laughlin had a multi-lane bridge built across the Colorado, replacing the ferries that used to take folks back and forth to Bullhead, Ariz.
At this point in Laughlin’s development, gaming is the major industry in the area, but the infrastructure is in place for diversifying the economy, and Laughlin in poised for growth. The Clark County Commission has just recently voted to approve the sale of 9,000 acres just south of Laughlin to ENN Mojave Energy, the Nevada subsidiary of a worldwide energy company planning to develop a manufacturing facility, a solar generating facility, and a large-scale research, development, and demonstration project.

Donna was excited about the 2,000 to 2,600 full- time jobs that ENN will bring to Laughlin. “The gaming industry will have to step up,” she said. “The economy has hurt gaming,” she said, “so ENN coming is just awesome.”

Mutual of Omaha Bank was advantaged by timing. It was in acquisition mode just as the market was dropping.

“When First National of Nevada failed in 2008, Mutual of Omaha Bank came in right behind the FDIC and covered all deposits,” said Steven. “Our customers want strength and stability. If people had lost deposits when First National failed, I would have moved. Mutual of Omaha Bank believes in the communities we serve. We had an immediately recognizable brand that people associate with trust.” 

Those of us of the Baby Boomer generation remember assembling every Sunday evening in front of the TV to watch Wonderful World of Disney followed by “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

“About the only question people had for us,” said Steven, “was ‘Where is Marlin Perkins?’ ” (For the younger banker readers, Perkins was the longtime host of the series. You can enjoy more about him and the series here, including a video called, “Yes, Marlin got out of the jeep.”)

Mutual of Omaha Bank was starting just as the market was dropping so it was not actively involved in residential mortgages, but First National was very active. Laughlin, like all of Nevada and Arizona, was hit hard.

“Mutual of Omaha Bank was not a recipient of TARP money, and people appreciate that,” said Steven.

The operational process for loan production is handled regionally. This year, Mutual of Omaha Bank’s Laughlin location is active in making real estate loans. Concentrating on CRA, the office  is working with individual first-time home buyers. They also offer a construction loan product for contractors which they portfolio. To help stimulate the economy, they offer a 15-year fixed and a variable product, which they also portfolio.
Compliance on the Colorado
Steven told us that since Laughlin’s demographic is heavily retirement aged, wealth management is a very important part of the product mix.

We discussed compliance, and we were very impressed with their attitude. “Everything that comes up, we’re given direction from the compliance people,” said Donna. “My staff and my bank are like the poster child because we know our customers.”

 “When answering all the questions that we are now required to ask, our customers know it’s not an invasion of their privacy. Our customers know we’re trying to protect them,” added Steven.

Donna was an auditor in Minnesota at one point in her banking career. “It took me a year to convince the staff there that I was on their side,” she said with a laugh. “The auditor is there to help them.”  She brings a wealth of experience for overseeing compliance. Chartered as a savings bank, the organization now looks to its new lead examiner, the OCC.
Community feel in Laughlin
Donna and Steven obviously have a personal relationship with their customers. One of the first things we noticed when we entered Donna’s office was a simple crayon drawing that she had displayed. She explained that it was a rainbow … drawn by a friend’s child who has Spina Bifida.

The Laughlin branch has the most foot traffic of all the banks in the system, and that includes Vegas and Omaha. All that foot traffic kept Donna and Steven waving during our entire conversation.

Do Donna and Steven see Mutual of Omaha Bank as a community bank? 


“I am part of this community,” said Donna. Mutual of Omaha Bank encourages its employees to be active in their communities, and their community involvement bears this out. Steven is on the Chamber Board across the river in Bullhead City and is also a member of Rotary and Boys and Girls Clubs. Donna just became president of the Laughlin Chamber. Both are passionate about where they live.

One annual function worthy of note that Mutual of Omaha Bank provides for its customers in the Laughlin area: “Each year Mutual of Omaha Bank’s head economist, Bob Blakemore, comes to speak at an event sponsored by the bank. Last year Jim Fowler came as well. He was quite a hit,” said Steven. (Fowler followed Perkins as “Wild Kingdom” host.)

And another outstanding example of Mutual of Omaha Bank encouraging its employees to be involved in their communities:  September is the “Month of Caring” for Mutual of Omaha. Employees bank-wide get four paid hours that they can donate as time spent to help a charity. This enables all employees to work in the community while on the payroll. The staff in Laughlin donated their time to the Food Bank and to the River Fund, an agency that helps with electricity and rent.

There is a definite return on investment when it comes to helping in the community. “Customers tell us that they bank with us because of the things we do,” said Donna.
A visit back at HQ
Rarely do we have the opportunity to speak to the CEO of such a large holding company, but on a recent trip back to Nebraska, we were able to talk to Jeffrey Schmid, chairman and CEO of Mutual of Omaha Bank and long-time friend of Larry’s.  [Editor’s note: The Mariks’ home base is in Lincoln, Neb., and Larry is a former chairman of the Nebraska Bankers Association.]

Jeff was the first employee of Mutual of Omaha Bank.

In 2006, after 18 years in banking, Jeff was ready for a new endeavor and Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company was considering a major expansion into banking. The century-old insurance company hired Jeff to employ a community banking model that capitalized on Mutual of Omaha’s iconic brand--and Mutual of Omaha Bank was born.

“Five years later, we now have banks in 10 states with local talent, like Steven Brown, in all of them. I’ve never been a fan of the word branching. No other insurance-owned bank has this type of model. We like to develop talent. We have Steven Browns in every market. You won’t see us on billboards. I would rather put the money in Steve Brown’s hands instead of a marketing or advertising pool. He knows his market.”

Yes, a $5 billion bank can definitely be a community bank.

 Strong banks build strong communities.

Keep your eyes peeled, should you see a huge black, tan, and steel Winnebago Journey roll through town or pass you on the highway. The Mariks will be displaying this poster as they search for stories for their blog.

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