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Checking in with Fran Rietveld

Fast Facts About Fran Rietveld

Fran Rietveld is the vice president and Customer Relationship Manager  for First Dakota National Bank.

The FirstPartners and Travel program has 4,588 active accounts with a balance of $217 million. The group organizes seven to eight trips a year.

Born: Huron, South Dakota

Education: Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota: business and economics 

Employment: Rietveld worked 10 years at Marquette Bank in Sioux Falls. Relocating to Mitchell, South Dakota, she took a position with First Dakota National Bank, where she has stayed for the past 20 years as the vice president of marketing.

Family: Rietveld has been married to her husband, Terry, for 32 years. She has an adult son and daughter and a baby granddaughter. 

Hobbies: In addition to travel, Rietveld enjoys walking, boating, and reading with her (female) cat, Gus.

Early Challenges

Fran Rietveld’s early career experiences prepared her for one of the most challenging times of her working life — taking over FirstPartners and Travel, the travel club of First Dakota National Bank right as the COVID pandemic took hold. 

“I worked at Target headquarters in Minneapolis as a buyer, so I worked with companies like Procter and Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, all those types of big vendors,” said Rietveld. “Fast forward to 2020, I had been the VP of marketing for about 18 years, when the person running the First Partners and Travel program retired — in 2020 — and I took over the day-to-day details right as COVID hit.”

While Rietveld already oversaw the department, working directly with travelers at the time when traveling became impossible was a challenge. In fact, she was returning from a group trip to Alaska to see the Iditarod when airports began to close down in March 2020.

“We were coming home, and we were all a little worried because things were starting to close down. We didn’t know if we would get through the airports — it was like a morgue; it was so spooky, just mind-boggling — a real Twilight Zone feeling,” said Rietveld. “Of course the rest of the year and 2021 were pretty sparse for travel. I had trips full and ready to go that we had to cancel and haven’t rescheduled, but I was planning and unplanning for two years.”

Relationship Goals

FirstPartners and Travel is a membership perk for the holders of First Dakota National Bank’s premier accounts, which require an aggregate balance over $25,000.

“We want people to have a relationship with the bank, not just have a checking account,” said Rietveld. “People hardly need to come to a bank in person anymore, so we want to educate people on taking ownership of their finances. I always ask, ‘Is your account working for you?’ and I mean, make the account actually do work for you, make your money do something that benefits you; and travel is a byproduct of that.”

While some banks have travel programs, Rietveld is looking to bring in new customers and increase brand loyalty by building relationships with customers, using travel as a marketing tool. Rietveld facilitates seminars; movie nights; outings to a community playhouse, pumpkin patches and other activities to get to know and strengthen the ties with customers.

“I really get to know them and their families and help them realize things that are on their bucket lists, and travel is an expanded relationship builder,” said Rietveld. “We only take about 25 people on our trips, and after every trip it’s like I have a new group of friends — everyone is hugging and there are goodbye tears.”

One of the nice things about FirstPartners and Travel is that unlike many banks that require travelers to be account holders, travel club members or pay an additional fee, their program invites clients first and then opens trips to non-members. This allows people who are account holders to invite family or friends who are not account holders with the bank. 

“About 70% of them are already our customers,” said Rietveld. “But of those who aren’t but travel with us, about half become our customers because of the relationship we built and how much they enjoyed the experience. We price everything two to a room; everything is all inclusive: airfare, transportation to and from the airport, transportation on the trip, the hotel, two meals a day, tickets to all the attractions, trip insurance and gratuity — when everything is covered then the cost of the trip is all you have to worry about.”

Adventure Awaits

Rietveld plans each trip based on feedback she gets from her travelers. 

“After each trip we take, I do a survey and ask what is on people’s bucket lists,” she said. “If I hear five times from people that they want to go Ireland, that’s a clue I need to book Ireland.”

But Rietveld doesn’t just book ho-hum trips. She considers and plans all sorts of unique details that make the trip an unforgettable adventure for participants. 

“I include things in an itinerary that people can’t or won’t do on their own, like having a docent-guided tour at the museum,” says Rietveld. “People love to tell you about the things on their bucket lists, so if they have an intriguing destination, and I have heard enough times that people want to do it, then we book it and I start tailoring it.” 

Among the most important details are giving travelers an authentic and noncommercialized experience where they truly are immersed in the community they travel in, getting to know locals and taking part in activities that make a locale special — a historical aspect, for example. 

Magic Mystery Tour

Among Rietveld’s favorite outings to plan are mystery tours. Guests sign up for these one-day trips without knowing the destination and only find out where they’re headed after departure.

On one trip, they took guests to see “Come From Away,” the musical about the community of Gander in Newfoundland and Labrador that took in and fed and sheltered thousands of people stranded during the 9/11 attacks. They enjoy a cod lunch, take part in the “kiss the fish”’ ceremony that makes visitors honorary Newfoundlanders, and throw back a rum screecher (their customary drink) and enjoy traditional jam jams cookies. 

“Our customers love a mystery trip — it takes only minutes for those trips to fill,” Rietveld said. “Thirty people will jump on a motorcoach and it’s a total surprise. We find these obscure things to do within a couple of hours’ drive — we play games with the sides of the bus playing against each other and drink beers from a local Mitchell brewery to celebrate the bank’s 150th anniversary. It’s a blast.”

Destination Faves

1. Mush! Mush! — “Attending the Iditarod has been one of my most memorable trips so far. The weather was warmer in Anchorage and Fairbanks than in South Dakota! The people and landscape were amazing. It’s a great experience that isn’t commercialized, so you can experience the human interaction of the communities.”

2. Old Cape Cod — “Cape Cod is a great adventure full of quaint communities. We love to find unique opportunities that our travelers would never be able to go on their own. We went to a cranberry bog and visited with the owners to learn about their establishment and process.”

3. Caribbean Style — “One of my favorite
Caribbean Islands is St. Lucia. The topography, clear blue water and beautiful beaches are a wonderful escape from our South Dakota winters.”