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Personal accounts: Friendly competition

A Luau in Hawaii with Debbie Sundall’s bank travel club

Debbie Sundall had just graduated from high school when she walked into Farmers Trust and Savings Bank in Spencer, Iowa, with high hopes. She was looking for a job.

“I didn’t even have a resume,” Sundall said. “But I interviewed with the president of the bank and was hired as a teller. I started in July.”

Thirty-nine years later, she is not only director of the bank’s Heritage Club but also senior vice president. She started the Heritage Club in the late 1980s after her bank management observed neighboring banks enjoying windfalls in deposits and strengthened customer relationships by way of travel clubs.

“At the time, there was a woman in Charles City, Iowa, Mae Rodamaker, who sat down and trained club directors,” said Sundall. “People came from all over the United States for her training and then went home to start their own club. Today, you can really trace the roots of the many Heritage Clubs to Mae and Charles City.”

Networking Helps Sell Trips

Farmers Trust and Savings Bank’s Heritage Club requires that members be 53 years of age and have $1,500 in a checking or savings account or $5,000 in a certificate of deposit. The club represents 34 percent of the bank’s assets, according to Sundall.

“Certainly, much of our club’s great success is attributed to networking with other Heritage Clubs and other bank travel groups,” she said. “Our club, with 2,100 members, enjoys over 30 trips a year, including 10 long-weekend jaunts, extended tours and bimonthly day trips, all with no advertising other than a newsletter.

“We specifically network with three other banks and work collectively when offering larger trips. While we are competing banks, we get together every quarter to make our plans. The bank who originates the trip escorts it, and the rest of us sell it. This has allowed us extraordinary opportunities to travel to destinations like Ireland, Hawaii, the Panama Canal and more.

“Networking is one of the best things we have done.”

Allowing Sundall the luxury of an assistant has been another “best thing” for this busy director.

“Julie Schultzee has been my right arm since the beginning,” said Sundall. “She plans trips, takes payments, does our newsletter and even goes on trips. Plus, she is so good with people. I’m so lucky.”

The Heritage Club takes advantage of three cities that offer myriad opportunities for day trips.
“Minneapolis, Des Moines and Omaha are all within driving distance, so theater, professional sports and more are at our fingertips. Often weekend jaunts, these adventures allow working baby boomers to get a taste of what bank travel is all about,” Sundall said.

“We’re also huge fans of the American Queen riverboat. In fact, in 2012, we cruised from St. Paul [Minnesota] to St. Louis the first time they offered that leg of the cruise. In November, 22 of our members will be cruising from Memphis [Tennessee] to New Orleans.

“And mystery trips are big hits for our group, as well as themed trips for women. We have done What Women Want — Dubuque-Style in Dubuque, Iowa, where a hands-on pottery venue, a ride on the Mississippi River and spa treatments were part of our three-day itinerary. Julie Kronlage, their CVB director, does an amazing job.

“What Women Want — Stillwater-Style in Stillwater, Minnesota, is another terrific adventure. This quaint river town features venues where women make gorgeous silk-screened scarves and enjoy cooking demonstrations.”

Renting a local theater twice a year for private movie screenings and an annual anniversary party to celebrate the founding of the Heritage Club are also on Sundall’s active agenda.

“We also offer Heritage Club University, where we have educational speakers discuss relevant topics,” she added.