Bank president: Finding new ways to connect was rewarding experience of 2020

Peter Stenehjem of First International Bank & Trust shares how his organization rose to challenges during the pandemic

Peter Stenehjem 2.jpg
Photo courtesy of First International Bank & Trust

Years with organization: 21

Years in current position: 4

Hobbies: Spending time with family, golfing, skiing, spending time at the lake

Family: Evelyn (2), James (6 months), wife Stacey

What has been the biggest challenge your organization faced in 2020?


As an organization and as individuals, we thrive on connection, with one another and with our customers. Finding new ways to maintain and enrich those connections was the biggest, yet most rewarding, challenge we faced in 2020. By the end of Q1, mere weeks after it became clear COVID-19 was a valid concern in our markets, our IT department was able to transition most of our employees to remote work...At the same time, the Paycheck Protection Program was being implemented, creating a high volume of work for our commercial lenders and loan processors, and our mortgage department was dealing with a refinancing frenzy as homeowners sought to take advantage of historically low rates. Even as much of our staff navigated the pressures of an increased workload, our managers and employees (supported by our HR department and other key stakeholders) managed to maintain relationships with one another and our clients. Zoom meetings, drive-through closings, and the occasional virtual happy hour were among the means used to support employee and client relationships.

How is your organization managing its most important resource — employees — during this time?

We created a COVID taskforce composed of bank leaders, physical security experts and human resources professionals. They guided our response to the pandemic. However, we have empowered our managers and employees to make decisions best for them and their teams. Likewise, we’ve done our best to balance individuals' needs with our needs as an organization. Flexible work hours were implemented when and where necessary for those dealing with illness or charged with educating a child. We made additional resources available to support the physical and mental well-being of our employees. We implemented a week-in-week-out rotation to create work pods and help mitigate spread. Perhaps most important was something we didn’t change: our commitment to celebrating successes. We continued to hold regular celebrations virtually and recognize individuals and departments for the incredible work they were doing under incredibly difficult circumstances.

In what ways have you seen the business community adapt to this unprecedented time?

This past year undoubtedly posed unprecedented challenges for many businesses across our footprint. Unfortunately, some did not survive or will be recovering from economic harm done by the pandemic for quite some time. I do not want to minimize those losses and hardships. However, entrepreneurs are resilient. It was welcome and remarkable but not surprising to see many businesses pivot and find success in alternative spaces or new services and products. What I found most inspiring was the sense of humanity amplified across the business community. Business leaders offered emotional and economic support and knowledge and expertise to their fellow leaders, and in some cases, even their competitors.

What are you most looking forward to when it comes to your organization and the year ahead?

We’re planning to implement some exciting changes that will enhance our customer experience. As many avoided in-person interaction, the need for top-notch digital service was amplified. FIBT has always been forward thinking in the arena of digital innovation, and we plan to build on that to provide greater digital capabilities while also creating more value in our relationships.

What motivates you every day when you get to work?


My brother Erik and I are the fourth generation of Stenehjem bankers to lead FIBT. My grandfather had an anecdote: he said you could tell which towns had good community bankers by the health and vibrancy of their Main Streets. So, I’m motivated by what I see before I arrive at the building; the businesses and families that occupy the cities and towns we serve, and knowing as a community bank, FIBT has a vital role to play in making those neighborhoods great places to live, work and play. We also make a habit of hiring great people, whom I now have the privilege of calling my FIBT family. I find inspiration in their willingness to learn, their leadership and in knowing we have a shared responsibility to the success of the organization and the community.

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