Shared with permission from the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
By Wendy Sweeter for the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
When Brian Gilbert was deciding what to major in at South Dakota State University, he drew from his experiences growing up on a farm between Hitchcock and Tulare.
Gilbert, 40, has been selected as the 2020 Agri-Business Citizen of the Year by the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Agri-Business Division.
The youngest of three kids, Gilbert graduated from Hitchcock High School in 1998 and followed his high school sweetheart to SDSU. After some uncertainty on what to major in, he decided ag business was the way to go.
His older brother continues the family farming operation back home as his dad enters retirement. Gilbert enjoys going back to help, but it’s not as often as he would like since he stays busy with his position as ag banking manager for The First National Bank in Sioux Falls and family activities with his wife, Ann, and three children.
“Times were not always great on the farm when I was growing up, just like any other farming operation. I do remember conversations my dad had with his banker, and tough conversations, but they were handled professionally,” he said. “That stuck in the back of my mind that maybe this is a route I can go. If I’m not going to go home to farm, maybe I can help people and help them reach their financial goals.”
He also chose ag business as a major because he liked economics. While he was a little undecided before getting to SDSU, he picked his major fairly quickly. “Some of my favorite classes while I was at SDSU were money and banking, microeconomics and macroeconomics,” he said.
While at SDSU, he got an internship with Central Harvest States (CHS) in their finance division. They offered him a job halfway through his senior year. He worked in their Ellis office for four and half years before the company moved his division to the Twin Cities.
CHS offered to move him, but the Gilberts had just had their second child and they did not want to move further away from their families. He asked his boss for advice and he suggested that he apply at The First National Bank in Sioux Falls because they were a great family organization.
“He was right. The Baker family, the family ownership and our senior management team, they’re just awesome to work for. They do understand ag. They’re passionate about it,” he said. “Our roots are definitely in agriculture and that’s of course important to me leading a team of ag bankers. We’re in it for the long haul and our customers are going to be taken care of while we’re here and long after I’m gone.”
More than 13 years later, Gilbert has gone from an ag lender to an ag banking team leader to ag banking manager four years ago. When he started, the bank had four ag lenders. Today they have 10 lenders, a crop insurance specialist, four underwriters and several loan assistants.
For most of his time with the bank, his office was at the downtown branch. The bank built the ag lending branch at I-229 and Louise Avenue and the team moved there in March 2018. They moved into their own space because they were running out of space downtown and they wanted a place designed for agriculture customers.
In addition to the Louise branch, they have ag lenders at branches in Brandon, Dell Rapids and Flandreau.
“We wanted to make it easier for our ag banking customers to get here, feel a little more comfortable than driving downtown, especially if they were pulling a trailer,” Gilbert said. “We’re trying to show our commitment to the ag industry and that we’re in this for the long haul.”
He recognizes that times are tough in agriculture today. The bank understands that and realizes that these times offer the opportunity to solidify relationships.
“It’s these times that we can solidify existing relationships and grow some new relationships that’ll be lifetime relationships for the bank and for us,” he said. “Our ownership group is patient enough to deal with the cyclicality of this industry and our makeup of our bank is probably about perfect for times like these because we’re very diverse.”
He noted the bank overall does a lot of business, consumer and residential lending. Their portfolio is a nice mix and allows them to grow the ag sector even when times are tough.
The First National Bank in Sioux Falls has an ag trade territory stretching a 200-mile radius of the city. They also have some in outlying areas and have customers in eastern South Dakota, southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa and northeast Nebraska.
Banking has changed a lot in Gilbert’s time with the bank. Fifteen years ago, it would have been a lot more difficult to finance someone 250 miles away.
“The tools that we have with remote deposit machines and online banking just makes it much, much easier. Not every family-owned bank is as large as we are so we can handle bigger relationships, which is again something unique,” Gilbert said.
Besides leading the ag team at the bank, Gilbert stays active in the community. As soon as he started at The First National Bank in Sioux Falls, he started volunteering at the Sioux Empire Farm Show, now the Sioux Empire Livestock Show.
He has done everything from set up and tear down to helping with the market beef show and being the chairman of the show. The bank also has a large presence at the show with many of the ag bankers volunteering for various shows and clerking the Angus sale.
Gilbert also serves on the board of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation, the Sioux Falls Stockyards Ag Experience and the Independent Community Banks of South Dakota. He was also a member of South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership Class IX.
“I serve on the board of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation, which puts on the annual Prime Time Gala here in Sioux Falls.This is a wonderful event that helps with cattle producers and providing protein to people in need through Feeding South Dakota,” he said.