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Executive Profile: One on One with Joan Herman, Sunrise Banks

Joan Herman learned about the financial services industry the old-fashioned way. She looked up answers to customer questions in a book.

More than 30 years later, she welcomes new technology that makes her job easier and improves the customer experience.

“The day I started at CSI [Credit Systems Inc.], the woman I was filling in for had her baby. Nobody knew her job. I was handed a stack of manuals and told to read them and answer the phone. It was crazy,” she recalls.

Undaunted, Herman kept the position and moved up in the ranks. Although it wasn’t a job she expected, it proved to be a launch pad for her career. She witnessed the explosion of electronic payments at the point of sale and worked on the first shared ATM card network. “At the time, that was cutting-edge technology,” she says. “The day we got that first transaction to go through was like a party. The industry has really been fun and exciting.”

Herman, who can’t imagine being in any other industry, continues to be excited by her work as senior vice president in the payments division for Sunrise Banks. Headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., the bank operates its payments business, which includes an expanding portfolio of national prepaid card programs, from Sioux Falls, S.D.

“I love my job, the people I work with and my company,” says Herman, who joined Sunrise nearly five years ago. “As long as I’m enjoying myself and continuing to learn, why stop? Besides, I’m too young to retire.”

One of the things that drew Herman to Sunrise, following stints at UMB and Heartland, among others, was its focus on innovation and its mission of helping underserved consumers achieve their financial goals. All of the business lines are held to financial sustainability goals as well as progress toward achieving positive social impact.

On a Mission

“We’re an innovative bank. We’re not like other banks our size [$850 million in assets],” she says.

“We have an innovation team. Our CEO David Reiling gets pitched a lot of different fintech ideas and passes them on to the innovation team to consider whether something is a mission fit. When we consider new program managers or other partners, we’re also looking at mission fit,” she continues. “We do a lot background work on it. Does this fit the mission and the bank’s strategy? We have a lot of ideas and products in the incubator right now, but at the end of the day the question is whether the technology meets the needs of the consumers and fits our mission.”

In Her Own Words

In five years, prepaid will be … more mobile based. With the explosion of mobile applications that can accomplish more functions, I think we will finally be moving a lot of activity in that direction. But plastic will never become obsolete.

The most important technology for prepaid is … virtual and mobile….at some point in time more people will become comfortable with mobile technology and less dependent on the plastic in their wallet or back pocket!

Best advice I’ve ever gotten … My dad told me when was growing up and starting my career: Get sick on your own time not on the company time. He’s 86 and still works two days a week as an investment counselor.

When I’m not in the office, I’m … On the boat or the bike trail in summer. In the winter time, I’m snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

Something about me, not many people know.

I love to fish. I bait my own hooks and clean the catch. I’m a pioneer woman!

Overseeing a team of 26 exclusively focused on payments, Herman also works closely with the innovation team. “We handle anything to do with payments, including ACH and prepaid.” And, although she couldn’t offer specifics, Herman says much of what the innovation team is working on touches payments.

The bank soon will announce a major issuing partnership that’s been in the works for nearly a year, and Herman is looking forward to growing Sunrise’s payments business through that significant deal and beyond. She sees many opportunities for prepaid, particularly when it comes to displacing checks in corporate payments. Although corporate payments may not seem like a direct link to serving the underbanked, such programs enable electronic payments for all consumers and eliminate check-cashing fees. What’s more, the revenue the bank derives from corporate prepaid can support programs that more directly expand financial services for those that previously have been shut out of mainstream banking, Herman adds.

On the corporate side, she sees interesting developments in mobile apps and tech for the T&E market and expense reimbursement. “Any corporate-to-consumer payment is an opportunity. Insurance is a big one. There are so many applications where businesses still make check payments that we can convert to prepaid cards,” she continues. “I’m hearing a lot of talk about virtual vendor payments, but I don’t know if anyone has really penetrated it yet. There’s definite growth potential there, but it’s a hard nut to crack.”

The St. Louis native, who never expected to fall in love with Sioux Falls, has plenty to keep her occupied in and out of the office. Sioux Falls was recently ranked 5th in a study of happiest places to live, largely because of its community and environment. In addition to taking advantage of the cultural and year-round outdoor recreation activities the city has to offer, Herman travels a lot. Although her trips often involve warmer weather and fishing (see sidebar), she frequently visits her only son in Omaha. He works for Ameritrade by day and by night performs stand-up and improv at a club he co-owns.

In work and in life, she says, “There’s never a dull moment.”

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