Lonnie Parsons, regional president of ANB Bank in Colorado Springs, got into banking to make people’s dreams come true — to help clients buy their first homes, start and operate businesses, send their kids to college.
“That’s the fun part of banking,” Parsons said. “I’ve really enjoyed banking.”
After spending 38 years in the industry, which included the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression, Parsons will retire Monday, Feb. 29.
“ANB has been blessed with a bunch of really wonderful customers,” he said, “and I’ve gotten to know a fair number of them.”
Parsons and his wife Rita plan to spend time sailing and scuba diving in retirement, following the marriages this summer of two of their four sons and the birth of their 10th grandchild. Rita is scheduled to retire June 1.
On his ANB desk sits a photo of the Parsons’ sailboat, currently moored at Lake Pueblo State Park. Next to the photo, a framed postcard says: “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust the sails,” his favorite quote.
“It’s like government laws and such,” he said. “I can’t control them, but I can adjust how we try to do business and try to keep everyone happy as well.”
He’ll be missed
Colleagues complimented Parsons for his business sense, community service, networking abilities and personality.
On many occasions, Parsons raised money for Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado, said Bonnie Martinez, vice president of marketing, communications and partnerships. When ANB remodeled branches, the bank donated used items to Goodwill.
In one creative marketing move, Parsons gave each employee a $15 gift card to shop at Goodwill. The employees then posted their bargains on a Facebook page that promoted Goodwill, Martinez said.
The bank has also sponsored Goodwill’s fundraising events, said Jeanne Conder, vice president of the Discover Goodwill Foundation.
“He has advocated for us, not just doing sponsorships, but bringing the right people to the events, introducing new people to Goodwill,” Conder said.
“He is so approachable. You can see he does it from his heart. The man is just amazing,” Martinez said. Parsons’ philanthropy with Goodwill started before he was elected to the board last year, they said.
Praise from the top
ANB President Koger Propst lauded Parsons for his ability to connect with people and find solutions that benefit everyone involved.
“If there’s a person who wants to find a way for everyone to win, Lonnie is that person. If there is a nicer, more genuine person out there, I’ve yet to meet him,” Propst said.
The son of a farmer in the small town of Parshall, N.D., Parsons earned business and economics degrees from the University of North Dakota and studied for his MBA at North Dakota State University.
His first job was working for the Farmers Home Administration making emergency loans during a drought. Early in his career, Parsons learned all phases of the profession and worked primarily at community banks; half were privately owned.
“You had to know as much as you could about everything,” he said. “If you made a loan, you’d have to learn how to collect it. You had to go out and find people to make deposits. Over time, with the complexity of things brought about by regulation and competition, all those general well-rounded bankers are few and far between now.
“Everybody’s becoming much more of a specialist. It’s getting so complicated, you have to be a specialist to do it effectively and correctly.”
A multitude of federal regulations and laws complicate the banking industry on the national level, leading to smaller banks selling to larger banks and most of the nation’s money increasingly in the hands of larger institutions, he said.
“Government laws don’t come and go, they just come.” he said.
When he started, there were 9,000 independent banks in the United States. Now, there are about 4,000.
Parsons has seen the industry move from magnetic strip cards and rudimentary adding machines to high-speed computers for calculating numbers.
Over time, banks have become more polarized, thanks to added regulations “that have made bigger banks bigger and the smaller [banks] less able to be profitable,” he said.
Also, more laws lead to more interpretation of the laws — and that leads to additional staff to implement regulations, Parsons said.
“There was a continuing barrage of laws coming out that oftentimes as bankers, we’d feel put out and say, ‘Holy smokes, how are we going to make this work?’ The problem has been the sheer accumulation,” he said.
As a banker, he saw small businesses come and go.
“It’s very difficult for small business owners. My hat’s off to those people,” Parsons said. “For them to risk life and limb, capital, all those things to make those things possible … that’s a special thing in our country.”
Built on small business, the U.S. economy will continue to need entrepreneurs, he said.
“Those special entrepreneurial people are getting fewer and far between, because our colleges typically don’t train people to be entrepreneurs,” Parsons said. “They train them to be employees. Somebody has to take the risk out there to be the entrepreneur and start the business that is going to employ all the employees.”
Colorado Springs has dozens of successful small business owners and they all have to wear many hats, he said.
Parsons believes communities that nurture entrepreneurs are the ones that will succeed.
“It’s always exciting when you land a big manufacturing plant here,” he added. “Those things are few and far between. But if we could take 10 companies and each of them adds five employees, that’s 50 new employees in our market.”