#PeopleFirst

Story of the Month

Talk about it? Nah, we live it. You could say it's in our blood - a little different, a little weird, a lot of fun, and always #PeopleFirst. We have some great stories to tell along the way. Here are a few of our favorites this month.

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Dream Home Alabama

Posted November 5 2018 in #PeopleFirst

Header photo:  Amy Linstaedt hard at work.

You might know Jack Spade’s voice from Fargo-Moorhead radio, or as an overall loveable personality in the FM area. Amy Linstaedt, a Mortgage Loan Officer at Choice Bank in Fargo, knows him as a customer. He came in a year ago with his fiancé, Rachel, in hopes of getting pre-approved for a home loan.

At the time, Jack was coming out of a poor experience with his previous financial institution. Years before, he had been forced to file for medical bankruptcy while he was sick with cancer, but they had recorded it as a traditional bankruptcy, which severely hurt his credit.

Jack and Rachel were almost married and overjoyed at the thought of buying a house together. And yet with Jack’s credit at the time, Amy was unable to grant them the approval they needed.

“It was a hard conversation,” Amy said.

It was especially hard because Amy felt connected to this couple. She empathized with the fact that Jack’s medical bankruptcy came from being sick with cancer — something that is already physically and emotionally devastating, in addition to the financial strain.

“It was out of his control,” she said. “He was working to get things back to where they needed to be.”

She also felt frustrated that the errors from their previous financial institution had hurt them in unnecessary ways — the opposite of what a bank should do. The way they recorded the bankruptcy for Jack continued to hang “like a black cloud over him,” she said.

“As a bank, it’s our responsibility to take care of our customers and their needs,” she said. “They hadn’t had that before.”

It was with this in mind that she approached the tough conversation with Jack and Rachel. She wanted to help them find the credit-building resources they needed to give them new hope.

“We can’t do this right now,” she explained. “But there are ways to achieve the credit you need to get there.”

She outlined specific, actionable items to help the soon-to-be newlyweds build their credit, bit by bit. She created a timeline to show where they should be at each step along the way. In one year, Amy reassured, they should be approved.

Disheartened but determined, Jack and Rachel left that day with a plan.
And sure enough, about a year later, they came back to Amy ready to talk once again. They were hoping to move to Alabama and had a home in mind. Together they looked over their credit report. Amy was impressed.

“Credit scores don’t just improve on their own,” she said. “They worked really hard.”

Thanks to their combined effort, Amy was delighted to grant them the pre-approval they needed for their dream home in Alabama. Jack and Rachel were elated.

Jack and Rachel Spade pictured in front of their new home.

So much so, in fact, that Jack had to share the story. A few weeks later, Choice Bank Vice President of Business and VIP Banking in West Fargo, Eddie Sheeley, was at an event-planning meeting for local non-profit CHARISM. Jack happened to be there as well and noticed Eddie’s Choice Bank shirt. He waited patiently while Eddie spoke with another organizer. When he finished, he approached with a big smile.

“Do you work at Choice Bank?” he asked.

“Yes, I do,” Eddie responded.

Jack went on to express how thankful he is for Choice Bank, and especially for Amy and her help. He shared the story of how Amy helped he and Rachel build up the credit they needed. And how they were about to move to their dream home.

“None of this would have been possible without Amy,” he said.

“None of this would have been possible without Amy,” he said.

Eddie was moved by the story and thanked Jack for sharing. When he returned, he thanked Amy as well, for living out Choice’s core values. Two that came to mind were “Know when to ask for help and know when to offer help,” and, “Better the places we live.”

Amy did both of these things when she decided to offer help, rather than leave them feeling helpless.

“Instead of saying ‘no,’ she told them what they needed to do to get there. And they ended up getting a home,” Eddie said. “Everything she did speaks to our culture here at Choice.”

Today, Amy continues to follow up with Jack and Rachel through Facebook as they settle into their new home in Alabama.

“As far as I can tell, they’re having the time of their lives,” she said.

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Holy Hail!

Posted in #PeopleFirst

Header photo:  Colten Heagle jumping into action.

It was nearly 9 AM on a dark Sunday morning when Colten got the text. It was from an insured customer he works with as part of the Choice Insurance team in Fargo, ND.

“Hey, heard there was some bad hail,” he said.

“How bad?” Colten responded.

The next text was a photo. It showed a piece of hail the size of a golf ball.

Golf ball sized hail from the thunderstorm.

Colten jumped into action.

“I’ll head over.”

John* (the customer)  lived about 15 miles out of Fargo. At the time the storm hit, he was with his wife at their lake home. He’d heard the news through friends, and that the damage was pretty bad.

But it wasn’t clear just how bad until Colten pulled into town. Windows were broken, branches had been ripped off trees, and dead birds hit by the hail were scattered across streets and lawns.

Windows were broken, branches had been ripped off trees, and dead birds hit by the hail were scattered across streets and lawns.

“I was shocked by how much damage there was, and I’ve seen my share of bad storms,” Colten said.

And the storm wasn’t over; the rain was starting back up.

Colten quickly headed to John’s house to assess the damage. There he found six broken windows, three of which were exposed. The rest of the house had taken quite a beating as well; the side deck and outside trim were damaged, and the roof was so dented that it would need a full replacement.

Damage from the thunderstorm.

“The first thing that went through my head was, ‘eliminate any more damage that can happen,’” Colten said. Before the rain got worse, he quickly used plastic sheets to board up the exposed windows and protect the wood floors of the house from any water damage.

He then called John to let him know the extent of the damage.

Thankfully, John took the news well, having been through storms before. An hour and a half later, John and his wife met up with Colten to look over the property.

Colten helped sweep up the glass from the broken windows so John’s two dogs would be safe in the house. After reviewing the property damage with John and his wife, he also went and checked on other Choice insurance customers in the area to make sure they were doing okay.

When he came into work the next day and told his coworker Chuck Klabo about it, Chuck was impressed.

“It’s about assuring the customer that we’re there for them,” he said. “Colten did a great job of that.”

“It’s doing the right thing,” he said, referencing the Choice core value. “It’s treating others how you want to be treated. We do this every day no matter what.”

For Colten, it’s about putting yourself in someone’s shoes. Having your property damaged by a major hail storm can be an unsettling experience; he wanted to make sure the customer knew they were in good hands.

“It’s doing the right thing,” he said, referencing the Choice core value. “It’s treating others how you want to be treated. We do this every day no matter what.”

While the extent of the damages will take months for repair, John and his wife know that with Choice they have people who care for them and for their property. The fact that Colten spent his Sunday boarding their windows assessing the damage — the fact that he showed up — says it all.

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A Zoo-prise Visit

Posted in #PeopleFirst

Header photo: Christina Lau’s children enjoying a day spent at the zoo.

They’d been on the road for six hours and had two-and-half more to go. There were five of them in the car; Christina Lau, her 3-year-old, her 11-year-old, and her mom and dad.

“We were tired, and my hair was a mess,” Christina said.

A few more hours of driving, and they would arrive at their vacation destination in Winnipeg. Nevertheless, Christina knew there was something she wanted to do first.

Christina is a Senior Deposit Services Specialist who recently joined Choice Bank during the merger of Venture and Choice Bank. She knew she had new co-workers at the Choice Bank Grand Forks location. Since they were passing through, she wanted to stop, say hello, and introduce herself.

The five of them filed out into the parking lot as Christina tried to fix her hair before meeting her new coworkers. But as soon as she walked in, she felt instantly at ease.

“Hi!” she was welcomed by the Grand Forks crew. When she introduced herself, all of the women instantly expressed how great it was to meet. They talked about the road trip, shared laments over kids, and laughed at the similarities between them all.

“I’ve never felt so comfortable and so welcome, right off the bat,” Christina said. “While talking, we all felt the same thing: ‘we’re all going to get along just fine.’”

“I’ve never felt so comfortable and so welcome, right off the bat,” Christina said. “While talking, we all felt the same thing: ‘we’re all going to get along just fine.’”

“Everyone clicked so well,” Torrie said. “It was a really great feeling!”

Christina shared their plans for the weekend, how they were en route to Winnipeg for a weekend of adventure. They hoped to see some museums, go to the zoo, and enjoy a weekend out of town.

Unbeknownst to Christina, it was at this instant that the wheels in Torrie’s head started spinning. She already knew she wanted to do something special for Christina, and when she mentioned the zoo, her eyes lit up. Trying to be subtle, she started to ask Christina for more information on where they were staying.

“What hotel are you staying at?” she asked, innocently.

Christina told them, and Torrie secretly wrote it down.

“I was trying not to be too awkward or obvious,” she remembers, laughing. “I just knew they were all key points that I couldn’t forget.”

They chatted with Christina for a while longer before she said goodbye and got back on the road. Now, the clock was ticking.

“I knew we only had two hours to get this all sorted,” Torrie said.

She turned and explained her idea to her team. Christina and her family were planning to go to the zoo, right? What if, on behalf of Choice, they called and had tickets to the zoo waiting for them at the hotel?

“Think we could make it happen?” she asked. The team was immediately excited.

“Torrie had no hesitation, she knew what she was going to do. She had a vision,” said Jess Lupkes “It’s just how she is. She always pays attention to the details.”

“Torrie had no hesitation, she knew what she was going to do. She had a vision,” said Jess Lupkes “It’s just how she is. She always pays attention to the details.”

First things first, Torrie needed to contact the hotel and ask if it was possible. However, when she tried to call using her phone, the Canadian number wouldn’t go through. They asked around and used another teammate’s phone that had international access.

Torrie busy buying zoo tickets during a team meeting.

With the hotel on the line and Christina and the kids on the road, Torrie explained the plan. Turns out the hotel already had a partnership with the zoo and was able to get the tickets easily! They even put them in an envelope and wrote a personal note from Torrie and the Choice team. Everything was falling into place.

Meanwhile, Christina, the kids, and her parents were nearing their destination. When they finally pulled into the lot, everyone was eager to stretch. The kids took off running into the lobby, and as Christina checked in, she paid little attention to the front desk.

“Kids, slow down, let’s go,” she said, not noticing as the hotel clerk handed her an envelope along with the room keys.

In fact, it wasn’t until they got to their rooms and dropped the bags off that she took a second glance. The front said, “To Christina.” Curious, she opened the envelope and found five zoo tickets, one for each of them. Inside, a small slip of paper said,

“Christina — Enjoy the visit and welcome to the Choice Bank family.”

“I had tears in my eyes,” Christina said. “It’s funny how a little pick me up, like those zoo tickets, can turn someone’s day into a blessed, beautiful day.”

She showed her parents, who were equally surprised; especially because Christina had just met this new team at Choice Bank. On top of that, they had just been there two hours earlier!

“I had to let that marinate and think, how did they do it?” Christina said. “I just couldn’t believe it. It was a true ‘wow’ moment.”

Back at the Choice location, Torrie was giddy with excitement knowing the surprise was waiting. She knew how much it meant to be celebrated; especially after a long trip.

“I have three kids, and sometimes driving is a disaster. You just want to get there. The fact that Christina took the time to stop and see us, it meant so much. We had to recognize that,” she said.

Torrie’s ability to notice an opportunity for celebration is a gift her coworkers see over and over. She’s always paying attention to detail and doing thoughtful gestures for others. For her, it’s about living out the Choice core values.

“Everyone has the opportunity”, she said. “You just have to listen. And there are so many ways that one tiny little detail can trickle down and expand to such a bigger, better thing that will change someone’s day.”

Back in Winnipeg, it was a hot, sunny day as Christina and her family headed to the zoo. Their favorite exhibit, she said, was the polar bears. In a one-of-a-kind experience, visitors can walk in a tunnel beneath the bears’ swimming pool and watch them swim over you. Her three-year-old stood there, eyes wide, watching as the bear passed by.

“Seeing her eyes light up… it’s all about precious moments like that,” Christina said.

 

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