Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, celebrates the adoption of our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Its signing formally marked our country’s independence from Great Britain and the ability to control our own destiny in the best interest of the American people. We also believe in the importance of independence and celebrate it.

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, there have been approximately 235 bank mergers over the last two years ending in 2023. What can happen when banks merge? Well, for one of the parties involved it can mean the loss of independence. From our perspective, it’s the loss of their ability to control their commitment to their Four “Cs” – Clients, Culture, Community, and Colleagues.

I saw this happen firsthand in the late 1990s as a financial advisor at First of America Bank when it was acquired by National City Bank out of Cleveland, Ohio. The approach from National City was “it’s our way or the highway” and any legacy practice, service, product, technology platform, or procedure was being replaced. Relationships matter. In this case, the loss of independence ensured our clients’ needs did not come first. Instead, it was the shareholders’ needs. The culture quickly dissolved from one of teamwork and pride in serving clients in our community to just doing the job. It also became quickly evident that most career growth opportunities would now require a move to Cleveland. Valued, talented teammates left the bank (some voluntarily; some involuntarily) and, in more than a few instances, left the community. The Kalamazoo community was negatively impacted. All of this provided me with the impetus to make a change, and with good fortune I found my purpose with Greenleaf Trust.

I am proud that Greenleaf Trust is structured to remain a privately held, trust-only bank in perpetuity. This eliminates the possibility of an acquisition or merger and ensures that our core culture of service, along with our guiding value system, will remain intact from generation to generation. Our independence eliminates the possibility of our clients’ interests being superseded by the policies of a distant corporate office. It also allows us to stay committed to our Four “Cs”.

Finally, I would like to celebrate John Welch, Senior Vice President, Managing Director – Northern Michigan, and wish him a happy retirement from his Greenleaf Trust family. John joined the team at the beginning of 2009 and has led our efforts in Northern Michigan for the last 15 years. John and his team have grown our Northern Michigan market from essentially “Hello, we are Greenleaf Trust and new in town” to 286 client relationships and nearly $1.5 billion in assets under advisement. We wish John and his wife, Tracey, all the best as they start the next chapter of their lives together. Thanks, John!