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CHAMPAIGN — After deciding the time was right to open a new full-service branch in Champaign, Fisher National Bank officials proceeded with finding a location and approving preliminary plans.

But before breaking ground on the project at 3105 S. Staley Road in Champaign, the coronavirus pandemic hit, changing customer-service options for many businesses, including banks.

“We had to swallow hard and really consider if the time was right to build a new building,” said Community President and CEO Ryan Heiser. “We had a lot of internal conversations to try and get a sense of whether to proceed during an uncertain time. We were wondering what consumer trends would be like going forward and how the pandemic would alter face-to-face interactions down the road.”

After careful consideration, the plan to move forward with the building was approved.

“Ultimately, we decided that we are in the customer-service industry, and even though you can do a lot of things over the internet or phone, we know that conversations go better when they are face-to-face, and we knew that was still going to be the answer in the long run,” he said.

The 9,000-square-foot, $2.5 million two-story building opened in August. It includes offices, a teller counter, lobby, mortgage center, drive-thru and conference room.

“We are really excited about being in Champaign,” said Heiser, who has been with the bank since 2006. “We feel really good about the location, and we love the new building.”

Fisher National Bank opened for business on Nov. 18, 1955, in downtown Fisher. In September 2000, the bank opened a new 4,000-square foot facility in Fisher and, just two years later, opened its first branch inside a convenience store in Mahomet. In June 2006, a full-service facility opened at 1501 E. Oak St. in Mahomet.

In November 2012, FNB Mortgage Solutions was opened at the corner of Neil Street and St. Mary’s Road in Champaign. While the lenders at this facility are able to do all types of loans, they focus primarily on mortgage lending and work directly with customers and Realtors on home purchases.

“We thought the time was right to move into Champaign with a full-service facility and expand our operations from mortgage lending to commercial lending and regular deposits,” Heiser said. “We continue to grow, and I think a lot of that has to do with treating people right and understanding the needs of small-business owners.”

“Since our inception, we have provided our community with the financial resources to grow and thrive,” said FNB President Mike Estes, who joined the bank in 1975. “Being a community bank, we have the ability to be very responsive to our clients. Loan decisions are made right here and made promptly.”

Instead of hiring an outside firm to manage the new project from start to finish, a team of board members and executive officers did much of the work.

“We put an emphasis on the other properties out there as well,” Heiser said. “We looked at things like exterior surfaces and features like gutters and we tried to incorporate a lot of those features into our building so that we would fit in with the neighborhood.”

The new branch has 15 employees, including several new hires and others that have been promoted. Kyle McFarland is a vice president/commercial loan officer at the facility, and Carla McGrew is the branch manager.

“Kyle spent some time in our other facilities and has really hit the ground running, and Carla has been with us for 18 years and has become the anchor pin in Champaign with all of her experience,” Heiser said. “She knows our operations from front to back.”

Opening a new facility during a pandemic has its drawbacks, Heiser admits. The cost of construction increased, and some customers are still cautious about too many interactions.

“It is a weird concept to have a pandemic and abide by all of the social-distancing rules and yet want everyone to see our new facility,” he said. “We understand if people aren’t ready to come by just yet, but there will be a time in the future where people are more comfortable coming in. But when you are talking with small- business owners, they like a lot of face-to-face conversations and a lot of our business is built on trust.

“Interpreting messages through e-mail and phone can sometimes be difficult, so it is nice to have face-to-face meetings with small-business owners, and we can read each other’s body language and develop some good rapport and trust, and that is what drives our business.”

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