Bosserds Focus Is North Kent

September 9, 2005
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SPARTA — Jim Bosserd, president and CEO of ChoiceOne Bank, had planned on being a farmer just like his dad, but fate had other plans.

His career path veered from farming to banking when he was a junior at Michigan State University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in agri-business. He had to drop out for a semester to recuperate from back surgery, during which time he couldn’t work on the family farm.

As fate would have it, the local president of Michigan National Bank in Marshall offered Bosserd work as a bank teller for the summer. At the end of the summer, he asked Bosserd to come back after he graduated.

“My father and I had the conversation at the dining room table,” Bosserd recalled. “He said I ought to try it because the farm would always be here. I never went back to farming; I loved banking. I may be the only one in generations of my family that didn’t become a farmer.”

But Bosserd’s not really that far removed from his “roots,” as he and his wife, Jane, live on 18 acres in Sparta.

“I’ve always owned acreage, had a garden and had a few animals, so there’s a little bit of that farmer left in me,” he admits. “We used to have horses because my daughter showed horses, but now I raise a few sheep — 10 of them. That’s the farmer in me that comes out from time to time.”

But Bosserd is very much a numbers man, too.

“I like economics, laws of supply and demand, the stock market and bond market and all of those things,” he said. “It’s just fascinating to me.”

Bosserd worked at Michigan National’s Marshall office for 12 years, starting as a teller management trainee and eventually getting promoted to city president of the bank’s Kalamazoo office.

A banker he worked with at Michigan National had moved to FMB State Savings Bank a couple of years earlier and was looking for a president for FMB’s Lowell office.

“I really wasn’t looking for a job. The first two times he called me, I said I wasn’t interested. The third time we went to lunch, and I took the job,” he recalled with a laugh.

He started as senior vice president and was named president of FMB’s Lowell office in 1992, staying on at the bank through its changeover to Huntington National Bank in 1998.

In 2001, ChoiceOne Bank came calling. The chairman of ChoiceOne’s board asked Bosserd if he might be interested in the position of president and CEO of the company. He applied and got the job.

“Michigan National was really a small community bank; they operated in each community much like FMB,” Bosserd said. “The local banks had a lot of authority and autonomy — you could make your own decisions. Sometimes in a larger bank you don’t always get that, just because it’s a larger organization.

“That’s what I really like about a bank like ChoiceOne. You can really work with people directly and help them through their financial challenges.”

From FMB he brought a clear understanding of lending and of the various operations of a bank — how to make it run and put the right people in the right places, he said.

The locally owned, independent community bank was founded as Sparta State Bank in 1898. It was one of the few banks that survived the Great Depression, Bosserd said.

The bank’s board took the bank public in the early 1990s and changed its name to ChoiceOne in 1996. The bank was expanding into other communities and it didn’t feel the Sparta State Bank name would play well in other northern Kent County communities, he said.

The 107-year-old bank has grown to include five full-service banking branches and eight ATMs. It offers Internet banking, check imaging, cash management products and complimentary 24-hour telephone banking, in addition to insurance and investment products through its subsidiary, ChoiceOne Insurance Agencies, and mortgage products through ChoiceOne Mortgage Co. of Michigan.

Its insurance subsidiary sells all types of insurance, as well as annuities and mutual funds, has a certified financial planner on staff and offers retirement planning services. If a customer needs trust services, ChoiceOne has an affiliation with Legacy Trust for that purpose.

“We’ve made a decision to really be in the northern Kent County area and not enter into the Grand Rapids community because there are plenty of banks there,” he said.

“We feel that there’s a need in northern Kent County, which is Cedar Springs, Rockford, Sparta and to the west of here a little bit. I think these communities will grow because Grand Rapids has grown south, east and west, and the only place to go is here. We want to take care of that growth and grow as the communities grow, but I want it to be controlled growth.”

ChoiceOne opened its newest branch in Rockford last September and just finished rebuilding its Alpine office. The bank has assets of $238 million.

Bosserd said he’s particularly proud that ChoiceOne has paid close attention to its facilities and its financial products, and he’s grateful for having a great staff.

“I just want the organization to get better every day and take care of customers. I really get satisfaction out of seeing our staff do well and improve themselves and from seeing our customers succeed.”

What ChoiceOne really wants to do is attend to each customer’s financial needs over their lifetime and then take care of their kids.

“Generation to generation — that’s our thought process,” Bosserd said. “My definition of a community bank is when any customer can walk right into the president’s office and talk to him. Any problem a customer might have, we can resolve it here; we don’t have to call anybody else. There’s continuity in the customer’s relationship with the bank. In my mind, that’s community banking.”       

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