With officials from two financial institutions announcing that they would be closing their branch offices in Three Lakes later this year, one town leader said the community needs a bank.

Nicolet National Bank, which took over mBank in Three Lakes following a merger with Mackinac Financial Corp., announced last week that it intends to close 15 branches, including Three Lakes and St. Germain.

In addition, BMO  Harris Bank announced earlier this summer that it was closing its Three Lakes branch, also in December.

Three Lakes Town Board Chairman Jeff Bruss said he is frustrated by the recent announcements.

“It’s definitely devastating,” said Bruss. “Obviously there is nothing good about it. It’s one of those fundamental businesses in a community, just like a grocery store, motel or school.”

Bruss noted the Three Lakes downtown already has two vacant lots with the loss of Three Lakes Diner and Oneida Village Inn due to fires two years ago. He predicted the two bank buildings could be difficult to fill with other business.

“These two buildings are banks, someone would have to remodel them for another business,” said Bruss, noting it’s possible the future sale of the buildings could include a “no bank” contingency to eliminate competition.

Nicolet National Bank also will close its Eagle River branch office on Pine Street, but that bank location will move to the former mBank location on Wall Street across from the Eagle River Post Office.

Other Nicolet National Bank branches that will consolidate or close are: in Wisconsin — Florence, Dor­-

chester, Mosinee, Rib Lake and Aurora; and in Michigan — Menominee, Alanson, Kaleva, Mio, West Ishpeming, Negaunee and Marquette (McClellan Avenue). 

Nicolet has notified employees in the affected branches, and customer notification letters were expected to be issued last week. The branches are anticipated to close Dec. 10. 

Bruss said he understands the business side of closing small branch banks, especially since more people are banking online.

“But our local businesses still need to make deposits and they still need to go to the bank for cash,” said Bruss, noting the Three Lakes area includes many retirees who still visit their local banks. 

Bruss said he did contact officials with both banks.

“They explained to me that it comes down to how many people come through the door,” he said.

Nicolet responds

But Mike Daniels, president and CEO of Nicolet, said banking continues to change.

“As we stated in the mBank merger announcement, customers continue to tell and show us that convenience no longer means a branch on every corner,” said Daniels. “Convenience is being redefined as a seamless, frictionless experience through all channels. While we still view the branch system as an effective way to serve our customers, we also recognize the need to continue our investments in digital channels. We intend to find the right balance of investing in traditional branch channels and non-branch channels. This announcement is a logical and thoughtful action to find that balance.”

Eric Witczak, executive vice president of Nicolet National Bank, said it was not an easy decision to close the branch banks.

“This decision was made after many conversations and looking at all alternatives,” said Witczak. “In most cases, we will have a branch nearby. In all cases, we will be able to serve our customers digitally, via online or mobile banking. We will make every effort to retain our customers and show them that we can still serve them.”

Sept. 3, Nicolet completed its merger with Mackinac Financial Corp., with Nicolet continuing as the surviving corporation. Based on financial data of June 30, the combined company has total consolidated assets of approximately $6.1 billion.

Looking for options

Bruss, who noted Three Lakes has plenty of financial strength with more than $1 billion in equalized property value, said he is looking for a financial institution to replace the loss of the two banks. 

“On the positive side, I?have talked to a half-dozen banks and credit unions on locating a branch here,”  said Bruss, indicating that at least one credit union and another local bank were both showing some interest.