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Trusted in the Community

In Focus
NAME:Tim Crane & Ed Wehmer
COMPANY:Wintrust Financial Corporation
POSITION:President & CEO/Founder & Executive Chairman
With C-suite pairing Tim Crane and Ed Wehmer at the helm, Chicago-based Wintrust Financial Corporation is a model for community banks in the country, bringing security, liquidity and a social conscience to the volatile finance services landscape.

During the 2008 global financial crisis, Wintrust Financial Corporation turned adversity into opportunity, buying more failed banks than anybody in the country to become one of the Chicago area’s biggest banking institutions.

So, when 15 years later, three North American banks collapsed over five days of high drama in the spring of 2023, the financial services holding company and now-operator of 170-plus community banks, knew exactly the approach to take if it was to again find positives during challenging times.

“You hate to have those types of situations for the industry, but it was a good reminder of why it’s important where you bank,” Wintrust Financial Corporation President and CEO Tim Crane tells The CEO Magazine.

“Every time we tell a story, we get a chance to win.”

- Tim Crane

During that period, he says, the company communicated as much as possible with the media, with customers, with regulators, with shareholders, with employees and with communities about why Wintrust Financial Corporation was a different kind of financial institution.

“Despite it being a volatile period, all we had to do was make sure people knew the facts: that we were well positioned, well managed and had plenty of liquidity,” Crane continues.

It was, adds Founder and Chairman Ed Wehmer, a proof-of-concept moment. “People used to give me a lot of grief for having 15 separate charters and 24 operating companies, but who’s laughing now?” he says with a smile.

Chicago Cubs

Both add that it was also a great opportunity for Wintrust Financial Corporation to sell MaxSafe, its product that allows account holders to increase their Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation coverage from US$250,000 to US$3.75 million. “This is additional insurance coverage most institutions don’t offer,” Wehmer says.

The Chicago-based community bankers picked up business in the aftermath of the March 2023 madness. But that doesn’t mean it was a relaxing period of time. The key to navigating it, Crane reiterates, was communication. “Every time we tell a story, we get a chance to win,” he says.

When the Time is Right

The Wintrust Financial Corporation story itself is one of taking on – and beating – the big banks. It started in 1991 when Wehmer, a Certified Public Accountant, and a group of friends turned a ‘what if’ conversation over a game of cards into the first branch of Wintrust Community Bank: Lake Forest Bank & Trust N.A. in northern Chicago.

Their goal of providing an alternative to the big banks struck a chord and today, through a series of smart acquisitions, the Wintrust Financial Corporation family spans community bank locations in Chicago, southern Wisconsin and north-west Indiana. What has been key, and a point of differentiation, is that each community bank it has acquired has retained its identity.


Wintrust Financial Corporation was officially incorporated in 1996, with Wehmer serving as its President and CEO until May 2023 when he handed over the reins to Crane. “You don’t want to outstay your welcome,” Wehmer reflects. “I probably could have kept going, but why?”

When Wehmer took a step back to look at Wintrust Financial Corporation’s organization, he noticed it was top-heavy in terms of age.

“There comes a time when you’ve got to make room for the young talent to come through, particularly because our culture is what really sets us apart and we need to keep that going,” he says.

“You’ve got to make room for the young guys to come through, particularly because our culture is what really sets us apart and we need to keep that going.”

- Ed Wehmer

“You don’t want to lose that, you don’t want to become a big bank. Then we lose our edge.”

After all, its unique structure of multiple brands operating under different charters is Wintrust Financial Corporation’s unique selling proposition. “Each of them can move the dial, run their own businesses and know that they can do what they have to do to take care of their clients,” Wehmer says.

Crane, who has been with Wintrust Financial Corporation (most recently as President) for 15 years, was the heir apparent for two years. “How we went about the transition was textbook,” Wehmer says.

“Ed’s always been the champion of finding people and letting them do their jobs,” Crane chimes in. “He’s the keeper of the culture to make sure we stay on the right path.”

In Good Health

Crane is taking the reins of a business in robust health. “Frankly, the organization is in a very good place,” he says.

First there’s the fact that people love working at Wintrust Financial Corporation. “It’s a good balance of winning in the market, taking care of customers and having a good time while you’re doing it,” Crane explains. The combination has attracted talent from big banks, who find Wintrust Financial Corporation’s culture a breath of fresh air.

Taking better care of its customers has been the simple adage driving growth. “That doesn’t make you successful overnight, but word spreads and our best marketing is our clients talking about the nice job that we do, and that we’ve been consistent and steady for them,” Crane says.

“Our best marketing is our clients talking about the nice job that we do.”

- Tim Crane

And while Crane adds that they don’t go seeking awards, recognition serves as evidence of Wintrust Financial Corporation’s true differentiation. These accolades include ranking highest in the J.D. Power U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study in the Illinois Region, as well as receiving The Chicago Tribune Top Workplaces Award and nine Greenwich Excellence Awards in U.S. Middle Market and Small Business Banking. From a financial standpoint, Wintrust common stock performance has led its peer group.

Why Bank Elsewhere?

Customers include big international names such as hazmat shipping experts Labelmaster, who appreciate Wintrust Financial Corporation’s approachable, community-minded vision, to favorite local businesses such as Eli’s Cheesecake. Having such a client list, Crane says, is validation that Wintrust is able to provide products and services that nobody else does.

He may be slightly biased, but, for Wehmer, the question is simple: “Why wouldn’t you bank with us?”

After all, as Crane adds, Wintrust Financial Corporation is able to alleviate some of the frustrations for customers that come with dealing with the big banks. “We run 25 or so separate businesses, and each one has a leader charged with figuring out how to grow those businesses and take good care of those clients,” he says.

“Within the guidelines that protect the bank, its shareholders and customers, there’s the freedom to pursue good ideas, to do things that others won’t do.”

“Better people make a difference, smart, intelligent investments make a difference, leadership makes a difference.”

- Tim Crane

Crane cites the money service business as an example. “A lot of people left this market, no longer helping currency exchanges and other companies that provide a needed service to the industry,” Crane says. “Some of these folks approached us asking if we could help. And we did.” The resulting business, Wintrust Money Service Exchange Group, is now a huge success.

As a community bank, the philosophy, of course, has been to involve itself with the communities where it operates. From marquee sporting teams such as baseball’s Chicago Cubs to little league teams, Wintrust Financial Corporation is involved with thousands of organizations in its market area.

“We also have over 500 of our staff members serving on boards of organizations around Chicago,” Wehmer says. He adds that this year the company even ran a commercial during the Superbowl.

And the benefits go both ways: not only is there the good that comes from supporting community initiatives, but there’s also the effect of boosting culture and morale in the business.

A Model Bank

As the duo looks toward growth in surrounding states, Wehmer believes that Wintrust Financial Corporation is the new model for community banks in the country. “We can drop in, give them all the support that they need to run their businesses and take care of their clients,” he says.

And, as the company continues to expand within this framework, Wintrust Financial Corporation also dispels the theory that banking is just a commodity. “We disagree with that statement,” says Crane. “Better people make a difference, smart, intelligent investments make a difference, leadership makes a difference.

“Ed’s leadership over 33 years and continuing as a board member is important,” he says. “We have good people at the bank; we have clients that sing our praises and we have a market with a lot of opportunity.”

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