Jeff Plagge likes to joke that he’s been “a bit of a bank junkie for a long time.” His appointment as Iowa banking superintendent caps a career that has spanned more than three decades, including leadership roles at several banks across the state, while also actively serving on industry boards at the state and national levels. His appointment by Gov. Kim Reynolds as superintendent began on Sept. 16. He succeeds Ron Hansen, who served as superintendent since November 2015. Plagge is currently transitioning out of the CEO role at Northwest Financial Corp. in Arnolds Park. Prior to Northwest Financial, Plagge had lived in Greater Des Moines for several years when he was chairman, president and CEO of Midwest Heritage Bank. He has also been president and CEO of First National Bank of Waverly. He has served as the chairman of the Iowa Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association, as a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and as the chairman of the Community Depository Institution Advisory Council for the Chicago Federal Reserve.

What are some of the biggest issues banks are contending with right now?
Banks in general are experiencing what I'd call the technology revolution. They’re trying to make sure they’re moving with their customers and how they want to do banking. Most customers can do a whole lot from their phone anymore, but still keeping that brick-and-mortar presence is valuable, especially as you get into the rural communities. If you had asked me that question 10 or 11 years ago, I would have said compliance. That will probably always be an answer from a community banker, but I think a lot of banks have adapted through those changes in the financial crisis. And there's been some relief from some of that for community banks.

[Another issue is] real-time payments. The Federal Reserve has an initiative called FedNow, which is a clearinghouse for real-time payments. That’s a whole new world when you have to be monitoring [payments] 24/7, 365 — and [banks have] partners to help them do that. That trend is going to go faster than people think, so it’s important to help banks understand that change and move through it. 

And of course, agriculture comes up quite a bit right now. I was a senior lender during those years so I have a very clear memory of the bank crisis back in the ’80s. There are a lot of differences today — No. 1, the balance sheets of farmers and agribusinesses are a lot stronger. And there is now what they call revenue insurance for the farmers — that was never there in the ’80s. So there’s a combination of yield and price support that puts a baseline down for farmers.

What legislative issues are you anticipating?
Obviously the big one that's been talked about a lot is the tax parity between credit unions and banks. That was discussed heavily last year, but didn't go anywhere in the Legislature. I don’t know where that’s going to go this year. I think the Senate had kind of staked their position on it. But now the House has new leadership, so [how that influences it] will depend on that. 

One of the big projects [the banking division has] going on right now is a banking code review. That will ultimately turn into legislative action or recommendations for changes to the banking statute, but some of that is just clarification. Some of that will probably relate to the changes going on with fintechs and technology and making sure our code is correct enough to help banks navigate through those kind of arrangements. And that probably won’t be coming until 2022 by the time we get through all the reviews and discussions. 

How is Iowa’s aging workforce affecting the banking industry?
We had meetings with all the examiners [recently] so I could meet everybody in the field, and we've got a wide range of experiences. I've always said the best organizations have a wide range of experience — you get new people who bring in new ideas, but have seasoned people that understand practicality, trends and cycles, and everything else. We had quite a few retirements a few years ago; they were able to manage through that process. As banks grow, they don’t need the growth of employee numbers that they once did because of technology, so at a time of such low unemployment that’s a nice offset. 

According to Northwest Bank’s website, you’re still the CEO of Northwest Financial.
That is still the case, but I am transitioning out of that. I had a succession plan in place long before this discussion with the governor [for the superintendent role] ever came up. My successor [Greg Post] is now rolling into the role and I’m rolling out of it. He’s now the president of Northwest Financial, and eventually he’ll be the CEO as well and I’ll relinquish that title. … It’s been fun to watch, actually, from my chair. It’s a good example of the benefits of [succession planning] that you can have a change like this at the top and it just smoothly takes its course. 

Have you gotten fully moved to Des Moines?
We haven’t officially; we’ve rented an apartment down here for now in Johnston. So I’m spending the majority of each week here and then back to Spirit Lake. My wife, Sandy, and I are going to have to decide whether we’ll make the full move or keep a place there and do something different here. 

Do you plan to get involved with Des Moines nonprofits?
I do hope to get involved again. When I last lived in the Des Moines area, I was on the American Red Cross of Central Iowa board. I was also the chairman of Delta Dental of Iowa, served on the Greater Des Moines Committee and the West Des Moines Economic Development Group. I enjoyed the engagement and the organizations. 

What do you enjoy doing for fun?
I may be the most non-golfing banker you’ve ever met. Living in Spirit Lake and Okoboji, we do boating; our summer is kind of surrounded by the water. And we’re both bikers — my wife more actively than I. She’s also a kayaker, so all of these riverfront projects are pretty exciting for this market — it will be pretty interesting to watch that develop.