It took a couple of years of persuasion for Steve Simon to return to the banking business, but in 2012, he opened a Greater Des Moines operation of Storm Lake-based Central Bank. Simon was no stranger to the local banking scene. He started out with Norwest Bank in the 1980s, at the height of the farm crisis, after his father, George, argued against sticking with life down on the farm. Simon eventually wound up with Bankers Trust Co. and after 10 years left in 2005 with other Bankers Trust colleagues and opened the Greater Des Moines branch of Two Rivers Bank & Trust. After toying with the idea of buying a bank, Simon teamed up with brothers Tim and John Brown to open a Central Bank office in 2012 in West Des Moines. It was a good year for the office, which focuses on commercial lending and private banking, with income growing to $50 million. 

Why did Central Bank enter the Greater Des Moines market?

I was looking for a bank to purchase in the metro area. Tim and John Brown, who own Central Bank, have been longtime acquaintances of mine. When I decided not to do the purchase, the Browns agreed to start a new branch.

Some folks think the area is overbanked. Obviously, you folks don’t agree. Why not?

There are few industries that don’t have a lot of competition. I believe it comes down to people. The right people doing the right thing will get their share of business. 

What are the challenges facing community banks?

Regulations are by far the biggest hurdle. The requirements on banks for compliance, security and reporting are unbelievable. Those are some of the reasons I decided not to be a buyer.

How fierce is the competition for customers, and what are you doing to put Central Bank ahead of the pack?

Again, I think competition is fierce in any industry. My team has been in the metro market for many years, and they are very good at what they do. 

Are you among the growing number of people who are concerned about a bubble in the farmland market?

I have concerns about the increases in prices continuing, but I do not fear the kind of crush we experienced in the 1980s. The factors are considerably different than in the ‘80s. We have not experienced the runaway inflation we had in the ‘70s and ‘80s, carrying costs (low interest rates) are so much lower, and farmers are paying with a lot more cash and (have) lower debt levels.

There are some rumblings that the housing recovery is occurring at a pace that can’t be sustained. Do you have any concerns?

The Des Moines metro is a wonderful community. The market has good stable job growth. We are making up for all the pent-up demand for the last five years when people decided to delay home purchases. Even though rates are still at historic lows, I believe rising rates will naturally slow the market to some degree.

What do you do in your spare time?

There is no such thing as free time. We live in a world where we think we need to be busy 24-7. I am no different. I have a son at the University of Iowa, a son at Iowa State University and a son at Valley High School. I truly enjoy college athletics and sports with my 15-year-old son. Travel would also be a favorite passion. I have been fortunate to visit 49 of our 50 states (all but Hawaii).

Who was your mentor?

My father was the most honest, common-sense person you could imagine who stayed true to his beliefs. A couple of those beliefs were not working on Sundays and protecting our environment.

What is the first thing you do when you arrive at work, the last thing when you leave?

Customer service is job number one. I always want to respond to messages from a customer or prospect. Their livelihood depends on good decisions from their banking partner. So I always check messages first and last thing of every day.

What was your first job?

Growing up on a farm, you can imagine, it was every farm job you can think of. Those jobs taught me hard work and responsibility. They also put me through college, and most of those jobs don’t exist today.