Illinois banker serves community and customers alike

Courtney Olson

Courtney Olson’s banking career began because of a family connection. While a freshman in college, Olson’s aunt, who was vice president of a community bank in Riverwoods, Ill., needed someone to fill in as a teller. Within a week, she was opening CDs and from there moved into a role as a personal banker. Every summer and winter break, she would return to the bank, eventually taking a full-time job following her graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a degree in finance.

“The bank was small enough that whatever landed on your desk, you’re looking at it,” Olson said. “You just do what you need to do. And that’s why I like community banking because you end up being a jack of all trades.” 

Olson, senior vice president/SVP of First Bank of Highland Park, Ill., is being honored as a 2021 BankBeat Rising Star in Banking. The $1.9 billion bank is located north of Chicago, nestled in a suburb along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Olson is a 2008 graduate of the Future Leaders Alliance of the Illinois Bankers Association, a program that helps develop the next generation of Illinois bank leaders through professional development, community service, and networking. Debbie Jemison, vice president at the IBA, sings praises of her involvement: “Courtney arrived on our radar early on in her career, and we couldn’t be happier that she is so involved in the IBA. What stands out most about Courtney is that she is always willing to share her time and her knowledge.” 

When PPP loans became available, not only was Olson on the front line within her bank, working 17-hour days to secure loans for her customers, but she also partnered with local chambers and led webinars to help business owners understand the “ins and outs” of PPP loans. 

“I’d get phone calls from people who had seen me on the webinar, wanting to ask me a question,” Olson said. “And I get it. They might be at a bigger bank and have zero people to call. I would take the time and take the calls. It was such a feel-good year, even though it was a really hard year.”

Olson recalled that her first PPP loan was to a local bakery, and she was so excited when it got approved. She picked up the phone to call the owner to tell him that he was getting money, and she could hear him choking up. She said that those phone calls and emails she made to business owners regarding PPP approval made every bit of the work worth it. 

“I know my clients, and I know they appreciate [that],” Olson emphasized. “You can always say, ‘Oh, I’m helping a business,’ but I think this past year really proved it. I helped businesses stay open, keep their lights on … And that’s what I like about community banks.”

She has a niche interest in non-profit banking. Fifty percent of her portfolio on both the deposit and lending sides are non-profits. She says that when she started at First Bank of Highland Park, it was a perfect match because the bank’s ownership is very philanthropic. 

Much like her non-profit customers operate for a collective benefit, Olson contributes to her community through service. She has been on numerous committees and boards, always providing a fresh and thoughtful approach to issues presented. She is also a strong advocate of the banking industry and actively participates in industry endeavors at both the state and local levels of government. 

Through the pandemic, Olson continued to serve her customers via video conferencing. She thinks it will be interesting as the bank and businesses begin to reopen and foresees a hybrid approach between customers that will visit the office and those that will want to continue to meet virtually. 

Outside of her work in banking, Olson has a 9-year-old son. He has a huge imagination, she said, so playing and spending time with him is “awesome.” She also enjoys yoga and spending time with her extended family. 

On the same day that Olson learned that she was being honored as a BankBeat Rising Star, she also found out that she had been nominated to the IBA Board. Between the two, “it was just a super special day. Wow.”

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