By Sarah Phalen
INB President and CEO
From an outsider’s perspective, it might be hard to see the fun in banking. But after 50 years as a banker, Al Covington describes his career as, “Fun, fun, fun.”
Al is being recognized by the Illinois Bankers Association (IBA) for his years in the industry. Al started working at South Side Trust and Savings Bank while going to college. He needed to fund his Bradley University education, so he spent 30 hours a week in shorts and a t-shirt sorting through boxes and boxes of paper. “My job was to clean up the basement,” he says. As part of the cleanup, he microfilmed old bank statements, taking the bank one small step into the digital age.
As Al moved through his college courses, South Side management started asking him to do accounting work. He did so well that by the time he graduated in 1970, he was put in charge of the bank’s real estate division. “I also did some SBA loans that got me commercial experience. I also worked on loans and investments and developed a cost accounting system using a multiple pooling concept.”
In 1987, 20 years into his career, Al moved to First National Bank (later Commerce Bank), where he became a commercial loan officer. “Before this time,” he says, “you stayed in the bank and waited for people to come to you. You might go out and meet with an existing client, but it wasn’t until the 80s that we started going out and seeking customers.” Al was very good at “seeking” and “finding.”
While on a business call with PCCEO (Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity), he was invited to serve on the organization’s board. He ultimately served for over 20 years. He’s rightfully proud of the work he did. “They were in financial straits at the time; they even had a side venture that was losing money.” Al says he helped the organization get out of the red, and when he left the board in 2015, PCCEO had over $1 million in reserves.
He also served on the Bradley Braves Club Board, was the president of both the Peoria Public Library Board and the Sertoma Club of Peoria. He was treasurer of the PORT District for 10 years and served as commodore of the Ivy Club.
With all of his community connections, it wasn’t hard for Al to make the move to Mid-America Bank in late 2002. Mid-America was ultimately purchased, and Al knew it was time to make another move. This time, he and another colleague had the opportunity to open a new branch for Illinois National Bank in Peoria . . . the bank’s first full-service location outside of the Springfield area.
Moving INB into Peoria
Al was instrumental in finding the bank’s location on Knoxville. He worked out a lease agreement and was able to purchase all the existing furniture at a great price. “The old lease was cancelled on a Monday. An hour later, Mark (Al’s colleague) and I resigned. On Tuesday, we started working for INB.” Day one, Al says they had simple phones and a copy machine. Within a matter of weeks, INB made sure they had everything else they needed. Within a couple of months, Pam Cain and Kim Turk were hired to help bring INB into the hearts and minds of the people of Peoria.
This is where Al says, “It was fun, fun, fun.” And you believe him!
A Year-Round Working Vacation
He says, “I look at every day after college as a vacation. I’d worked very hard through college.” Even when he was a kid of age 12, he was going to school and working. At that time, it was for has dad at the family gas station in Dunlap, Ill. Al got his incredible work ethic from his dad who was at the gas station from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, went home and slept a few hours, then showed up for his job at Caterpillar at 10 p.m. to work the third shift.
Al says his years at the gas station, in addition to later jobs as a restaurant waiter and maître d’, really helped him deal with people. In these jobs, he learned that it’s always best to respect others. He carried that attitude into banking. “If I have customers in distress, I don’t treat them like losers. I help them if I can.”
After deliberate consideration, Al says one of the most gratifying aspects of his job has been dealing with small businesses. He considers himself “a valuable advisor” to these business customers. He explains: “Small businesses don’t have the resources of a big company. So many times I can help with things I’m good at like how to keep their books.”
In terms of his community work, he’s very proud that during his time with the Fire and Police Commission, both departments broke the racial barrier. Out of 17 new firefighters in 1985, eight were black males, one a black female and another a white female. At the beginning of his tenure, the fire department only had two minority members out of 197 employees.
Al attributes his success to his mindset. “I have some high ideals on how people should act.” He was appalled during an early business meeting in which he represented his bank’s president. The other bank presidents in attendance openly used inappropriate racial slurs. While Al felt he was too inexperienced then to say anything, today he freely speaks his mind.
At his last INB board meeting before his official retirement at the end of 2016, Al had the chance to tell me and the board members how much he enjoyed working for INB and how proud he was of everyone. Those words meant a lot to us. Today, Al, NMLS #662884, serves as an INB consultant, allowing him to enjoy retirement, while having work fun at the same time.