Aug 31, 2020

A Different Kind of Calling

As Bell Bank’s newly hired community development officer, Katie Mattis Sarver will help guide the bank in supporting neighborhoods, minority-owned businesses and nonprofit organizations in underserved communities.

Katie Mattis Sarver Leaves Pro Sports Career to Lead Bell Bank Community Development Efforts

Katie Mattis Sarver has had a career many people only dream of.

She’s worked with Minnesota Thunder Soccer, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx – and most recently Minnesota United Football Club and Allianz Field. She has rubbed elbows with pro athletes and even spent half a day in a minivan with singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan (who was headlining the 2016 Women’s World Cup opening ceremonies).

“She is everything you want her to be and more,” Katie confides. “She is such a regular person – a regular person with unique gifts.”

Despite the prestige and excitement of working in professional sports, Katie is willingly giving it all up to work for a bank.

“I love soccer and the team, and sharing the experience of what Minnesota United stands for has been a great calling,” Katie says. “This is a different kind of calling. I would not have left MNUFC for any company. I left to join Bell Bank – a company where supporting our communities has been part of its DNA since its founding. And I’ve had the opportunity over the past few years to meet so many members of the Bell team, I feel like I am coming home.”

As Bell Bank’s newly hired community development officer, Katie will work closely with Bell’s executive leadership and community development task forces to connect with business owners, minority-owned businesses, nonprofit organizations and civic leaders. Bell plans to focus on communities historically underserved by financial institutions – and including neighborhoods damaged during the protests following the death of George Floyd and particularly hard hit by the COVOID-19 pandemic.

Michael Solberg, Bell Bank president and CEO, points out that Bell’s hiring of a community development officer has been a natural progression from the company’s people-focused approach and its long tradition of community giving – perhaps best embodied in Bell’s unique Pay It Forward program. Since launching in 2008, the program, which gives employees money to donate to causes they care about, has empowered more than $16 million in charitable giving.

COVID-19 and the social justice protests have brought those needs even more to the forefront, Michael explains, making Katie’s hiring even more timely.

“We are challenging ourselves to understand how we as a financial institution can more effectively help create systemic change – the Bell way,” Michael comments. “Bell was founded on relationships and personal connections within our community. As we continue to join new communities and neighborhoods, we want to build meaningful relationships, one customer at a time, through the work of our team members and how we pay it forward.

“Katie’s role is to lead our efforts in fostering new community relationships through listening, building trust and finding ways to take action together.”

Katie and Bell’s task force members will lead Bell’s employees in seeking genuine relationships with local leaders to understand their unique challenges and how Bell can play a role through business development, capital investments, philanthropic gifts and other efforts including specialized lending programs, programs to increase business and individual bankability, and support of minority home ownership.

Bell’s effort to reach out to underserved populations is about more than giving, Katie notes, “This is about building. A gift can be a one-time thing. This is about building something meaningful.

“It is such an exciting opportunity to join a family-owned bank that has built its success on focusing on employees, customers and communities. When I was part of the build of 2 stadiums in very different communities, the goal was always to create a space where people could come together to celebrate and be united. It’s very metaphoric to how I view my contribution with Bell. I ask myself, how can I be one of the 1,500 Bell employees to create the vision, infrastructure and action to help bring people together and improve their lives?”

Growing up in Anoka, Minn., in a diverse, mixed family of “4 adopted and 4 homemade” kids (2 of whom are Black, 2 Korean and 4 Caucasian), Katie learned early on that life is different for every person, no matter what color you are.

“Sadly, our family was a victim of many race-related hate crimes growing up,” Katie notes. “I have been blessed with Black siblings, nieces and nephews, friends and colleagues, and as an Asian American, I know my experience has been different than my Black siblings – and very different than that of my Caucasian siblings. The inequities are real, but the solutions can be real too. How we treat people is completely up to us.”

Professionally, Katie says we can use our expertise to continue to make a difference to close the gaps.

“It might feel like a massive challenge, but taking it one person and one opportunity at a time will create that change,” she explains. “Some people grew up thinking we should be color blind – that race doesn’t matter, but it does matter because if you ignore it, you’re denying who someone is and the richness diversity can bring. Color blindness is actually marginalization of a person’s identity. People just want to be accepted for who they are – not in spite of their differences, but including their differences.”

Instead of dividing us, Katie affirms our differences can be a source of strength.

“At Bell Bank we pride ourselves on being a different kind of bank by putting employees and customers first,” Katie notes. “We can find strength in our differences to make a difference because we value people first.”

Prior to joining Bell, Katie worked as an executive team member and senior vice president for corporate partnerships for Minnesota United Football Club and Allianz Field. She is a graduate of Hamline University in St. Paul.