Smoother Sailing in the Tumultuous Business World

Between the recession, contentious elections and sweeping regulatory changes with still-uncertain outcomes, we’ve lived in “interesting” times recently. Things are calming, on at least some fronts, say two area professionals.

One might liken navigating the national economic, political and regulatory climates over the past five years to a roller coaster ride. Or to being aboard a ship in stormy seas. If we go with the second metaphor, professional service providers have been our anchors—or have at least help calm the storm.

There’s no doubt that navigation is getting easier. In the real estate arena, Bill McDonough, market president at Starion Financial, reports Dane County’s 2012 existing home sales were up twenty-seven percent over 2011, and single family and duplex housing starts rose thirty-one percent during the same period. “We’re far from historical highs but it’s a very positive trend,” he says.

Business owners and consumers alike are finding lenders more accommodating as the economy improves. “The Federal Reserve is doing its part to maintain downward pressure on interest rates,” McDonough notes. “Consumers are definitely taking advantage of the historically low rates; we’re seeing a tremendous amount of mortgage refinancing, and Starion’s 2012 mortgage-lending activity was at an all-time high.”

As one response to the market turbulence of the last few years, Starion’s business clients are seeking new technology to streamline operational efficiency. For example, E-Deposit Express, which allows electronic funds to be deposited from business owners’ locations, has gained in popularity. 

“It eliminates the need to come to their financial institutions,” explains McDonough. “They’re also implementing Positive Pay—where we match the checks a company issues with the ones presented for deposit—to deter fraud, and other tools to speed bank-account reconciliation and control disbursements.”

Busy consumers are also embracing technology. Starion’s Mobile Banking app for smartphones and tablets continues to gain ground, as does its Popmoney product, which enables fund transfers to other individuals’ or businesses’ accounts at any institution, anytime.

Communication remains important regardless of economic conditions or industry, as Hal Harlowe, an attorney at Murphy Desmond S.C., notes. Harlowe previously served three terms as Dane County District Attorney, and a significant part of his practice today is devoted to representing licensed professionals, including physicians, psychologists, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care providers, as well as Realtors, accountants, lawyers, and other professionals.

Although he deals with cases involving allegations of varying gravity, he cites an enduring scenario. “Lack of effective communication between a professional and a client often leads to otherwise avoidable complaints and lawsuits. In a number of cases, a formal complaint is filed with a regulatory agency, when, had the complainant been given an explanation and gotten the sense he or she had been heard, it would have been the end of it,” says Harlowe. 

There is one theme that dominates Harlowe’s handling of these cases: In an age when damaging information can be instantly and destructively available on the Internet, effectively controlling the impact of a complaint is essential.

“Having a complaint filed against you is generally unnerving. It places both your livelihood and reputation at risk,” he says. “We are mindful of that and do everything we can to assist professionals in weathering the emotional impact of facing an accusation, while keeping the complaint from compromising their career or injuring their reputation.”

Increased Confidence

On the financial front, McDonough is seeing markets pick up. “Unemployment statistics support that observation—from 9.2 percent during the recession, Wisconsin unemployment has fallen to 6.6 percent as of year-end 2012,” he says. “That’s better, but we’d all like to see a return to historical levels under five percent. That’s a real key locally and nationally.”

Still, businesses are increasing capital purchases for equipment and facilities, and companies like Woodman’s and CostCo are putting additional stores in Dane County. “Those are good signs that businesses are reinvesting in the community and that consumers are spending more,” says McDonough. 

In times both “interesting” and less so, providers like Harlowe and McDonough help business professionals and consumers alike accomplish their goals faster and more affordably. 

Financial Decision-Support

Starion Financial is planning an expansion in Sun Prairie, first into leased space and then new construction. “We’ve established a $100 million-plus bank in Middleton, and we feel strongly that we can serve western Dane County. This new office will enable us to reach across the county and bring our products, services and expertise to the eastern portion,” McDonough says.

He describes his organization as a “supercommunity bank, not too big to be small and not too small to be big,” with nearly $1 billion in assets. We offer sophisticated products, services, and technology available at big banks, with the personal service found at community banks.”

Starion focuses in three areas of expertise: partnering with owners of small and medium-sized businesses and helping them make strategic decisions; mortgage loans for home purchases, refinances and construction; and personal banking for consumers. “I believe very strongly in our talented, experienced bankers in all of these areas,” says McDonough.

Legal protection 

Harlowe’s practice covers just one of the many legal areas Murphy Desmond handles, including business, tax, real estate, immigration, estate planning, family law, and litigation. And Harlowe has extensive background in defending licensed professionals. Prior to serving as district attorney, he was director of legal services at what was then the state Department of Regulation and Licensing, where he established practices for investigating and prosecuting licensed professionals that are in use today.   

 Harlow represents or defends professionals facing regulatory discipline ranging from warnings to a loss of license. Complaints against medical professionals, in particular, can include accusations of causing injury or losses arising from alleged incompetence or gross negligence, being impaired by alcohol or drugs, allegations of diverting controlled-substance medications from their prescribed use, violating appropriate clinician/patient boundaries, or assertions of various types of fraud. 

“A case generally begins with a citizen complaint. If there appears to be some basis for going forward, the Department of Safety and Professional Services sends a copy of the complaint to the practitioner, asking for a response,” Harlowe explains. 

At that point, it’s a good idea for the practitioner to contact an attorney, Harlowe says. “In an alarming number of cases, an improvidently written response ends up generating a full-scale investigation whereas a proper response would have headed off an investigation. 

“While many cases can be resolved quickly, some—particularly those in which a suspension or revocation is sought—involve a full-blown hearing. In either situation, given the high stakes facing an accused professional, it ends up cost-effective financially and in terms of emotional stress to involve counsel early on.”

- Judy Dahl

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