Charting a New Path

Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines’s Ardis Kelley guides strategy geared toward making a strong bank and strong communities

Ardis Kelley, Federal Home Loan Bank of Des MoinesPhoto: Colin Conces

Ardis Kelley is clear about where the plan for the future of Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines (FHLB Des Moines) is headed: long-term sustainability and being a top-rated financial institution.

In 2018, Kelley became FHLB Des Moines’s chief strategy officer, a new role for both her and for the institution. After six years as the chief accounting officer, preceded by years honing her accounting skills in other companies, she’s finding different ways to think about FHLB Des Moines in her new position. “Accounting tells a story about events and transactions from the past,” Kelley explains. “It is analytical and very factual. By design, we are not allowed to be creative or imaginative.”

Now, she sets FHLB Des Moines’s sights forward. One of eleven Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLBanks), FHLB Des Moines is cooperatively owned by a member base of commercial banks, savings institutions, credit unions, insurance companies, and community development financial institutions. FHLB Des Moines merged with FHLB Seattle in 2015, and now they’re learning to operate together as one of the largest institutions in the FHLBank System. Kelley is leveraging an ability to build teams and collaborate. “In my new role, I am learning so much about the bank, its business, mission, challenges, and growth opportunities,” she says.

In the past, she says, FHLB Des Moines took a near-term approach to strategic planning, with a planning horizon of one to three years. Kelley’s goals are to extend that consideration and ensure FHLB Des Moines is not only fixing existing issues and making near-term improvements but also digging deep into avoiding future road bumps and taking advantage of opportunities. She works with leadership to explore ideas ranging from questions about identity and perception to the future of banking to craft specific strategies for FHLB Des Moines’s success.

Although short-term problems need to be addressed, “we need to get up on the balcony and see a view that extends beyond the never-ending fires of our day-to-day,” Kelley says. Through a specific process, she developed buy-in from both executive leadership and the board of directors. In April 2018, she began clarifying commitment to FHLB Des Moines mission statement: “To be a reliable provider of funding, liquidity and services for FHLB Des Moines’s members so that they can meet the housing, business, and economic development needs of the communities they serve.”

After helping to ensure understanding of the mission, Kelley ran exercises with executives, honing agreement around the meaning of FHLB Des Moines’s vision statement and the importance of a tangible, long-term strategy. She then brought the board into the conversation and, for four months, facilitated conversations around assumptions, needs, and goals. With the vision of “Strong Bank, Strong Communities,” at the forefront, the outcome of these conversations was an aspirational statement, called the “North Star” that serves as a beacon for FHLB Des Moines’s five-year strategic business plan.

“I hear people actively talking about the strategy,” she says, noting that sustainability is at the center of the effort. “It is important to answer the question, ‘So what?’”

In other words, it is not enough to just have something that looks good on paper. With its five-year plan, FHLB Des Moines now has clarity on critical ideas in sustainability. In concert with maintaining fidelity to the core mission, FHLB Des Moines will drive a strong balance sheet that includes the appropriate level of its mission-related assets and a solid capital position. Another critical component of the plan is being a top-rated financial institution, which requires a laser focus on bank operations.

Her training as an accountant helps Kelley on all fronts of this effort. The North Star vision includes making sure that FHLB Des Moines operates in a safe and sound manner. Also, it relies on clear metrics and regular assessments to ensure it is headed in the right direction.

These key ideas for building and growing are the heart of FHLB Des Moines’s five-year plan, and they coincide with a desire to, “be a bank that is easy to use.” At the same time, FHLB Des Moines is assessing its outreach efforts for diverse talent. Senior leadership understands that this is another aspect of building a stronger bank.

To provide excellent services for its nearly 1,400 members, Kelley works with internal communications to develop methods for communicating the new strategies to FHLB Des Moines’s staff. Looking to the larger community, she is participating in forming a system-wide strategy group with all of the FHLBanks to share best practices.

“We need to be aware of emerging external trends and evolving internal capabilities within our institution,” she says. With this in place, FHLB Des Moines can understand not only where its journey will take it but why the journey matters.