In Following Her Dreams, Anne Vieira Finds Her Home As A Community Banker

If your family owns a business, more than likely you will become involved with the business at some point in your life. That’s what happened to Anne Vieira, senior vice president of Saints Avenue Bank in New London, whose family owned the local community bank. She liked working at the bank, but Vieira wanted to pursue her dreams and, early on, it didn’t involve the bank.

Vieira followed her dreams and eventually discovered that her passion was strongly tied to her family and community.

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Vieira’s grandfather, Ray R. Behrens, and her father, Edward G. Behrens, purchased Ralls County State Bank of New London in 1958 from Harold M. Miles with the Bank of Advance. They had owned a Ford dealership when the opportunity arose to purchase controlling interest in the bank, which first opened in 1944. The bank had assets of $1.5 million when the Behrens family became its owners. Today, the bank has grown to more than $115 million in assets and the name was changed to Saints Avenue Bank following a successful sale of additional shares of stock to a small group of investors led by Richard C. “Chuck” Leuck.

Growing up in the small rural town of New London, Vieira rode everywhere on her bike and would be gone almost all day.

“My best friend lived behind me, and we would walk through a pasture to each other’s house,” Vieira said. “There was a pond near the pasture and when it would freeze in the winter, we would go ice skating.”

Vieira had her first job at the bank when she was 15 and literally began her banking career with a black eye. 

“After wrecking my friend’s car during senior skip day, my dad thought it was best that I spend my summer working at the bank,” Vieira said. “Before he turned me loose with the cashier, dad gave me three pieces of advice that remain pertinent to community banking today. Greet everyone who comes into the bank. If you know the customer’s name, use it. If your customer asks how you are doing, say ‘Great!’ ‘Fantastic!’ People want to do business with someone who is upbeat and positive. So, those were my first lessons in banking the summer I was 15. That and learning to make half the payments on a $600 wrecked car.”

That summer, Vieira learned how to file checks and run a 10-pocket proof while her older brother, Jim, learned similar tasks at the branch in Center. The next summer, Vieira became a teller at the bank. Although Vieira enjoyed working at the bank, she didn’t want to be sitting at a desk. She wanted to be outside. As a child, she dreamed of being a photographer for National Geographic Magazine. Meanwhile, her dad and grandfather were instrumental in the creation of Clarence Cannon Dam & Mark Twain Lake.

“My dad and grandfather went to Washington, D.C., every year and worked with legislators to get funding to build the dam and lake,” Vieira. 

She said her family’s involvement with Mark Twain Lake piqued her interest in natural resource management, which she studied at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She worked as an intern at the lake and after graduating with a degree in recreation and park administration, Vieira was set to make her mark in her new field with her first full-time job ... and ended up working at a bank.

“I was applying for positions within the government, but I needed a job to pay the rent,” Vieira said. “I was living in St. Louis and was practically living next door to the Plaza Bank of Westport, so I was a teller there for about a year before I began working at the St. Louis Arch for the National Park Service.”

An opportunity to return home presented itself when a park ranger position opened at Mark Twain Lake. Vieira would present programs to the public, and some of these programs focused on the wildlife that inhabited the lake and campgrounds, including snakes. Although some cringe in fear at the sight or mention of snakes, that didn’t bother Vieira. She had a pet black rat snake she used for programs that people could touch, and Vieira kept some snakes in her office.

“There was one snake that had laid eggs, and I didn’t know what to do. I called the state herpetologist, and he told me to put the eggs in a plastic bag with vermiculite and to leave it alone because they would eventually hatch,” Vieira said. 

So, Vieira followed those instructions and put the bag on a shelf above her desk. 

“A few weeks later, I started to wonder about those snakes,” she said. “I picked up the bag and they all had hatched and seemed healthy, so I let them go.”

For the next 15 years, Vieira worked in various locations for the Army Corp of Engineers. She worked at the district office in St. Louis, then in Elsberry and Clarksville on the Mississippi River. As Vieira was promoted in the ranks within the department, she discovered “the more you moved up, the more you were at a desk. I went from doing the outdoor things that I enjoyed to sitting at a desk and writing government contracts and doing management work.”

At the same time, Ralls County State Bank had undergone construction of a new building in New London. The banking industry was experiencing steady growth and a new position in customer service was becoming popular — personal banker. Vieira’s father asked if she had any interest in running that program for the bank.

“I was living in Louisiana, Missouri, at the time with my husband and our daughter, and we had another baby on the way,” Vieira said. “I thought if I’m going to be sitting at a desk anyway, I might as well be in a family business.”

After the birth of her second daughter, Vieira switched careers and joined her father and brother, Jim, at Ralls County State Bank in 1994. Just as when she was a teenager working at the bank, Vieira’s father had advice for his newest employee. 

“Dad said everyone in the bank needed to be a salesperson. It didn’t matter what position you held, you were selling the bank,” Vieira said. “It was very important to treat everyone the same and to be helpful to your customers.” 

Vieira started in new accounts and studied to receive her securities and insurance licenses. She also was a cashier and managed HR and marketing for the bank, noting that she “wore a lot of hats like everybody does” in small community banks. In suggesting recommendations and policy changes for the bank, such as increased employee vacation and other employee benefits, Vieira found her dad was very open to what she and Jim thought about various issues. He encouraged them to implement programs and to run with them.

“What I found when I started back was how much I enjoyed working with my brother and dad every day and then going home to have lunch with my mom. It’s just something out of the 1950s that you rarely hear about anymore,” Vieira said. “I found my passion was to help my family’s business and work with them every day.”

Vieira was familiar with the Missouri Bankers Association because her father had served on the VEBA board and her brother served on the MBA Board of Directors. Then, a childhood next-door neighbor from Louisiana who worked with MBA, John Allen, asked Vieira to consider serving on the Executive Management Committee. From there, Vieira has served on the Budget and Audit Committee, the Membership Committee, the Mark Twain PAC Committee and the MBA Bankers Benefit Corporation Board of Directors.

Since 2016, Vieira has served on the MBA Board of Directors. This has broadened her perspective of the banking industry as she worked with banks of all different sizes from around the state.

“The opportunity with MBA has given me a better understanding of Missouri banking,” Vieira said. “I appreciate the landscape of banking in our state and how people address problems and challenges that we have, and I love the fact that we can lean on each other through the association.”

Vieira was elected MBA chairman in 2019, making her only the second woman in the association’s 129-year history to serve in this role.
 
“I’m more surprised than anybody that I’m here,” Vieira said. “This has been a wonderful opportunity to meet so many bankers from across this country and learn from them. It makes me proud to be a community banker.”

As a community banker, Vieira said every banker plays a significant role in helping their communities grow and prosper. 

“Who better to have on your hospital boards and local YMCAs and other organizations than a banker who knows the local economy?” Vieira asked. “It is imperative for bankers to be out in the community and serve on those boards.”
 
This view is rooted in Vieira’s passion to help people and to ensure small community banks thrive.

“I hope we will always have the local people running their institutions because they know their customers better than anybody; they know the local economy,” Vieira explained. “That’s my role as an advocate for community banks.”

And, Vieira also wants to elevate roles for women in the banking industry. In June 2019, she created Sisters in Banking, a monthly MBA e-newsletter for female bankers to have the opportunity to discuss topics relevant to community banking and MBA activities. 

“Sisters in Banking is a space for women to encourage one another in our careers,” Vieira said. “I want to encourage other women to challenge themselves, gain confidence, learn daily, step into roles they never thought they could and support each other. And, I wanted support as I represented them in an industry I love.”

Her encouragement stems from her previous career in the 1980s with the Corps of Engineers, where a male supervisor told Vieira to “Stop cutting the cake.”

“I knew exactly what he meant,” Vieira said. “Don’t jump up and do typical things that you think a woman would do. You don’t see this so much today. Roles are much more equal, but it was the 80s and he wanted me to move up the ladder.”

This principle has guided Vieira in her career and is one that she and her husband, Mike, have instilled in their daughters, Carter and Issy, and will someday be shared with their granddaughter, Livingston. Vieira still loves the outdoors and can often be found with her family enjoying time together at the Lake of the Ozarks. 

Vieira jokes she most likely would be retired by now if she had stayed working for the government rather than joining her dad and brother at the bank. Instead, Vieira switched careers and learned more about banking. She was open to new possibilities and curious about what the future held for her. It was on this journey that Vieira discovered her passion of working with her family in a career she truly loves … a community banker.

“Helping people — that’s what community banks are here for,” Vieira said.

This mission continues to guide Vieira and her brother as they lead the bank and serve the community … it’s a principle rooted in the family business.

Anne Vieira, Saints Avenue Bank
Anne Vieira, senior vice president of Saints Avenue Bank in New London, stands next to a portrait of her grandfather, Ray R. Behrens, who purchased Ralls County State Bank of New London in 1958. Vieira worked at the bank as a teenager but returned to the bank in 1994 when her father, Ed Behrens, offered her an opportunity to work alongside him and her brother, Jim. “I found my passion was to help my family’s business and work with them every day,” Vieira said.
 
Anne Vieira, Saints Avenue Bank
MBA Chairman Anne Vieira, senior vice president of Saints Avenue Bank in New London, addresses attendees at MBA’s 129th Annual Convention in June 2019 after she was sworn in as MBA chairman. She  is the second woman to serve in this role. “I’m more surprised than anybody that I’m here,” Vieira said. “This has been a wonderful opportunity to meet so many bankers from across this country and learn from them. It makes me proud to be a community banker.”