HELENA — The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Helena Branch is celebrating 100 years of operation on Monday February 1. Helena is the only branch location of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
The Helena branch opened in 1921 thanks to the lobbying efforts of Dr. Norman B. Holter and other local businessmen.
The first building was destroyed during the 1935 earthquake. The new building was completed in 1938 on Park Ave. by the current Grandstreet Theatre.
Employees moved into the current home of the branch on Neill Ave. in 1990.
The Federal Reserve System was created by the Congress to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible and more stable monetary and financial system. Often referred to as “the bankers bank,” their services are only available to financial institutions.
The Federal Reserve System supervises and regulates banks and helps maintain the stability of the industry.
“The main purpose of the Federal Reserve System is monetary policy,” said Business Analyst Rhonda Krieger who has been with the Helena Branch for three decades. “It sets interest rates for the banks for the loans they use. We also provide currency and coins to all the financial institutions around the country and we do a lot of outreach to talk economics and our impacts.”The Federal Reserve System essentially operates as a nonprofit. Any money they take in from loans to institutions or other services goes back to the U.S. Treasury to pay off the nation's debt.
Helena is one of the smallest towns by population to have a Federal Reserve branch. Part of the benefit of having a Helena branch is to service the more than 140,000 square miles of Big Sky Country.
“We’re the only branch in the 9th District, so our territory is huge,” said Krieger. “The cash department we have in Helena is one of the cornerstones of this branch and keeping a location in Helena. Being able to service all the banks in Montana is crucial in a timely fashion.”
Banks that have accounts with the Federal Reserve System will often only keep enough money on hand to meet the average needs of their customers with the rest being stored with the Federal Reserve.
The practice helps reduce the risk should there be attempted theft or a natural disaster. Having a Helena branch means Montana banks means they schedule more regular shipments of currency and limit the amount of money they have on hand, thus reducing their risk.
Another unique feature of the Helena Branch is the creation of the Center for Indian Country Development which aims to support the prosperity of Native Nations through actionable research and community collaboration.
The Center helps advise communities of possible economic use of land, develop resources for tribal and private small business and entrepreneurship growth and provide education and training opportunities for Native American communities and schools.
The Federal Reserve System has been continually evolving to meet the needs of modern America, and so has their security.
The Federal Reserve Police are charged with protecting and securing the assets of any Federal Reserve building. They have the same authority as any other federal law enforcement officer and can operate anywhere throughout the United States.
Lt. Don Chriske has been with the Helena Branch since they were still in the old building on Park Ave.
“When we first moved into this building our security system was on a DOS based computer system,” said Chriske. “Through the years as computer technology has developed we’ve upgraded all our security.”
The Helena Branch was one of the first buildings in the state to have a full keycard system for the entire building.
One of the most memorable changes Chriske can recall was the changes implemented after the events of September 11, 2001.
“Our lobby area used to be open to the public and we had a gold display with the weights, but that changed after 9/11,” explained Chriske. “Now we only allow people or events that are pre-planned in advance.”
Another long gone relic of the Federal Reserve System was check processing which used to be a large function of the Helena Branch.
Before the implementation of digital checks, banks would take checks to the Federal Reserve to be processed. One the check cleared it would be sent back to the bank who would return the check as part of the clients regular statements.
The Helena Branch piloted a program for digital imaging of checks for the Federal Reserve System.
“The reasons they did it here is because they figured if it works in Montana it would work everywhere because the transportation distances were so big,” said Chriske.