Keith Robbennolt, Sentinel FCU
by Shawn Marie Brummer
Director of Communications

Keith Robbennolt has had two recent milestones in his life. Within the last two months, he became the CEO of Sentinel Federal Credit Union, and also, a first-time credit union member. But while he is new to the credit union industry, he has spent his entire career in the financial services industry, and is an experienced executive.

A South Dakota native, Robbennolt was born, raised, and graduated from high school in Mitchell. He attended college at USD in Vermillion, and continued his education with a Business Administration and Marketing Degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“My banking career began in 2000 as a teller in a very busy Fort Collins, Colorado branch of a large national bank,” he remarked. “Throughout my banking career, I served in numerous roles from the teller line on up to Senior Vice President of Production/Branch Operations. The majority of my banking career was centered in commercial lending, my focus for 13+ years.”

Besides gaining experience in various roles in the banking world, Robbennolt continued his financial education. He is a graduate of Wells Fargo Bank’s College of Commercial Credit. He also received the Wharton Leadership Certificate from The Wharton School of Business as a graduate of the American Bankers Association Stonier Graduate School of Banking.

With his experience and education, Robbennolt held key leadership roles in the financial institutions he’s worked at. He was Senior Vice President at Black Hills Community Bank in Rapid City where he managed the overall production of the bank, and also the retail side of the bank. In addition, he managed a commercial loan portfolio of just under $60 Million.

“I have always appreciated what credit unions were all about, and the focus the credit union industry gives to our membership,” he stated.   

Sentinel Federal Credit Union was chartered in 1955 as Ellsworth Air Force Base Federal Credit Union, serving the U.S. Air Force military personnel assigned or attached to Ellsworth AFB and select employee groups. In the mid-1980s the credit union opened their FOM to non-military members. In 1994 the name was changed to Sentinel Federal Credit Union, and when they took over Rosebud FCU in Winner, the credit union was expanded to serve nine South Dakota counties, including: Pennington, Lawrence, Meade, Custer, Lyman, Todd, Tripp, Gregory and Mellette. More recently, in 2015, Rapid City Telco FCU merged with Sentinel Federal Credit Union, and members benefitted from the greater financial strength this partnership achieved. Today, Sentinel FCU has total assets of $109 Million, 51 employees, is well capitalized, and well positioned to grow.

“When the opportunity to join Sentinel was presented to me, I was beyond excited and couldn’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work,” said Robbennolt. “We have an amazing team, and I am looking forward to creating something truly special with this incredible group.” 

Throughout his career, Robbennolt has frequently consulted his uncle, Doug, for advice. “As the CFO at a bank in Nebraska, Doug has been a key mentor, someone I could count on and trust for advice. I rely on him for many things in my career and life in general,” he stated. Apparently, Uncle Doug approved of Keith’s decision to make the transition to the credit union world.

Now that he has made the move, he is finding much to enjoy, and also to compare and contrast. “My favorite part of the credit union industry is the comradery between the individual credit unions. I continue to be amazed by all of the incredible people – including executives of other credit unions throughout our region and the country. Everyone has been so welcoming, and willing to provide me an outlet to bounce ideas off of. To me, this is the greatest competitive advantage the credit union industry has over most other industries. We are the epitome of ‘people helping people’ and I cannot think of very many industries where the individual institutions are so willing to help each other.”

His unique perspective as a newcomer also gives him a certain insight. “The greatest challenge in our industry, as I see it, is the threat of taxation led by the bankers’ lobby,” he stated. “Credit unions are designed to assist segments of our communities that many traditional banks would not serve. As a result, credit unions tend to have higher loan losses than a typical bank would. Serving these members is what credit unions are designed for, and without our industry there is a large segment of our communities that may not be able to get financing for homes, vehicles, etc. In the time I worked in the banking industry in Rapid City, I can recall only two or three loans that were charged off for very minimal amounts, and recall only a handful of months in which the bank I worked at carried any loan for more than 30 days past due at the end of a month. Although we are not subject to the franchise taxes that banks have to pay, I view the higher loan losses incurred by credit unions as our ‘tax’. I feel that if credit unions were to become subject to the same taxation as our friends in the banking industry, our industry will have to completely change the lending options we offer to our members, and would have to tighten up our lending standards to significantly reduce our exposure to loan losses. Sentinel is a low income designated credit union, and if we were subject to taxation on top of exposure to loan losses, we would no longer be able to serve our membership as originally intended.”      

Not only is Keith dedicated to serving his membership in his new role as CEO of Sentinel FCU, he has been serving the greater community for some time. He is a past board member of the United Way of the Black Hills, and a current Board member of the Black Hills Works Foundation, where he also serves on the Finance Committee. He is active in the Black Hills Habitat for Humanity, and participates in many Chamber of Commerce and other community and fundraising events in the Black Hills area. He has volunteered time for the Backpack Program through Feeding South Dakota, for the United Way’s Day of Caring, and the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics, just to name a few.

In his personal life, Keith says he is “the luckiest man alive.” He has been married to his wife, Shawna, for nearly 13 years. They have three young boys, Vincent (11), Isaac (8), and Dylan (7), who keep the couple very busy with their many activities. They recently added a Golden Retriever, Ruby, to the family.

Together, the Robbennolts enjoy camping, hiking and exploring the outdoors. Keith likes to play golf, but admits he has some practicing to do in that area. He loves being able to watch his boys participate in the sports they are interested in, and rarely misses a game. When he really wants to relax, he enjoys listening to his diverse collection of vinyl records on his vintage turntable.

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