Teenagers are prone to be rebellious. It is part of growing up and discovering “who you are” and all of that stuff. It is a time when we begin to listen to music that we doubt our parents would approve of, we begin to develop our own ideas about the world and the issues at hand, and we begin to formulate what it is we want to do in this life to make our mark. Certainly, these are not the foremost thoughts on a teenagers mind all the time, but they are there in the recesses of the teenage mind hiding out like that Snoop Dogg CD you bought that you didn’t want your parents to know about. And yes, I just dated myself with that sentence.
I swore I would never be a banker. Actually, I swore I would never be a businessman until I realize that, in reality, everyone is at some level in “business” whether they think so or not. So, I amended my rebellious stand to say I would never enter banking. My father was (and still is) a banker and, though I love my father and he is probably one of my closest friends, I vowed never to follow those footsteps. I would set out on my own to chart new waters and explore brave new worlds. Cue the Indiana Jones music. I would ignore the fact that my earliest memories included being centered around banking. I remember going to the bank with my grandmother to the bank to get something out of the safe deposit box at her bank in North Mississippi. I can still see the rose marble of the Union Planters building in downtown Memphis on Madison. I grew up in banking the way some grow up on a farm or countless retail businesses across the US.
Now, I’d work a teller window at the bank in the summer and over Christmas break. It was good money for 20 year old. It looked good on a resume to be in finance. I got to drink coffee. I really liked the people I worked with. It was a good experience, but I would “never” go into banking.
So what changed?
I graduated college in 2002. A quick Google search will tell you that those were the days of Enron and WorldCom. Suffice it to say, Wall Street was not hiring green, wet behind the ears Finance graduates. So, I went to work back at the bank in an in-store branch and though that environment has its pros and cons, this is where I “got” banking. Banking is a profession that one must master both sides of the brain. It is filled with cold and immutable numbers. Bankers have to see things in a way that others do not and if you don’t believe me, try explaining cash flow vs income to someone and watch their eyes glaze. Our spreadsheets and analyses has to be consistent, accurate, and nearly sacrosanct in order to minimize risk, make a profit, and satisfy all stakeholders and regulators. Let’s be honest…who wants to do business with someone like that?! If I am a business owner, I can’t wait to talk to my banker’s Excel spreadsheet and see how best to finance my payroll and operations. (*Insert sarcastic look here*)
On the other hand, bankers are relationship managers and not simply in the cold CRM/data-driven world we sometimes occupy. Those are good things. They are excellent tools for the banker to use to gain new business and deepen relationships and be the trusted financial advisor for their customers and we as an industry need to do a much better job in this area. Don’t get me wrong!! But unlike Michael Corleone’s declaration that “it’s not personal…it’s business” to our customers, it is personal. This is their livelihood. This is their house. Their checking account may not be matter much 99% of the time to them (or you if you’re honest) but let a debit card get misplaced or the number stolen and see how important that banking relationship has become to them. It’s not business, it’s personal.
In the previous bank where I worked, we had the benefit of being “the oldest bank in town” in that it was the same building as “the bank” had been for generations. Customers of all ages would come up to me and talk about Mr. X and not about how much money he made for the bank or the loan growth rate he achieved in such a difficult place. Mr. X financed their first car and they were incredibly grateful. Mr. X made sure that they were in a good house when they got married. Mrs. Y always took care of their grandmother’s questions on her statement. Those things are important. To the banker, they’re a part of doing business. It was a car loan. It was taking a little extra time (but admittedly not much) in making certain a mortgage made sense. It was those 10 seconds of correcting a customer’s math in reconciling a bank statement (remember that?).
For all of the geeky finance that comes with banking that I absolutely love, banking is inherently personal.
So, for me, banking scratches all the itches. There is no bigger numbers geek than myself. I love making an Excel spreadsheet sing with efficiency and beauty. But as an extrovert, I thrive off of personal interactions. Working with people and making their situations better and seeing tangible resolutions to their issues fuels my fire. I try, on a daily basis, to exercise my right and my left brain. Banking fits that perfectly for me. I am proud to be a banker. I am proud to be able to help a student get his/her first car on their own. I am proud to find a way to help a local business succeed which, in turn, benefits my local community. I am proud to work with a family in securing their first home or buying the next home when children enter the equation. I am proud to be a force for good through economic means in a manner where all parties have tangible benefit.
It’s not anything special I have done. It’s the power of banking. It’s the power of allocating resources at an acceptable rate of return for the benefit of all parties involved. Banking is cold hard numbers and there is no way around that and it should be. But it is also something so much more! It impacts people in ways that no other industry can…and sometimes we forget that.
So, take a moment today…or when you get free second…to take a deep breath and remember that you are doing something good for the world. You have the ability and, in fact, are changing people’s lives for the better. Keep up the good work!!
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