Sunday, December 11, 2011

Power to the People

I asked the head of commercial lending how best to turn the tide in business loan growth. His response: people. I asked the head of branches how to elevate the results from low performing branches. Response: people. I asked the head of an insurance subsidiary how he intends to improve margins. Again, it's the people.

My firm moderated a brainstorming session with a client on improving profitability in certain areas. We came up with several credible ideas. But a senior executive spoke up and said something to the effect that the responses that revolved around people were so far ahead of the others, that if the bank got the people issues right then performance will surely improve.

I have opined that bankers come in two general categories: balance sheet managers and customer managers. Since that post over a year and a half ago, financial institutions continue their migration toward the customer aspect. A strategy heavily focused on balance sheet management does not do much to differentiate one FI from another, and therefore does little to improve franchise value.

But strategies that focus on customers require people that are better than the people at the FI across the street. From this perspective, our assets do go up and down the elevator every day. So what are we doing to have the right people in the right positions?

We first attacked this challenge over 10 years ago when we aggressively pursued lenders. The hot pursuit led to wage inflation. The challenge was that we wanted lenders that went after the total client relationship and were surprised when what we got were loans. They were deal people, selling loan transactions usually at attractive pricing and loose covenants. We found it difficult to get the old salts to change their perspective, to build a strong relationship, to achieve trusted advisor status with their clients. They simply wanted to do deals.

Perhaps we can learn from this experience. If FIs seek to supplement their staff with more customer managers, maybe we should focus on attracting motivated, less experienced, but more malleable talent. Or perhaps such talent exists within our franchise.

To succeed at such a strategy, the FI would need a performance measurement process that identifies top performers and hot prospects, develops a training program to teach them the skills to meet performance expectations, and to ingrain your FIs Way (manner in which your FI would ideally like to do business).

If you bring onboard new, yet under-developed talent, perhaps you implement a mentor program with more senior people that have bought into your Way and are performing well. Additionally, ensure your compensation system is consistent with your Way. If you compensate for loan volume, don't be surprised if you get the aforementioned aggressively priced loan transactions and few loyal relationships.

As you populate your employee base with higher quality people your FI will perform better. If you keep in place employees that are millstones around your neck, your FI will struggle to perform better. Your objective should be to maximize the former, and minimize the latter. That's the simplest business strategy ever, don't you think?

~ Jeff


  1. There is wisdom here! Too often, those seeking "the deal" are, in a sense, lazy and short-sighted in their approach. It takes more effort to "work" the relationship, but more rewarding (financially and otherwise) in the long-run. Myopic perspectives often lead to business moving on to the next "best rate" deal, taking their money with them...

  2. Tom,

    Many FIs have trained customers to expect best rate. It will be hard work to build a value proposition that evokes greater loyalty. Nothing easy is usually worth pursuing.

    Thanks for the comment!

    ~ Jeff