Chief Investment Officer
putting the fun in commercial banking
Commercial banking is a respectable business. Everyone knows that. Commercial bankers do not enjoy the hokey stuff that their retail brethren do; all the recognition events, sales rallies and potluck days just don’t do it for them.
However, just because commercial bankers don’t like hokey stuff doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy a bit of fun just like anyone else. One commercial banking executive I know, Jim Haney of City National in LA, has realized this years before I did. He takes his bankers on a planning retreat every couple of years. This is not the unusual part. The unique part is what they do at those retreats. The first one was a scavenger hunt in Catalina Island, where all bankers dressed like pirates and planned on stealing clients from the competition. Future retreats followed suit at creative, fun venues. These generated unique ideas and a great focus, and CNB’s outstanding results speak for themselves.
I believe Jim is onto something. Commercial banking is a tough business. It’s always been so, but recent years have made it more difficult. Most banks are already approaching their 300%/100% CRE and construction limits, so C&I (Commercial and Industrial loans) is the order of the day. C&I loans are typically smaller than CRE loans, but they bring with them precious, loyal deposits and lots of Treasury Management opportunities.
The problem is, we have too many bankers chasing too few loan opportunities. The economy hasn’t grown enough to meet the banks’ need for loan growth. Loan growth goals, based upon our recent Commercial Banking Forum attendees, range between 4-10%, and most cluster around 7-8%. The economy isn’t growing nearly as fast. The implication: we must steal business from the competition to achieve our goals.
Sounds dour? This is when the fun comes in. Working in this zero-sum environment can be stressful and difficult. Management can alleviate this pressure by showing their bankers the path to success through effective sales management and reporting, coupled with good old-fashioned fun.
The role of leadership in any business cannot be overstated, and it is especially important in this difficult environment for loan growth. What can a strong leader do to help their team achiever their lofty goals?
- Establish weekly sales meetings.
The meetings should ONLY focus on sales. No other topics should be discussed; no gripes about technology, credit, marketing etc. Only sales. They should be short and clearly formatted, with an agenda and contribution expectations from each attendee.
- Establish your nomenclature.
We all use terms of art – an opportunity; a proposal; a prospect. However, one’s opportunity is another’s casual encounter. It is important that each element in the sales process is clearly defined such that all team members use words with a shared meaning. For example, an opportunity can be defined as a business which whom the bank wants to do business, rather than anyone the Relationship Manager meets with.
The nomenclature should then be used consistently by all, especially at the sales meeting and pipeline reviews. That consistency will lead to pipeline reliability and better predictability. We all know many a pipeline is nothing but a pipedream. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!)
- Develop simple sales tools.
Sales tools do not have to be complicated; they do not have to come from Marketing. They can be developed during your fun planning retreats and be as simple as “ask each banker to plan two customer events a year.” You might not consider this a sales tool, but I do. By owning the process, a banker is more invested in the result and gains deeper understanding of what it takes to put a successful event together. These will help sales grow.
- Put recognition into daily life.
EVERYONE enjoys recognition. Even silly recognition ignites the competitive fires among the team and makes calling prospects and other less-than-exciting activities fun. Recognition does not have to be expensive or very formal. It just needs to exist. Amazon has more trophies than ever before, thanks to the millennials and their parents. Pick your trophy (12 for $10) and set the target for trophy receipt – anything from making the first cold call of the day to getting an appointment with a top ten prospect is a good target. Recognition is not about the monetary value of the item; it is all about the emotional gratification of winning and being recognized in front of your peers. And it is fun. Use it liberally. It’s an infinite commodity that doesn’t get devalued with use.
- Capitalize upon market disruption.
We are in a phase of active consolidation in the industry. Consolidation brings disruption. We all know that, but many approach such disruption haphazardly. It is an excellent occasion to approach the opportunity methodically and with fun in mind. Bring the competitive element into it by recognizing specific activities and results related to market disruption: a trophy for the first person who brought in $1 million of loans or deposits from the acquired neighboring bank, or the banker who brought in the first three relationships from the target, etc. Frequent and detailed measurement of activities and results will create more opportunities for recognition and, in turn, better results.
- Refresh your market blitzes
Remember the old blitzes we used to do? Common wisdom is, they went the way of the Dodo. Use email instead. I beg to differ. Reinstitute those blitzes, and, again, use them as an opportunity to create friendly competition among the teams with proper recognition to the winners. The more categories you name as goals (e.g. number of in-person calls; number of proposals; number of financial statements received), the more recognition opportunities you have.
I can keep going but I think the overall message is clear: money talks, but fun engages the heart, not just the purse strings. Life is too short – put the fun into your daily work. It works!