(This interview was one of two interviews conducted by our contest winner Erin Robertson)
What do you do for a living?
I’m a senior vice president of a bank.
How would you describe what you do for a living – what all does your work entail?
Primarily, my work entails making loans of all varieties and then all the attendant duties connected with collecting and servicing those loans, developing those relationships with the banks customers.
How did you get started in your job?
I was a college student – actually, I’d left college and was working some part-time jobs when the president of the bank called and wanted to know if I would be interested in a very low-level, entry-level job at the bank, and I took that job, thinking I’d work there for six months, and it’s been many, many years since then.
Is there anything that you specifically like about what you do?
I enjoy working with people and helping people achieve success and being able to give them help in difficult times. It’s always good to see people that are able to benefit from financial assistance and take a business and make it successful or take a farm and make it successful, or be able to get out of a crisis – it’s very rewarding.
And so, how important are relationships in what you do?
It’s absolutely crucial. All banks are the same – every bank has the same kind of services and offers the same sorts of things, and the only difference in banks is your ability to establish and maintain a relationship with a customer.
Is there anything that you dislike about what you do?
It can be very, like most jobs it can be stressful. You have deadlines, you have people that always want something, sometimes you aren’t able to give them what they want, sometimes they get emotional, and when things aren’t going well, their whole life is collapsing and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it…but mostly the day-to-day grind of always answering the telephone, always answering a hundred emails, always having somebody waiting to see you; it can just grind you down from time to time if it’s really busy.
How do you respond to that when it gets really stressful and the grind, as you said, becomes unbearable? Also, how do you deal with people when they become emotional or when you relationship with them becomes challenging?
Well, the best way I’ve learned to do it is just to take control of my time and my circumstances, and not let someone else dictate how I spend my time. So if that means putting my phone on “Do not disturb,” if it means closing my door, if it means going to a back room or to another office, or sometimes it just means saying I’m gone for a few minutes to take a quick walk or a drive around to block to just get away and clear my head. But sometimes you just have to take control of a situation and put some distance between you and all those people.
How is it, through your job, that you make money? – or rather, how are you compensated? What is the process by which you are paid?
I have a set salary – there is a bonus structure based on a variety of different things: certain areas of performance that are met…there’s a bonus in addition to the regular monthly salary. And then there are other compensations: there’s profit-sharing, insurance, there’s a sort of long-term employment package that some of the senior officers in the bank have that, if you stay, if you work there to a certain age, you’re guaranteed a portion of your pay beyond the profit-sharing that you’ve already earned.
How much money do you currently make as a bank Vice President?
I think my base salary is $90,000 a year, and then the bonus depends on – it’s not predictable, it can be a few more thousand, $5-10,000 although it’s rarely that much…Then, in addition to that, the bank makes contributions to a profit-sharing account for me and I have some insurance things that are paid for, the life insurance is paid for.
How does this compare with how much money you made when you were starting out as a banker?
When I first started out I was probably making less than $20,000 a year – I was probably making $18-19,000 a year in 1981 or 1982.
Are there any specific skills or is there any specific education that you need to fulfill this role?
It’s not a requirement, it’s not a mandate, but there is actually a degree in finance that a lot of people have – I don’t have that. But, general business skills, an understanding of how finance works, but really, communication skills are huge and relationship, people skills are probably more important than anything.
You’ve kind of already touched on this, but what are some of the challenges of your job?
One thing that we haven’t talked about is that the challenges sort of ebb and flow as does the economy. We had a period of time that lasted a few years up until a couple of years ago where it was pretty easy to be a banker: everything worked, it was prosperous, about everything that everybody tried made money, and then that stopped and it was just the opposite. Nothing worked, everybody was in trouble, nobody wanted to borrow money, a lot of people couldn’t repay the money they borrowed…but you don’t have any control over that, so part of the challenges of being involved in the operation and management of a bank is making sure a bank is positioned for those inevitable times that always do come when things aren’t going to be as prosperous. So you have to be prepared for that, and fortunately our bank always has been.
What are some rewards of your job?
It’s pretty financially rewarding, it has pretty good hours, I get four weeks of vacation, the hours are not that difficult, it’s by far a much more mentally stressful job than it is a physically stressful job. It’s one of those things that, you know, it’s certainly possible to lose a job, but as long as you’re doing what you’re doing, as long as you’re taking care of people, you really sort of are, at least in a small community, engrained into the community to the point where you literally become a fixture, which is good.
What advice would you offer somebody coming into the same career?
I’d say the future is going to be challenging. I think our economy locally and nationally and globally is going to change. It won’t be like it’s been in the past 25 or 30 years. So someone coming in should have a better understanding – even if they’re just a local banker – they should have a better understanding of how things work economically on a global scale. The nature of banking is probably going to change too, in that there’s probably going to be much, much more government intervention to the point where I could see it almost being a government entity. So a person should be prepared for that sort of job if they want to work in banking.
Speaking of preparation, are there any common misconceptions that people have of what you do?
They think we go home at three ‘o’ clock in the afternoon, and that we play golf all the time, and we don’t. I send emails at seven ‘o’ clock in the morning and seven ‘o’clock at night, I send emails on the weekends…there’s a lot more to managing and maintaining a relationship with a loan customer than just making a loan and forgetting about it. You have to try to find the time to be somewhat proactive in helping them manage their affairs. You can’t manage their business for them, but sometimes you have to take a more active role in their business or in their life than you’d like to.
Moving on towards the discussion of the future: What are some of your goals or dreams for your career? Not necessarily this career, but just your career in general.
I don’t really have a lot of aspirations in the banking career. I’ve had some opportunities to go to different banks and probably advance a little more in the corporate aspect of banking, and I’ve chosen not to do that because I like to be as independent as I can, and the job I’m in now allows me to have a little bit more independence and a little bit more say so in what I do with my customers. So, I don’t really have any aspirations beyond what I’m already doing now. I think whenever I move out of this career, I want to move into something that’s a little bit more beneficial – less oriented toward making money and more oriented toward doing something that’s more rewarding on less of a financial scale. Whether that be something I do with my hands, or whether it’s something I do to help other people, something that’s a little more grounded in something a little more tangible.
Is there anything else that you would like the general public to know about what you do?
Even though banking has changed a lot in the last 20 years – it’s gotten more regional and global – I’ve always been involved in banking in a small rural community, and have seen several small, rural communities, and it’s always been true that the strength of the community is mirrored by the strength of the local bank. If you have a strong, deeply rooted in the community bank, you’ll have a strong community. If you have a small-minded, conservative bank that’s separated from the community, you’ll have a community that won’t grow much. So, bankers actually do look at that sort of thing and do take an interest in their community. It’s not always about wringing a profit out of everybody. Most bankers I know are generally interested in seeing their communities prosper and do well.
Okay, that’s great. Thank you.