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Even in a Tight Labor Market, Look for Lenders Who Embody These 7 Key Traits

Patrick True
Feb 24, 2022

The financial services industry has faced dramatic disruption over the past decade, with significant implications for the talent needed in the future. Recent reports show employers across the country are scrambling to fill open requisitions. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reveals that over 40% of U.S. workers are actively searching for a new job, or plan to soon. This is twice the rate of 2019, as workers are becoming more aware of what they want out of a job and in their lives due to the pandemic.

Bruce Paul, Managing Director of Banking Research at Rivel Banking, explains that when asking community banks and credit unions what their biggest concerns are, 80% say “it’s a staffing issue.” And it’s affecting the customer experience.

Lenders are scarce, but the demand has surged.

Meanwhile, in today’s low-interest rate environment, all eyes are focused on lending staff. We’ve always asked a lot of these key men and women in our organizations … loan growth, credit quality, and 18-hour workdays during PPP, just to name a few. They are more important now than ever before, but it’s often a challenge to find the “right fit.” After all, we’re basically searching for two personalities in the same person. On one hand, we’re seeking a go-getter: someone who can hit the streets and bring in business. On the other, we want an analytical number-cruncher who can act as a liaison between borrowers, business owners, CPAs, and the financial institution.

While hiring is certainly taking longer in today’s labor market, due diligence cannot be rushed when it comes to finding the right lenders. While some key lending skills could be trained into a new recruit, there are some traits that are simply non-negotiable when it comes to your lending staff.

Let’s explore seven key personality traits that are essential to look for when recruiting new or seasoned lenders.

  1. Honest. When we interview lenders (or really any position involving credit authority), honesty is the one trait that rules them all. It’s also one of the hardest to determine during the interview process. We can look at a candidate’s work history, talk to references, check social media, and perform background checks. Those historical references tell us a lot, but at the end of the day, we are also acting on our gut. Does this person seem genuine?
  2. Goal-oriented. While the actual job tasks performed by lenders can vary widely from one institution to the next, overall, they need to be good at setting goals and managing their time. They are using both right and left-brain skills every day. They are a rare mixture of an outgoing sales mindset and an analytical problem-solving mindset. In fact, these are often associated with introverts and extroverts, and we’re seeking it all in the form of one person. This is why lenders must be goal-oriented. They need to effectively juggle multiple tasks while also managing the stress associated with both sales-growth goals and credit quality targets. The most successful are driven to achieve both with absolute focus.
  3. Discreet. The lending officer is the face of your organization. The manner in which they conduct themselves and communicate with your accountholders is a direct reflection of your bank or credit union. These individuals are also exposed to sensitive and confidential information on a daily basis, and they must be able to handle it responsibly.
  4. Empathetic. Successful lenders have a passion for helping people. For example, anyone who has been in lending for a while has seen a small business owner succeed or fail. We’ve seen them make agonizing decisions that will have a direct impact on their family, their employees, and their employees’ families. Most have seen a business owner skip a paycheck or two so that others could get paid. It is hard to witness such things and not get emotionally invested in your borrowers. This is what drives a lot of lenders. They truly value the relationships they are developing. It’s important to hire lenders who have this degree of empathy. It helps to give them a significant sense of meaning throughout their careers.
  5. Conscientious. Perhaps more so than other professional positions, lending officers must have an inner compass that goes beyond honesty. While they care deeply about their customers and members, their primary focus is to protect the assets of the financial institution. One measure of a great lender is someone who can decline a request while also educating the borrower as to why the institution cannot make the loan. These are positions that will test lenders at some point during their careers, usually on multiple occasions. They need to be able to manage the stress associated with this environment while maintaining their sense of duty to their employer.
  6. Observant. Lenders are often the gatekeepers for the new credit relationships that make their way into the bank or credit union. At the same time, they represent the front line for managing credit quality within existing relationships. Whether during initial underwriting or years down the road, a lender’s ability to know that something simply does not look or feel right about a credit, or the way a company is performing, can save your organization thousands of dollars or more in workout expenses and actual losses. In many cases, issues the lender finds may not even be known to the borrower. It pays dividends to hire lenders that have this quality.
  7. Perceptive. This goes beyond being observant. It involves using observation to develop an insight into the situation. It also involves the ability to move from observation to understanding, and further to intuition. We can’t expect lenders to be balance sheet whisperers, but perception is often the X factor that separates the good from the great. Some could tell you, within minutes of receiving a financial package whether their institution would support the deal. This comes from a perception of the business, the owner’s strengths, the viability of the business concept, and the appetite for your institution to seek the relationship. That kind of perception can create very effective and very efficient lenders.

 Your workforce should embody the traits and values you want to represent your organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced banks and credit unions to challenge the status quo and think differently about the way our teams are recruited, retained, and valued. Equipped with the right mindset and tools, lenders that embody these traits will help as financial institutions continue to shift to focusing on the needs of the borrower across the desk and helping our communities in need. Perhaps tapping into skills and talent already on board could lead to unexpected discoveries. Look within your organization for employees with solid secondary skills, like:

  • A junior loan officer who may be ready to take on more responsibility and has technical skills and ideas that could help move antiquated systems forward.
  • An experienced administrator who may be interested in moving into a managerial role and has the mindset to lead process improvements.

Building tomorrow’s workforce often starts with today’s loyal staff; but no matter what, it should always embody the traits and values you want to represent your financial institution in the future. Provide employees with a strong sense of direction by showing them the opportunities that exist in your institution beyond their current job function. Otherwise, you’re simply training other organizations’ future employees.


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