|With two commercial lenders hired and fired in the course of three years, the president of one local thrift was about at the end of his rope. "We're trying to build a commercial department," he said, requesting - a little sheepishly - that he not be named. "But the guys we've hired just don't seem to be able to close the loans."
That's a familiar banker's lament these days. With capital high throughout the banking industry, many institutions are looking for ways to put their money to work earning respectable returns. For a good number of community banks, that has meant boosting efforts to generate commercial loans, and for some thrifts it has meant starting commercial departments from scratch. In either case, it means the industry has an appetite for successful lenders.
The problem is finding them.
"The market's always strong for good lenders," notes Tim Keefe, banking specialist with Robert Half International, an executive recruitment firm. "But even though there are a lot of people out there looking for jobs, that doesn't mean there are a lot of good lenders to be had."
Said Timothy Loughlin, president of Bankers Search, an executive Search firm in Madison, CT: "There are a lot of people who think they're lenders. And the resumes all look terrific. But it's hard actually finding the people who can close the loans."
In the past five years, the New England banking industry has disgorged thousands of employees. With that, some bankers expected that it would be easy to find talented loan officers looking for work - after all, not everyone who loses their job in a merger does so because they can't cut the mustard." "In these layoffs, the banks are letting go both the good and the bad," notes Loughlin. But the banks looking for commercial lenders, distinguishing between the two isn't always easy - and in some cases, it's not even possible because the good lenders simply aren't in the job market, experts said.
Bankers and recruiters point out that when times got tough for the industry in the early 1990's, one of the first things the bigger banks did to cut costs was eliminate training programs. For community banks, who often draw their lenders from the bigger banks, that has had serious repercussions. With no new training programs, there were no new commercial lenders coming up through the ranks. And, said Mr. Keefe, "a lot of banks [in the past couple of years] have gotten their hands slapped by the regulators for hiring lenders who were'nt really lenders," and whose inexperience or inability could jeopardize the bank's portfolio.
That means the strongest pool of experienced lenders are either pre-1990 or post-1994. With each group, apparently, there are benefits and problems. The pre-1990 lenders have more experience and often want a higher salary than most community banks are comfortable paying. Also, many from that group have simply bad it with banking," said Keefe. "They don't want to change jobs, and if they've been let go, they don't want to get back into banking."
The post-1994 group, while more accessible, is also less experienced. Recruiters say the "wish list" of attributes bank look for in a candidate is a college degree, training, knowledge of the territory and a portfolio of business the lender can bring to the bank. Too often, they say, the post-1994 group lacks that last, critical element.
For many banks, the situation is one in which they wind up trying one course only to veer another way. The banker who fired two loan officers in two years found out the hard way that he should have put more money up front and hired a more experienced lender - as he's now done. But that action came after businesses in his area have already been soured by the actions of the previous two lenders.
"When you're looking for a lender, you're looking for someone who's had a touch of workout experience, someone with a solid credit background who knows how to package a loan, who's had some SBA experience, and who knows the territory," said Loughlin. But most importantly, banks want someone who can make the deal happen, who can close the loan. To get the kind of person, banks often end up raiding the ranks of their competitors.
But getting someone to jump ship isn't always easy. If a lender knows how to close a loan, he's probably doing well already in his present position. Attracting him to a new employer could take some doing, said Keefe. "One question is how flamboyant is the pay structure? But there are other things to offer, including stock options, independence and challenges," he added. "Critical, however, to the candidate is the question:'Where will I be in five years?' If he thinks he'll be better off at a new bank, he'll probably change jobs."
To compete, Loughlin notes banks with more than $500 million in assets should expect to pay between $60,000 and $90,000 a year for a good lender, while smaller banks should budget between $50,000 and $60,000. That's just the salary. Although commission isn't usually a factor (unless the lender is brought on to do SBA loans, in which case it plays a big role), lenders' pay packages often do include bonus structures which can bump up overall pay by as much as another 20 percent.
What's not common is any kind of golden parachute for a lender, in case his new bank is suddenly gobbled up by a bigger organization. "The chances of getting that are kind of slim," said Keefe. In the end, Loughlin said bankers looking for new commercial lenders need to realize that they're making an investment in their companies, and price their offers accordingly. Because at this stage
of the game, there seem to be fewer effective lenders than there are jobs.