5 Things I Learned From A Banking Summit

I recently attended a banking summit in a posh ballroom in a Financial District skyscraper earlier this week. The event was held specifically for all of us in the licensed banker program my bank holds. As I am my branch’s licensed banker, I was invited to attend.

Attendance was mandatory.

Still, it was pretty nice. We socialized over breakfast, our regional president spoke to us, as did the head of our licensed banker program and the Regional Sales Director. The insurance companies we work with all sent their representatives to talk to us. Lunch was served as well. Chicken with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. Yum!

Now, the whole purpose of the event was to get us fired up to help our customers (or “clients”, as they refer anyone wanting an insurance or annuity product as) and to sell us on the importance of our specific roles and on the expanded cold calling program that they just rolled out. I was just there for the free food, lack of customers, and paycheck. Also, free food. Did I mention free food?

But as I sat through the summit and its many speeches and panels and presentations, the wheels in my mind began to turn and the mind itself began to wander. They wanted us to take something away from that summit, and I sure did. So here are 5 things I learned from a banking summit this week.

1) Nothing Perks Us Bankers Up Like Free Food

As I said before, I was just there for the food. And the mandatory attendance, of course. But I couldn’t help but notice that free food seemed to be the big drawing point for all the licensed bankers there.

Unless you were a top performer who was on the fast track to a promotion due to being a sales prodigy, you weren’t chatting up the Regional President and Sales Director during the breaks (yeah, I’m fully aware of the importance of networking). You were at the catering table, loading up on chicken with white sauce, mashed potatoes with gravy, and string beans. At 8 AM, you made a beeline for the buttered croissants and coffee, not for bumping elbows with the various district managers. Dessert time was exactly what it sounded like, dessert time. And the company you kept were your fellow licensed branch bankers, sharing war stories and fantasies of leaving the company and working somewhere else.

But this love of free food isn’t limited to these huge events. Nothing brings together a branch staff like free pizza mysteriously appearing in the break room. No one ever asks why it appeared or what was done to earn it; it’s free food and that’s it.

Those are also the extra perks for winning in our sales campaigns. Perhaps every five HELOC applications during a campaign earns the branch lunch on the company dime. Or the winning branch of a district-wide sales competition wins a gift card to be used for a trip to a nice restaurant. We once had a campaign where every life insurance policy I sold earned the branch a free lunch. Sales are hard to make at my branch, unfortunately. The tellers were relying more on their paychecks than my sales skills for their meals.

I can only imagine that part of this has to do with the pay that retail bankers earn. People think we make high five figures or low six figures and I don’t know why. Perhaps because they hear all the horror stories from the financial crisis and how the economy was allegedly destroyed by overpaid bankers, so they think that if you sit at a desk on the platform that you’ve “made it”. In reality, the national average salary for retail bankers is a whopping $37,500. Now I live in a high cost-of-living city, so let me just explain to you that, where I come from, that’s poverty wages. And some of the hourly wages shown on Glassdoor really are poverty wages; soon you’ll make more money flipping burgers at McDonald’s than working as a personal banker at Guaranty Bank (which pays $13.40/hour).

So for what we make vs the skill level, workload, and responsibility? Perhaps a banker’s love of free food is born of necessity.

5 Things I Learned At A Banking Summit
Thank God the bank’s paying for this. It means I get to have dinner tonight. [Photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net]

2) Any Day Away From Customers Is A Good Day

In the last seven days, I got to watch my assistant manager get screamed at and talked down to by some random woman. A man complained that we were too aggressive because we asked for basic information to complete his profile (required by federal law, by the way). We had to break up two customers who almost came to blows (no exaggeration). I had a person complain that his passport card is good for traveling to Canada, whereas I needed his driver’s license to identify him (the passport card was not on our system and we consider it secondary ID). And I’ve had to deal with too many idiots who just can’t figure out how to not get locked out of their online banking.

Customers are………..taxing. Like the IRS, they are overly taxing. I know we’re supposed to love every customer that comes into the bank for they provide us our business and our income, but God I can’t. It takes a lot of patience that I no longer have to even fake being happy to see these people.

The tellers are often referred to as “the first line of defense” and being “in the trenches” for a reason. We had to close an account recently because a customer decided to curse out a 22 year old teller to the point of making her cry. So yeah, there’s a reason that retail workers don’t have the same fuzzy attitudes towards customers that Customer Experience Directors or whatever have.

That’s why I was thrilled to go to this horrifically boring summit for 9 horrifically boring hours. There were no customers there. All I had to do was sit down, shut up, and eat free food. And I got paid for it. I’d go to this thing everyday if I could.

"Either a homicide or a suicide is about to happen. I'm not sure which one." [Photo courtesy of pexels.com]
“Mustn’t let their stupidity affect my composure. Don’t let your facial expression show disdain for their very existence! Oh God, I’m losing it!” [Photo courtesy of pexels.com]

3) These Presentations Are Easier To Make Than You Think

We had presenter after presenter showing us PowerPoint slides showing all sorts of charts and graphs. Things about how we’ve been growing our deposit base, how we stand compared to other banks, how our financial solutions contribute to customer retention, so on and so forth.

These slides had little figures all over the place, anthropomorphic versions of our logo sprouting catchphrases, and just stuff that looks really professional. Making that content was one thing, but I couldn’t fathom how many hours were put into putting that content into a presentation like that.

Turns out, it may have only been minutes.

If, that is, the bank used a company like SlideCamp for creating this presentation. By simply transferring your content onto SlideCamp’s templates for professional business PowerPoint presentations, you can actually easily create really good looking slides. You just copy and paste your content into the templates and that’s it. Their designs (which look really sleek and professional) and your content (which is probably shoddy and uninteresting anyway; not one of us cared about our investment sales projections for 2018 because all that was was just them telling us to sell more). Nothing more.

4) BSing Is A Survival Tactic When You’re Center Stage

I hate my job. So do most of the other licensed bankers.

The program has so much turnover, it’s ridiculous. It’s such a revolving door that I’m surprised the head of the program doesn’t vomit from dizziness. High stress, heavy workloads, long hours, exorbitant amounts of responsibilities for a very modest salary. Even the best performing licensed banker with over $3,000,000 in annual insurance and annuity sales is making a little over $45,000/year. In a very expensive city.

That’s criminal. If you don’t think I should be making more, then he definitely should.

Of course, our disdain for our titles is not something the big bosses will ever hear. “We’re doing great!” and “I’m just excited to work for this company!” are the statements that fill their ears. And I’m just as guilty.

They had a Q&A panel with our top performers. One of them, and older gentleman (approaching his 60’s and getting paid roughly the same amount as me) talked about why we, the licensed bankers, have “the greatest job in the world”.

“I don’t wake up and go to work. I wake up and go help people.”

Now, if he truly feels this way, I hope no one ever takes that away from him. When two thirds of Americans dislike their jobs, having one you love is a true commodity.

That said, I can’t imagine he truly feels that way (or else he or I must have been in the wrong place; I thought we had the same job title?). But when you’re on a stage in front of almost 200 of your peers, multiple district managers, the head of the licensed banker program, the Regional President, the Regional Sales Director, and others, what are you supposed to say? That you hate your job and you hope your branch burns down with all your customers in it?

The BS, not just from him but from everyone and all of us, was strong at that summit. It has to be if we want to keep our jobs. And I believe that emotional labor–the need to keep the illusion of constant enjoyment and passion for something you tolerate at best–is what greatly contributes to worker stress and dissatisfaction.

"Ha ha, yes I do think that joke was hilarious! And I'm absolutely not going to try to drown out my sorrows after work by drinking myself to the point of forgetting this whole week!" [Photo courtesy of pexels.com]
“Ha ha, yes I do think that joke was hilarious! And no I’m not going to go drink myself later to the point of forgetting that I work in this godforsaken hellhole.” [Photo courtesy of pexels.com]

5) The Great Disconnect

One thing I was thinking about during the banking summit (as well as my monthly sales meetings) is the great disconnect between what’s spoken about during these things and what happens in the branches.

During the summit and in our meetings, we were reminded about how the spotlight was on us. We were reminded about how we have the ability to do things that not even our branch managers can do (sell licensed products, send ready-made letters out that had our signatures on them, etc). They talked again about our “opportunity” to lead the bank’s new cold calling program, not to mention to lead our teams in general customer engagement and in making each customer feel special. They talked about our unique ability to build a rapport with each customer (I don’t know why being licensed would give me that) and my position to help our “clients” by being their go-to person in the bank.

Honestly, it can be hard for a newcomer to sit in those meetings and the summit and not get excited. We’re framed as leaders and motivators, role models for junior staff, the secret to the bank’s success and the true key to putting people on the path to good financial health. If I was an energetic new hire instead of a jaded longtime retail banker promoted up from a lower position, I might walk in with a superiority complex.

But the reality of what goes on in the branches is far different. Building a rapport with customers is hard in an ethnically and religiously concentrated area (especially when you are not part of that ethnicity and religion). People don’t see you as some elite banker with special powers; you’re just the guy (or girl) that will order them a new debit card or order a checkbook. Your team isn’t on board with having the whole bank revolve around you because they have their own work to do, numbers to meet, and customers to deal with. You can’t be anyone’s go-to person because there’s just way too much work on your plate as is. The products that supposedly help people are just more places to put your money and get a slightly less crappy rate than a CD. And customers just don’t give a damn.

We were told to take notes and provide a value statement (who we are and what we do for the bank and our “clients”) when ordering a debit card for our customers, before “building a rapport” and asking them questions about their finances. Oh, I can tell you that my customers would have a fit if I started asking them questions about their money at other banks and taking detailed notes when all they want is to order a debit card and be out the door (not that I don’t try to offer other bank products, but I’m not going to just rattle off what makes my job title unique and then ask for enough personal information to submit a mortgage application. Not for someone just asking for a debit card which takes sixty seconds to order).

I always say that an outsider or newcomer who sits at these meetings would think that we work in the highest of high finance, delivering a value to important clients that completely changes their financial lives. They would think we licensed bankers were the most important members of the team with power and knowledge (and charisma) absolute. And they would think we were very well compensated for our time. But in actuality, while the financial solutions I’m licensed to sell do have value and do help customers, it’s all just routine sales and customer service in the end. You spend your days getting people back into their online banking profiles and explaining why the bank can’t accept their three-pound bag of loose coins for deposit. And you deal primarily with customers that really don’t want to speak or listen to you.

Do we help people? Sure, but it’s an uphill battle whose rewards (both in compensation and in the results of our actual work) really aren’t wholly worth the effort.

5 Things I Learned From A Banking Summit
Does this look like the face of a highly paid and satisfied professional who helps people everyday? [Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net]

Conclusion

I took a lot of things away from the banking summit for licensed bankers. Unfortunately, it was not what they wanted me to take from it.

Free food and no customers are great, but the need to put on a fake persona and the disconnect between the attempted ego boost of the summit and the reality of the job aren’t. You can’t trick people in regular banking jobs to think said jobs are more than they actually are. They aren’t.

But at least I learned about SlideCamp. I now know where to go if I want to quickly create professional and engaging business presentations.

Readers–What do YOU think!? Does anyone else have to go to summits or events like these? What did you get out of them? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by SlideCamp (formerly “SlidesCamp” until they presumably realized their name had too many slides). While I was compensated to write this article, my opinions and the experiences that led to them are my own.

Comments

  1. Elizabeth says

    This is so great. I just want to stay you have such a great writing style and blog! I say that as someone who has had two blogs, so I know how much work goes into these kinds of posts. Also, LOL. I don’t think your astute corporate insights are unique to banking, but they sure are spot on.

    And I totally agree with you about retail banking pay. I have been in banking for over 10 years but even I was shocked to learn how little tellers make a few years ago. My last employer pays starting tellers MINIMUM WAGE, no exceptions. With paltry raises over time. Granted they have very low transaction volume and pretty much no sales goals, but still! They even had a 10 year veteran teller leave and then come back 6 months later (no idea why) and she had to start over at minimum wage. We are in a moderate COL major city where most other banks (big competitors) pay $15 an hour (admittedly with more aggressive sales goals and pressure). And the big wigs wonder why they struggle with turnover!

    Anyway, good luck with it all. In the meantime you are definitely adding value with your writing to random strangers on the internet. :)

    • ARB says

      Elizabeth,

      Thanks for the kind words! It’s nice to know that someone out there is enjoying my writing. I always hope to add value when I write, be it through education or entertainment. It’s nice to get a confirmation that I am.

      Wow, that’s really low for tellers, but not surprising. I’ve read and cited multiple times that 1/3 of the country’s bank tellers are on public assistance. We have one teller at our branch that gets WIC checks. At least your bank had few customers and no sales goals. Still crazy that they dropped that returning teller down to minimum wage. If I were that person, I would have went for a platform job.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Sincerely,
      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

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