FRIDAY READER CASE: What Bank Career Path Should I Take From Here?

Bankers always are looking for the right bank career path. Some people ask friends for advice, others go to their managers.

And some come here!

Another Friday, another FRIDAY READER CASE!

That’s right, my ARBonauts! Someone else is crazy enough to seek career advice from the Angry Retail Banker! Woe to these unfortunate souls!

But as you know from my previous Friday Reader Case, I’m always willing to dole out career advice to those who need it. Or any banking advice, really.

I am but a wise sage, dispensing sagely wisdom upon the peasant population. [Photo courtesy of Wikipedia].
I am but a wise sage, dispensing sagely wisdom upon the peasant population. [Photo courtesy of Wikipedia].
As with last time, I will post the email and then I will type up my response. The person’s name, email address, or anything else will not be published, instead replaced with a wacky online name of my own choosing. This individual’s email to me was also in two parts, but I will post them together seamlessly. And again, I do not edit for anything.

Are we ready to play HR Rep and develop a bank career path for our fellow ARBonaut? Yes? Awesome! So without further ado (what is “ado” anyway?), let’s get our sleeves rolled up and dive right into this Friday Reader Case!

The Email

“So glad I found your site, (don’t remember exactly how I did) I’ve reading some of your most recent posts and as someone who works in Retail Banking do you nail it on the head. Its like reading about someone who gets it? Some of your pieces have really hit me deep. I’m fairly new in the industry but not too new and well I do question myself as to where I am going and how best to grow professionally. The post where you gave advice too the other person about how to best approach a new job/promotion couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I look forward to continue reading any future post and learning from you as well (you give really concrete advice). Anyway not to make this too long I hope you wouldn’t mind handing this stranger some advice too ?

Background: 3.0 GPA in Degree in Marketing & Business (declared late, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, wasn’t able to get any internships because I was always working to pay for school & help with home). School never interested me too much, always thought it wasn’t for me though admittedly I wished I had done a bit better.

Journey: Worked mostly retail and service jobs during college until my mid Junior and Senior year when after Radioshack went under, I managed to land a part time personal banker position without any previous banking exp. I liked the job, felt I was growing as a professional, the pay was decent at the time for a 20 hour a week gig and it worked around my school schedule, this was the first year. The second year as I learned more (teller system) got my notary license, got a salary bump (small one though) and went from 20 to 30 hours. Not long after that, the location where I worked was schedule to close down (business decisions and all) and I was one of the lucky ones to well be transferred to a near-by newer location, because “my metrics were solid” yay. Third year starting off with my graduating college, got my degree and months after since my schedule cleared up and a banker left at my location. I took the full time personal banker level 2 position, 40 hours, handled more products and services so opening business accounts, personal lines of credit/loans, got more in depth with referrals to segment partners like private banking, merchant solutions, insurance and annuity etc, took on more operation day to day managing of staff and such. So even though my personal goal to meet has been rather I have managed to meet it time and time again, and I like working for the this bank, I think the culture is pretty good compared to what Ive heard and read about other banks though not that drastically different. Sure the daily grind (stupid retail banking stuff, much of which you discuss in the blog) gets me from time to time but I overall enjoy talking to clients, helping them with stuff and learning along the way.

Problem: I live in high cost living city, though I myself live in a low income but upcoming neighborhood. The job I have now is roughly 42K – 45K and I worry because I’m still unsure of what direction I want to head towards, career wise and I don’t want to be in tough place in a few years.

Opportunities: I feel its time to embark on a another role, I might need a challenge. Even members of my management team are kind of pushing me now to apply to other positions within the bank since I think that THEY THINK that I know everything in my role and have gotten too comfortable. So one of my buddies,(now an Asst. Manager at another location) with whom I worked at the previous location stated that one of his friends another manager is looking to fill a role at his location (this would be the next role upwards, supervisor banker) so I applied and have an interview coming up, but my manager then sends to another interview first to a different location (I think he kind of wants to get rid of me haha, we have butt heads a few times, professionally and respectably of course) but this location gave me an odd vibe when I went there. The sales goals to meet are rather high, no one on the staff meets them (I check their numbers, they have a high turnover rate and Ive heard the previous management got fired for some bad stuff so I can imagine morale there is super slow and I got a feeling Im gonna be super stressed. So even though I believed I did well in the interview (they don’t have a manger, I was interviewed by an interim manager from another location), I put my preference as the other location (the one my friend recommended) due to 1) we went through a location closing together, we grew tight and I trust his judgement & 2) that location seems more stable, staff has gotten promoted within, fair sales goals and location isn’t too bad. So Im headed to that interview in a few days, wish me luck.

Bigger Problem: I felt that I should have tried more things while in college, I would say am decent sales guy but not great. The is the reason why applied to the supervisor banker role to grow more managing staff wise, operations and to improve on my sales skills so then I can apply for a licensed banker position (get another small bump) and do annuities and life insurance you know the life and health license later. We know how aggressive banks are becoming with sales and well its probably only gonna get worse. I feel that the licensed banker is a decent role, it probably opens you to several other roles. At least from what Ive have seen in my bank. Ive known licensed bankers who have gone from that role to say Mortgage Officers, Private Client Reps, Business Lending Reps and so forth.

Crazy Ideas: Ive been doing lots of research about learning new skills, passive income and self improvement lately. I want this to be a good year for me but I just don’t know what to do really. I don’t have any technical skills or know a trade but I want to start something on the side because I don’t want to rely on one income only (cause you never know) I have even thought about getting a real estate license and getting a gig part time as a real estate agent for rental properties. But I don’t know anthing about that industry or even where to begin, but it just seems in realm of the banking industry so I figured it would made sense and a good addition to my resume.

Dilemma: I want to be in a good place in a few years, but I worry where the industry is heading. How will retail banking be in the future? Will the industry constrict more than it is doing now? Probably. Though I don’t think it will happen as fast as I worry it would. But I want to be in a good place to help my family and myself. Heck I’m even job hunting for a part time job too, but its hard to fit it in with the bank schedule, the bank I work for schedule’s fluctuate a lot, sometimes I work weekends, sometimes I have early shift, sometimes the late one and etc. I have considered jumping to another bank for a pay increase and them jumping back for another small increase. Ex. Current role -> Supervisor Banker at new location -> Equivalent or better banker position for better pay at another bank -> Come bank to original bank for Licensed Banker position for better pay.


Anyway I feel like I am rambling now, any thoughts? What would you do ?

Thank you !”

The Response

Before we begin: You are a fan of this blog, looking for a second job, living in a city with a high COL with a salary in the $40,000 range, and have a tendency to ramble? Dude, people will start to think you’re me.

I swear, I didn’t type this email myself, everybody. This is legit.

Oh, and your name here is “FITR”. Why? Because you are right now at a Fork In The Road, plus your strong desire to keep moving up while simultaneously pursuing side hustles makes you a fighter in my book.

So you didn’t quite have a specific question in mind as much as a general “What would you do?” for me. But you seem to have a short term, medium term, and long term fork in the road.

So we need to look at your end goals and work our way back from there in order to get you on the right bank career path.

No, not those--Yeah, sure, why not? [Photo courtesy of]
No, not those–Yeah, sure, why not? [Photo courtesy of]

The three endings

What many outsiders don’t realize is that, in banking, your career trajectory isn’t so linear. You don’t necessarily go from teller to banker to manager to President Of The Bank. People only know what they see, so those who like you hope that you will be a manager someday.

My grandmother can’t wait for the day I manage my own bank. I’d rather play in traffic.

In reality, there are many paths to take through many different departments. But broadly speaking, there are three different paths: Management, Operations, and Sales.

I won’t go into each one that deeply since they are kind of self-explanatory, but I think that you need to really ask yourself which path you want to take. Forget about mortgages vs investments, forget about marketing compliance vs regional operations supervision, forget about branch management vs higher-than-branch management. Those are details that will come after your choice of what career path you want to take. Or rather, where you want your bank career path to take you.

You seem to want to go into Sales. While you have your eyes right now on a supervisor position, your ultimate in-branch goal is to be a licensed banker like me before eventually going on to be either a Mortgage Loan Officer, Private Banker, or any other sales position.

But you also want your next position to be a Supervisor position. And you’re looking to learn to manage staff and tighten your operations skills in that role. You also say that you’re decent at best in sales.

So again, it comes down to the question of where you want to eventually be. And what are you good at in your current role? What do you enjoy?

Sales roles–regardless of exactly what level, title, or area of the bank you are working in–involve a lot of the following:

  • Going out and initiating discussions with potential clients about their financial/business needs.
  • Digging deeper than what the customer is seemingly willing to tell you and asking probing questions so you can understand their larger financial picture.
  • Following up with hard to reach prospects.
  • Verbal “duels” with prospects as you present your bank’s products and spin client push back into something positive.
  • Building relationships and earning trust from clients.
  • Closing business deals and ensuring transactions go through quickly and correctly.
  • Being the client’s advocate and voice to the back office departments.
  • Being the client’s first stop for assistance and complaints.
  • Keeping on top of sales goals and make sure you are constantly pacing with ever-increasing metrics.

These are part of any position in sales. Regardless of what you are selling, where you are selling it, and to whom you are selling it to.

So, FITR, this is the long term question that you need to ask yourself. Do you enjoy doing all the stuff I outlined above? Are you good at it? Do you have a proven track record of being good at it that you can tout to a potential interviewer or to a naysaying manager? Is it something that you would love to do for years on end?

While this is your ultimate bank career path, you do have more short term questions that you need to ask yourself.

The path to power

This is a more medium term question, but you once you identify what direction you want to go towards, you need to think about how you’re going to go about it.

Where do you want to be in five years?

Do you want to still be in the branches? Do you still even want to be in banking? How much do you envision yourself making?

One of the big questions that most career seekers ask themselves is whether to stay with the same company or to move around. And as I spoke about last time during the previous Reader Case, it makes way more sense to jump from company to company every few years. Whether you eventually come back to your current bank or not is irrelevant.

Don’t jump ship every six months. That’s just disrespectful and means that you are spending more time searching for work than developing your skills, but don’t be a “lifer” either. Your salary will be much higher if you go to a new employer every few years than if you stay with one company forever.

Now as to the two in-branch positions you are currently entertaining in the medium term: Supervisor and Licensed Banker

As I’m sure you know, a Branch Supervisor is pretty much a low level management position. You’ll do openings and closings, tell staff when to go to lunch, as well as provide transaction/fee refund overrides and be the first person staff comes to when there are problem customers. The supervisor will also need to have a deep understanding of the bank’s policies, the ability to troubleshoot systems and machinery, and the judgment and people management skills to make snap decisions.

A Licensed Banker is a platform representative that is licensed to sell investment products. Depending on the bank, you might just be a regular banker that also sells life insurance and annuities, or you might have a securities license and spend the vast majority of time selling mutual funds. I won’t go into the skills you need to have because I already listed them in the previous section, but remember that it is a sales position. While the supervisor position will have a sales goal, the supervisor won’t be evaluated by how well they sell. As a licensed banker, you will be evaluated by your sales, you will have the highest goals in the branch, and you will be expected to be a leader and mentor who earns the trust of the staff and gets them referring to you.

As far as a salaries go:

  • According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a Branch Supervisor is about $41,506/year. While it’s unlikely that a move to a new position (especially a promotion within your current bank) would actually result in a pay cut, understand that your salary increase may be minimal and more may be expected of you than your lower paid peers. But of course, you are building the seeds for future growth just as much you are looking for a salary bump now.
  • According to Glassdoor, the average base salary for a Licensed Banker is about $36,169/year. However, remember that your sales performance can greatly impact your annual salary. Depending on the bank, you may earn a commission per sale on top of what you make, or you might make a monthly/quarterly bonus if you make your sales goals. Sales positions will always have compensation structures that heavily factor in sales performance, so don’t be so put off by that low base salary. However, you do need to take an honest look at your own sales skills and see what your future likely holds in terms of compensation if you go down this route. Also keep in mind that this average takes into account both banks whose licensed bankers just have life insurance licenses as well as banks whose licensed bankers have life and health insurance licenses and various securities licenses.

Now if you are serious about a future in Sales rather than Operations or Management (and the fact that your desired side hustle is “Real Estate Agent” sort of indicates such), then you are right in that Licensed Banker is the springboard for that. That’s why I took the position that I did, back when I didn’t realize that my choices weren’t limited to private banking or being stuck in the branches forever.

And trust me, you want to get out of the branches. Wait, why am I telling you this? You work there!

So as far as salaries for Mortgage Loan Officers, Private Bankers, Commercial Loan Officers, and Real Estate Agents go:

  • According to U.S. News, the median salary for an MLO is about $63,650. Since the position is usually commission-based, salaries can range from six figures to less than what you’re making now.
  • According to Glassdoor (and now my free preview with them has ended), the average salary for a Private Banker is $80,045.
  • According to Glassdoor (hey, I can still see basic salary info. Nyah nyah!), the average salary for a Commercial Loan Officer is about $68,740. I had one job recruiter try to sell me this job at $70,000 as a pathway into AML that I wouldn’t be able to get with my current experience. She said she would contact me with to schedule an interview and I’m still yet to hear back from her. Frankly, I’m not interested.
  • According to U.S. News, the median salary fora Real Estate Agent is $44,090. Again, this is a commission-only job, so actual salaries range from the same as an $11/hour McJob to well into the six figures. Understand though that, when it comes to those low earners, some people do it as a side hustle or for a little extra cash after retirement. A family friend is doing just that; one of my mom’s friends retired a couple years ago, but he loves real estate (and those stupid house hunter shows) so much that he’s getting his real estate license just for fun. I also had a friend that used to sell two apartments a year while picking up extra hours at a supermarket and working full time as a bank teller.

While your next one or two roles will be in a bank branch, you need to determine what area of finance you want to go into. Perhaps you want to work with mortgages and home lending. Perhaps you want to sell insurance. Regardless, you need to think about what area of finance you’d want to work in.

And that’s best answered by looking at your performance in your current role. Are you finding yourself talking up Home Equity Lines Of Credit with customers? Do you make a lot of investment referrals?

Also look at how you are when it comes to meeting and exceeding sales goals. Because, again, some of these positions you mentioned are commission only. You don’t sell, you don’t eat.

But either way, you have an even more pressing decision to make.

The fork in the road

FITR, you have an immediate fork in the road.

Do you go to the branch that your friend recommended, or to the one that your manager recommended?

I think the choice is clear: Go to the one your friend recommended.

I don’t know if your manager is trying to get rid of you, but that branch is a mess, according to you. It sounds like a stressful environment and you certainly don’t need that. Crazy customers will come in eights no matter what; do you really need a disorganized work environment and non-existent support structure to make things worse?

But even worse are those sales goals. If you aren’t making those sales goals, then you won’t just suffer the consequences at your branch. You’ll find it harder to get promotions and/or to move to the next phase of your career.

You’ll have to transfer to another branch afterwards where you can meet your goals in order to move up in Sales. It will be the best way to fix the damage.

Why would anyone hiring for a sales position want someone who doesn’t meet sales quotas?

And the state of the branch will never be an excuse, even if the manager were personally running over to every customer you were about to open an account with and screaming obscenities in their faces. As the sales professional, it will always be up to you to overcome the issue.

That’s just how it is.

Can you overcome issues beyond your control if you’re “decent, but not great” at sales?

So going to a branch where you won’t make your sales goals will likely have long term consequences for you in pursuing a sales career. If you’re lucky, it will only set you back months. Meanwhile, the stress will eat away at you as you find yourself in situations where you’re dealing with confrontational customers with no support or higher authority to bring issues to.

You got this! [Photo courtesy of.....actually I don't remember]
You got this! [Photo courtesy of…..actually I don’t remember]
Trust me, you won’t be making enough money to justify that.

If you can, go to the branch your friend recommended that sounds like people aren’t running around like their hair is on fire.

A Note About Side Hustles

I just want to mention something about the idea of getting your real estate license on the side.

You may not be allowed to do that.

Many banks require their employees to get outside business activity approved. Even if you wanted to flip burgers at McDonald’s, earning that income and not clearing it with your management first can be grounds for termination.

I guess that’s one of the benefits of having an anonymous blog that makes almost no income. Nobody from my bank sees me making money on the side.

Now, usually getting clearance for outside business activity isn’t a problem unless there is an obvious conflict of interest. But no bank will allow their employees to go work at a competitor. And when you become a licensed banker, this becomes even more strict. I can’t go out and sell life insurance on my own while I’m selling it at my bank.

There’s a possibility that you may not be allowed to hold a real estate license while employed with your bank. Especially if you are a licensed banker, and double especially if you are a Mortgage Loan Officer.

I mean, definitely speak to your branch manager or HR rep to find out. Just understand that you may not get the answer you want. And if you go ahead and do it anyway, that could be grounds for automatic termination.

The Right Bank Career Path For You

That’s the best advice I can give you, FITR. Find your way down the right fork in the road and be a fighter.

You seem to want to go into the Sales route of banking/finance. That’s fantastic. But is it really where you want to go, or is it all you know? That was me just two years ago, after all.

If you do want a career in sales, master various sales strategies and techniques. Learn to overcome objection. Learn to close deals. Learn to read people and master your own body language.

For you, the career path I would take is this:

  • Aim for that supervisor position your friend recommended and avoid the one your manager recommended.
  • Afterwards, aim to be a licensed banker in another bank.
  • Move around to different banks as you progress in order to build both your salary and your contacts.
  • You can either stay in the branches and become a senior sales leader, or move to another area of banking such as selling mortgages or insurance. If you want to do the former, aim to work in areas of the bank that specialize in that area (ex. be your branch’s go-to person for home lending stuff if you want to be an MLO).
  • Move up from there over time.

As I’ve pointed out, many of these positions are commission-only and all of them rely on your success at sales and relationship building. You are dependent on the whims of the client.

So I will give you an admittedly self-serving piece of advice here.

Go to Ally Invest through this here link and open an account. Invest in dividend paying stocks or ETFs and keep a regular investing schedule. They have low cost managed portfolios if you aren’t investment savvy. Yes, that is an affiliate link and I earn a commission for it at no cost to you, but it doesn’t matter. The sooner you start investing, the better. Compounding is like magic, and every year you put this off could cost you thousands down the line. The faster you do this, the quicker your income starts to grow. And soon, your passive income will exceed your expenses and your financial stability won’t depend on the whims of customers and the moods of managers.

If you want to go with another company, that’s fine. Just do it. Keep your living expenses low and invest the rest into assets rather than spending them on things. It’s advice I wish I took a decade ago.

Otherwise, keep being a fighter, FITR!

Readers–What do YOU think!? Does anyone have a better career plan for FITR? Should he take a different bank career path and stay away from sales? Anyone have anything else to add? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: I already mentioned the affiliate link. Not much more to say. Sorry, but this sort of thing is necessary to keep this site operating.


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