Branch Managers Role Has Changed

June 11, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The role of the bank branch manager has changed over time, and the gradual evolution seems to have benefited both customers and bank employees.

When Patti Griswold got into banking in 1993, banks were just starting to adopt a more customer-focused approach as opposed to a focus on operations and transactions. Griswold came into banking with a direct- and retail-sales background, a skills set that banks were looking for at the time.

Ten to 15 years ago, the job of a banking center manager was much more geared towards a transaction-based environment, said Griswold, first vice president and regional manager for Comerica bank branches in Grand Rapids, Holland and Muskegon.

The branch manager of the past was expected to be an operations expert who oversaw day-to-day activities, an administrative expert who managed staff and handled all personnel matters, and a compliance expert, too. On top of everything else, the branch manager was the go-to person for customer complaints and was responsible for making sure customers always left the bank happy.

Today the banking culture goes beyond just the niceties and puts the customer at the center of everything: It’s all about making sure that customers’ financial needs are being met, Griswold explained. 

The branch manager today requires a different skill set. It requires people who have the ability to communicate well with clients and ask the questions necessary to come to a clear understanding of their financial goals, she said. What are they hoping to achieve in the next five to 10 years? What events might be occurring in their life that might impact their finances? It also means having the confidence to ask a client where else he’s banking and what other financial products and services he might have, in order to assess whether there’s any advantage in consolidating his banking services with Comerica, she added.

Griswold looks for three key characteristics among candidates vying for branch manager positions. They need to be effective developers of talent, meaning they’ve got to be able to coach front-line staff on how to interact with customers and inspire them to perform at their highest level. They need to have “a passion for putting the customer first” and really care about servicing all of the customer’s financial needs. Third, she said, the candidate absolutely must have the ability to multitask and prioritize, because he or she will be responsible for carrying out the policies and goals set by the bank’s board, for the overall performance of his branch and the performance of its staff, and for making sure the branch reaches business and profitability targets.

“What we’re selling is financial convenience, so for customers to act on our recommendations, we have to be credible and truly have the customer as the focus, not just an end goal that they have to meet,” Griswold remarked.

Julia Malta, manager of Comerica’s Cascade branch, has been in banking for 24 years and considers herself a “lifer.” For 22 of her 24 years in banking, she has served as a banking center manager. She agrees with Griswold that the job is quite a bit different from when she started. It’s certainly more customer-driven now, more client need-based, Malta said. When Malta first started, branch managers concentrated on keeping the operation running, on facility management, human resource management and audit issues.

“There were many things we did that were time consuming but didn’t necessarily center around clients,” Malta recalled. “Many of those things have been either automated or pulled away from our day-to-day responsibilities, and that freed us up to be more interactive relationship builders.”

As Malta sees it, a successful branch manager is someone who is a team player and encourages everybody on the team, someone who shares best practices, ideas and resources, and someone who has a lot of energy.

“I think you have to be excited about the process of finding solutions to clients’ needs,” Malta said. “You have to definitely be kind of a ‘generalist’ and be able to pull from a wide variety of disciplines and ideas.”

Malta said that in the past, bankers were much more like friendly, caring order-takers. Now it’s not just a matter of fulfilling an immediate need for a banking product or service, but a matter of participating in the planning of the client’s financial future, both short term and long term. And since there are more products and services to offer these days, more resources and professional assistance can be brought to the table, she said.

“I think that’s the part that’s much more fulfilling about it — that you’re much more a resource to clients than just a ‘transaction.’” 

Malta has served Comerica’s Grand Rapids market for 14 years and said most of the employees at her branch have been there nearly as long. In that kind of “tenured” environment, a branch manager really gets to know his or her team, as well as the customers that frequent the branch, she said.

According to Griswold, many Comerica bankers in this region have spent 22 years on average with the bank. The average tenure for bank center managers is 15-plus years, she said.      

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