Lender Life

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Talent and Teamwork

Lender survey finds positive work environment trumps top salaries
By Ed Avis

Having trouble recruiting top-notch commercial lenders? Increasing pay may not be your community bank’s best response. Instead, emphasizing your bank’s current collegial team of co-workers might lead to greater success.

A survey by the banking executive search firm Smith & Wilkinson found that 40 percent of commercial lenders scored positive working relationships with co-workers as their most important goal in achieving job satisfaction. That compares to 17 percent who ranked salary and compensation as their top priority for achieving job satisfaction.

“Across disciplines, whether it’s lenders or CFOs or directors of internal audit, what everyone finds most satisfying is the relationships they build with the people they work with,” says Carll Wilkinson, managing partner of Smith & Wilkinson in Scarborough, Maine. “People want to feel they are paid fairly. But after a certain level of remuneration, most of us are not driven by how much we are making.”

The survey results, good staff-recruitment news for community banks, where positive teamwork among staff is a hallmark of their operations and success, asked commercial lenders to prioritize five factors that contribute to job satisfaction: co-workers/team, compensation, job security, location and opportunities for advancement. The survey was sent to 7,500 commercial lenders in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, and 846 responded.

Survey respondents were classified into two groups—individual contributors and team leaders. Team leaders apparently care more about co-workers than individual contributors do, because 47 percent of team leaders chose co-workers/team as the most important element to achieving job satisfaction, while only 34 percent of individual contributors expressed that preference.

Commercial lenders with longer tenure in the industry also are more likely to want to be part of a friendly working team rather than earn higher wages, the survey finds. For example, only about 16 percent of those with less than two years in the field ranked friendly working teams at the top of their job preferences, while nearly half of those with 21 to 25 years in the field put that choice first.

“This suggests that in a person’s early years in a career they are probably more interested in compensation, but when they get to the later part of their career, they put more value on their co-workers and the environment,” says Quin Peel, Smith & Wilkinson’s director of finance and operations.

What does the survey mean for community banks that want to improve their recruiting of commercial lenders? Wilkinson says they could emphasize to prospective employees the length of tenure of current employees, on the assumption that employees who stay a long time at an employer generally like their co-workers. “If you have a team of five people and the median tenure is 15 years, you have an organization that is good to work for,” he says.


Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.