15 Minutes With—Les Leskoven

Photo by Aggie Brooks
Photo by Aggie Brooks
Les Leskoven
Senior Vice President and Senior Trust Officer
for the $521 Million-Asset
Community National Bank & Trust of Texas
in Corsicana, Texas

IB: Tell me about Corsicana. Where’s it located?

Leskoven: We’re about 45 miles southeast of Dallas. We’re very centrally located on Interstate 45. It’s a town of about 25,000 people. Our county’s about 50,000.

We have several large manufacturing facilities and distribution centers, due to its central location. We have some oil and gas activity here. We have a very successful junior college, school district and hospital—the typical things that you would expect to see in a community.

IB: Along with its banking operations, Community National Bank manages about $250 million in personal and institutional assets through its trust and investment management department. Tell us about that.

Leskoven: Well, we really have a very traditional operation that suits our market, mainly providing investment management services for individuals and institutions. We manage charitable and personal trusts, IRAs and, of course, settle estates.

We have seven staff members in our department. We’re a very profitable department. We also administer a number of charitable trusts that distribute well over $500,000 a year in the community, so it makes for a well-balanced bank.

But like the commercial side of our bank, we focus on what we know and do well. Low-margin business such as custody or retirement plans—we have left those to the bigger players. We also don’t have a retail brokerage operation. So it’s pretty much your traditional operation.

IB: Your trust and investment department was formed in 1989. Why was it started then?

Leskoven: The big banks have really abandoned smaller communities for trust and investment services. They expect to serve people by an 800 number, or they have a large minimum account size or high minimum fees. So when that happened in our market, it really created a void for a community bank to offer these kinds of services.

On the commercial side, we were already the primary lender in town, so starting a trust department was an opportunity to expand our services, and we’ve really grown tremendously since then.

IB: Do trust and investment management services complement commercial banking well?

Leskoven: Absolutely. We get most of our trust business from referrals on the commercial side of the bank, from the lenders to the tellers. We’ve trained them on what a prospect is, so they recognize that and they refer them to us. Most of our bank directors have accounts with us, so they’re a good referral source, also.

IB: Tell us about your clients.

Leskoven: Well, surprisingly, most of our business involves investment management. It’s mostly for individuals with upper-end incomes, but really anyone with investable funds is a prospect for us.

On the trust side, we do manage a number of personal and charitable trusts. With the tax laws changing, there may not be as much need for trusts, but second marriages, disabilities and wealth preservation are going to continue to be important issues in establishing trusts.

IB: What’s a typical workday for you?

Leskoven: It’s really different every day. In a community bank, the trust officer is really kind of a jack-of-all-trades. Every day we look at accounts to see what investment changes may need to be made. But in the same day, we may be providing grants from a charitable trust, or we may be visiting an elderly client. Other days, we might be talking with someone about his or her estate plan.

So there’s a lot of variety. I’ve changed lightbulbs and fixed sprinkler heads before, so we really do a little bit of everything. But I would say empathy and a desire to solve problems are essential for the job.

IB: Matching the right investment or trust solution to a customer’s need is really an important part of what you do, I imagine.

Leskoven: Yes, absolutely.

IB: And then monitoring the financial markets is a big job in itself, isn’t it?

Leskoven: Well, it is, and we have a couple of our officers who are dedicated investment officers, so that’s something that we watch every day. We have model portfolios, and we have advisors who help us with that. But it is all done in-house.

IB: Talk more about the opportunities for community banks in providing wealth management and trust services.

Leskoven: To me, it really depends on the market. We’re in a community of about 25,000 people, and you always hear about the “millionaire next door.” They want to deal with someone face-to-face whom they know and they trust, someone who can make decisions promptly—and they’re not getting that from the big banks. So I think there are opportunities in the wealth management and trust markets for community banks.

It’s expensive and it takes time to build a department, but if you have a strong commercial bank and the commitment from the bank, it can be done. And it was done here, from scratch.

IB: It also requires a big investment in legal and investment knowledge, is that right?

Leskoven: That’s right. You also have to decide on an accounting system, because the trust and investment department operates completely separate from the commercial side of the bank. All of our securities are held at a different custodian. So there are quite a few decisions to make operation-wise, and then you have to find the right talent.

IB: What do you like about your job?

Leskoven: Well, I like the variety. I like the people. To succeed in the job, you need to want to help people and solve their problems. Not that we have all the answers, but you know where to go to find those answers. You’re really a resource for lots of issues for your clients.

I’ve been in a trust department since the beginning of my banking career in 1978. That’s almost 40 years. I’ve seen lots of changes technology-wise, just in securities trading. It’s so much more efficient and less costly for clients. As far as the basic tenets of fiduciary responsibility and loyalty and prudent investing, those really have not changed.

I would also say there’s opportunity for young people to enter this field, because I’m nearing retirement age and many of my peers are, also. So I think it’s a great career.

IB: Any projects you’re working on?

Leskoven: We distribute quite a bit of money from grants to the community, and what we have seen is the need for our social services agencies to collaborate and coordinate their services. So we helped commission a community needs assessment to identify needs and resources in the community. We’ve been working to improve our community in general.

It helps us also because many nonprofits come to us seeking either capital improvements or operating money. We see our role as being important to help with that, because we’re charged with making sure these funds are used prudently. Every community is facing different things, different challenges. We’re just trying to be good stewards of the charitable money that’s been left to the community.