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A Day in the Life of a Bank Officer

Bank officers are in charge of every aspect of retail banking (as distinguished from investment banking-see separate listing on page 224), from making certain that accounting procedures are followed, to approving loans, to marketing the bank to potential customers. Bank trust officers act as trust and estate managers; loan officers manage, evaluate, and distribute loans; operations officers handle the interface between banking institutions and technology, such as computer systems; and marketing officers identify customer needs and evaluate service. They all work together to ensure the proper functioning of the bank on a day-to-day basis. The intricate networks of responsibility are internally reviewed and subject to the supervision of the U.S. government. Interaction is marked by a sense of professionalism; while few bank officers cited “closeness” as a way of describing their relationships with their coworkers, many said that they could and did rely on them every day. Each type of officership requires a different set of strengths. For example, those who become trust and estate managers must have a strong understanding of tax implications, an ability to anticipate future problems, and excellent communication skills as they will work closely with clients. Loan officers, on the other hand, must have an understanding of statistics and strong judgment skills, anticipating a potential borrower’s future ability to repay a loan. Our respondents emphasized the enormous responsibility most banking officers face. “You have to make real decisions that have real responsibilities attached, and you’ve got to be smart [about them]” mentioned one. Beginning employees aren’t thrown into the industry without training or supervision, but they are given a surprising amount of power for people with little work experience. Banking requires an agility with numbers, good organizational skills, sound interpersonal skills, and a strong fundamental work ethic. Those in the banking industry ranked the intensity of their day-to-day jobs in the top 10 percent of all professions; this career isn’t for someone who pines for long vacations and sinecures.

Paying Your Dues

While tellers and occasionally bank managers can find work with as little as a high school education, most senior bank officers have at least a bachelor’s degree (most large employers look favorably on finance, banking, economics, accounting, and marketing majors), if not an MBA. International banks may request proof of language skills. Many request work experience that demonstrates a facility with numbers or the ability to handle a wide area of responsibility. Bank officers come in contact with confidential information every day, so new hires may be required to sign nondisclosure agreements. Upon hire, many bank officers spend three weeks to six months training for their positions. Officers must have a solid understanding of financial rules and regulations, and many firms require that new employees pass an in-house test which assesses their knowledge before they are allowed to begin their positions.

Present and Future

Banking in the U.S. began immediately following the American Revolution, but that bank failed, so the federal government formed a second bank of the United States, and that failed too. States then took up the slack and formed large and powerful state banks, which issued their own currencies and proved very successful. The Federal Reserve was then formed, with twelve branches, and given the job of coordinating these large state banks. As banks grew and became less centralized, a bank officer position was developed for each area of responsibility. Currently there are around 10,000 banks in operation, but most analysts believe that the industry will undergo a wave of consolidation and acquisition over the next ten years, settling at somewhere between the 4,000 and 6,000 bank range. A natural result of this consolidation is the reduction of jobs with overlapping functions, which means that many bank officers will face layoffs. The ascendancy of automatic teller machines (ATMs) has further contributed to displacement as workers are shunted from customer service to back-office functions (if they are lucky enough to stay employed at all). The banks that survive consolidation will be stronger, larger, and more efficient, with excellent prospects for growth. Bank officers who survive the next several years should thrive in well-positioned companies looking to expand in the years to come.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Bank officers spend the first two years at hectic on-the-job training sessions, learning their professions at the side of more experienced employees. Hours are long, and time spent doing professional reading or attending industry seminars can be significant. Responsibility levels are high for trust officers and marketing officers, but loan officers have significant departmental oversight. Duties include budgeting, scheduling, administrative work, and report writing. Communication skills are important during these early years, more to ensure that the education process progresses smoothly than to ensure the duties of the job are managed.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Five-year officers are termed “senior” officers of the bank and many head up staffs composed of less experienced colleagues. Relocation is a major issue during these years, as is fluidity of employer. Well-considered officers are important strengths in any bank; those with creative and effective strategies are in strong demand. Hours become even longer for those looking to rise to V.P. status or beyond: the ambitious take additional coursework (many take time off to pursue MBAs after garnering a couple of years’ on-the-job experience, which most business schools expect from candidates) and a few try to achieve either industry accreditation or assume significant roles within professional associations (“networking” is as important in banking as any industry). Those who enjoy their current level of success work on honing managerial skills. Salaries and responsibilities increase; job satisfaction is average. Twenty percent will leave the field during these years, mainly to enter the related areas of corporate finance, investment banking, and accounting.

TEN YEARS OUT

Ten-year survivors either have established areas of responsibility or are aggressively pursuing the title of vice president. Salaries have risen and satisfaction is high; those who remain in the profession after ten years are most likely to remain in it for life. The low attrition rate after this point-under 5 percent-is notable.