For Commercial Bankers, Avoid the Silo If You Can

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Being a commercial or corporate banker isn't what it used to be, according to Jack Heyden, founding partner of Performance Mentors, a performance and leadership coaching firm.

Heyden worked as a commercial (corporate) banker, and he headed training at Continental Illinois National Bank which is now part of Bank of America. Since that time, he’s consulted for many of the bigger banks and worked with many bankers personally.

In an interview with eFinancialCareers, Heyden says a shift happened somewhere in the mid-'90s—a change in the way banks trained and promoted their employees.

Today, says Heyden, employers are much less likely to take a chance on grooming an individual and having “faith” in their talents outside of a strict silo.

“I use my experience as an example," said Heyden. "I was hired as a commercial banker and trained to do that. But the bank needed someone to head corporate banking training. I didn’t have the exact experience, but they took a chance and they ‘knew’ me.” After that, Heyden says he even moved on to an operations role for a short time. “They assumed that I was smart and that I would probably succeed.”

He says the current focus on short-term profits and performance has brought a short-term focus on employees.

“Businesses used to do five-year plans, and in the past few years, everything is driven by quarter to quarter,” said Heyden. Bankers are much more “problem-focused” today, he says. “You’re brought in to fix something. Everyone’s a specialist.” But after the problem is fixed, he says, typically one to three years, then the bank may have no use for you.

If you’re looking to transition to a different role in banking or out, it can help to think of problem solving in a different way. “Everyone’s a problem solver,” he says. The challenge, says Heyden, is in figuring out the types of problems that organizations are confronting, and then determining how your expertise can be applied to a given role or company.

Heyden suggests that professionals stay focused on building a broad array of skills, whenever they can. It also helps to take the problem focus and turn it upside down. “Stop talking about how you fix problems, and let people know the skills used to fix the situation.”

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