Commercial Lenders Follow Different Career Paths

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – If you want your banker’s undivided personal attention, start or buy a small business.

The commercial bankers who serve small enterprises are concerned about credit scores and credit histories. They meticulously go over the financial information provided, just as retail bankers review applications for mortgages, home equity and auto loans and credit cards.

But, far more so than with consumers, bankers get involved with small businesses, learning their owners’ needs and aspirations. They want to become a “trusted adviser,” a phrase nearly every commercial banker interviewed for this story emphasized.

Regardless of the time of day, these commercial bankers are available or make themselves available.

“If they think it’s a big problem,” says Ted Brennan, “it’s a big problem.” Brennan is senior vice president of commercial banking at PNC Bank Youngstown.

And they make it a point to respond quickly. Pete Noll at Farmers National Bank recalls “a customer I’d had about a year. His CPA called me one day and asked to have breakfast. ‘I need half a million dollars by Tuesday,’ the owner said. He got it by Wednesday. He’s still in business and still doing well.”

Noll is a vice president and commercial loan officer.

Use of credit score and computers relates “more to the consumer side,” says Diana L. Hogg, a vice president at the Home Savings and Loan Co. and one of its commercial relationship managers.

Upon leaving college, none of the nine men and two women in this article, all veterans, had a clear aim of becoming a commercial banker. Most took courses in finance and accounting, a couple mentioned taking economics as well, with a goal of pursuing a career in business.

“Just some aspect of financial services,” says Bob Wollet, vice president of commercial banking at PNC Bank, Youngstown. “Sales was my goal. I was on track to get hired by the DeBartolo Corp. but I interviewed with Bank One [now Chase Bank] and was hired.”

Brennan earned his baccalaureate at Youngstown State University in law enforcement administration in 1988.

Says Bill Shivers, regional president of the Akron/Canton and Mahoning Valley markets of Huntington Bank, “I was working for the state auditor’s office as an examiner of the utilities department of the city of Salem.” The Salem president of Society Bank [now KeyBank] was looking for a commercial loan officer. I interviewed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day [of 1985].” Nine months later, Shivers was working for Society.

Deb Burn, senior vice president of commercial banking in the Youngstown office of First National Bank of Pennsylvania, worked her way through Kent State University and Hiram College (B.S., 1993) as a teller. She took courses in accounting, finance and economics.

“One of my professors worked at a bank,” she says, and thought she showed promise as a banker. She began at “a small community bank,” spending three years in credit analysis, when a “larger bank” approached her. “That’s where I got my formal credit analysis training,” she says.

Upon graduating from YSU in 2001, Greg Ensley, vice president and commercial banking team leader at Farmers National Bank, went to work for an insurance company, his compensation “100% commission.” He soon went to Farmers.

“I saw banking as more stable,” Ensley explains, underwent the yearlong training program where “I started as a teller … spent time in the collections department. I saw folks struggling” before going on to learn consumer and commercial banking. “At the end, you became the assistant manager of a branch or were assigned to the [commercial] loan department. I stayed in the loan department.”

At the Seven Seventeen Credit Union, its vice president for commercial lending, Brett Carnahan graduated from YSU with a degree in industrial management in the early 1980s when a recession still raged. He applied at Mahoning National Bank [today Huntington], went through its management training program, “starting as a teller, working all the desks and spending time at three-fourths of their 30 branches. I got a well-rounded exposure to the communities in the Valley.”

From there, Carnahan went to the Hubbard office of Metropolitan Bank [now First National Bank] where he became a commercial lender.

His resume and background led him to Seven Seventeen when the credit union formally opened its commercial lending operations in 2001.

After graduating from high school, Home Savings’ Hogg began working for Mahoning National Bank “as a [debt] collector in the basement,” she remembers. When she interviewed, “I was asked, ‘Do you like to talk on the telephone?’ ”

She found herself the lone woman working with a team of men in a windowless room. Early on she determined, “My [career] goal was not to be dialing for dollars.”

So when Citi Finance Loan offered her the opportunity to be a branch manager, she took it. From there she went to Society Bank as a consumer lender and branch manager and advanced her career. She left banking three years to work for a health care insurance company but returned to Dollar Bank & Trust Co. (now PNC Bank). When National City Bank acquired Dollar, she started its private banking division.

That’s also the time, 1987, she entered Westminster College. “I had a family and was working full-time,” Hogg says, so it wasn’t until 1995 that she received her baccalaureate in business administration with a major in finance.

Her accomplishments led First Merit Bank, headquartered in Akron, to recruit her. She remained until the CEO left, going to Charter One (its branches here since renamed Citizens Bank) to run its small-business lending in northeastern Ohio. “Charter One was looking to convert [its] lenders to commercial relationship managers,” Hogg says. “Charter One offered to teach me commercial lending. I brought a relationship skill set.”

When she was in Youngstown, she often crossed paths with Frank Hierro, then at Huntington and its predecessors. “He’d always say, ‘We’re going to work together,” Hogg says. So when Hierro became Mahoning Valley president of Home Savings, “He reached out” and asked her to join Home Savings. “That was April of this year,” she says. “I love it. I love working for a community bank. The best thing for me is being able to represent a bank so involved in the community.”

Involvement in their communities is another characteristic that distinguishes community bankers. Whether a large bank such as PNC or First National Bank, or a community bank, all have adopted a community bank approach in their participation in civic and nonprofit groups, from coaching children’s sports teams to serving their churches.

For example, Tim Shaffer, eastern district president of Farmers Bank, sits on the advisory board of the Salvation Army, was chairman of the Golf Classic committee of the American Cancer Society the last two years, has volunteered for the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and sits on the loan committee of Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp.

Noll, his colleague, will be president next year of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Howland, sits on the board of Mahoning County Developmental Disabilities and belongs to the Lions Club. He’s also coached juvenile sports.

As Huntington Bank’s Shivers says, “You must give back all the time.”

Serving small-business owners well means spending as much, if not more time paying visits at their customers’ stores, plants and restaurants.

“Sixty-five percent of the time, I’m out of here,” PNC Vice President Dennis Krancevich says in a PNC conference room. Speaking for his colleagues (and competitors), he advises, “Be prepared because you’re never off the clock. Because of technology,” that is, smartphones and laptops. “When they call you at 11 o’clock on Saturday morning, you respond.”

“We [Diana Hogg and I] spend half our time outside the office,” says Ken Goldsboro, vice president at Home Savings.

“Our titles are commercial relationship managers, not commercial lenders,” Goldsboro elaborates. “We’re like a partner. … I’m hoping that whatever their needs, they call me first. And if I’m not the right person, I can get them to the right person.”

Say’s PNC’s Brennan, “I like getting out. … My car is my second office. … I carry my [smart]phone with me everywhere. My clients can reach me anytime. I’ve taken calls at 10 o’clock at night.”

With technology, fewer customers – whether consumers or businessmen – visit the branches. “Companies don’t come to the branch as much anymore,” he says. “So PNC is investing in technology” so they can bank from their sites.

It’s also resulted in the bankers calling on them more, both to stay in touch and ensure that the information customers furnish monthly or quarterly reflects what they report.

Almost all have a story to tell about how they helped a client grow, usually from a small struggling startup to a successful enterprise when the owner sought credit to expand or acquire another business.

Home Savings’ Goldsboro has “an American Dream story.” He worked with the owner of a tool-and-die shop “that did OK” before he took on a partner and founded an aluminum extrusions company. Home Savings remains its banker as it continues to prosper.

At PNC, Brennan tells of helping a customer increase its annual revenues to $34 million from $120,000.

Shivers says he’s always been fascinated by businesses and why some succeed while others barely hang on, sell out or fail. Commercial banking offered an ideal vantage point.

However, he left banking 5½ years to work in the finance office of a manufacturer where he gained even greater insights. That’s helped immeasurably since he returned to banking and joined Sky Bank, later acquired by Huntington.

What distinguishes his career, however, is that the manufacturer was going through a rough patch and the owner asked Shivers to conduct an analysis.

Shivers recommended some positions be eliminated.

“I recommended he get rid of 10 and I was one of them,” he says. “My wife wasn’t happy about that. For two days, I didn’t have a job. Then Sky called.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.