CUSOs Competing for MBL Talent
When it comes to wooing commercial lending talent in the country's major cities, some CUSOs are getting creative to make it attractive enough for senior-level candidates to make it worth their while.
The average base salary in 2013 in the credit union industry for commercial lenders not leading a team of lenders was $116,846, according to the 5th Annual Commercial Lender Salary from Smith & Wilkinson, an executive search firm in Scarborough, Maine, which culled 846 responses. For public banks, it was $135,841 followed by $128,370 for mutuals and other cooperatives and $118,393 for privately or closely held banks.
As expected, the average salaries were higher for those commercial lenders leading a team of lenders with credit unions, again, at the bottom of the ranking at $123,241 and public banks topping the list at $159,935. The average base salaries for mutuals and other cooperatives was $151,745 and $135,704 for privately or closely-held banks.
“In our candidate-driven market where top candidates are being sought by multiple banking and financial institutions, future employers have to realize that their organization's brand, as well as the experience or perception that staff provides during the interviewing process, will be the most important factors that are evaluated by exceptional talent,” said Carll Wilkinson, managing partner of Smith & Wilkinson.
At Member Business Financial Services LLC in Trevose, Pa., the CUSO has to meet or slightly exceed the salary levels of banks or local credit unions because it is very limited in the amount of perks it can offer employees, said Mark Ritter, CEO.
“Metro Philadelphia is two hours away and I find hiring much more challenging to hire people here,” said Ritter, who previously worked as vice president of business lending at the $2.5 billion Members 1st Credit Union in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
He added, “At Members 1st, I could hire in a 40- to 50-mile radius and expect people to stay with the organization for a long time. In the Philadelphia area, competition for employees is intense and I have to deal with factors such as traffic patterns. Realistically, I can hire from a 10- to 15-mile radius at the CUSO.”
The average base salary in Pennsylvania was $140,326, according to the Smith & Wilkinson survey. The state falls in the middle of the average base salary range from other states the executive firm collected data from including Massachusetts and Rhode Island at $161,511 on the highest end and $112,617 in Ohio at the lowest end. Data was also collected from commercial lenders in Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
Ritter said the toughest challenge in getting top-notch people at Member Financial Services is the educational component.
“Business lending in metropolitan areas is still a small fraction of the marketplace. Few people are aware of credit union business lending and virtually no one knows what a CUSO is,” he explained. “When I talk with a candidate the first time, most of the conversation is about who we are, what we do, and determining if they are a cultural fit for our organization.”
Indeed, when respondents to the Smith & Wilkinson survey were asked what was most important to them at the workplace, 47% of commercial lending team leaders said coworkers and company culture were their first priority. Individual commercial lending contributors echoed the same response, with 34% ranking these factors as their first concern. Wilkinson said these figures are reflective of a growing trend among candidates who are prioritizing workplace environment over compensation.
It's getting harder to not only attract top talent to CUSOs but also at credit unions, said Mark Bostock, president/CEO of Centennial Lending, a mortgage and commercial lending CUSO in Longmont, Colo.
“I hear the same complaints from credit unions and friends I have in community banks. As folks retire, there doesn't seem to be the skilled talent to move up and replace them,” said Bostock. “There doesn't seem to be the management trainee programs that there were back in the mid-80s when I came out of college. No one wants to train their employees from the ground up anymore.”
To fill in the gaps, Centennial Lending started a management trainee program five years ago, said Bostock. The CUSO hired business students right out of college and trained them. The first two trainees are now working at the CUSO with one in charge of the IT department and the other involved in servicing. Centennial Lending also has two other that are doing very well, he noted.
“We will continue to look outside for good talent, but we will also continue to train our own future management,” said Bostock. “As far as incentives for retaining our top talent, we started offering a deferred comp plan to our senior management several years ago. This has worked well so far.”
Michigan Business Connection is also turning to new college students to groom the next generation of commercial lenders. The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based CUSO has an internship partnership with Eastern Michigan University in nearby Ypsilanti. As of 2013, 10 college students have interned at MBC and several were hired after graduation.
Bill Beardsley, MBC president/CEO, has said investing in young professionals has been one of the most important strategic moves the CUSO has done.
If a credit union in the Pacific Northwest is hoping to compete with other financial institutions to woo a heavily sought-after executive for its business lending division, the salaries would likely need to start around $85,000, according to The Robert Pfaendler Co. LLC, a Bend, Ore.-based recruiting firm. Salaries for management-level positions can go up to $120,000.
Larry Middleman, president/CEO of the CU Business Group LLC, a business lending and services CUSO, has said the salaries can be even higher in major cities such as Chicago or Los Angeles where the range can typically be 20% over the figures offered in Pacific Northwest cities such as Portland, where his CUSO is based.
According to the Smith & Wilkinson survey, there were a greater number of commercial lending respondents that had a lower amount of experience. The firm said it assumed that this represents an increase in hiring or new blood entering the commercial lending profession. Still, the vast majority of respondents had more than 25 years of tenure. Average salaries increased with tenure, however, average bonuses peaked between 16 to 20 years of experience. The survey's respondents said cash bonuses showed a consistent correlation with production.
Meanwhile, Ritter reiterated that finding the right person to work at a CUSO means more than offering attractive salaries.
“I’m one of the anomalies of the business because I came from a credit union. I was the first person in our CUSO since its formation to come from a credit union so it was a much easier transition for me,” he recalled, saying he worked with many of Member Business Financial Services’ credit union owners in the past.
“To me, hiring for a CUSO is more about culture than skills. At a bank you deal with one set of external or internal customers,” said Bostock. “At the CUSO, you have to have the patience to deal with many different organizations that have very different cultures.”