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The Remote Girl Banker: How One Community Banker Took Her Work On the Road

The Remote Girl Banker: How One Community Banker Took Her Work On the Road

I’m happy to have fellow girl banker and friend, Molly Carpenter, VP, Marketing and Public Relations of FNBC Bank, as a guest blogger on the Girl Banker blog! Molly has a unique working situation, especially for a banker, in that she works remotely from her community bank. Here is her story! 

I am a fourth-generation community banker who does not live in a community my bank serves. In fact, I don’t live anywhere near a community my bank serves. For the past year, I have been working from my house in Bentonville, Arkansas, an almost four-hour drive from my bank’s headquarters. I spend approximately 70 percent of my time in Bentonville and 30 percent at our bank’s headquarters in Ash Flat.

I had been with the bank about four years when I made the pitch to work remotely in December 2016. I love my job, but I was at a point in my life where I really needed to spread my wings a bit more. It took my boss about six months to finally give me the green light and another six months for my home to sell. I closed in mid-December, and on December 26, 2017, I made the move across the state and kicked off a new fiscal year in a new town and a new working environment.

I think my boss would tell you today he would still much rather have me in the bank every day, but that this hasn’t been as painful as he originally thought. In our early discussions, he realized this was an opportunity to test remote working for future employees and to retain an employee he and the bank were invested in. We live in a very rural part of Arkansas, and recruiting top talent has become increasingly difficult. While customer-facing roles require you to be on site, there are certainly roles that can be designed with more flexibility. I oversee marketing for our 11 branches, so I don’t have to be physically present every day, but I do need to be hands-on part of the time. Through a bit of trial-and-error, we’ve figured out a schedule that works pretty well for both sides.

I enjoy the flexibility working remotely provides for my life. While I try to be available as much as I can during banking hours, sometimes I hop on early so I can wrap up my day earlier. Sometimes I work through lunch so I can get more done and not be at my computer too late. I believe we do our best thinking in clothes that are comfortable, so not having to put on my “banker uniform” each day is also pretty nice. And on a personal note, I’ve been able to create a social life that wasn’t available to me back home.

Molly on location at FNBC’s main office in Ash Flat, Arkansas.

If I told you the last year has been a breeze, I would be lying. There have certainly been lessons learned and I have seen myself transform as a professional and as a woman. I tied a lot of my identity to my role as a community banker. Working remotely, especially in an area where we don’t have a physical presence, I miss out on having a place in the community. I continue to serve on several boards back home, but in Bentonville, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to contribute in a worthwhile way. It was hard for me at first to feel like I was still a true community banker when I wasn’t there every day and I was wearing leggings and sweatshirts, but over time I have embraced more of who I really am as an individual, and not just a community banker.

Perhaps you have a substantial commute to work each day, or you could use some flexibility to help you be a better parent and employee. Maybe it’s as simple as you just need time away from the noise and distractions to get some things done. Or, maybe you’re in executive leadership at a rural community bank and are struggling to attract the quality of hires you need to sustain and grow your organization. If any of these resonate with you, a remote working opportunity is worth discussing and exploring. Remote work can take on many different forms from something similar to my set up or even just a few days a week.

If you decide to start working remotely, even part of the time, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Communicate with your supervisor. My boss and I committed to one another last year that we would have open dialogue about what was working and what wasn’t as we moved forward with this arrangement. We meet regularly and always work in at least a few minutes to discuss how things are going. It’s important for your supervisor to know and be aware of the good and the bad parts of working remotely. It’s equally important for you to know if there’s an area that your supervisor feels is losing attention because you’re not there every day. Often times, just talking it out remedies things on both sides.
  2. Be as flexible and accommodating as you can to your bank and management team. In my situation, my move was entirely personal. I know I have been given an incredible opportunity not afforded to everyone, so if my boss needs me to be in the bank, I’m there.
  3. Be as accessible to your colleagues as you would be when in the office. I’m a community banker and I am one of only 100 employees. If I am unavailable or unreachable for very long, someone is going to notice. I have been asked if I am tempted to watch TV or take naps during the day. Honestly, I’m not. You might be different. You don’t want to become known as the co-worker who is never available or who is unreachable.
  4. Create a routine early on and stick to it. Rolling out of bed at 7:55 a.m. and stumbling to my computer doesn’t feel great to me. While I don’t have to put on a pencil skirt and heels, or have my hair and make-up done at 8 a.m. when I’m working remotely, I still maintain a routine that gets me up and going as early as I would if I were in the bank. I like to get my workout done in the morning, so I found a workout I love (OrangeTheory Fitness!) and make it to as many 6 a.m. classes as I can during the week. I could write an entire post on the importance of exercise and stamina in leadership – maybe one day I will! Even if you are getting up early to have a cup of coffee and read the news, creating some time and space for you to prepare for the work day ahead is important.
  5. Keep your work space away from your living space. My first six months were spent living in a small, one-bedroom apartment. My living room was my office, and that was really tough. I couldn’t ever really leave for the day. Now, my three-bedroom house allows me to have a room that is strictly my office. When I’m not working, I keep the door closed and the lights off. Even if you’re working from home, you still need to be able to walk away from your work at the end of the day.
  6. Take breaks. It’s easy to look down and it see it’s already mid-afternoon and you’ve barely been up for air. I struggled with feeling guilty if I took too much time away from my computer, but have found that it’s really important to my overall well-being. Get out of your house and take a short walk, run an errand or go grab a coffee. Because you’re in a smaller space, you’re naturally going to be moving less than when you’re in the office. It’s important to move around some throughout the day to keep your mind fresh and focused.
  7. Don’t get too lonely. I am a functioning introvert, so I absolutely miss my people. I miss popping into offices throughout the day, catching up over lunch in the break room, and just being out and about in my community. While my fur child Mabel Louise certainly keeps my company, I do crave human interaction. When this happens, get out of the house and find somewhere new to work for the day. Coffee shops are always great, but many urban areas now offer a variety of co-working spaces you can pay to drop into for the day. I will be honest and say I am really bad to not follow this advice, but I know how good I feel when I actually do get out of the house and plug in with a new view.
  8. Prioritize your time. This may happen naturally for you, but I had to be very aware of how I was scheduling my time in the bank. I usually know my travel schedule one to two months in advance, so I do my best to stack my days on-site with as many face-to-face interactions as I can. That may involve project or leadership meetings, or simply having lunch with some of my co-workers. But I strive to not be holed up inside my bank office the entire time I’m in town. Sure, that means travel weeks are a bit less productive from a tangible standpoint, but don’t forget how valuable relationship building and maintaining is for your career.

If I had to do it over again, I would do it in a heartbeat. I am so grateful for what this opportunity has allowed for my career and my personal life. I’m also thankful to work for a community bank and leadership team that recognizes the value I bring to our organization and took a big leap of faith and allowed me to move across the state.

If you are considering making your pitch to work remotely or would like to chat with me or my CEO about how this arrangement has worked for our bank, feel free to reach out to me at mjcarpenter@fnbc.us.

Molly is a fourth generation community banker at FNBC Bank where she is Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations. A remote-employee of the North Central Arkansas-based bank, Molly lives and works from home in Bentonville, Arkansas. A proud millennial, she is the youngest member of FNBC’s Senior Leadership Team, chairs the Sharp County Community Foundation, is vice chair of the Spring River Ambulance and Paramedic Service Board, is treasurer of the Spring River Innovation Hub and serves on the Ozarka College Foundation Board. In 2015, she was named one of Arkansas Business’ 20 in their 20s: The New Influentials and one of the Independent Community Bankers of America’s Top 20 Community Banking Influencers on Twitter. She is a proud dog mom to Mabel Louise and doting auntie to James Cole.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Cathy Owen

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Cathy Owen

In April of this year, I was honored to witness what I consider the shattering of an incredibly longstanding glass ceiling at the Arkansas Bankers Association Convention. Cathy Owen, Chairman of Eagle Bank & Trust based out of Little Rock, Arkansas, was the first woman in 128 years to be elected chairman of the board of directors of the Arkansas Bankers Association. Let me say that one more time… first woman in 128 years! In other words, Cathy is the first woman EVER to hold this position in Arkansas. I sat in the conference room literally fighting back tears (hey, this is a big deal to me) as she received a standing ovation from the crowd which was perhaps made up of 90% men. I’m certain I heard the sound of shattering glass as she approached the stage.

I have been itching for months to get a chance to talk to Cathy about a post on the Girl Banker and feel incredibly fortunate that she took the time out of a very busy schedule to answer a few questions I sent her way.  Cathy had no intentions of being a banker but started her banking career at her father’s suggestion in 1974 and hasn’t looked back. Her Girl Banker story is so inspiring and I have no doubt that her words below will leave a lasting impression on all of the Girl Bankers who read this blog!

What was the biggest challenge you have faced in your banking career?
Being a female in banking, combined along with being the majority owners/founder’s daughter, and being “given” a leadership role in our bank at a very young age have been my biggest challenges. It also didn’t help that I am petite and looked younger than I was when I started in banking. I began my career at 16 years of age, as a summer job, because my father wanted someone in the family to learn about banking. On my first day on the job, the Bank President informed me he didn’t want me there. He said he wasn’t going to “babysit some spoiled child all summer” and I was only there because my father wanted me there. He told me not to go home and report what happened each day to my father. I knew immediately I could either quit, walk out, and prove him right, or I could work hard and prove him wrong. I chose the latter option. The Bank President placed me in a closet-sized room with a shredder and piles of old documents stacked floor to ceiling, with the intention it would take me all summer to shred all of the documents. I shredded everything within a month. Then he gave me several bushel baskets of purple hull peas to shell, which I had never seen, much less shelled, but I figured it out and accomplished it in short order. He then decided, maybe I was okay to work with the rest of the staff. He let me start answering the telephone and learning about other positions within the bank. By the end of the summer, he wanted to know if I would be able to return to during Christmas break and the following summer.

For seven summers I returned to the bank to work under his tutelage. Then in 1980, at 22 years of age and less than a month after graduating from college, I received a call from my father that the Bank President had a massive heart attack and died. My father told me he needed me to run the bank. I then obtained my first loan from one of the big banks in downtown Little Rock to purchase a large block of bank stock that had belonged to the Bank President. I continued to live with my parents and nearly every penny I made went to pay down this loan. It was one of the scariest and best decisions I’ve made in my career. Through the years, I found myself continually and quietly proving myself and my role to those inside and outside of the bank. My father taught me how to think, stand tall, and present myself with confidence. Confidence doesn’t mean you know everything, but it does mean you are smart enough to recognize what you don’t know and to reach out for help when you need it.

Karen E. Segrave | KES Photo
Cathy Owen, Chairman of Eagle Bank

Have there been any other women in banking that have had a direct impact on your career or who have served as role models or mentors?
There is one female in my banking career that has served as a role model to me.  I have since shared this with her, but at the time I am sure she had no idea of her impact on me.  Betty Wilkinson, Chairman of Farmers Bank out of Greenwood, Arkansas.  She served on the Arkansas State Bank Department Board, which was the highest role I was aware of that was filled by a female banker. Early in my career, in order to open a new branch, we had to plead our case in front of the ASBD Board. It was apparent that not only was she very knowledgeable, but also when she spoke, the men listened. Watching her showed me that it was possible for women to hold the highest of roles in banking. I have been very fortunate to have many additional people serve as mentors, but they are primarily men and not within the field of banking.

If you could give women in banking one piece of advice, what would it be?
It is difficult to only come up with one piece of advice, but if I have to pick one, it would be to “treat others as you want to be treated.” This time-tested golden rule has never failed me. As people move up in their career, they often forget these basic rules. I believe this one goes beyond how you treat people. It encompasses how you think of others and how you want them to think of you, how you speak of others and how you want them to speak of you, and how you feel about other and how they feel about you.

What lasting impacts do you hope to leave on the Arkansas Bankers Association as a result of your leadership?
I hope to serve our association well and be recognized as having been a good leader during my term. I want to be a good role model for other females and hope I am able to encourage banking leadership to give more females opportunities for higher ranking positions within our industry.

For more background on Cathy’s career, check out this article in the Arkansas Banker by the Arkansas Bankers Association!

To Golf or Not To Golf… That is the Question: Women and Business Development

To Golf or Not To Golf… That is the Question: Women and Business Development

Golf is a time-honored tradition for bankers. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a great way to spend quality, one on one time with your best customers and top prospects. It’s a prime opportunity to build relationships, work on your tan, drink all day, and most importantly, get out of the office. As a non-golfer, I used to always blame myself for not learning the game and was concerned that my inability to play would hold me back in my banking career.

But I’m going to be honest, I find it incredibly boring and it’s just not fast paced enough for me. I’m also super competitive and if I suck at something, I’m not going to do it, plain and simple. I didn’t grow up in a golfing family, my dad wasn’t a golfer and my husband isn’t a golfer. Golf isn’t our jam.

It’s highly likely that I’m opening up a can of worms here but I’d go out on a limb and say that I’m not the only girl banker that feels this way toward golfing. I have had many men mansplain the following, “Women could really get ahead in banking if they would pick up golfing. There aren’t many women who play golf, and their ability to play could really set them apart.” Geez, thanks for letting me know that I have to pretend to like a sport and then actually be good at it to succeed in banking. That really helps my career a lot. Ugh.

This mansplanation may have some level of truth to it and I know several women in banking that are awesome golfers that truly like the game and find it incredibly valuable to their ability to develop relationships with their customers. However, does it have to be golf? Is there an unwritten, verbal agreement that someone failed to tell me in all of my banking training that you have to be a golfer to be a successful banker?  Why can’t it be over a pickup game of basketball or flag football? Asking for a friend…

My family and I with fellow GSB Team Member, Jennifer Adase, and her husband Frankie at a mini-golf outing. #LifeIsGrand

Last summer, I found myself on the golf course quite a bit. No, not as a golfer and definitely not as a “beer cart girl” (even though some thought I was… insert eye roll followed by several curse words muttered under my breath). At Grand Savings Bank, we have a golf cannon. I describe it as a glamorized potato gun. For those of you not from Arkansas, Google it. This cannon has the capability of launching a golf ball more than 350 yards and is powered by compressed air. It’s an incredible way to engage with not only one team of golfers but literally, every single golfer attending a tournament.

We would set up our bank tent, bring the cannon, the air tanks, the flag banners, the snacks, and all the other moving parts. It’s a pain in the ass hauling all of that stuff around if you want my opinion, but people LOVE this thing. Especially the golfers that aren’t any good at teeing off or were too drunk to do so. Each team would pay to use the cannon and we would then donate all of the proceeds collected back to the charity that the tournament benefited. It was a major marketing success and incredibly beneficial not only to the bank but also to the charities we support. However, it didn’t exactly change my personal feelings toward the sport of golf.

But this question, “to golf or not to golf?” is really a small piece of an even bigger issue. Business development can be tricky for women in business in general. While it has started to finally evolve past the good ole boy system of golf outings and hunting/fishing trips; opportunities, especially in more rural markets, are farther and fewer between. Men may not feel comfortable taking women along for fear of how it may be perceived and women may not feel comfortable tagging along as they likely are the only female in the group. This can also create awkward situations with significant others on all sides.

Then there is the whole lunch situation. For women in business that have a primarily all-male client base, client lunches are very common. However, not all clients are created equal. “Sometimes, I have to evaluate who I am taking to lunch and determine whether or not I need to take along another colleague. It’s a case by case situation,” a fellow woman in business recently told me. “There are most definitely some clients I would never want to be alone with, which is frustrating because men don’t always have to take that extra step.”

Listen, if golf is your jam, more power to you. I bet aside from the business you have developed and relationships you have obtained, you also have an amazing tan and have found a great way to get out of the bank from time to time, and for that, I’m sincerely jealous. The rest of us, non-women golfers, are just going to have to continue to navigate the waters of customer calls and business lunches on a case by case basis. So what other options are there?

Recently, I posted this question in the Girl Banker Facebook Group, a private group for Girl Bankers only and I received some interesting responses. For starters, I learned that there are some banks out there that just don’t have any golfers. Who knew?! Secondly, a few girl bankers threw out the idea of bowling tournaments, wine tastings, and mini golf outings. Yassssss!

Group events like bowling tournaments and mini golf outings give you as the banker the opportunity to engage with your customer’s entire family in a fun atmosphere while accomplishing the same goal. Wine tastings (now we are talking) are great for a different style of clientele and still allow you to include spouses. Genius. At Grand, we held a whiskey tasting in a new market and it was a huge success. Find a venue, select some apps, invite your guests. Everyone wins, even the venue!

What have you done at your bank that has been successful? Tell me about it! Email me at thegirlbanker@gmail.com. Now, go out there and develop business Girl Bankers!

Erica Preston | Women In Banking: the Influencers

Erica Preston | Women In Banking: the Influencers

the Girl Banker Series | Women In Banking: the Influencers
Every fall, the American Banker, the official publication of the American Bankers Association, releases their list of the Most Powerful Women In Banking. I find this list inspiring as it is a reminder that there are women making a difference every day in this industry. It also made me think about the women who have influenced me at different points in my banking career. My list includes women that stand out to me not only as influential women in banking but influential bankers in general. No “woman” tag needed. This series is dedicated to a variety of women who have been influential to me: all at different times within my career and in different ways, but all in their own special way.

Erica Preston | COO | Chambers Bank
Erica and I met as a fluke, or better yet, by fate. We both were NWA residents with long careers in banking but our paths never crossed until the summer of 2013 when we attended Graduate School of Banking in Boulder, CO. Being the planners that we are, we both had offered to plan the Arkansas State Dinner at GSBC. Upon realizing that we lived in the same corner of the state, we arranged to meet for lunch to plan the dinner and the rest is history. We forged an immediate bond and became the best of friends. Not only were we both boy moms with sons very close in age, but we shared a love for philanthropy, our careers, and shopping.

Erica lives in Bentonville, AR with her husband, Clinton, and son, Carter.

Erica got her start in banking in 1997 as a teller for First Financial Bank, whose branches were later purchased by Simmons First Bank in 2000. After the acquisition by Simmons, she started her climb up the ladder the old-fashioned way. By 2008 she had advanced from teller to Operations Manager and SVP, overseeing 10 Northwest Arkansas branches and supervising accounting and human resources. In 2014, Simmons was in full on growth mode and so was Erica’s career. She was then promoted to Regional Operations Manager/SVP where she oversaw 39 branches in Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas.

In 2015, Erica had an opportunity. She had been at Simmons Bank for 18 years where she had built a career from the ground up and was recognized as a leader. But the opportunity in question would give Erica hands-on decision-making abilities in the everyday workings of a smaller community bank. She could have an immediate impact on the company as a whole and put everything she had learned at a larger, regional bank to use. She took advantage of the opportunity and was named Chief Operating Officer of Chambers Bank, a $750 million community bank in June of 2015.

Erica the Influencer
Erica is one of my very best friends, but she is also a mentor. She is fiercely professional, uber-intelligent and knows how to do her job better than any Chief Operating Officer I have ever met. Her small, petite frame commands a presence even in the largest of rooms and she can put any OWD in their place before they know what hit them. (OWD = Old White Dudes… sorry not sorry, there are a ton of them in the banking industry!). Not only can she put them in their place, but she can do it in an incredibly well-versed, very professional way. I truly think it’s an art form that she has perfected! Erica has served as the chair of the NWA Business Women’s Conference which brings 1400 business women together for a day of leadership, empowerment, and encouragement. She landed on the NWA Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 list in 2015 and on their C-Suite list in 2017.

Our annual jumping pic at GSBC.

She is easily the most loyal friend I have ever known and has my back no matter what. I experienced this trait of hers almost immediately. During our first year of banking school in Colorado, a “gentlemen” made a lewd remark to me. She chased him down and let him have it. I was stunned that someone I had just become friends with would put herself out there like that for me! Needless to say, the “gentleman” didn’t return for his second year of banking school.

I love her wit, passion for Mexican food and ability to carry on a conversation with literally anyone. She is an avid concert attendee and before the night is over, she will be friends with everyone seated or standing around her. Even though we work for competing banks, she continues to offer advice and support to me in everything I do. I’m forever thankful that our paths crossed in 2013 as her influence has helped shape my own career. Not long after I met her, I found myself transitioning from working at a bank in my hometown where I knew everyone to a new bank in a much larger community where my contacts were limited. She didn’t hesitate to get me involved and introduce me to new people.  I am always trying to emulate the professionalism she exhibits and hope that I can be half the Girl Banker she is. I have no doubt she has influenced other women in this industry and likely a few men too.

BANK ON IT | “Volunteer for projects and additional responsibility. Speak up and make sure your opinions are heard. Make sure you are the persona that makes your boss’s job easier, not harder. Have high expectations for yourself and those that work for you, but stand up for and stand behind those people. Keep your word and treat others with respect. Your title doesn’t earn you respect, your behavior does.” -Erica Preston

Jenny Stinchcomb | Women In Banking: the Influencers

Jenny Stinchcomb | Women In Banking: the Influencers

the Girl Banker Series | Women In Banking: the Influencers
Every fall, the American Banker, the official publication of the American Bankers Association, releases their list of the Most Powerful Women In Banking. Seeing this list every year is both empowering and inspiring as it is a reminder that there are women making a difference every day in this industry. After seeing this year’s list, I started thinking about the women who have influenced me the most at different points in my banking career. I didn’t have to think very long to come up with my list as these women stand out to me as not only influential women in banking but influential bankers in general. No “woman” tag needed. This series is dedicated to a variety of women who have been influential to me: all at different times within my career and in different ways, but all in their own special way.

Jenny Stinchcomb | EVP | Sales Manager | Arvest Bank

My grandfather was my first real influence to banking. His 45 year banking career, all with Farmers & Merchants Bank in Prairie Grove, AR, ended with his retirement in 1991 and he later passed away in 1997. While I never had the opportunity to talk shop with him, I had the privilege to work with a number of people during my career that also worked with him. Jenny Stinchcomb was one of those people. Jenny will be retiring after 37 years in January so I find this post very timely. She started her career in banking in 1980, a time when banking jobs didn’t become available often, especially to women. At that time, her family was planning to move to Prairie Grove from Tulsa the following year, but due to a retirement in the bank, Jenny was told that if she wanted the job, she needed to move immediately, and so she did.

Jenny in front of the infamous mural at Farmers & Merchants Bank.

She started filing checks in the bookkeeping department and was only there two weeks before being asked to move to the loan side of the bank to be the bank president’s secretary and issue Certificates of Deposit. At that time, all loan officers, the president included, typed their own loan documents. (Oh how things have changed!) This only consisted of a note the size of a business envelope and a mortgage, given real estate was taken as collateral. Within a matter of days on the loan side, Jenny found herself typing all of the loan documents for all five lenders. Within a few years, the bank had purchased a loan processing machine that improved the process. She also began building loan files at the recommendation of state bank examiners to document on one sheet all the loans each customer had. In June of 1992, Farmers & Merchants Bank was purchased by Arvest and Jenny was given the title as Loan Operations Manager. She stayed in that role until 1995 when she was promoted to Sales/Operations Manager.

Jenny took her job seriously and set the tone for me for what professionalism looked like in the work place. As a junior and senior in high school, I was selected as member of the Prairie Grove Junior Bank Board and immediately started bugging Jenny and her counterpart and HR manager, Judy Carter, about working there upon graduating from high school. I clearly remember the moment Jenny told me to come down and apply for an open teller position. We were in a school bus, arriving back at the high school after our yearly trip to tour the Arvest Operations Center in Lowell, AR. I was so excited to finally have the opportunity to work at the bank that my grandfather did. I worked there through the end of high school and while obtaining my bachelor’s and masters degrees as the University of Arkansas.

Random Fact: Jenny and I met Charlie Gibson on the set of “Good Morning America” in New York City back in 2005.

During that time, Jenny was an advocate for me to be cross trained in multiple areas beyond just the teller line which proved beneficial to me later on in my career. She even went to bat for me to get a raise while I was still in college, arguing that my commute from the U of A back to Prairie Grove every day would be expensive. As a young, easily influenced young woman, that spoke volumes to me and I never forgot it. In 2013, when I received an opportunity to go work for a competitor bank after 12 years at Arvest, Jenny came to my office and in her ever-so professional tone of voice and said, “while I can’t wish you success against our sister banks, I wish you, personally, the most success in your career.”

Thank you, Jenny, for investing in me at a young age and showing me what women in this industry are capable of doing.

BANK ON IT | “Banking is absolutely a great career. It truly gives you an opportunity to interact with people in the community and have an influence on both customers’ and associates’ financial and personal lives. Over the years, I have witnessed the faith and trust that people place in their banker that extends far beyond the money they have in their accounts. My advice would be to accept each opportunity to learn all aspects of banking. In my case, each opportunity opened up another door.”

My Girl Banker Story

My Girl Banker Story

I have ALWAYS wanted to be a banker. As in, forever. My late grandfather, Wilford H. Thompson, was a Vice President at Farmers & Merchants Bank for 45 years, retiring in 1991, a year before it was purchased by Arvest Bank. As a kid, I was in there all of the time. My mom had worked there as well so the bank and its employees felt like family. My grandpa would bring my twin sister and I blank bank tickets, envelopes and stationery. I had absolutely no clue what they were actually used for but in my pretend world, I was a bad ass banker girl. I played with my fair share of Barbies and Cabbage Patch dolls, don’t get me wrong, but playing banker was my jam.

My grandpa, Wilford Thompson, in his office and signature bolo at Farmers & Merchants Bank in Prairie Grove, Ar.

Fast forward to high school, I had no doubt that I wanted to work in banking. I was all over applying to be on the Arvest Bank Junior Bank Board and started working there as a part time teller toward the end of my senior year at the age of 18. This turned into a 12 year stint at Arvest Bank and a jump start to my career.

As far as college goes, I had no doubt that I was going to be a Razorback at the University of Arkansas. It would enable me to still work at the bank in Prairie Grove and commute back and forth to school.  I pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma and later became the Assistant Treasurer, which led to me being the house Treasurer my junior year. This proved to be a great training ground as a loan officer due to the fact that I was in charge for collecting all payments- even those that were past due. Talk about awkward- it’s not easy collecting money from your peers, especially in a sorority house.

During my undergrad college days, Arvest had trained me on the teller line, in customer service, deposit operations and eventually over to the loan side in loan operations. I was set on being a loan officer, which seemed like the ultimate goal and fast track to success in banking. What I didn’t know at the time was how important all of that cross training would be later on in my career.

Before college graduation, my twin sister, Lindsay, was making arrangements to go to graduate school at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX. While we had always been slightly competitive, like most twins are, I didn’t want to be out done. I knew I had a good job lined up after graduation, but sought out the advice of then Market President, Greg Reed in regards to whether or not I should continue on and get my masters. He said it would be a waste of time. I did it anyway. Greg, if you are reading this, you may not have intended to steer me that way, but thank you for doing so! Regardless if that degree has mattered or not in my career, I know I grew academically as a result of it and gained connections that paid off later. Thanks Greg!

Fellow Arvest teammate, Tamra Noe, and myself at the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing during a Junior Bank Board tour.

I continued to work in loan operations and as a loan assistant through graduate school and became a full time consumer, commercial and mortgage lender after graduating. This also happened to be the same year I married my high school sweetheart, Colt, so it’s all a whirl wind looking back at it now. I do know that throughout those early years as a part time employee at Arvest, I continued to voice my intents of becoming a lender to the management of the bank and I am grateful that they created my lending position when I graduated. I say this to point out that it’s important to voice your career goals, regardless of your current position. You just never know where it will take you.

During my 12 years at Arvest I grew a lot professionally and so did my family as Colt and I welcomed our eldest, Brody, into the world in 2010. I learned all sides of lending and most of it was during the economic downturn, which created a better understanding of risk analysis and underwriting. Arvest has an incredible internal training program and what I learned there has served me well. Looking back at the first leg of my banking career, it’s easy to see now how young and very impressionable I was and while it seemed to others that working in my hometown for the rest of my life was the best gig on earth, I always wanted more. It was also difficult making loans and collecting bad debts from people you knew. I could tell that I was getting calloused. In the spring of 2013, I realized I needed a change. I thought it was a change from banking. In fact, I looked into teaching high school finance and even took a couple of praxis tests to get certified to teach. At that time, I had a 2 year old and having the summers and holidays off sounded pretty darn good. Then I was sent to Graduate School of Banking in Boulder, CO.

During my first session of banking school in 2013 I realized that banking was most definitely where I belonged. While taking a teaching route would have had its benefits, it would not have been the right move for me. Within a couple of months from returning home from Boulder, CO, I started at First National Bank of NWA, a division of First National Bank of Fort Smith as Vice President, Marketing and Lending. I had been connected with my new boss, Rob Husong, through a former employee of his that knew he was looking for someone to head up marketing. Taking this new job came as a shock to a lot of people as I was now commuting over an hour to work in Rogers versus my convenient 3 minute trip to Arvest in Prairie Grove. While it was a leap of faith, it was one of the best career decisions I could have ever made.

My role at FNBNWA expanded my banking skill set to marketing, connected me to so many new people and allowed me to spread my wings. I worked with an incredible team and had the opportunity to become affiliated with new community organizations and non-profits. Most importantly, I was able to see banking through a new lens as most of my coworkers came from a wide array of banking backgrounds. I was a part of re-branding the bank, overhauling bank activities and much more all the while maintaining a loan portfolio.

Some of the FNBNWA ladies at the NWA Business Women’s Conference.

Leading up to the birth of my youngest son, Witten, I was noticing I was wearing out. I blamed it on the long commute, pregnancy, and crazy schedule but after returning from a three month maternity leave I realized it wasn’t just being exhausted. I had that same urge that nagged at me a few years earlier and I knew I wanted more. As fate would have it, Tommy Coughlin, Market President at Grand Savings Bank and former Leadership Benton County classmate, reached out to me about taking over marketing for their rapidly growing bank. I was initially skeptical about making another move. Bankers in Northwest Arkansas can get a bad reputation if they move banks often and this would be my third bank in 16 years. However, after meeting with GSB, I realized this was not only the right move, but exactly what I was needing.

In February of 2017, I joined the Grand Savings Bank team as Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President. This past year has been a whirlwind of projects, new connections, and above all FUN! The punch list of things to do is a mile long but I find each work day exhilarating and I’m excited to see what the future holds. I’m glad I didn’t worry about the public perception of moving banks again. As women in banking, we have to look out for ourselves and what’s best for our families and careers. I’m mad at myself for even wasting time worrying about what others may think.

Part of my GSB Squad at a luncheon earlier this year.

In conclusion, I’m not really sure what it was about banking that drew me in. In fact, I’m often reminded by high school students when I go to speak to various schools about career opportunities how boring banking sounds. My overly enthusiastic presentations about careers in banking are often met with blank stares. I even had two kids sleep through one of my presentations. Perhaps I need to work on that. Regardless, it’s always been my passion.

I look forward to hearing from all of you about how you got your start in banking and would love to talk with you if you want to know how to get started. Everyone has their own, unique path. Mine had a couple of twists and turns that I wouldn’t have ever expected but I know that each bank, challenge, obstacle and win shaped me into who I am today. And thankfully, I am still learning and don’t plan to stop.