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.