Loan officers remain an integral part of banks’ interface with customers, regardless of whether customers are seeking a personal line of credit, a home loan, small business loan or commercial construction loan.

That’s the word from bank executives around the region, anyway; South Sound BIZ interviewed managers at several bank institutions about what they’re seeking in loan officer candidates and how the role is ever-changing. It’s clear that the demands of the position have evolved; the advent of online banking, for one, adds an additional layer to the loan officer/customer interaction. 

Aaron Myers, human resources director at Olympia Federal Savings, for example, attests that 80 percent or more of a loan officer’s job is digital.

“All of our applications are entered online,” Myers explains. “Customers sit down with our loan officer, and we complete (the loan application) on our online system.”

Myers admits that there are disrupters in the industry, where people can go online and apply for a bank loan or mortgage.

“Those are things that we have to keep pace with,” says Myers. “Customers have that ability, but we like to pride ourselves that we can provide that digital environment, as well as customer service when they come into our branches.”

Outside of digital, Myers says Olympia Federal seeks candidates who are customer focused, personable and can communicate well. Candidates must also have a keen understanding of credit.

“We’re a portfolio lender. We maintain loans in house, so credit quality is important to us,” says Myers. “We’re able to maintain that relationship with the customer throughout the total loan cycle.”

Olympia Federal employs 14 loan officers across its eight branch locations in Thurston and Mason counties. Eight of the 14 are also branch managers. Loan specialties include mortgage, commercial construction, residential construction and small business.

Myers says staffing levels of loan officers across the eight branches are sufficient.

“Only through attrition would we be hiring someone new,” Myers explains. “We feel we can meet the need of our customers through the level of staffing we have now.”

At Kitsap Bank, Steve Maxwell, chief lending officer, says the banking industry is adopting more technology, and his bank is following suit. In recent years, the community bank, with 19 full-service branch locations in Kitsap, Pierce, King, Mason, Jefferson and Clallam counties, has introduced a state-of-the-art loan originating system. He says it brings efficiency to the internal loan process and speeds the delivery of loans to the market.

But Maxwell says, while technology will play a role in the present and future of the bank, fundamentally, the role and responsibility of the loan officer will be what it’s always been: bringing solutions, caring about clients, and building relationships.

“We haven’t compromised on that common core philosophy of relationship banking over the past 100 years,” says Maxwell.

The longtime South Sound banker says his loan officers are equipped with a wide array of lending options to deliver unique solutions to customers.

“We like to approach lending opportunities from a common-sense perspective versus a narrow-box perspective,” explains Maxwell. “Some organizations approach lending based on rules of the game. We like to look at things situationally and say 'this makes sense because of this' and 'this doesn’t make sense because of that.' ”

A robust economy and high demand for capital have worked in his local bank’s favor over the past two years. Year-over-year, loan production has reached record levelsc—ca 20 percent increase in volume.

“We have become more effective in our markets, because we have hired some good bankers and have resourced those bankers with some really good tools,” Maxwell explains.

Over the past two years, Kitsap Bank has hired six loan officers, including four in the past 12 months, mostly at its loan office in Bellevue.

“It was more of an expansion of our presence in that market,” he says. “In that time, we acquired Fife Commercial Bank and as a part of that brought in new loan officers. These were strategic additions to our geographic presence in those markets.”

At Bank of America, more and more loan officers in specialized areas of finance have been added to branch locations, in response to a reduction of clients visiting for mundane tasks like a simple cash withdrawal or check deposit, or applying for an auto loan. Those are things they can easily do via a mobile app.

“Our clients want face-to-face interactions, when it comes to their financial goals,” says Nathan Nguyen, senior VP of consumer banking and Merrill Edge. “We have financial center lending officers, small business bankers, relationship managers, and financial solutions advisors to talk (with clients) about retirement, savings, and college education planning.”

BofA also offers convenience to clients for making appointments online to visit their neighborhood branch and speak with a specialist about their unique financial needs.

Meanwhile, Olympia Federal and Kitsap Bank always aspire to promote from within when placing new lenders, where possible.

“Over the past year, we have promoted or hired five loan officers, and the majority of those were internal promotions,” Myers explains. “We open up all of our positions internally before they go external. Because people want stable opportunities for growth, we want to provide those career pathways. Culture is important to us, so once we have the right person in the job, we like for them to stay here.”

Because of its focus on promoting from within, Olympia Federal has successfully retained a number of its staff for 20-plus years. This positive culture has placed it in Seattle Business magazine’s Top 100 Best Companies list three times over the past four years. This year, Olympia Fed is ranked at No. 5 in the Midsize-Company category.

Maxwell says Kitsap Bank always considers internal promotions first.

“Culture is critical,” Maxwell says. “Our internal people live and breathe our culture. We watched them perform in their prior role. We want to support their career path.”

Training of loan officers is also a key focus. Some banks may have robust internal training curriculum, where others may send their loan officer hires to external training programs, or utilize informal on-the-job training and one-on-one mentorship.

Bank of America utilizes its Market Career Expo and also a Consumer Academy. It also benefits from training programs made available by affiliate Merrill Lynch.

“We want to make sure that every person at every level has access to different career pathways,” says Nguyen.

Over at Olympia Federal, mortgage loan officers go through external training, as well as internal on-the-job training.

“Our external vendor is a five-week course before they even start in the lending area,” says Myers. “And then we train them in our specific products, procedures and processes.”

Maxwell says Kitsap Bank has no formalized lending officer curriculum.

“We’re a small enough bank where we can do hands-on mentoring,” explains Maxwell. “We just had an employee who we promoted internally. Her first role was as a small business lender, and in that role we provided coaching and training specific to her needs. And then we promoted her to a commercial loan officer role. In the absence of a formalized training program, we provide an informal training mechanism for our people.”

At Heritage Bank, if an individual is aspiring to move into a loan officer role, they are paired with a loan officer mentor, explains Sabrina Robison, the bank’s human resources director.

Heritage also relies on outside organizations that provide classes and webinars. These include Washington Bankers Association and Risk Management Association. The regional bank headquartered in Olympia also sends four to five people each year to Pacific Coast Banking School at UW-Seattle.

“We’ll send lenders there that haven’t had a formal education,” says Robison. “It’s a graduate school for banking. It helps them to get into leadership roles and moving up in an organization.”