NACOGDOCHES, Texas — The diverse roles in today’s banking and wealth management industry require not only good numbers sense but also “soft skills,” according to industry experts advising Stephen F. Austin State University students at the fall “Bank on Your Future” career exploration day.
The event, hosted Oct. 4 by the Chadwick Family Banking Program in the Nelson Rusche College of Business, brought together representatives from more than 15 banks, banking regulatory agencies and wealth management firms in Texas to discuss with students the skills needed for the industry’s many different career paths. These range from commercial lending, investment advising, real estate and insurance, and trust and estate management to financial technology/cryptocurrency, credit analysis, agricultural finance, human resources, and compliance and regulation.
This year, these experts emphasized “soft skills,” also known as people skills, at the “Why Choose Banking” panel discussion during the career exploration day.
“If you want to manage money for people, you need sales skills,” said José Palafox, founder and managing member of Starfox Financial Services in The Woodlands. “Those involve soft skills that help you build trust in people and prove your integrity to prospective clients.”
Though making high salaries and enjoying job security are two benefits to working in the banking industry, Tom Heslep, a 1981 SFA graduate and the chief lending officer of Texas Republic Bank in Dallas, said his desire to serve people has buoyed his more than 40 years in the banking industry.
“You need a servant’s heart,” Heslep said. “If you don’t like people, don’t come to play.”
Another theme during the panel discussion was the wide variety of career options offered by the banking and wealth management industry, which often attracts those who had not considered this particular industry as a career path initially.
Former SFA Regent Judy Larson Olson, senior vice president at Woodforest National Bank in The Woodlands, moderated the panel and asked the two dozen industry experts in the audience to stand during the discussion. Then she asked those who intentionally joined the banking and wealth management industry to sit down. Half remained standing and said they had initially intended to pursue other career paths like politics and construction.
Greg Wisian, Houston regional director of the Bank and Trust Supervision Division at the Texas Department of Banking, said even though he knew he wanted to go into banking, he never thought he would end up in the regulation and compliance sector. But his passion to continue learning something new every day has kept him in this banking area.
“My mentors said to start my career by being a bank examiner,” Wisian said. “I’ve been constantly learning ever since I started, and now I’m a lifelong banking examiner.”
Olson earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from SFA in 1983 thinking she would one day be a television news anchor. She grew up watching her father “put on his three-piece suit and wing-tip shoes every day” to go to work at Texas Commerce Bank in Houston.
“I swore I’d never do that,” Olson said, but she enjoyed the community building, and one referral led to another.
Michael Goode, Nacogdoches market president at Southside Bank, agreed with Olson that relationships are key in banking. He found some of his first customers just by joining the local Jaycees Club.
“Technology has made my life in banking a lot easier, but it can’t take the place of the personal bond you create for a lifetime,” he said. “I’ve worked with some families for up to four generations now.”
Palafox also knows how important it is to create those bonds. When he started his wealth management career in California, he knocked on doors looking for customers. One day, he found a man sitting in his garden. After listening to Palafox’s pitch, the man asked him to move the hose in the garden to another spot. Palafox did that and went on his way.
When Palafox returned to the same neighborhood the next day, the man’s wife asked, “Are you the man who helped my husband?” Palafox said yes. The woman explained that her husband couldn’t walk, so moving the hose was important to him. Then she gave Palafox $5,000 in cash she had been saving to invest for her. The couple became lifelong customers.
“That’s when I realized the difference I could make in this industry,” Palafox said.
The panelists also offered advice to students considering entering the industry. For investment advising and wealth management, Palafox said to work really hard for the first three years to gain clients and earn a Certified Financial Planner certificate.
Goode recommended that students build a strong foundation by starting as credit analysts, get exposure to as many different career paths in banking as possible and “take as many accounting courses as you can.”
Wisian emphasized that during internships and other opportunities, such as this career day event, students should ask questions of those around them.
“People are happy to share their experiences,” he said. “But you need to listen to them carefully and be willing to change and learn something new.”
Heslep said that in any career they pick, students should work to hear “job well done” at the end of the day.
“That will get you far in any career you choose,” he said. “It’s not about the money you make, it’s about the difference you make. When you’re making that difference, everything else will fall into place.”
Visit SFA’s Chadwick Family Banking Program for more information.
ABOUT STEPHEN F. AUSTIN STATE UNIVERSITY
Stephen F. Austin State University, the newest member of The University of Texas System, began a century ago as a teachers’ college in Texas’ oldest town, Nacogdoches. Today, it has grown into a regional institution comprising six colleges — business, education, fine arts, forestry and agriculture, liberal and applied arts, and sciences and mathematics. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SFA enrolls approximately 11,000 students while providing the academic breadth of a state university with the personalized attention of a private school. The main campus encompasses 421 acres that include 37 academic facilities, nine residence halls, and 68 acres of recreational trails that wind through its six gardens. The university offers more than 80 bachelor’s degrees, more than 40 master’s degrees and four doctoral degrees covering more than 120 areas of study. Learn more by visiting the SFA website.