Banking

Banks, credit unions paying top dollar to hire lenders

Amid the disruption imposed by the pandemic and an ensuing merger-and-acquisition wave, veteran lenders have a wealth of career options. Growth-hungry banks and credit unions are competing aggressively to woo such talent because borrowers tend to follow them.

The goal: Pay up now for bankers who have proven they can drive loan and revenue growth long term.

“There’s always room for top revenue-generating talent,” said Old National Bancorp CEO Jim Ryan III. “We have an unending appetite for that type of talent.”

During the Evansville, Indiana, company’s earnings call in April, Ryan said “there’s plenty of unhappy people out there,” whether because of setbacks imposed by the pandemic or caused by the lengthy transitions that accompany mergers. “And so we need to take advantage of that and continue to hire,” Ryan said.

There were 211 bank acquisitions announced in 2021, up from 111 the year before, according to data from S&P Global. Total deal value nearly tripled in 2021 to more than $77 billion, as more large banks sold. There were another 46 deals announced in the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. jobless rate dipped to 3.6% in March, from 3.8% a month earlier. It is now just one tick above the 3.5% pre-pandemic rate, a five-decade low, reflecting in part the robust hiring in financial services. 

The $45.8 billion-asset Old National said it hired 16 commercial bankers across its major Midwest markets during the first quarter, including in Chicago, Minneapolis and Indianapolis. The company said it does not have a big slate of open positions and is mindful of recent wage inflation. But it sees a major opening at a time when top talent, in concert with advanced technology, is key to fueling growth.

“Even if what we’re paying is on the higher end because we are literally hiring the best in the market — and that comes at a cost — we will continue to make those investments,” Ryan said.

Truliant Federal Credit Union is building an operations center to facilitate its expansion in upstate South Carolina. It plans to add more than 100 jobs this year to focus on mortgages, auto lending, business lending and other services.

Old National and others are hiring not only individual bankers, but also  full teams of lenders.

B.J. Berrettini, a recruiting manager for the search firm AJ Consultants, said the trend is snowballing.

“One A-player lender changed institutions, then another and another, until a few ‘lifers’ started to re-evaluate their priorities and developed a wandering eye. Movement always begets movement,” he said.

Hancock Whitney Corp. in Gulfport, Mississippi, hired 10 new banks in the first quarter after adding 15 in the second half of 2021.

“That’s probably the most bankers we have added in one quarter in a good long time,” John Hairston, president and CEO of Hancock Whitney, said on the $36 billion-asset bank’s April earnings call. “We would expect that to continue as we go through the rest of the year.”

SmartFinancial in Knoxville, Tennessee, said it recently hired several teams of bankers and is poised to recruit further, capitalizing on fallout from a spate of M&A in the Southeast.

“We are always on the lookout for talent in any of our markets,” the $4.7 billion-asset bank’s president and CEO, William Carroll said on an April earnings call. “I don’t think we have really a specific initiative out there today. But I will say we’re always looking for great new production talent.”

Credit unions, too, are increasingly aggressive in their hiring.

For example, Truliant Federal Credit Union in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, announced recently that it will add more than 100 new jobs in 2022, the result of growing membership and the need to expand services across mortgages, auto lending and business lending, among others.

The $3.8 billion-asset Truliant is also opening an operations center later this year and plans to expand more deeply into upstate South Carolina, which is contributing to the need for job growth.

The credit union filled about 35 positions in the first quarter — bringing its total workforce above 800 — but “greater investment in people” is still needed, said Todd Hall, Truliant’s president and CEO.

Pinnacle Financial Partners in Nashville has been among the most active recruiters so far this decade, saying aggressive hiring consistently translates into stronger loan growth.

Excluding Paycheck Protection Program loans, Pinnacle Financial’s linked quarter loans grew more than 22% on an annualized basis.

The $39.4 billion-asset bank hired 28 “revenue producers” in the first quarter, President and CEO Michael Terry Turner said on the company’s earnings call.

“As a result of our prolific hiring over the last few years, not only have we realized an outsized growth in our legacy Tennessee, Carolina and Virginia markets, but we’re also having great success in our market extensions to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Birmingham and Huntsville,” Alabama, Turner said.

“The loan growth we experienced during the first quarter, along with our current loan pipelines and our continued ability to attract new associates, have bolstered our confidence that we should meet or exceed mid-teens percentage loan growth for this year,” he said.

“Not only that,” Turner added, “but there is tremendous disruption in our markets” and “we fully expect to seize this opportunity by continuing to hire the best, most experienced bankers in our markets and consolidate their [loan] books.”



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