How to Create a “Small Bank” Environment within a Large Bank
This week on “How to Create a “Small Bank” Environment within a Large Bank” we are joined by SouthState team members Mark Bryant and Chrissie Casas. Mark is the Director of Government Lending and Chrissie serves as Director of Digital Banking. Mark gives us an update on SBA and PPP, and then we discuss what it looks like to build team cohesion within a large bank.
The views, information, or opinions expressed during this show are solely those of the participants involved and do not necessarily represent those of SouthState Bank and its employees.
[Intro]: Helping community bankers grow themselves, their team, and their profits, this is The Community Bank Podcast.
Caleb Stevens: Well, hey everybody, and welcome back to the Community Bank Podcast. I’m Caleb Stevens. I work on our marketing team here at the correspondent division of SouthState Bank. And joining me today for the first time on the show is the newest member of our marketing team, Natalie Orcutt. Natalie, thanks for hopping on the show. How are you?
Natalie Orcutt: Hi, Caleb. Thanks for having me.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah, so this is your first time on a podcast. Have you ever been on a podcast before?
Natalie Orcutt: I’ve not.
Caleb Stevens: So not only are you on a podcast for the first time, you’re helping me host it for the first time. So really exciting. Today we sat down with Mark Bryant, who is the head of our SBA department here at SouthState. We talked about his career in SBA. We talked about how he helped grow the SBA department from nobody to dozens and dozens of folks here at our division. I think we’re now the… I forgot what he said. We’re in the top 50 government lenders, I think, in the country. And then we also talked to Chrissie Casas, who Mark had the idea to bring her on because she is our director of digital banking. But she is really intentional about creating a small team environment within a big bank. You know, if you lead a big bank out there, or if you lead a department within a bigger bank, you’re probably wondering, how do I create a small bank feel, a community bank feel within a larger organization? That’s something Mark is very passionate about with his SBA team, and it’s also something that Chrissie is passionate about with her team as well. And so, Natalie, I thought this was a really interesting discussion. Anything that you liked or kind of stuck out to you?
Natalie Orcutt: I really enjoyed listening to Chrissie and just hearing how intentional she is with her team. I think it’s really important nowadays to understand your coworkers and where they’re coming from and in what position they stand. So I thought that was very impressive. Go Chrissie.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah, I did too. She talked about the Enneagram and just personality assessments that help you get to know your team better. And so leaders, this is a conversation for you, and we’re excited for you to hear it right now.
Caleb Stevens: Mark Bryant, it is great to be talking with you again. Thanks for hopping on the podcast. How have you been? I think it’s been maybe a year since we had you on the show.
Mark Bryant: It has been. Been a long time. Been great. Thank you for having me again.
Caleb Stevens: So last episode that you were on, we talked about PPP, we talked about SBA. Give us an update now that you’re on the other side of that mountain that we all had to climb as bankers. How’d it go? What are any lessons or takeaways from going through something as crazy as that?
Mark Bryant: It was quite a time and everybody in the banking world knows that, of course. And so thank you for asking. So since we last met year, year and a half ago and did one of these podcasts, like everybody, I’ve been out and about in the world, been to conferences a couple times. And of course, the big conversation piece was PPP and COVID and just kind of hearing what other banks did and comparing notes and just what an amazing job I think everybody did. You know, the opinion of the bankers of PPP and the businesses that we kept alive and kept going, hiring employees. More importantly, I think it’s the opinion of the small business owners and how favorable that is of PPP. And so a few takeaways, I guess, I was at a conference a year or so ago in a crowd, and a guy brought up, said you can’t really in his mind assess PPP just by the number of loans that were done. He kind of compared it to Olympic diving where you have to factor in a degree of difficulty. And I think if you factor in that degree of difficulty that we all went through during that timeframe, and I’m talking about a pandemic kicking off, had to adopt years of technology in a matter of days, the stress, you know, everybody was worried about their health and family and friends’ health. And just to be able to be a part of an SBA PPP loan program that did so much good with that degree of difficulty, I think added some color to that whole concept that I hadn’t thought of before.
Another takeaway was how SBA banks helped each other. We had two or three banks, people that we had worked with in the past, and head of closing departments or head of SBA departments, people that we’re usually friendly competitors with, but in this case, we were helping each other, you know. “How are you doing this in ETran?” and, “What do you interpret this rule to mean?” And just kind of back and forth helping each other. As it relates to the bank SouthState itself, the thing I guess that I’m most proud of, and this is a thing that I’ve mentioned at conferences a few times, and I kind of get this stare from people and they ask me to repeat this. But we the bank, engaged the CPA firm to help customers with some of the more complex PPP issues. Bank paid 100% of that, you know, millions of dollars as I understand, to have a CPA firm help the customers with their original applications or forgiveness applications all the way through. So kind of more complex or more detailed questions than what the bank help desk could answer. And I think the goodwill that came out of that towards the bank was pretty amazing, us providing that assistance for customers.
In terms of loans, one of the things, we filled out a survey not long ago on loans that people who were not customers of the bank going into PPP. And from what I understand, somewhere around 30% of the loans that we did were to SBA borrowers who were not bank customers before PPP started. That gets a lot higher than normal, than average. The second thing is we didn’t have a minimum loan size, and we did a couple loans, as I understand it, you know, a hundred dollars or so. So people did all that paperwork. And I remember we had that discussion about some smart people with calculators and computers and spreadsheets, figured out some break-even points on PPP loans. And at the end of the day, senior management decided that if you have small business owner out there that wants to apply for a PPP loan, we’re going to give them access to do that. It doesn’t matter if it’s something that we lose money on, it’s the right thing to do. And I was proud of the bank for that. So just a few takeaways on PPP.
Yeah, that’s great. Well, you started here at South State, we were CenterState at the time, back in 2016, and you’ve overseen a lot of growth of the department. Give us kind of a quick flyover of your time here at CenterState slash SouthState. How have you seen the department grow? I know you’ve brought leadership to the group. Just talk about what’s been gratifying about kind of helping grow this department into a significant contributor to the bank.
Mark Bryant: Thank you. It’s been a lot of fun. Most importantly, been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work and a lot of good people that we have leading different sections of the group. The head of underwriting, the head lender, the head closure, head servicing, have all done fantastic jobs and made me and the bank look good. But we started, like you said, in 2016 and the bank had never originated an SBA 7(a) loan, and now we’re 30 something largest in the country in both 7(a) and 504 lending. And just been a great run. We’ve got about 55 people on the team now and just continue to grow. So a lot of good things.
Caleb Stevens: What, in your mind, I don’t think I gave you this question ahead of time, but it just popped into my brain, what, in your mind, distinguishes a good commercial lender from a good SBA lender? Is there much of a difference? I know you spend time in a very kind of specialized world. Talk about maybe some of the differences between the two. Obviously, relationships are important in both, so you can’t discount that. But is there anything that’s particular to your world that you think separates an SBA lender from another kind of lender?
Mark Bryant: Good question. An SBA loan, when you get down to it, is a commercial loan, it just has a certain set of rules. And SBA has the gold, that SBA guarantee, and so we have to follow the golden rules and make sure that we comply with SBAs rules and requirements. So a little attention to detail is important. Being able to know the SBA rules when you meet with a customer, because there’s a lot of customers you meet with that they’re not eligible for SBA. Maybe they’re too large or something. A lot of disqualifying factors that you got to play in your analysis. But other than that, that’s probably the main thing that comes to mind. Some of the other skill sets and experiences like credit background is helpful, marketing background, being able to go out and meet with people, and don’t worry about rejection. You get rejected a lot when you’re selling anything, whether it’s, I guess, refrigerators or SBA loans. So you got to kind of just… it’s part of the job, but there are a lot of similarities.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah. Well, I know one of the things that you’re passionate about is creating an environment where your team really feels valued, feels like people know who they are. And you said a phrase a while back to me, you want folks to feel like they’re part of a little bank within a larger bank. And that’s really important for folks as they’re going about their every day to day job during the week, they want to feel part of a team and part of something meaningful. And here at SouthState, we’re 45 billion in assets, over 5,000 team members. And so depending on what department you’re in probably dictates what kind of culture that you sit in. With 5,000 folks, all these different departments, different states, every group is going to have sort of their own unique culture. And so as a leader, are you being intentional about developing that culture and that team environment? And I know Mark, that’s something you’re passionate about and you had this great idea. Why don’t we bring on Chrissie Casas, who’s our director of digital banking, because this is something she is super passionate about on her team. And so Chrissie, thank you so much for joining the show and coming on here in the middle of the program. How are you?
Chrissie Casas: I’m doing good, Caleb. Thank you.
Caleb Stevens: Give us a quick flyover of your career for folks who aren’t familiar with you. Tell us what you do here at the bank and then we’ll kind of pick your brain, Mark and I will, on just some questions and things that you’ve done at the bank to kind of help your team feel like they were part of a smaller environment where people know them, but at the same time, part of a larger regional bank. So I think that’s something a lot of our community banks are trying to think through as well as they grow.
Chrissie Casas: Yeah, Caleb. Thanks. I’ve been in banking more than 30 years. I won’t give away my age there, but I started at SouthState in 2003. SouthState at the time was South Carolina Bank and Trust, and it was about 1.3 billion. So you can imagine the amount of growth and change I’ve seen over my career here at the company. I’ve gone from retail bank mostly, and then for the last decade, been in the support side. So I’m running retail, product sales, and then most recently, probably the last eight years, really shifting to digital banking from a consumer perspective.
Caleb Stevens: Well, I love the SouthState mobile app. That’s been a game changer for me and my family. I love how you can aggregate all of your accounts into one place. It’s kind of your home base. We had Lee Wetherington who works for Jack Henry on our show recently, and he talked about how you really want your bank to have first app status. It’s fine if they have other accounts and other apps, but you want your app to be first app status. And I know you and your team have done that very well here at SouthState. So just kudos to you for doing a great job.
Chrissie Casas: Thanks, Caleb. It certainly takes a team. That’s for darn sure.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah, no doubt. Well, Mark and Chrissie both, I’d love to kind of get your take on this. What, in your mind, are some things that folks who are leading teams within larger organizations can do to create team cohesion and really build a microculture within their own team, within a broader bank? And Mark, maybe we’d just kind of start with you. I’d Love to kind of hear your take on that. And then Chrissie, I know you have some really helpful nuggets, tidbits, thoughts, tactics on things that we can be doing to invest in our teams. But Mark, anything just off the cuff that comes to your mind?
Mark Bryant: Yeah, one thing that comes to mind is I try to call the group, just get on the phone, call them and talk to them. Not just emails and Webex, but give them a call, talk to them. They’re good people. I like them, they’re friends. And not talk business necessarily. See how things are going on the personal side and try to just build that connection with them to where they understand me and know me a little better and I know them. And I think that goes a long way when it comes to retaining people and getting top effort out of them. And I think we’ve been successful on that. But they’re just a good group of people and I care about them and enjoy hearing what they’re doing in their personal lives.
Caleb Stevens: Chrissie, any thoughts on your end? I saw a list of a number of things that you did with your team to be intentional. Anything that you think our listeners may benefit from as far as investing in their teams?
Chrissie Casas: Yeah, I do. I think that obviously, as our bank has grown, it’s gotten more challenging to keep that smaller feel. And then you add in the COVID remote work environment. My team is all remote and we’re in five of the six states. So how do we keep them engaged? And I think, like Mark said, first of all, it takes intentional and purposeful, leading. We used to drop by their office or drop by their cube, and you had that time. You don’t have that anymore. So you really have to stop, and I hate to say it, but you have to plan it. You definitely have to call and be personal. Some of the things we’ve done in our team is, besides setting aside time and just making sure that we’re purposeful and intentional in meeting is we do huddles every week. I know that’s an old term and it’s pretty traditional, but we do it without fail every Monday, with our direct reports and we get on camera. And every time, we’re on camera. A lot of people don’t love that. But honestly, if you’re remote and your team is spread out, that is the best tool to connect with relationships, is looking at each other, seeing each other, talking to each other, Mark, like you said, calling. But then when you’re on camera and you’re looking at each other, that’s a whole ‘nother level. So I know for our team, that’s really been a key to keeping us bonded. It took us a while to kind of get used to that experience, but now we look forward to it and we love it.
So besides just Monday meetings, weekly one-on-ones. We have a lot of fun, Caleb, We do. I don’t take ourselves too seriously, right? Don’t believe your own press releases. Have some fun. We do virtual happy hours. We’ve done some “tell us about you” quiz, so we get to learn about you personally. That’s been a lot of fun. Besides the work stuff, right? As far as their value, what’s the bigger picture? Why are we here? And making sure that they feel connected to the bigger team, and they understand their place really within our own team. How do we create that family feel? And so those are just some of the things we do. And we can keep talking. There’s more to that, but it’s really creating that family and of really caring and being genuine with each other. And I think that’s where the trust comes in.
Caleb Stevens: Do you ever have instances, and I guess to give some context here, so I had Mark Miller on our podcast probably about two years ago, and Mark is the VP of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. And he talks about the importance of valuing both results and relationships, and you want to hold them both together. And he talked about how oftentimes we tend towards one or the other. We tend towards just results, results. And then some of us have more of a personality where we tend towards relationships. And the trick is that you really want to make them both very important. And a joke I always say is you can kind of tell who is who when you get on a Zoom call and some of the folks are already on agenda item number one, two minutes before the meeting’s supposed to start. And then some people, 10 minutes into the meeting, are still talking about their golf swing or their kids or something. And it’s like, “Okay guys, we have to get things done here too. We have to have meetings.” Did you see that dynamic on your team? Were there some that relationships came really easily, and maybe kind of getting down to business was sort of the thing that you had to encourage them on? And then maybe some, it was like, “I just want to get stuff done and I don’t want to go to virtual happy hour. I want to get stuff done. This is wasting my time.” Talk about that tension there. And was that ever a balancing act that you had to help kind of manage as you were leading your team?
Chrissie Casas: Yeah, that’s a good point. We have different personalities on our team, and everybody approach a little bit differently. So one of the things we did is we actually stepped back and did the Enneagram test. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah. Big fan.
Chrissie Casas: We did it as a team, and so we really were able to learn. And then we kind of made fun in that area too, because we were able to see the people who were more serious and those that were more relationship. And we got to where we understood, “Oh, that’s why so and so,” to your point, “wants to get right to business.” And so we were able to take that information and apply that to our team, and kind of work through that balance. We always start with personal. We set an agenda, that is just a normal part of our doing business. And then the first part is catching up, relationships. But to your point, it has a start and an end. And that really helps those who want to get right down to results and business, and it helps those who want to talk a little bit more about relationships, because they know, hey, this is a short term and we’re going to get into the business, we’re going to get into the results. I can be both results-oriented and relationship-oriented, and sometimes we can take the relationship a little too far. So to your point, we got to kind of pull that back and really stop and look at what’s the objective of the meeting. But what works for us is the agenda. It doesn’t matter, we always have an agenda. Everyone knows, hey, we’re going to kind of catch up with each other and then we’re going to jump into the meat of the matter.
The other thing we do is we make sure everybody participates. So we’ll have fun games, we’ll do something, we’ll ask different people to come to the meeting with something to talk about or something to share. And that also helps kind of bring everybody into a focus of what. And now we don’t have meetings just to have meetings, right? We’re all very busy. And so we make sure that we have a real specific focus. And then Caleb, to that point, one thing we did about a year ago that has really changed our team, we set up a chat group through Teams just for our team. And that’s just for personal, no work allowed. And it’s been great. I mean, pictures of kids and fun and celebrations and encouragement and needs. Everybody uses that for the fun piece. And so when we get to the business side stuff, we’re really talking more business because we’ve kind of caught up through the chat function. And so that’s been a real win, I think, for our team to stay cohesive and bonded through this big company, if you will.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I mean, I’ve heard of folks using Teams, of course, for work-related matters, but never for personal. I’ve never even thought of that. But how cool of a way to be able to just share updates, check-in. So and so got married, so and so had a baby, all those kinds of things. That’s really cool. I think that’s a great takeaway for our listeners. And I think you raised a very important point too about emotional intelligence and self-awareness. I would think once you did the Enneagram or any kind of personality assessment, I bet light bulbs went on. It was like, “Oh, Mark, now I see why you are the way you are. At first, I thought it was because of this, but now I realize it’s how you’re wired.” It probably helps smooth over maybe friction and things that we maybe assume about folks, but when you realize how they’re wired a little better, light bulbs come on, and a lot of understanding takes place, which results, I would think, in much better team cohesion.
Chrissie Casas: That’s right. And then you know how to kind of spirit the conversation around that so you know that that person isn’t just not wanting to be involved, they’re just maybe a little more quiet and they get involved differently. And so you don’t make those assumptions and everyone learns a little bit about each other. And once you learn it, then everyone feels a little bit more comfortable, right? And so I think that’s a very important first step is just get to know your team and let your team get to each other. Because sometimes as leaders, we know the team, but the team doesn’t always know each other. And you’ve got to provide opportunity for that.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah, that’s really good. Well, as we wrap up here, I’d love to hear from you both. For a community banker who’s a leader, CEO, CFO, someone who’s leading a team within a bigger bank, any advice for just some simple things they can start doing even this week? Maybe they don’t have a standing meeting every week, or they haven’t used a tool like a Teams or a Slack or they’ve never done assessments to kind of help get to know their team better. I mean, you’ve all listed a lot of great things, but if there’s one thing you could say, “Hey guys, if you’re not doing this, at least start doing this this week or even better today.” Mark, I’ll kick it to you. Anything that you would recommend leaders, if you’re not doing this, you need to start this week.
Mark Bryant: Yeah. I’ll say to start though, I’m an amateur compared to Chrissie, you could tell. And then you got a reputation in the bank, Chrissie, for team cohesion and how you strive and have taught others. And we appreciate you helping on that and take some notes and circle back with you, I’m sure. One thing we do that’s pretty easy to do is we have a weekly pipeline call. We’re scattered out in 10 states, and so nobody works in the same location as the others. And so we do about a 30-minute call, kind of set the week with the administrative announcements, a little bit of pipeline on what loans we’re going to close and get approved that week. And then we move over into training, which takes most of that time. I figure that if I’m going to ask somebody to spend 30 minutes every week with us, I want them to leave that phone call knowing something or reinforcing something at the end of it.
And so on the training session, we move that around. We have different people lead it, from different areas. One week it’s the closers and it’s generally something to do with loan closing. Another week, it’s credit, and we just rotate that. So it gives everybody a chance to kind of get some exposure to the team, to get known, bring out something that’s maybe a sensitivity to them. And the goal being that everybody kind of learns from it, and even if it doesn’t apply to you directly, it makes you a more rounded SBA employee. And I think think that helps a lot and they feel like they get some value out of that phone call instead of just wasting 30 minutes of their time.
Chrissie Casas: Yeah, Caleb, and Mark, I would agree. And I would just add in, get their feedback. If you’re a leader, ask for their opinion, get their feedback. What is it they want to see? What is it they need? And start there because sometimes we put into place meetings and things that happen that don’t bring value and it’s not what the team needs. So take a poll, SurveyMonkey, ask some basic questions. You’re going to learn a lot from your team. So I think that’s something you could start right away. Get some feedback, set up the chat, set up the meeting, and have some fun. And once you start really valuing their opinion, that’s where your retention comes in. That’s where they grow in development and skills, and your team just gets better and better together because you’re implementing their ideas and their thoughts and they know that their opinion counts. And so I would say that’s something you could easily start next week. Think of three to five questions you want to ask and ask them, and then do something with it. Walk the talk. Don’t just ask and then don’t make a change. So I think that matters too.
Caleb Stevens: That’s really helpful advice. And I know we have a lot of bankers and leaders listening, and I know they have been scribbling notes at least mentally if they’re driving, and hopefully on paper if they’re sitting at their desk. I want to thank you both for joining us. This has been a really helpful discussion and I liked it. A little bit of SBA PPP, a little bit of team leadership, so we kind of ran the gamut on a bunch of different topics. Mark, any closing thoughts? Tell us kind of what’s on the horizon for you and I’d love to have you close us out.
Mark Bryant: Okay, great. No, I agree. A lot of different topics. One thing we missed was UGA football. Maybe we’ll get to that next time.
Caleb Stevens: My voice is a little hoarse. We’re recording this right after the Georgia-Tennessee game, which I was thankfully there for, so I’m still getting over that one with my vocal cords.
Mark Bryant: Now, there’s a lot of good things happening in SBA. New standard operating procedures manuals supposedly coming out in the next couple of weeks, and some changes there where it sounds like credit scoring on loans could go to 500,000 instead of the current 350. So kind of slowly gravitating into that Fintech world and IT world of loan processing. There’s a proposal out where if it gets passed that banks can use their own underwriting criteria and policies and procedures as opposed to SBA, in terms of assessing the creditworthiness of a loan. And if that happens, I think that will encourage more small banks to get into SBA lending that maybe before had been intimidated by that 590-page or so SBA standard operating procedures. But they still have to determine eligibility and structuring it correctly and all of those. So interest rates rising has been tough, and a lot of businesses that would cash flow when prime was a lot less, don’t cash now. But just part of it all, you’ve got to try to find a way to make that work. So, been a challenging time, but a fun time.
Caleb Stevens: We appreciate you both. Thank you for what you do here at SouthState, and hope to get you back on the podcast soon.
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