Commercial Banker Career Profile

A financial services professional specializing in solutions for mid-to-large-sized businesses with moderately complex needs

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What is a Commercial Banker?

Commercial bankers are financial professionals in client-facing advisory roles, specifically for medium-to-large businesses. They may be sales-focused (i.e. relationship management), support-focused (e.g. analysts or associates), and be part of a deal team. Bankers deliver commercial banking solutions and advice with a customized suite of banking products and services; the most common being cash management, credit to support working capital and capital investment, and treasury and payment services.

While the terms business banker and commercial banker are often used interchangeably, commercial bankers usually work with larger enterprises; revenues on the smaller end may be USD $5-10MM and at the larger end may exceed USD $100MM. Commercial enterprises may be multi-location and geographically expansive, often with hundreds of employees; the firms often require multi-million dollars in moderately complex credit.

Commercial bankers can be found in many banks, credit unions, and private lending institutions. Specific roles and responsibilities will depend on how the firm segments its markets, for example, lending to specialized industries such as auto dealerships or large agriculture operations. Commercial bankers often work closely with business bankers and with members of the corporate banking team to appropriately transition customers as their needs grow.

Key Highlights

  • Commercial bankers are financial advisors in client-facing roles for a wide range of businesses (medium-to-large-sized).
  • Bankers may be industry generalists or specialists, who engage and consult with various businesses, understand their needs, and offer customized financial solutions.
  • Successful bankers possess a combination of service-based skills (such as relationship building, organizational, and management skills) and technical skills (such as business and financial assessment).

Commercial Banking Job Overview

A commercial banker’s job can be broadly categorized into two main functions.

Business development

  • Build, maintain, and expand existing customer relationships. Bankers anticipate and deliver on the needs of their customers via customized offerings to grow the relationships and the value of their portfolio. For example, the banker’s portfolio of clients may be segmented by credit size (for example, lending of $25 million or under as a borrowing group). Cross selling and growing existing client relationships form a critical part of a stable portfolio.
  • Proactively source opportunities with prospective businesses in the community. Commercial bankers’ clients have well established banking relationships. A replacement proposal must address unmet needs and be deemed superior to what is available with the incumbent bank. Medium- and large-sized businesses only switch institutions if the benefits far exceed the significant friction of change (getting customers to change payment arrangements, re-train staff on the bank system, etc.). Thus, growing a commercial banking portfolio is often relationship-based. Businesses value the relationship and trust that their bankers can negotiate and customize the terms and conditions of competitive offerings (rates, fees, collateral, etc.) that cater to their unique requirements.

Support

  • Serve as the point of contact for business customer inquiries, and work with a team of internal partners who support the banking functions the business interfaces with (cash management, credit, treasury, transaction support, etc.). While commercial bankers are champions for their clients, they must also be peacekeepers when conflicts arise, as they are often the “face” of the relationship.
  • Oversee transactional activities along with their support team, such as account monitoring and credit analysis, activities to complete new and ongoing credit reviews, and outreach and investigations due to a host of risk and fraud management policies.  
  • Provide sound advice and guidance to businesses on a holistic level. Bankers are finance leaders in their community who support the execution of desirable business strategies (e.g. optimizing cash functions, using leverage to improve the return on capital), or overcoming financial challenges (for example, tight working capital and strains with the cash cycle when clients are growing quickly).

Required Skills for Commercial Bankers

Both soft skills and technical skills are helpful for a successful career as a commercial banker.

  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills are essential to relationship management. Bankers must attract and engage with prospects and clients who are actively marketed to and are often not interested in a change; proven experience in specific industries and prior business banking experience are both attractive to firms looking to fill commercial banker roles externally. Engaging, influencing, gaining trust, and handling conflicts over various channels are all useful skills.
  • Sales and marketing skills are linked to the drive and motivation associated with sales-focused professions. For example, a successful banker must continually prospect and close sales within their sales pipeline via a disciplined approach, as the cycle can take far longer than less complex portfolios. Commercial bankers establish and maintain referral and relationship networks as part of their marketing efforts, and have a solid understanding of the competitive landscape in order to offer compelling solutions.
  • Organizational and time management skills, and attention to detail. Clients have high expectations and want short turnaround times, so juggling shifting priorities and economizing effort are all important. For example, a banker must be efficient with their time and effort in order for their credit team to complete the risk analysis, structure the deal, and get a credit approval that aligns with the client’s expectations.
  • Financial and risk assessment are technical skills that go hand in hand. Clients have a material amount of financial information about their businesses. A detailed understanding by the banker and their team is necessary to respond to requests and anticipate future needs. With deal and analysis experience, bankers craft structures that are unique to their clients and acceptable to their credit adjudicators.  
  • Credit acumen and negotiation skills are advantageous for bankers. Successful bankers are skillful in structuring deals unique to their clients and their industries but may sometimes push against the limits of the firm’s risk tolerance (i.e.,
  • quantitatively and qualitatively). Proven negotiation skills are reflected in the customizations of the final deal, which itself is the outcome of internal deliberations to earn the approval.

Common Tools for Commercial Bankers

  • Communication tools vary, as firms have diverse resources and policies due to security, audit, and record retention requirements. Working from employee-owned devices (phones, tablets, etc.) is a trend that is accelerating.
  • Customer relationship management tools (CRMs) help track and maintain client interactions, which is useful for continuity (e.g. holiday coverage or staff turnover) and sales management (e.g. calling activity and pipeline tracking).
  • Banking information systems are typically customized and firm-specific, although new technologies have contributed to the standardization toward common platforms that are less costly to develop and maintain as a group rather than independently. Many firms may compete more effectively with “commercial off-the-shelf” solutions (e.g., document and record keeping, credit, spreading, adjudication, and risk monitoring systems).

A Typical Day for a Commercial Banker

Many commercial bankers would tell you that no two days are totally alike, but there are some thematic consistencies.

  • Morning is often spent catching up on administrative duties and any client problems that came in overnight, such as excesses and overdrafts in the operating accounts. If it’s a funding day, they’ll likely be on the phone with their client, the middle office, and the client’s legal counsel to make sure everything is lined up to advance on time.
  • Mid-day often includes client lunches to thank them for their business or to try and generate new opportunities. It’s also common to have lots of internal meetings with other folks in the bank (financial planners, mortgage bankers, etc.) to look for cross-selling opportunities; the same is true of accountants and lawyers in the community (and other people that have their own business development mandates to satisfy).
  • Afternoons may be spent at client facilities checking on equipment or other assets that are being financed. Once or twice a week many bankers attend networking events, panel discussions, or chamber of commerce-type events to get relevant industry information or to try and drum up new business opportunities. Occasionally, golf tournaments, shows, or other sporting events are used to thank clients for their business. 

Commercial Banking Qualifications and Experience

  • Employers seek candidates that have completed post-secondary education in areas like business administration, accounting, or finance, with at least 3-5 years of work experience within the banking or finance industries. Other finance and banking certifications tend to be sought-after, too.
  • Proven business development and prospecting capabilities, such as previous experience in sales or service-based roles. Portfolio-management skills may be proven by managing progressively more complex clients in prior roles.
  • Distilling business information to support ongoing client requirements, gained from coursework in accounting, finance, or a track record in prior roles.
  • Knowledge of computer software (Microsoft Suite, Google Suite, etc.) and systems, as well as the mental agility to learn firm-specific systems.

Compensation for Commercial Bankers

Compensation for commercial bankers varies by experience, competition within a region or location, and the overall profitability of the firm they work for.  

Base pay may be comparable to a manager at a larger full-service location at the institution, due to the value of the portfolio to the firm. 

Variable compensation includes bonuses and commissions tied to their individual and the organization’s performance. Achieving or exceeding such performance measures is a factor in considering total compensation and other benefits.

Additional Resources

Interested in learning more about a career in commercial banking?

Enroll in Careers in Commercial Banking for an even more in-depth look at this dynamic role within the banking industry.

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