The Bank Director of the Future: Diversity of Experiences and Skill Sets Matter

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While the requirements needed in a bank leader today continue to evolve, the same can also be said for bank directors. Boards of directors today are under more scrutiny than ever before, whether from governance advisors, shareholders, Wall Street analysts, activist investors, community leaders and customers. Even mutuals and privately held institutions face more visible scrutiny around corporate governance from their regulators and key constituents. Serving as a bank director today may still have a certain amount of prestige (depending on whom you ask), but the expectations for director performance and engagement have never been higher.

Community banks in particular tend to have long tenured board members—in many cases with decades of service. Continuity can be a good thing, provided the director skill sets continue to be relevant and the board does not become too close to the CEO, compromising objectivity. However, many bank boards have begun to focus more on the “collective skills” represented around the board table, and have started to emphasize a skill-based approach in making director retention and recruiting decisions.

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The article appeared in the February 2017 issue of, copyright 2017

Alan J. Kaplan is Founder & CEO of Kaplan Partners, a retained executive search and talent advisory firm based in Philadelphia.  Kaplan Partners is the country’s only retained executive search firm member of the ABA & ICBA.  You can reach him at or 610-642-5644.

The Bank Executive of the Future: Agile and Focused on Talent

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Today’s bank leader remains under more pressure than at any time since the financial crisis. Tangible skills still matter, such as commercial credit experience, risk management and strategic planning.
Nevertheless, the real challenges may lie in developing the key leadership requirements for institutional success, and in the navigation of the managerial challenges which lie ahead. Here are three intangible but particularly important qualities for the future bank leader’s success.

<To Read the Complete Article in its published format, Click here:     <The Bank Executive of the Future Agile and Focused on Talent>

The Article appeared in the January 2017 issue of, Copyright 2017.

Alan J. Kaplan is founder and CEO of Kaplan Partners, a retained executive search and talent advisory firm based in Philadelphia. Kaplan Partners is the country’s only retained executive search firm member of the ABA & ICBA. You can reach him at or 610-642-5644.

Meet the New Bank Executive

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Meet the New Bank Executive

Today’s bank leader is under greater pressure than at any time since the financial crisis.  While the crisis itself was a hot mess, the banking climate remaining in the aftermath of the Great Recession has likely altered the course of the industry for decades to come.  The two most vital ingredients today for a bank’s long-term autonomy are capital and talent.  Without those two key elements, a bank’s future survival becomes much more of an uphill climb.

Much has and will continue to be written about the tangible banking skills and technical proficiencies which have become necessities for leaders in the industry today.  There’s a shopping list of experience with subjects such as regulatory relations, balance sheet management, capital strategy, commercial credit, investor relations, risk management, technology and strategic planning that are now considered “table stakes” for bank leaders and CEO contenders.  Despite this daunting plethora of needed banking skills, the real challenges lie in development of the key leadership requirements for institutional success, and in the navigation of the managerial challenges which lie ahead.

There is no shortage of experts touting their views on the vital leadership competencies of the day.  So we will focus here on three intangible but particularly important areas of emphasis in the human capital arena which are critical for the future bank leader’s success:  cultural agility, workforce flexibility and talent-centricity.

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The article appeared in the Oct./Nov. 2016 issue of Banking Exchange magazine, copyright 2016 by Simmons-Boardman Publishing.

 Alan J. Kaplan is Founder & CEO of Kaplan Partners, a retained executive search and talent advisory firm based in Philadelphia.  Kaplan Partners is the country’s only retained executive search firm member of the ABA & ICBA.  You can reach him at or 610-642-5644.




Inside the Chief Financial Officer Role

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Alan Kaplan, Kaplan Partners, USA

Founder and CEO

How would you describe the outlook for the CFO function in the US?

The CFO function has always been a critical role in organizations, but in the post-crisis era the finance function has taken on additional significance for a variety of reasons. During the financial crisis, a few different factors become important to a company’s financial success: 1) financial strength, 2) cost control and 3) finding growth opportunities. Overlaying all of that is a more proactive regulatory environment; this has been a huge challenge on financial institutions and those managing these companies. Any publicly-traded company is under greater scrutiny from the SEC and the investor community. All of these factors have elevated the visibility of the CFO role as being front and center in a much wider range of activities. If you’re a CFO at a growth company or a company that is a large cap company, your ability to interact with the investor community has become more important than ever.

As a result, the demands on CFOs are greater. There is high demand for well-credentialed finance and accounting professionals who can function more strategically, rather than tactically. The demand is greater than the supply for these kind of finance professionals.

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A Tale of Two CEO Succession Plans

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Written by, Jack Milligan, Editor in Chief for Bank Director

In January 2014, the board of directors at Union Bankshares Corp. decided that it was time to begin considering a successor to President and Chief Executive Officer G. William “Billy” Beale, who at 65 was starting to think about his own retirement. This was a pivotal time for the now $8.1 billion asset bank, which is headquartered in
Richmond, Virginia. The 2013 acquisition of Charlottesville, Virginia-based StellarOne Corp. had nearly doubled the company in size, and eight of the StellarOne directors joined the board of the merged company. The newly expanded board was firmly committed to a growth plan that would take it past $10 billion in assets, where several important regulatory requirements would kick in, so the new CEO would have to be capable of managing a larger bank in a more rigorous regulatory environment.

Managing an orderly and ultimately successful CEO succession process is one of the board’s biggest responsibilities, and can be a stressful situation under the best of circumstances. And, in this instance, the eight directors from StellarOne and 11 directors from the old Union would have to work together on a potentially sensitive issue, despite the fact that they were still getting to know each other. Beale says the board engaged a consultant to help it develop a consensus on the kind of individual it was looking for, and the directors ultimately agreed on a set of expectations for the new CEO’s work experience and competencies.

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What to Look for in Your Next CEO Part II

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Selecting your bank’s next chief executive officer remains the board’s single most important responsibility. The risk of selecting an underprepared or inadequate leader is high, and can impact the bank’s strategic direction, reputation and ultimately, its viability. As highlighted last month, there are many critical banking industry skills needed in a leader today. In addition, there are intangible competencies and leadership qualities which are equally vital for the success of the CEO and the institution. Here, we emphasize ten leadership competencies and attributes which have proven vital for bank CEOs.

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What to Look for in Your Next CEO: Part I

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Selecting a chief executive to lead your institution is a bank board’s single most important responsibility. Everything flows from this decision, including the bank’s strategy, reputation, the ability to attract critical talent, investor and employee confidence and the credibility of the board itself. Selecting an underprepared or inadequate leader—no matter how well liked or how long employed—can quickly send a bank in the wrong direction.

The list of optimal skills required in a bank CEO today could easily include dozens of items. Here we will highlight ten technical skills that we see as “must haves.” Next month, we will highlight ten leadership competencies and attributes which will complement the qualifications below.

<To Read the Complete Article in its published format, click here: What to Look for in Your Next CEO – Part I>



Today’s New Bank Leader

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The banking industry today is operating in an environment that few could have anticipated, yet requires an increasingly complex mix of banking skills, leadership capabilities and interpersonal qualities in its leaders. Having spent time recently speaking with hundreds of bank CEOs, Board Members and senior executives, the requirements for success as a bank leader today have crystalized. Each letter below represents a vital element of successful bank leadership:

B is for Balance Sheet Savvy Today’s bank leaders must understand the risks inherent in the current interest rate environment, whether due to potential funding mismatches or the risks from declining securities values in a rising rate environment.

A stands for Asset Quality, and the ongoing need to remain vigilant regarding credit quality. There’s still no quicker way for a bank to falter than to suffer from a spate of bad loans. Regulators continue to focus on credit culture, policies and procedures as well.

N is for Non-Interest Income Everyone wants more, but how do we actually grow revenues? Increasing fees on customers always carries some potential fallout. And, building lines of business such as Wealth Management, Insurance or other products involves a significant up-front investment and a longer term return. There are few easy answers here.

K represents Capital As everyone knows, this is the most critical ingredient that banks need today to survive and drive growth, whether organic or transactional. A lack of ample capital not only constrains strategic plans, but too often invites a call from your regulator.

The L in Bank Leader does, in fact, stand for Leadership. While great leadership remains an obvious prerequisite for success, the demands on bank leaders today are more strenuous and complex than at any time since the Great Depression. Many bank boards struggle with the challenges of succession and developing that vital next generation. In addition, the mantle of leadership should extend much further into the organization than just the CEO’s office or C-Suite executives for an organization to truly succeed. While the CEO sets the tone, everyone should lead by example in their daily interactions with customers and colleagues.

E stands for Emotional Intelligence This is the critical aspect of leadership in which you see your bank’s leaders communicating effectively, leading from the front rather than the rear, and following a “servant leader” mindset. The emotionally intelligent leader knows that it truly is not about them, but rather the people on their team. When the team is successful, the leader succeeds as well.

A represents Authenticity One of our favorite leadership attributes, authenticity occurs in the leader who means what she says, and does what she says she will do. It’s the ability to create “follower-ship” through actions and a genuine approach to dealing with a bank’s varying constituents.

D is for Digital Savvy Today’s community banks need an approach to the digital world that is timely, relevant and real. Whether you like it or not, the technologies that are revolutionizing banking today are not just impacting the industry’s back office, but have become a vital channel for growth. Banks must play offense here, not defense.

Our second E represents the Employee Bank CEOs and Directors regularly praise their employees for good work and great service. While these are the foundation upon which our institutions are built, they are simply not enough anymore. If your bank is going to win against the competition, it must have the absolute strongest cadre of bankers possible—from the executive team to front line lenders and managers, to the employees behind the scenes. Next to Capital, Talent—and talent’s ability to execute your plan—is the only remaining differentiator in banking today.

R, of course stands for Regulatory In the current climate, the ability of bank leaders to forge a constructive working relationship with their regulators is vital. Banks that take a combative tone with their examiners usually end up on the wrong side of their exam. While the regulatory climate may have overreached, it is what it is. High performing bank leaders figure out how to operate successfully under this dynamic, and forge positive regulatory partnerships.

As Billy Beale, CEO of Richmond, VA based Union First Market Bank stated at the Bank Director Acquire or be Acquired Conference: “banking is not complicated, but it has gotten awfully complex”. Today’s Bank Leader needs a plethora of banking skills, leadership competencies and personal attributes to be successful. Anything less than a full suite of these talents may not only impact your bank’s ability to win, but could ultimately put the institution itself at risk.

Alan J. Kaplan is Founder & CEO of Kaplan Partners, a retained executive search and talent advisory firm focused on serving community banks. Based in Philadelphia, Kaplan Partners is  the country’s only retained executive search firm member of both the ABA and the ICBA. He is reachable at or 610-642-5644.

Ten Lessons Learned Over Twenty Years

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The occasion of the 20th anniversary of the founding of Kaplan Partners this spring has made me think a great deal about leadership and talent. So, when a longtime client and friend asked the simple question “what have you learned after all this time that would be helpful for my business?”, the answers started flowing. After all, with twenty-seven years in the executive search business, and two decades now leading this firm, I have experienced quite a lot of human dynamics. Here are Ten Lessons Learned over the past twenty years. I hope you find them useful!

10.You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Early impressions occur across both sides of the table and can be overly impactful. While they are not and should not be the ultimate determiners of a hiring decision, it is important to be mindful of the dynamics of early impressions from all angles. Be sure to peer beyond first impressions and singular observations when looking to make a key hire.

9. Succession planning = planning for success.
We never cease to be amazed at the lack of leadership succession in many of our client companies—despite speaking out on this subject since the early days of our firm. The continuity of leadership promotes the continuity of strategy, which is usually beneficial for the business. Moreover, the lack of good succession management can cause issues in unexpected ways, and in the worst case can spell the end of a firm as an independent organization.

8.Good onboarding significantly reduces the risk of executive organ rejection.
Do not underestimate the collateral impact of bringing a new senior executive into your organization. It’s just as important to help the team adjust to its’ new leader, as it is to help the hired executive adapt to the new organization. Such proactive onboarding, ideally in both directions, can make a significant difference in a new leader’s survival and long term success.

7.In an effort to give everyone a fair shot to succeed, clients are often slow to take action on a poor performer.
This may sound self-serving coming from a recruiter, and does not mean that every weak contributor should be fired. However, history has shown that Boards and CEOs almost always know when a situation is not salvageable, and spend valuable time deliberating or delaying the inevitable. And in business, time is never your ally.

6.Coaching is not an indication of weakness.
Few great leaders become great without some outside support. Most top leaders have been coached at some point, many on an ongoing basis, and it can be a huge aid to success. Investing in your new leaders and highest potential players nearly always pays off. Good coaches are a privilege and valuable asset to be fully leveraged for the good of the executive and the company.

5.Communication skills are in fact a key aspect of successful leadership, but continue to be underdeveloped, especially in the up-and-coming generations.
This is compounded by the broader array of channels through which we are required to communicate today. These skills must be honed, and it does not happen on its own. After all, in my twenty-seven years in the executive search arena, I’ve never had a client ask for a candidate with poor communication skills.

4.As they say, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Put another way, a track record of success is no longer sufficient to label someone a promising leader. It’s the combination of past experience and future potential that successful leaders must embody today. Adaptability and flexibility are new buzzwords with great relevance. The ability to synthesize and respond to disparate data from a wide array of sources over multiple channels is critical for leaders to succeed in today’s globally interconnected business climate. Competence is the minimum requirement, and a leader’s potential ability to adjust to change and constructively evolve will be the determiners of great executive performance going forward.

3.Culture is, as everyone knows, quite important; and all firms say that their culture is really unique.
But when trying to determine culture fit within a company, dig deep to understand what culture truly means within that particular place and time. And, be mindful that the culture within a company’s boardroom is often a distinct subset of the overall organizational environment. A candid understanding of your culture provides context to evaluate executive fit in a much more meaningful way. You must be honest with yourself about culture, which is not always as easy as it sounds.

2.Talent truly matters.
Differentiation thru strategy is hard, so more often differentiation is determined by a company’s relative performance—and the variable on performance always comes down to people. “A” players move the needle, and “B” players almost never do; and the cost savings by dropping from an A to a B player simply never equals the difference that an A player’s enhanced performance generates over time. Real talent makes a difference.

1.Everything about leadership begins with integrity.
Without trust, honesty, and ethics at the top, the authenticity of leadership becomes compromised, and a degradation of performance usually follows. A breach of integrity erodes individual and institutional credibility from the outset, and must be dealt with sooner rather than later, and the sooner the better. Boards and CEOs get to sit in those big chairs, and must sometimes make the tough call. Leaders are paid to, and expected, to lead from the front lines. The best CEOs and business leaders—and there are more than a few in the room this evening—really do set the tone at the top in every way. It all begins and ends with integrity.

Alan J. Kaplan is Founder & CEO of Kaplan Partners, a retained executive search and talent advisory firm focused on serving community banks. Based in Philadelphia, Kaplan Partners is a longstanding member of the PACB, and the country’s only retained executive search firm member of the Independent Community Bankers of America. You can reach him at or 610-642-564

Banking on Leaders

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Few senior community bankers today would disagree that despite the banking industry’s continued consolidation, the need for strong banking leadership is more important than ever. The true drivers of value for customers and institutions are employees. In the battle to remain competitive, some community banks are increasingly finding that without the sufficient talent, they cannot win in the marketplace.

What can community banks do to ensure that they have the necessary management leadership talent?

It comes down to becoming a learning organization and developing a strong internal pipeline of future potential leaders. Some community banks think they cannot afford to develop future management leaders. But the reality is that all banks cannot afford not to invest in the future leadership of their institutions. Thankfully that investment does not need to be costly.

Here is a quick list of some steps any community bank can take to start developing future senior management leaders:

– Evaluate where you are.
Take an honest assessment of the talent throughout your community bank, even if this means using an outside resource to provide an objective perspective. Start identifying who has upside potential and is worth investing in.

– Get your board involved.
Directors should interact with your bank’s potential, but not with every employee who attends a training seminar. Allow exposure to each other, and for the board to provide selective mentoring where appropriate as well.

– Find training.
Research the leadership training programs with ICBA and your state banking association as well as local college and continuing education courses. There are plenty of reasonably priced classes and online seminars, which is a great way to get started.

– Start mentoring.
The personal involvement in leadership development by top management (particularly the CEO) is a great motivator and retention tool for your community bank’s up-and-comers. Also consider a cross-mentoring program where senior executives in one area mentor high potentials in another department. This is easy—and free!

– Mix it up.
Rotate your community bank’s better people into new areas of responsibility. Not every position change for leadership development requires a step up—many productive career moves are lateral. Give people meaningful exposure to other areas of your bank if they are really contenders for a future top job. You can’t afford not to, even if it means moving someone out of an important role and allowing someone new to step up in their place. Well-rounded banking skills are crucial for future leaders, and getting harder and harder to find.

– Hire experts.
Consider outside coaching for your true future leaders—the handful of folks who could someday run your community bank. At some level, managing succession planning and leadership development becomes less about technical competency and banking knowledge, and more about how people manage and lead others.

– Send staff to conferences.
Send your top people to industry conferences, whether national, state or private organizations. There is not only strong content at many such gatherings, but the development of peer relationships with non-competing fellow bankers is vital.

Some community bank boards and CEOs worry that they might make the investment of time and money in their rising stars, only to have them poached by rival banks. This risk cannot be ignored, but can be mitigated by several key actions:

– Meet in the middle.
Train your community bank’s managers how to lead and develop up-and-comers. People join organizations and leave managers, according to an old adage. If your middle managers are not on board with developing future leaders, your bank’s human capital investment may indeed be at risk.

– Challenge people.
Stretch and challenge your best employees. Those “young whippersnappers” have broad shoulders, technological savvy and intelligence, which at times can rival their predecessors’. What they lack is experience. Challenge them and they will rise to the task.

– Pay them.
Your best employees should be the most highly rewarded. Many community banks continue to give everyone the same percentage raises and incentive pay in the name of internal equity. This is counter to a primary tenet of performance management: The 20 percent of your bank’s employees who perform the best and drive the most value must be retained; give them the lion’s share of rewards, and they will be more likely to stay. Paying more to average performers who are unlikely to leave anyway is not a savvy investment.

The truth is that these talent initiatives do not need to be big or fancy. And for community bank boards and CEOs who accept the premise that “people are our most important asset,” investing in the future leadership should come naturally.

Alan J. Kaplan is founder and CEO of Kaplan Partners is a retained executive search
and talent advisory firm in Philadelphia that focuses on serving community banks.