What makes lenders happy at work? According to CoBiz Financial, named one of American Bankers’ Top 50 Best Banks for Work for in 2015, the key is providing lenders opportunities to deepen client relationships through exciting community initiatives.
Jess Stone speaks with Scott Page, CEO of Colorado Business Bank and Arizona Business Bank, which are part of parent company CoBiz Financial, about the programs they offer to keep their employees happy and connected to the community, as well as advice for banks that may want to try similar approaches.
CoBiz Financial leverages many initiatives to build a strong company culture, like Biz Bash, an annual community event that employees love to participate in.
Hi, and welcome to LenderPerformance, your guide to becoming a better lender. I’m your host, Jessica Stone, Director of Client Success here at PrecisionLender. Thanks for joining us. The theme of today’s episode is how to keep employees happy at work, so we’re going to hear from Scott Page, CEO of Colorado Business Bank and Arizona Business Bank, which are part of parent company CoBiz Financial, about some programs and features they offer to both keep their employees happy and performing well, and also stay connected to their community. CoBiz Financial is based in Denver and has more than $3.3 billion in assets, and they were named one of the Top 50 Best Banks to Work For in 2015 by American Banker Magazine, which is why we’re chatting with Scott today. Scott, thank you for being here with us.
Thanks for having me. I’m very excited about talking to you.
Great. To start out, Scott, we’d love if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you came to your current position at CoBiz Financial.
Sure. Again, my name is Scott Page. I’m the CEO of CoBiz Bank. CoBiz is a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ. I’ve been in banking myself since 1980, so a very long time. I’ve been in Colorado banking since 1983, so what’s that, 32 years. I joined CoBiz six years ago, 2009, to originally be the Colorado president. We have a bank in Arizona as well. In 2014 I became the CEO of both banks.
Great. The reason we’re talking today is CoBiz Financial was named one of the 50 best banks to work for in 2015, which is a great recognition, so why do you think CoBiz Financial is a best bank to work for? What really makes you guys top of the top in the country?
I think first and foremost, we are very focused in our business plan. We only bank businesses, typically small to mid-size businesses. So, I think being very focused on what we do has allowed us to develop a unique culture. It’s, kind of, a fun culture, centered around our customers and our employees, so we’ve become somewhat of a go-to brand for bankers in particular. I think this is a place where bankers can be bankers. We haven’t commoditized the business, and so it’s very entrepreneurial. We’ve grown organically since we started 20 years ago and there hasn’t been a lot of acquisitions, so the culture is pretty rich here. It’s been developed over two decades, and it’s a place where people like to work. It’s really a unique culture and a lot of fun.
That’s great. I think it’s really important that people want to get up and go into work every day. I’d like to ask you about some of the specific ones that were named by American Banker. The first one is a Community Service Initiative. So, you all do a grant-giving foundation where CoBiz matches employee contributions. Anything to add there? That seems like a great project that people probably find causes near and dear to their heart.
I think first and foremost we’re a very philanthropic instituion. We really do give back to our communities. I think a lot of instituions say that, it’s just lip service. Our employees, and our officers, and our Chairman leads the charge, we really are involved in our communities, and a lot of charitable endeavors, and we do it in a really fun way. We have an employee-led foundation. I think that’s what you’re referring to. Every year we add employees, and some employees roll off. I think they have one and two-year stints on this board, and they take … they’re a grant-giving group, they get money from our company, and they also get employees at the annual giving campaign, give money to that foundation, and they decide where the money is spent for both Colorado and Arizona.
We give our many grants throughout the year, and it’s been pretty extraordinary. It allows our employees to learn how to be on not-for-profit boards, but the amount of passion that’s involved in that, and how excited people are about that is really extraordinary. That’s our CoBiz Cares Foundation, and last year … in 2014 we gave out $153,000 to 35 organizations, and that is money that our employees put to work in the community each and every year. So, it’s split between Colorado and Arizona.
Great. That’s excellent. I know community service is really important to folks as something that they want their employer to also be passionate about, so that’s great to hear. Are there any other types of community service initiatives that you think is maybe unique to CoBiz and you all working there?
Yeah, I think the one that we’re most proud of and the one that generates the most community excitement, and certainly creates the most dollars for our charitable partners, is our Biz Bash. Our Chairman, years ago, is not a black tie kind of guy. His name’s Steve Bangert, so Steve and Sue Hermann, who’s the head of our communications group, cooked up an alternative to that. It’s called the Biz Bash, and the Biz Bash is a black t-shirt event, it’s not a black-tie event. It’s become a key part of our brand, and one of the reasons why our employees are so excited about working here, and frankly why a lot of our customers like to bank with us, is because we created this charity, this fundraiser, every year in both Arizona and Colorado, and we do the one in Arizona in October, and we do the one in Colorado in April every year. What it is is that we bring in an old rock and roll band, sometimes a country band, and we get this energy that comes from our employees, our customers, our vendors.
Every year we go… In Colorado it’s at the Fillmore Auditorium which is an old rock and roll venue in the inner city. Then in Scottsdale we do the same thing at a place called The Venue, which is in Old Scottsdale. We’ll bring in … the company puts a lot of money in this and certainly puts a lot of employee engagement in this. We sell tables, we sell sponsorships, mostly to our clients, to our employees. We get a lot of food and refreshments donated, and we have this really incredible event every year, and we’ve raised money every year for two charities, generally children’s charities. We have this big party, twice a year, once in Scottsdale and once in Denver, and it’s quite the buzz. We get 1,200 people that come to it in Denver and we get about 6 or 700 that go in Arizona, and we’ve raised over $4 million for local children’s charities or local charities in general in both those communities.
The employees really buy into this, and this is part of the reason they like being part of CoBiz. We get tons of volunteers from the employees. We’ve had fantastic bands like the Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald, America, Jefferson Starship. The list goes on, and on, and on. It’s really a lot of fun.
That’s excellent. I was just going to say, that sounds like a really neat way to mix your employees and their desire to interact with the community, and also mix in your clients, and make that a three-pronged approach where you’re getting that mix of clients you’re working with, employees, and then really engaging with the community. That’s a really neat idea. That’s great to hear about.
Yeah, we have a long list of clients that have never missed a Biz Bash. It’s really a lot of fun.
That’s great. Nice. Anything else in the community service space? It sounds like you guys do a lot of really fun stuff.
Yeah. We reward our employees for coming up with ideas too on a quarterly basis. We have a number of things in that regard. We really, strongly encourage our officers and our employees to volunteer and be on community boards. The list of employees and officers that do that is quite extraordinary. The buy in is huge, and I think the community looks at us as someone who truly does support their community, and even though we’re getting to be a much bigger bank now, three and a half billion in assets, we still have our roots in both of our communities and really want to see the communities thrive, especially those less privileged within our communities.
That’s great. That’s really important, and I know a lot of banks are looking to do things like that. We’ll maybe touch on some advice you have for other banks toward the end. One other thing I wanted to talk about is, it sounds like one big draw of why folks would want to work at CoBiz is all these great community initiatives that you do, and that people can be a part of, and know that they’re giving back to their communities through their employer. Any other aspects of employee happiness that you think are really important at the bank, or maybe programs, or initiatives that you think are some of the reasons why people really want to work or stay with CoBiz Financial for years and years?
I think that there’s a sense at CoBiz that management and our boards, we have two boards, we have a bank board and a holding company board, that they really care about our employees. We go to great lengths to make things fun at CoBiz and also healthy. In our core statement of values is for people to be well and have fun. So, there’s an underpinning here that we take our business very seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and that starts at the top with our Chairman who is a very serious business guy but he also realizes that we spend a lot of time here so it should be a lot of fun as well. So, there’s a lot of really cool things we do around these sponsorships and donations that we were talking about, but we also do a lot of things around making sure our employees are healthy, and we have a lot of wonderful wellness programs.
That’s great. Our podcast appeals to all employees of banks, often lenders specifically, so anything that you can think of that maybe lenders at your bank are particularly excited by?
I think the Biz Bash is probably the biggest example of that. They really get into it, our customers really get into it, and it’s really pretty critical to what we do. So, that’s probably the biggest example of what we do with the lenders in particular. I think one of the wonderful things about CoBiz is it’s never an elitist type thing. It’s not just the officers that can get involved in things. It’s driven way down into the organization, so everybody from the back office, in the teller lines, all the way up through senior management, are all expected and embraced for being involved in these charitable endeavors and the foundation. I mean, the foundation isn’t full of officers. The foundation’s full of a cross-section of the entire company, and I think that’s what makes it so rich and that’s why so many people are so vested.
We always have more applicants ever year to become a member, to be a part of the CoBiz Cares foundation, than we do slots, and it’s a very difficult decision. What we do is we encourage people to keep applying, maybe next year’s your chance to get on that board. I mean, everybody has plenty of work to do and this is work on top of what they already have to do, it’s kind of a testament to the organization that so many people from all strata within our organization want to be a member of that group.
That’s great. I sounds like some of these initiatives you do have really been ingrained in the bank for a long time and are coming from the top down, so I’m sure it’s going to be a little bit hard to put these into words or advice, but if a bank listening to this is saying, you know what, I really want to come up with something that my employees are going to get so excited about, or that really can connect us to our community. Do you have some advice for someone who’s looking to start that? Maybe their bank hasn’t had the chance to be as involved in their community, maybe some steps or advice on how to jump start that?
I think one way to do it would be to start an employee-led foundation. I think, seed that foundation with some money from the bank or the corporation and then make it as an option for employees, when they do their annual giving. We have two options, you can either give to United Way or you can give to the employee-led foundation. Universally, people tend to pick the employee-led foundation because like anything else they want to have dominion over where their money gets spent. It always feels better when you get to decide where you want to spend the money than if somebody else does it. So, that would be one great idea, I think, that really does create a glue within your organization of excitement and people want to be part of that.
The other thing I would say, this Biz Bash has become an extraordinary branding event for us. Many people haven’t heard of our bank but they’ve heard of the Biz Bash, and they love that. I don’t think there’s anybody that can’t get excited about an evening fun, and networking, and just seeing people in the community, and knowing that almost every dime of that’s going to help a couple really meaningful charities within their community. It’s pretty hard not to love that, so my advice would be to banks that might be interested in doing something like that, is create something that can become a call to action for a charity within their community, or charities within their community, and let the employees within the organization drive that initiative. Let them have a major say in how that gets done, and you’ll get a lot more top to bottom buy in if you do that.
That’s great. I know you said Sue, who’s part of your communications team, was involved in the founding of that. So maybe bankers bring this podcast episode or something similar to folks on the marketing team to also help them see the value, not only is it something that will get employees excited, that can benefit the community, but also like you said, is a great branding opportunity, a way to sync up all those worlds. That’s great.
Yeah. Sue was a lot of the brains behind both the Biz Bash and the CoBiz Cares Foundation. She deserves a lot of credit for that. She and her staff do the heavy lifting every year in both those endeavors. They do a tremendous amount of work on both Biz Bashes and both states, but they also shepherd the foundation every year. You need to have a group within your organization, if you want to do these things, that can run these things because the ideas are great but to sustain them, like in the case of our Biz Bash, I think we’re on our 16th year coming up, and then our foundation has been around since, I think, ’09, and every year it gets bigger and more money gets contributed to it. These things don’t run themselves, so if you’re thinking about doing these things, it is a long-term commitment. I think it would be a mistake to try and start these things and then let them die on the vine. You’ve got to really nurture them, keep them fresh and exciting.
That’s great. Any advice for how to make sure that you’re instating the culture you intend, whether that’s really fun and making sure that wellness is very important like you all for your employees, but any advice on how to make sure that from top down people feel the kind of intended culture you hope for?
I think what I would say to that is, from the very beginning … and I wasn’t here at the beginning. We’re in our 21st year. At the beginning, my predecessor, the CEO, and our current Chairman always wanted to create a place where people wanted to come to work every day.
So, they did some things that were outside the box, but it was part of the culture. It was like, we want to be the community-oriented, fun bank with really smart people because at our core, our business model as a business bank, only works well if we have really great employees and really consultative bankers. So, from the very beginning it started out as a fun culture, and part of that was because we grew organically, and what we did is we would hire veteran bankers and say, run it like you own it. So, we’d find someone, for example, in Boulder, Colorado, that was a really great banker and we’d say, how would you like the opportunity to, essentially, start your own bank in this community, hire your own people, find your own location, pick out your own furniture, and create a special culture that way?
Over time that has just created a place where entrepreneurial, hard-working, fun people wanted to come, because unfortunately it’s just a fact of economy and a fact of life that in these great big instituions you can’t do that. You can’t be very entrepreneurial, you can’t let people run it like they own it, but here you still can. Now, we’ve have to build a number of controls around that obviously so we could scale our business, but it’s still a place where people want to come to work because we care about our community, we care about having fun, and one thing I’ve learned over the years, if you have happy, engaged employees like we do here, you tend to have really happy clients, and they tell other people that they want to bank here. We don’t do a lot of advertising as a company because we are a business bank, so each of our bankers and our employees really are the brand for our instituion. So, when they’re out in the community they’ve got to understand our culture, and understand our brand, and that’s how we get clients to come join us a customers.
These branding things we do, we do them because they’re the right thing to do, all of these charitable things that we’ve been talking about, and our wellness program, ad some of this other stuff, it’s also a way for us to gather clients. When people say, hey I want to be part of a company, a bank in this case, that really cares about its community, that’s how we gather business. It’s become part of the fabric of our organization. It’s not because they find our name in a magazine, you know, the Denver Center for Performing Arts or something. It’s because they know somebody who banks with CoBiz and now they want to bank with CoBiz.
That’s great. Well, Scott, it’s been really illuminating to hear from you about what CoBiz Financial’s done in your community and how that really trickles in to your client relationships and your employee happiness. It’s been great to speak with you. Anything else you want to cover before we finish up?
I guess the only other thing I would say is that we care about our communities, but we really care about our employees, too. So, we’ve put a number of programs in place, again around fun and staying healthy, that have really benefited our own employees. We want our employees to live a long, healthy life. We have Walking Wednesday, we have biometric screenings, free physicals every year. You get a discount in your benefit cost if you get an annual physical. We’ve done a lot of things around that. Our Chairman was named CEO of the Year at the American Cancer Society Corporate Impact Conference. We really do want a healthy employee base, and we obviously want a very healthy customer base too, so those two go hand in hand. Again, I think Sue Hermann gets a lot of the credit for this, working with our Chairman, Steve. It’s created a place where people feel like, we get great benefits here, we manage our own health costs because we have a healthier population, and we care about customers, and we show the community that we care by doing these fun things like the CoBiz Cares Foundation and the Biz Bash.
Great. Thank you again, Scott, for taking the time today and sharing all this insight with us. It sounds like CoBiz is a really great place to work. Who knows, you might even get a couple resumes out of this podcast. Thank you again for you time. We appreciate it.
Thank you very much. Have a great day.
That will end it for us today. Thanks for listening. You can always find more information about today’s episode at LenderPerformance.com/Podcasts. We’ll be sure to share some of the links talked about, to Biz Bash and other initiatives, on that site. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please make sure to subscribe to our feed in iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. We love to get ratings and feedback on those platforms. Thanks again for listening. Until next time, I’m Jessica Stone, and this is Lender Performance.