They Didn’t Start out as Bankers
By Jennifer Jope
It might seem unlikely that a state trooper or military aviator would have any interest in working in the banking industry, but several New Jersey bankers have left former careers that had little to do with the banking and lending world and now immerse themselves in it every day. Meanwhile, there are others who have left their jobs as bankers but found alternative ways to stay in touch with the industry that launched their careers.
William M. Holland, vice president of commercial lending at Yardville National Bank in Hamilton, is humble about his former career as a military aviator. Holland says he is honored to have served his country and that he isn’t the only one who took this career path – there are many others just like him in the banking world today. But how does a former military aviator go from flying planes to helping the business sector in New Jersey? It was a natural progression, he says.
“They [banks] have a job for everybody’s skills,” Holland says.
Holland, who currently lives in Westhampton, grew up in Jackson Heights in New York City and graduated from St. John’s University in Brooklyn, N.Y. Upon receiving his diploma, he joined the U.S. Navy to fulfill his military obligation. He attended the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I., and upon graduation, attended the Navy’s flight school in Pensacola, Fla., and completed navigator training in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Holland served as a navigator and pilot for 18 months on two aircraft and supported U.S. global operations in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. He also served in Vietnam. Holland spent four years and four months on active duty and in 1967 he began looking for a job and had one stipulation.
“At that time, we [Holland and his wife, Anne] didn’t want to get into a job that relocated you,” Holland recalls.
But where does a well-trained naval officer go in order to enter the workforce? Banks had training programs, which turned out to be a gateway for Holland into the financial industry.
“It put more stability into what I was doing,” he says.
Holland began working at Provident National Bank and received a year of training. He worked in the international banking department and traveled to Europe and Scandinavia as a relationship manager. The job required Holland to call on other banks Provident had correspondent relationships with to try and increase the flow of activity between the institutions.
During his time at Provident, Holland was immersed in a few other things as well. He began working toward his Masters of Business Administration at Temple University in Philadelphia and joined the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 52 in Willow Grove, Pa. – supporting the Navy’s Global Logistics operations, mostly in Europe, the Mediterranean and the United States. This was Holland’s reserve duty and he retired after 20 years of active reserve service as a Navy captain. Holland worked at Provident for six years before eventually working at several other banks, including Industrial Valley Bank, New Jersey National Bank and Marine Midland/HSBC Bank. He joined Yardville National in August.
While a naval career and a job in banking seem worlds apart, Holland says this path isn’t an anomaly. In fact, he works at Yardville with former servicemen. “There are so many people like me,” Holland says. Holland believes that because the banking programs were easily accessible for many servicemen, and because they were trainable and had some working experience (as opposed to being fresh out of college), many banks found these men attractive employee candidates. And while navigating and flying jets sounds more intense than making deals with commercial business customers or securing relationships with other banks, Holland says he doesn’t usually compare the two jobs to each other, but says there is one major similarity between his two roles.
“In both careers, people were very helpful to me,” Holland says, adding that in the Navy and Reserve, people supported him along the way. In banking, Holland’s superiors have always placed him in positions where he has earned more responsibility. Holland says working with customers is rewarding for him. “I’ve always enjoyed customer contact,” says Holland, who likes learning about different companies and what they manufacture.
A Real Trooper
John Dickerson, vice president and director of security at Sun National Bank in Vineland, spent 20 years catching criminals in Atlantic City’s casinos as a state trooper. He investigated counterfeit money exchanges and other financial crimes, and when he left the force, he looked toward banking security for his second career.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in sociology at Stockton College in Pomona, Dickerson joined the state police in 1978. He spent five years working as an officer on general road duty at various stations throughout the state and then became a detective in 1982 in the casino gaming bureau. He left that job in 2003 as a lieutenant in charge of the Casino Investigation Unit with 43 men working under him in 12 casinos.
For Dickerson, working as a detective in Atlantic City offered a look into financial crimes, as well as more brutal ones, like armed robbery. In the last few years before he left the job, Dickerson says there were serial robbers throughout the area and a guard was shot in the head.
“[Serial robbers] wreaked havoc on that town [from 1998 to 2002],” Dickerson recalls.
One crime involved a casino dealer who was robbing other casinos while he was on his break. Dickerson says he still thinks of the people that were hurt in these crimes, “the innocent people who were injured and mentally hurt for the rest of their lives.”
One challenge for the troopers was dealing with robbers who were in disguise. Dickerson says it was a lot easier to solve a crime when there was a paper path, but with disguised robbers, they would have to simply wait until the next time they struck and try to catch them.
So why did Dickerson decide to leave a job that offered a new challenge every day? He was 48 years old and wouldn’t be able to work past age 55 in the state police, so he started looking at other careers.
“I said when I had 25 years [in the state police] I would go elsewhere,” Dickerson says. Dickerson took about a month off to separate himself from the life of a trooper. “I felt if I wanted to change careers, I needed to do it, I needed to have a clean slate,” said Dickerson, who admits it took about 18 months to truly feel the old job was out of his system.
Dickerson’s family was shocked when he announced he was leaving the state police, mostly because he didn’t have a job lined up, but they were supportive. Joining Sun National Bank’s security department offered Dickerson opportunities to leverage his police experience. While working as a detective, Dickerson became familiar with digital recording to get better images of crimes and criminals. When he joined Sun, Dickerson was instrumental in bringing the technology there.
“We’re able to bring images here to the corporate office,” he says.
The images can be downloaded immediately and sent to investigators. Also, the digital image quality is much better than the images from the tapes that were used previously.
“Once you copy it [from a tape], it steps the image down,” he says. “With digital, you can copy it forever and you’re still getting the same clarity.”
Working with all the other departments within the bank, Dickerson oversees fraud investigations, robberies, alarm and camera maintenance and is part of a counterterrorism group, which helped put emergency management into banks. Currently, the biggest security issues Dickerson is dealing with are phishing and ATM card fraud.
“People are creating ATM cards,” and withdrawing from other people’s bank accounts, he says.
Mail scams with counterfeit checks originating from Canada are also a problem. In this scam, someone will receive a letter saying they won a lottery and a counterfeit check is included. The person is told to deposit the check and a few days later they are told to send some of the cash back for tax purposes. Because the bad check hasn’t cleared, the funds are available. If the funds leave the account and the person has enough money to cover it, the bank is secure. However, if they don’t, the bank carries that loss. This crime is up 300 percent in the last year, Dickerson says.
Although these crimes don’t always consist of a lot of money, the bank still takes them seriously.
“We’ll go after any amount,” Dickerson says. “We investigate everything.”
Even a small scam can lead to something worse later if the scammer thinks they can take further advantage of an unsuspecting person. While working on these crimes, Dickerson has learned that the banks look out for each other. “I always thought banks are competing against each other,” he says, “[But] there is quite [a lot] of loyalty.”
He also says the FinCrime alerting system instituted by NJBankers has helped spread the word about crimes to banks and law enforcement. This year, Sun National is up to $1.85 million in loss prevention. Most years, the bank averages around $750,000. Dickerson says he is very proud of this accomplishment.
“We’re all working together,” he says. “There’s no turf war here.”
Alan Kaplan, president and CEO of Kaplan & Associates Inc. in Wynnewood, Pa., took a different path when it comes to working as a banker. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., in economics and business, Kaplan was recruited into a management training program in commercial lending at First Pennsylvania Bank. He worked at one other bank before changing careers and in 1987, became a recruiter himself.
“I didn’t want to be a banker,” says Kaplan, who also has a Masters of Business Administration in finance from Temple University. But he did enjoy the industry, so he worked at two different recruitment firms before opening his own company in May 1994.
“I really liked the business,” he says.
Kaplan started his own firm because he was looking to have more economic control, as well as control over which clients he served and how he served them. Kaplan & Associates works in the senior executive market: A bank pays his firm starting with the beginning of a project and Kaplan seeks out the best candidate for a high-level position, like chief executive officer or chief financial officer. Kaplan works with de novo banks’ board of directors and CEOs looking to bring top-tier people into their organization. This is usually driven by a need for better growth; a merger or even a bad performance can be a catalyst. Although Kaplan works with the higher end of the banking industry, he has a wide spectrum of experience. De novo banks are a unique challenge for Kaplan, because most banks open their doors with one branch and 10 to 15 employees.
“During my career, I’ve placed everyone from tellers to CEOs in startups, and everything in between,” he says.
Although Kaplan still dabbles in the banking industry simply by working as a recruiter for banks, he admits that he misses certain aspects of his old career, such as prospecting a company and the financial complexity of closing a deal with a customer. But as a recruiter, there are similarities.
“We’re still looking for the next deal,” Kaplan says. “We want to be as much a trusted advisor to our clients as bankers are to their clients. We want to understand as much about the business of clients,” just as community bankers want to understand borrowers as best they can, Kaplan says.
And then there is the common bond of risk. While a bank takes financial risk, Kaplan is risking his reputation each time he places an employee with a bank.
Bankers pride themselves on being relationship-focused, and Kaplan says his firm is no different, because he needs to remain credible, be consistent and remain a positive presence to his clients. Because Kaplan worked in the banking industry, he says he feels his firm has an affinity for bank clients. The firm has a true appreciation that big and small banks play a critical role in the lives of people and businesses.
Jennifer Jope is a freelance writer based in Boston.