It's been 16 years since CWB Financial Group first welcomed Lester Shore as manager of the Edmonton Main branch on Jasper Avenue. After later spending some time in the credit risk department, Lester was approached with the exciting proposition of starting a business within the bank that was focused on originating residential mortgages through third party referral sources. For 14 years, he grew CWB Optimum Mortgage from one staff member (himself) to a force of more than 100 across Canada.
“I understand [business owners’] challenges...because I lived them for a decade and a half.”
Lester's experience building CWB Optimum Mortgage parallels similar challenges many business owners go through when building their own companies. "Over my time with Optimum, I went through the pains that every small business owner goes through like finding the right people, driving efficiency, sourcing customers and ensuring that clients are happy at the end of the day" says Lester. "I understand these challenges intimately because I lived them for a decade and a half. I learned a lot about how to work through them, and it puts me in a unique position to be able to offer advice to the business owners that we work with at CWB."
Creating business solutions through an entrepreneurial lens
Another aspect of Lester's approach to leadership and business solutions is getting to the crux of what people don't like about banks. He believes that understanding why people may be unhappy in their current banking situation can help his team evolve and create flexible plans based around what business clients really need from their financial institution. "If you can find that out, you'll be in a better position to understand what they really want," he says. "If you just step back and ask the right questions, it allows you to understand that person's perspective and then you can more effectively move forward with the conversation."
It's that invaluable experience and entrepreneurial perspective that has helped Lester apply that firsthand knowledge to his new position as Senior VP and Regional General Manager, Northern Alberta. He's now accountable for 11 locations in Northern Alberta and works in concert with the leaders of those branches to ensure client success and continued growth. When asked what he hopes to achieve in his new role, Lester has high aspirations. "I hope to raise our profile within the community. When people think about banks, I want them to think about CWB - we have a terrific competitive advantage, in part because our head office is in Edmonton and credit decisions are made locally," he says. Being active in the market, both through work and personal activities, allows Lester and his teams to understand the market better than competitors.
Our full-service approach to business banking
CWB has been in the commercial lending business since its inception, and is known as a mid-market commercial bank. Lester and his team are capable of fully assessing risks to businesses and helping owners develop strategic plans to avoid and overcome them. Lester says their "full-service" approach allows them to deliver on all of clients' banking and cash management needs.
"We have more knowledge, a faster turnaround time and specified expertise to understand our client's businesses."
Lester goes on to explain that full-service business banking involves every banking service that any commercial enterprise would need available including online. "Our product offer is similar to that of our competitors, and so a client's decision of who to bank with really comes down to how much value our team can add and whether a relationship has been established," says Lester. "And I think that's a lot of value: we have more knowledge, a faster turnaround time and specified expertise to understand our client's businesses and meet their financial needs."
Looking towards the future
Although Lester feels positively about the future of business in the province, he understands that business in Alberta and Canada has had its challenges over the last two years. "Businesses have been forced to cut back, in some instances change their business plan and unfortunately, in other instances reduce their work force" he notes.
Today, a growing challenge is the significant shortage of labour. The economic downturn caused a large portion of the labour force to relocate out-of-province for work, leaving many Alberta business owners now struggling. Fortunately, Lester and the CWB team are ready to help clients tackle these challenges because they recognize the significant issues these factors pose for business owners. Lester explains that as business ramps up for owners, banks tend to lend short-term loans against certain ratios to a business's assets. But sometimes those assets don't grow, which can be problematic for loan repayment.
The team at CWB has been through those cycles, and they understand the nature of business growth and decline. In Lester's words, "We're not a hot and cold bank. We're with our clients in the long run."