Chairman, Credit Committee, Tennessee Bankers Association
Vice President, Regional Credit Officer, SmartBank, Knoxville
A native of Jackson, Miss., Joel Beavers got his start as a credit analyst on the Gulf Coast after earning his banking and finance degree from Mississippi State University. He was later approached about an opportunity to move to the Knoxville market. As Beavers stated “That sort of change can be daunting, but being young, single, and probably a little naive, I decided to give it a shot.” Since then, he’s held a number of roles, including commercial loan officer, credit administrator, and now regional credit officer. As the Credit Committee chairman, he has been hard at work with his fellow committee members preparing for one of TBA’s most anticipated events—Credit Conference. Beavers spoke with The Tennessee Banker about his career, the banking industry, and Credit Conference, which takes place February 11 and 12, 2021.
What led you into the banking industry?
The funny thing about this question is that the industry has changed so much from when I started. When I was looking for my first job, we were only beginning to see the changes that deregulation would bring to the banking industry. My perception as a young man was that banks were unchanging community institutions that had been around since the turn of the century and would remain unchanged for another 100 years. Boy was I off the mark! But while the pace of change has not been what I anticipated 25 years ago, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
A more interesting question might be “Why have I stayed in banking?” Being a banker provides me with an opportunity to impact the world around me in a positive way. Every day is an opportunity to improve the lives of my colleagues, our customers, and our community. The most successful banks and bankers keep that belief in mind.
In your years in banking, what do you see as the biggest change or challenge in how the bank meets the credit needs of the community?
I don’t know exactly what the future will look like, but I know it’s coming fast. The needs and expectations of our client base are constantly evolving. Over the long term, our biggest challenge is keeping pace with those changes and providing our communities with the products and services that they need to thrive. So being a banker in today’s world means being comfortable with change. Thankfully, the credit fundamentals we are all familiar with have stood the test of time and are the bedrock of everything we do, but as for pretty much everything else…
The second big challenge is recruiting and training the individuals who can deal with these changes and deliver the level of service our communities require. In Tennessee, we are blessed with a strong state banking association that provides training opportunities for all the most important topics. But that’s just one piece of piece of the puzzle. More and more, I think we will be looking for talent in new places, with different life experiences and ways of looking at things.
During the pandemic, banks and their customers were forced to make changes and adapt in many areas of our lives. What is one change in business process or policy that you expect to have a lasting positive impact?
Most industries have drastically improved their ability and comfort level with working remotely. There are certain jobs and situations that will require being there in-person, and I think that will always be the preference. But going forward, we will see banks more comfortable with the idea of remote working when circumstances make it necessary.
As chair of the Credit Committee, you oversee the Credit Conference, which over the years has become the most attended event by Tennessee bankers, and we can say with some certainty that in February 2021 the timing will be optimal with credit quality top of mind. What would you say about the planning process to encourage bankers to participate this year?
We have a LOT to talk about. The pandemic and nature of the economic fallout are unprecedented. Pressure from credit unions and fintechs continues to escalate. Regulatory agencies are constantly issuing and updating guidance on strategically important topics. How will we adjust to these new realities? The planning committee has done a wonderful job putting together an agenda and speakers to help us grapple with these issues. But if you want to get the most out of the conference, don’t limit yourself to the programs and speakers. Attending the conference gives us a chance to learn from each other. Every attendee has similar concerns and problems. We are all working towards optimal solutions for our respective institutions. Over the years, the knowledge and advice I have received from the peers I met at the conference has been a big part of the value I get out of my attendance. The conference itself is only a couple of days a year, but the relationships you build can last a lifetime.