Q&A — Michael Walters Talks Future of Business Banking with KeyBank
Former GenXYZ honoree leads firm’s business banking segment.
ColoradoBiz caught up recently with Michael Walters, who in September was named Keybank’s head of business banking across a 15-state footprint. Walters, who was named a ColoradoBiz Top 25 Young Professional in 2020, previously served as executive vice president and west regional retail executive, overseeing KeyBank’s retail branch network across the Western U.S.
In his new role, Walters leads a national team dedicated to serving the needs of small and medium-sized businesses, their owners, and employees with customized, industry-specific banking solutions.
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ColoradoBiz: How did you get started in banking?
Michael Walters: I started in Cleveland more than two decades ago as an underwriter as part of a training program I enrolled in right out of college. Interestingly, I had a degree in Management Information Systems (MIS), but there weren’t any jobs for MIS majors at the end of the dot com bubble, so I thought I’d try my hand at banking. I kind of fell into it, and now in hindsight, I’m really glad it worked out the way it did!
CB: What brought you to (or attracted you to) KeyBank?
MW: I’ve been at Key for five years now, and the big thing that attracted me to Key is the combination of national banking capabilities with a community banking feel. Key has a culture similar to a community-based bank, but we have the resources and capabilities of a national bank. For me, it’s the best of both worlds.
CB: You’ve been named head of business banking for KeyBank. What does that role entail?
MW: I am responsible for Key’s Business Banking segment, nationwide, which specializes in providing products and services to owner-operated small and mid-sized businesses. We are focused on companies from pre-revenue, generally up to $25 million in annual sales across our 15-state footprint and nationwide on certain KeyBank business lines, like our franchise business and Small Business Administration (SBA) lending. We are nationally ranked as a national top 10 SBA Lender and have a lot of expertise when it comes to small business lending.
CB: How would you describe the current state of business banking?
MW: We’ve been incredibly busy helping our clients to grow their businesses and focus on their financial health, as they navigate uncertain times. We have a great team of specialists in place, and we help thousands of business owners improve their cashflow and run their businesses better every day. It’s a line of business that has been around for a long time and is positioned well for continued growth.
As an industry, it’s a challenging time to be a business owner. The economic environment is tough, from trying to find and retain talent, to supply chain challenges, to rising costs. I think that’s why small and mid-size business owners need a strong experienced banking partner like we have on our team at KeyBank. We specialize in helping business run better, navigating difficult times, and helping these clients grow. We’re proud to help the businesses in the communities we serve.
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CB: What’s next in the evolution of business banking? Do you see growth in the recovery from COVID?
MW: Business banking has been and continues to be an advice-based product offering.
Business owners often choose their bank based on the expertise of the relationship manager in front of them, and they want people who are able to provide a range of knowledge and guidance as their business grows. We want to continue to show up in that fashion for our clients.
At the same time, business owners want a lot more capabilities when it comes to banking, specifically when it comes to digital platforms. We need to continue to give good advice, but also deliver a variety of digital tools, whether helping them automate their accounts payable and accounts receivable processes, or just helping them run their businesses more digitally every day. It’s still a people-based business, but now we need to be able to deliver digitally.
This past spring we launched a new interactive tool called the KeyBank Small Business Check-in, which helps small business clients assess where they currently stand financially, evaluate their goals, and discover how Key can help open new opportunities toward their path forward. Coming out of the considerable challenges of the pandemic, with inflation and labor shortages we wanted to ensure that small business owners had convenient access to the tools, resources, and advice they needed to be successful.
In terms of COVID recovery, there are still a lot of headwinds to growth. The war for talent and rising costs are real challenges facing our clients. The pandemic and its effects of the past few years certainly have been a disruptor, but we’ve also found new and better ways to serve our clients that arose out of these times.
CB: KeyBank has quite a few executive-level leaders based here in Colorado. What’s behind the investment in corporate leadership in this market?
MW: Denver is a tremendous economy with a great growth story, and we recognize that, as a regional bank, we need a big presence in Colorado in order to be successful in the West. As a result, we’ve had some executives relocate to be here and a part of this great community.
We’ve also learned a lot since COVID about how you don’t always need to be in the same city as corporate headquarters to be successful in a leadership position. Within Business Banking, we’ve looked across our entire footprint for talent, even when we look to promote people into critical leadership roles. We’re intentionally creating opportunities to attract and retain talent through the expansion of our recruiting efforts and the evolution of some of our virtual channels. These changes allow many of our teammates to work from locations that are best for them and their family. We’re finding that in many parts of our business, we can be very successful virtually with our clients and while working within teams. At the same time, we will continue to maintain a local presence for our clients that rely on us across our many geographies.
CB: This is a competitive banking market. How does KeyBank differentiate itself?
MW: A bank’s true product is really advice and partnership. We are not in the transaction business, we specialize in relationships. We differentiate ourselves by helping businesses achieve their goals and helping them grow. We do that with sound advice and capabilities that deliver on the advice we give.