Getting Ahead

How Being an Active Listener Can Help You Go Far in Your Career, According to This Banking Industry Expert

person with a yellow dress standing in front of a boat-filled harbor
Lisa Bell, a premier banker at Wells Fargo.
| Courtesy of Wells Fargo

Banking is commonly associated with the counting of money—but Lisa Bell found a different path to success in the industry, which she’s worked in for more than two decades.

“I started my career as a teller in 1990, and was then promoted to a customer service representative and then moved into a financial specialist role,” Bell recalls. “I found I was able to connect with people, and had a genuine interest in knowing more about a client’s personal finances and enjoyed recommending solutions on how I could help them succeed financially.”

But her most fulfilling position yet is her current one, as a premier banker, assistant vice president, at Wells Fargo. “My primary role is a relationship manager,” says Bell. “I build deep relationships with clients in order to help them reach their financial goals, be it retirement, buying a home, or having a dream wedding.”

Here, Bell shares what she loves most about Wells Fargo’s company culture (spoiler: they promote work-life balance), the biggest misconception about working as a banker, and how being an active listener has helped her succeed.

What led you to your job at Wells Fargo, and how did you know the company would be a good fit?

I was working in the banking industry in New York City until my family decided to move to North Carolina. The company I was working for at the time did not have any locations in North Carolina, so I researched banks in the area. I wanted to find a bank that had diversity among women in managerial and executive roles with the opportunity to grow. It was also important to me to gravitate to a company that had women and women of color in leadership roles. The company that I found was First Union Bank. They placed me through an extensive training program prior to me interacting with clients and gave me the tools and resources that I needed to be successful. They helped sharpen my skills and broaden my knowledge base about banking. First Union then merged with Wachovia, which is now Wells Fargo.

What are you responsible for in your role?

I work closely with financial advisors, business banking specialists, home mortgage consultants, and wealth strategists to develop and implement a comprehensive plan tailored around each client’s needs. I work with a team of specialists, and we establish a cadence of conversations to support our clients during life events to ensure they stay on pace to achieve their financial goals. Working within a book of business, I am responsible for delivering an excellent client experience while growing the business through acquiring, building, and deepening customer relationships. I help clients build, protect, and transition wealth. I am the gateway to the vast resources offered through Wells Fargo. I am also a risk manager, responsible for managing daily risk and adhering to policies, procedures, and controls.

What do you like best about your role as a premier banker?

I enjoy getting to know people and understanding their story. I love building long-lasting relationships and having in-depth conversations. It gives me great pleasure to know that I somehow had a hand in improving a client’s financial situation. I interact with new and existing clients daily, and I love hearing clients tell me about their family and their life experiences and having them look to me as their trusted advisor. It gives me great pleasure to see a client reach a financial goal that they’ve set for themselves through my planning and advice.

You’ve worked at Wells Fargo for almost 21 years. What about the company has kept you there?

I appreciate the professional and personal relationships I have built, the book of business I have cultivated with my clients, and my ability to grow within my current role. The flexibility with work-life balance through company benefits has allowed me to be an active single mom and successful banker. Wells Fargo offers a plethora of personal time away and personal holidays that have been beneficial to my family. In addition, they have allowed me to give back to my community by volunteering at events. I have been able to join many employee resource network groups, which have a focus on my personal and work well-being. Wells Fargo understands that it is important to have that work-life balance and to enjoy family and friends as well as your work family. We spend the majority of our time at work, why not be happy and love what you do!

What do you like best about the company culture at Wells Fargo?

I like the direction the company is heading. I think there has been an awakening in the last year that has brought to light the disparity among different ethnic groups and minorities. I like that Wells Fargo has taken notice and has made a commitment to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. Our leaders have also devised a strategic plan with actionable steps. I appreciate that Wells Fargo is focused on diversity, inclusion, and equity and they are investing resources and money to ensure that having financial success is not a privilege and should be accessible to everyone.

How has working as a premier banker set you up for future career success?

Working as a premier banker has allowed me to have great success as an individual producer and as a team player. It has allowed me to collaborate and become a part of the leadership team. I mentor and coach the banking team to have genuine conversations with clients and to really educate clients on all the resources available to them, not to simply be an order taker. I inspire, engage, and lead by example. I proactively seek and apply feedback and encourage others to do the same.

What is the biggest misconception about working as a banker, and how would you respond?

I think the biggest misconception is that we are sales people. I see myself as an educator and a relationship consultant. I listen to clients and if there is a service or a product that would benefit them, then I make recommendations as appropriate. But the biggest thing is making sure that I have a clear understanding of the client and what they are trying to accomplish and then simply help them obtain that goal. It’s extremely important for me to guide the client not only today, but with future needs as well.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Listen to understand and not to be heard. I think this is what makes me such a great listener. I am an active listener and consider many different variables before responding. I’ve obtained great success in my role because I truly want to see people become financially successful and I embrace candor when having these discussions. I do this in both my personal and work life, which has gained me the respect of not only my clients, but also my peers and partners.