William S. Wade
Group 9 Rep., GBA Public Affairs Committee
Senior Vice President
Southern Bank & Trust
Q: How did you get into banking as a career?
A; I was introduced to the banking industry when I was a senior in high school. I was recommended by my school principal to First Community Bank of Dawsonville’s Junior Advisory Board in 1995-1996. I was already interested in math and business. I got to tour the bank, walk into the bank board room and learn about the local community bank’s operations. I was chosen as the board chairperson, and we completed a community project overseen by the bank. It was exciting for me as a high school kid to be able to shake hands with local community leaders.
Q: What was your first job, and was there a lesson you learned there that you still use today?
When Philip Hester was starting Chestatee State Bank in Dawsonville, he remembered me from my time on the Junior Advisory Board and was going to need some tellers. My days started at 7 a.m. working as a teller before attending classes at the University of North Georgia in the middle of the day and then working again as a teller at a grocery store branch until close at 7 p.m. I went on to fill roles in customer service and as a market area manager. It was the toughest thing leaving that first job with Mr. Hester, but I was later recruited to be a local market president and continued on. I’m proud to say I’ve been a bank employee since May of 1998, more than 20 years. Being a teller is what I believe has helped me the most in my career. It gave me the experience to deal with people wherever they are in life, and probably my top five customers to this day knew me when I was a teller. I believe it gives me credibility within the industry to know what almost every function of the bank is like.
Q: When you think of the future of the banking industry in Georgia, what makes you hopeful and what makes you concerned?
A: What makes me hopeful is the availability of leadership development opportunities for young bankers available through associations like GBA. I attended the Georgia Banking School, took part in Leadership GBA and am still a member of one of GBA’s Leadership Roundtables. Being able to “grow our own” in the industry makes me very hopeful. I want to be one of the bankers leading the charge for leadership development opportunities and making banking attractive for the next generation. We need to give the next generation the understanding of this is what’s out there, because banking is not just a job, it’s a career. We need to attract those with career paths to grow. One of my biggest concerns is that almost one third of counties in this state don’t have a locally-headquartered bank. When it comes to addressing core issues within a community, bankers are not the only people to fix those situations, but so often they are one of the key components to spur growth in the right direction. That’s not to say the banks that are serving those areas are not doing a good job, but having a hometown-based bank is helpful. Credit unions also make me concerned. We need as a banking industry to help policy-makers understand what the origins and true purpose of credit unions are and put our foot down. Some credit unions are over $1 billion in size and they’re buying bank charters. Banks are at a disadvantage because they don’t get the tax breaks credit unions do.
Q: As member of GBA’s Public Affairs Committee, what value do you think GBA’s advocacy efforts bring to the industry?
A: I think the GBA Public Affairs Committee does a great job of facilitating the opportunity to connect local leaders in their industry to elected officials. They also do us a service in monitoring the industry, because if there is ever another great recession, we need to be protectors of our industry. The committee is very credible and I always know what’s going on at the Capitol that’s going to impact our industry. GBA does a great job of understanding where we stand at a federal level. The fight is not done, though, and we still need to get more people involved. I’d like to see every bank in the state be more involved in these efforts not just financially but by sending just one person to an event or getting them involved in GBA’s advocacy efforts. Every bank and every banker can make a difference, regardless of the size or location of their bank.
Q: If you could thank one person for helping you become the person you are today, who would it be and why?
A: There are so many great bankers who have helped me throughout my career. Philip Hester saw me, remembered me and gave me my first opportunity, so I will always remember him as the person who believed in me and saw potential. Besides Philip, I would honestly have to say Joe Brannen. I’ve had a relationship with him longer than most CEOs. Joe first met me when I went through Georgia Banking School, and he has just been wonderful to me in my career. He has always been willing to share his opinions and ideas, and he has allowed me to showcase my mind and my ideas at industry meetings because I care about every bank, whether I compete with them or I don’t.