CBA Executive Banking School Insights

 Bob Kottler, Former CBA Board Chair

 Executive Vice President and Director of Retail and Small Business Banking IBERIABANK

​ IBERIABANK’s Bob Kottler needs to be able to rely on a team of bankers who can adopt more complex roles and successfully  navigate shifting market conditions as IBERIABANK continues to grow.

 Kottler looks to the CBA Executive Banking School to inspire that next generation of innovative leaders.

“We’ve leveraged the school to expose people to other bankers, other banks’ ways of doing things and a broader view of the industry,” says Kottler, executive vice president and director of retail and small business banking at IBERIABANK in New Orleans. “So as we promote them and give them more responsibility, they have a broader context to do their new jobs.” 

Kottler aims to send two of his rising stars to the program each year. 

 “It’s a big investment,” he says, “so we look for people that have a solid track record of performance in their past and current roles; and people we want to invest in for the long term.” The program gives high-performing bank officers a valuable perspective on how their specific role at the bank ties into “what it takes to be successful across the whole retail bank.”

A 1999 graduate, Kottler says the program outshines other options nationally because it’s uniquely designed to provide a comprehensive lens of retail banking. And, he calls the commitment and quality of the instructors “first rate.”

Kottler is committed, too – to nominating and supporting students throughout the program and after they graduate.

For him, that in part means traveling to South Carolina each year to spend time with his team in the program and hear about their experiences. He also likes to listen to what questions they have about IBERIABANK after gaining a perspective on how other banks operate. They share their papers with Kottler, too, which he says often are written based on their IBERIABANK experiences. 

 “It’s another way to understand whether we are providing clarity on what we’re working on” at the bank, he says. Plus, it’s essential “to show [students] that it’s important that they’re there, especially given their other work demands.”

“We nominate people who have future potential, are excelling in their current role and we want to grow into broader roles.”

“As a banker, you tend to focus on what you’re working on and responsible for today. I think [the program] is a great way to get a broader view.”


 Stephanie Miller, 2012 Graduate

 Vice President of Consumer Market Advocacy
 U.S. Bank

 Stephanie Miller was definitely interested – and perhaps a touch hesitant – when she was tapped a few years ago to attend the CBA  Executive Banking School

After all, she had been in banking for 15 years, and she had an MBA.

“You do ask yourself, ‘Is this three-year commitment really worth it, in terms of educational experience?’” Miller says.

Turns out for this 2012 graduate, it was.

“An MBA is a great education, but I think this program is unique because it’s so specific to banking,” says Miller, vice president of consumer market advocacy at U.S. Bank in Minneapolis. “It takes the same level of learning as an MBA, but it’s designed around banking – the key decisions and thought processes that need to go into daily life as a banker.”

It’s demanding, too. For Miller, the most challenging sessions were those focused on financial analysis, which she was a little rusty on.

 “When you’re accountable for all the analysis yourself, it makes you rethink everything and make sure you fully understand it,” Miller says. She adds that today her ability to look at financial statements and understand the “big picture” of her company is significantly stronger than before enrolling in the program.

Meanwhile, the program’s one-of-a-kind simulation exercises demonstrated for her how bankers’ decisions impact various facets of the overall business. These virtual experiences create an environment “where you’re competing against other peers to see who is really making the wisest decisions and leading their simulated bank to success,” Miller says.

She’s applied the knowledge and skills she gained from the program to her work, which often requires her to synthesize various data and viewpoints to create a message for senior leaders, regulators and external activist groups. The program honed Miller’s ability to extract the most salient points from “an endless amount of data” to create a compelling story for a particular audience.

 “[This program] allows you to do a really high level, deep dive into the industry you’re a part of,” Miller says.

And for her, it was a worthwhile education.

“There is a high caliber of students that come through this program. These are seasoned veterans in the field. You have these great contacts and peers you can learn from not only while in the program, but really throughout your whole career.” 

“I was fascinated by the level of seniority and level of banking experience that the faculty has. They all bring such a wealth of knowledge.”


 Archie Brown, Faculty Member, 1996 Graduate

 President & CEO
 MainSource Financial Group

 Archie Brown isn’t hesitant to admit it: Teaching at the CBA Executive Banking School is a grind. 

 It requires long days over almost two weeks every summer. All the while, he must still manage his responsibilities as president and  CEO of MainSource Financial Group in Greensburg, Ind. He must still tend to family issues. Then, even after the two weeks end, he and other instructors meet regularly throughout a year to refine the program.

It’s a grind. But Brown keeps coming back.

“I’m at a place, career-wise and age-wise, where … I know that I’m credible and I can give [students] information that is going to help them learn and grow in their career,” says Brown, an instructor since 2005. “To me, knowing that’s what’s being delivered – there’s joy in that.”

Joy, too, in the bonds he’s forged with other faculty. They challenge Brown to be a better banker, as do the top-notch students he teaches.

He was once a student here, too. It was back in the early 90s, when Brown ran the small business strategy division for Star Bank in Cincinnati, which is now part of U.S. Bank. The head of retail identified Brown as a rising star and sent him to the program.

“It’s a signal that you’ve got a good future,” he says, “and that you’ve also got to give a lot; give it a real effort.” 

Brown gained a significantly broader perspective of retail banking from the program. “The experience back then and the last 10 years equipped me to clearly understand every aspect of how a bank operates – what drives results – and gave me context for making decisions,” he says. 

He graduated in 1996, and credits the knowledge and skills he learned with helping catapult him into the executive position he holds today. 

Knowing what a catalyst the program’s curriculum can be in a bank officer’s career, Brown has embraced the grind that comes with being an instructor. After all, it’s the one-of-a-kind curriculum and deep commitment among faculty like him that makes the executive education program unique.

“It’s one of the things I do that still helps me stay sharp,” Brown says.

It’s why he keeps coming back.

About the program:
“You tend to know a lot about your area, but not a lot about all areas of the bank. This was a way to get more rounded about the bank than I could get by just being in my job.”

“One of the benefits of the school is being able to form professional and peer relationships.”

About the curriculum:
“It continues to improve and gives students a high class, high quality product.”

On sending rising stars to the program:
“This is rounding out and strengthening a bench of high performers, many of whom, in ten years, will be in executive levels of this company, replacing people who retire.”

On students:
“They truly need to apply themselves. It’s not a vacation. It truly is an investment.”


 Paul Leventhal, Faculty Member

 Former Professor of Finance
 Bishop's University

 Paul Leventhal doesn’t fit the profile of the typical instructor at the CBA Executive Banking School.

 Leventhal is not a banker. He’s a university professor. And he lives in Canada.

But that’s as far as the differences go. This admitted outlier carries the same passion and dedication that characterizes faculty at the one-of-a-kind executive education program. Leventhal, one of only three academics on staff, is also the mastermind behind the program’s signature virtual experience that students take on in their final year.

He spent six years developing the state-of-the-art simulation that immerses students into the roles of senior managers and challenges them to run an entire bank. They have to interpret reams of data. They must collaborate on decisions. And they are forced to pivot – hopefully smartly – when economic conditions shift. The experience requires students to understand how all facets of retail banking are integrated.

“You can’t appreciate the management choices and issues that arise for a senior manager of a retail bank without understanding the bank as a whole,” says Leventhal, a professor of finance at Bishop’s University in Quebec.

One of his most memorable moments in his decade with the executive program was witnessing his simulation at work for the first time, and seeing how much students learned from it. “That was really great,” Leventhal says.

Like most of the faculty, he remains deeply involved, year-round, in developing and refining the program’s curriculum.

“This school is continually preoccupied with the questions of are we teaching the right things and are we teaching them properly?” Leventhal says. “The goal is to keep improving what we do to attain the goals we’re trying to achieve.”

That intense dedication among instructors and the expertise they bring is unrivaled. “You just don’t see this anywhere else,” he says, adding that traditionally, university faculty in the same discipline often don’t collaborate with one another; and instructors at most executive banking schools tend to have a fairly loose relationship with the schools.

The CBA program however, provides an unmatched industry perspective from “people who have been in the trenches” and who know the real issues bankers juggle. It’s part of what sets this executive education program apart.

“I don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish about this, but we really care,” Leventhal says. “We care about the students learning.”

“There is nothing like this. This is an organization that depends, more than anything else, on the willingness of a relatively small number of faculty members to give a huge amount to the school on an ongoing basis.”

“Our goal is to take people who, generally speaking, have a working management level experience in retail banking … and have them at the end of the banking school be able to sit as the chief of the retail bank in a meeting of the senior heads of the entire bank.”

“We believe that a better banker is somebody who understands what the business entails from A to Z, and that’s what the school is devoted to doing.”


 Mark Seale, Faculty Member, 2001 Graduate

 Director, Enterprise Risk Management
 Citigroup

 To Mark Seale, the more you’re exposed to professionally and personally, the broader your lens becomes – and the greater the  chance of amazing opportunities landing in your lap.

Seale knows from experience. He started his banking career at 30, after earning a sociology degree and playing professional Canadian football. He knew that to be competitive, he would need more exposure to the banking industry.

So Seale enrolled in the Florida School of Banking. Then he earned an MBA. Then, at the urging of his mentor, Seale attended the CBA Executive Banking School.

“All three played a role to advance my career, and not only to get me up to speed with other people my age at the same level; the EBS helped me get ready for executive level management,” says Seale, today the director of enterprise management at Citigroup in New York. 

He’s also an instructor at the CBA program he graduated from, which offers an unmatchable experience to rising bank officers. “It gives you a holistic view of things,” Seale says of the program. “It’s exposure you would not normally get.” 

As an instructor in the program’s capstone year, Seale says he focuses on asking students probing questions to guide them through the banking quandaries they’re presented with. “You learn more when you figure it out yourself.” 

Routinely, there comes a moment when students who struggled early on feel disheartened because of poor decisions they made as part of the final year’s challenge, which immerses them in a simulated experience of managing an entire bank. But Seale always sees them break through their sense of defeat.

“They’ll have a really good day and their numbers will shoot up. They’ll leave the [virtual] community with profitability and their faces will be beaming,” he says. “It’s those moments that are priceless – they get their confidence back in such a big way.”

The program’s capacity to engage students in navigating the complexities of retail banking equips them with an invaluable ability to think three-dimensionally, Seale says. That skill “makes you more marketable, increases your opportunity for promotion and gives you more exposure.”

He knows from experience.

“The more you’re exposed to,” Seale says, “the more likely you’ll be able to find some common ground and connect on a personal level with your employer.”

“The bank school gives you an appreciation for high level senior management and a global perspective on all of the levers that impact your balance sheet, your income statement and cash flows.”

“There’s a real pride that we take as instructors. We critique ourselves very harshly, and we also want the students’ experience to be good, because at the end of the day, it’s the reputation of the school.”

On the faculty:
“There’s a level of continuity, a level of expectation and there’s a high level of pride. We’re not hired guns off the street that they bring in; most of the faculty graduated from this school.”


 Christy Merecka, 2012 Graduate

 Vice President, Consumer Financial Analysis
 Frost Bank

 Christy Merecka was terrified.

 The binder she was about to present to her CFO at Frost Bank represented 250 hours worth of research and her recommendations for how the bank could improve its bottom line. The large, nearly 150-year-old community bank in Texas has always had its own unique way of managing its business. All of its executives essentially grew up – and rose up the ranks – in the bank.

Now, here came Merecka, a CPA with nine years experience, with some advice for the folks at the top. The binder was the result of a home study assignment for the CBA Executive Banking School; Merecka’s peers also were assigned to assess the financials at Frost Bank. 

“I was so nervous,” says Merecka, a 2012 program graduate and assistant vice president of financial analysis at Frost Bank in San Antonio. “I wanted to make a good impression.”

She needn’t have worried. Ultimately, Frost Bank implemented the three recommendations Merecka made in her first assignment. In the program’s second home study exercise, students were required to analyze their own banks. Of Merecka’s two suggestions from that assignment, one is being implemented and the other has been discussed among executives.

“It’s unimaginable that you first get the platform to present your ideas and then utterly amazing that they take you seriously,” she says. “I’m just an accountant. I’m not in retail, I don’t come up with products … so for them to actually look at it and say ‘we should do this,’ that’s been so gratifying.” 

“It validates that I know what I’m talking about.”

Merecka, who prepares monthly and quarterly earnings reports for Frost Bank retail operations statewide, had seen an advertisement for the executive education program and approached management about attending. 

It wasn’t until she was in the banking program that she realized that while she knew formulas, she did not understand how all the pieces tied together. Once the big picture was illuminated, she gained “a new-found respect” for decisions made at the executive level. 

Meanwhile, the program exposed Merecka to a galaxy of other smart, ambitious bankers, whom she can now call on to ask questions or to bounce off ideas. 

And now, there’s no being terrified.

Since graduating from the program, Merecka says she’s noticed that her peers and immediate supervisors view her differently. “I get a lot more interaction with them now,” she says of the latter. “They ask a lot more questions and they want my opinion.”

“I’m not seen anymore as just the girl from accounting.”

“I can’t put into words how great the school is. It’s really empowering to know and to understand how your bank works and to be able to contribute. How do you run a bank if you don’t know what’s going on?”

“Every day you learn something. Everybody had a job and everybody had to do it. If you weren’t doing your job, then your whole team failed.”

“[The program] gives you a different perspective, an executive level perspective. You’re not just in your box, thinking about the things you need to do. You’re thinking about what the bank needs to do and about the future of the bank.”

Regarding the simulations:
“They really helped make you understand the principles you’re learning. All of them are designed where when you pull one little lever, it’s going to give you a big result. Something’s going to change, and you’ve got to understand the cause and effect.”


 Stefan Winkler, 2012 Graduate

 Head of Sales, Distribution & Bancassurance, Retail Banking
 Raiffeisen Bank International

 Stefan Winkler is already leveraging the connections he established at the CBA Executive Banking School by trying to arrange  an exchange between European bank executives and U.S.-based pioneers in various fields of retail banking.

“The U.S. banking market is leading in multi-channel strategies and how to integrate branches – typical things where the maturity of European banks are lagging by about 10 years,” says Winkler, head of sales, distribution and bancassurance for Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) in Vienna, Austria. “It’s good for a few stakeholders in Europe to see what happens outside their markets to start thinking outside the box.” 

Winkler is clearly inspired to think outside the box, too. To be innovative. It’s one of the key benefits of the exclusive executive education program he graduated from in 2012.

His effort to bring together bank executives from different countries reflects another valuable outcome of the program, and that is the strong professional relationships students forge during the three-year experience. Collaborating with up-and-coming bank officers from a variety of organizations – and for Winkler, a different culture – broadened his perspective on “how other organizations and people are challenged on a day-to-day basis in the same industry,” he says. And, what each can learn from the other.

The Vienna native had spent most of his professional life in the insurance industry until he later joined GE Money to work in bancassurance, in which insurance companies leverage banks’ networks to distribute their products. In 2008, Winkler started working for RBI, one of the largest banking groups in Central and Eastern Europe, with a retail presence in 15 markets. In his position at RBI, which represents a recent promotion, he provides strategic and tactical direction as well as support on sales and distribution to about 3,000 bank branches in the region.

“I always said to my boss back then that I never had a formal banking education,” Winkler says, recalling his early days at RBI. “And he said, “Go ahead, find something.” 

He did – the CBA program. He learned about the one-of-a-kind education experience through a friend and colleague who had participated. “Since I always had an affinity to the States and to the education system, I was into it,” Winkler says. 

Along with the professional relationships he built in the program, Winkler also returned to Vienna with a “big picture” understanding of various areas of retail banking and of shareholders. His entire frame of reference on the industry deepened. “I’m reading balance sheets completely different and when I get analysts’ reports, I know what they mean,” Winkler says. 

He’s also promoting the education program – he calls it “boot camp” – among highly talented bank officers within the RBI group. The company will send three employees to the program in 2013.

“You just have a better understanding of why things are the way they are; the drivers and underlying benefits and disadvantages,” Winkler says of the experience the program provides. “Overall, it’s making me more confident in the industry I’m working in.”

“You just have a better understanding of why things are the way they are; the drivers and underlying benefits and disadvantages,” Winkler says of the experience the program provides. “Overall, it’s making me more confident in the industry I’m working in.”


 Todd Barnhart, 2008 Graduate

 Executive Vice President, Head of Branch Banking
 PNC

 “Managing the whole.” 

 It’s an oft-used phrase at PNC Bank that aims to encourage employees to “understand all the different trade offs and consequences” of decisions the bank makes, says PNC’s Todd Barnhart, no matter where they sit within the bank.

For Barnhart, the phrase also describes one of the key benefits of the CBA Executive Banking School. He’s a 2008 graduate who now routinely nominates high-achieving bank officers to the rigorous, boutique education program.

Barnhart was nominated for the program by senior leadership at PNC Bank. He had been with the company for just a couple of years at the time, working in its business banking division where he was responsible for deposit and lending products. 

“I started my banking career as a corporate banker, so the notion of a graduate school of retail bank management was not front and center in my thinking or in my career path,” says Barnhart, today the executive vice president and head of branch banking for PNC in Pittsburgh. “I felt like it would be a good opportunity to broaden my perspective.” 

And that’s exactly what happened.

After graduating from the program, “I could step back,” he says, “and see how some of the choices – good or bad – played out in the marketplace.” 

Most rewarding was being able to connect with other smart, up-and-coming leaders from large and small banks, and observe how they navigated a variety of challenges. “There’s not a very common occurrence in the industry where you get that melting pot of people,” Barnhart says. “[It’s] a fairly unique experience the school offers.”

He’s been promoted twice since completing the program. Barnhart is hesitant to attribute a direct correlation between his participation in the program and the promotions, but suggests that the exclusive executive education “certainly was a contributor.”

Indeed, the program provided a new lens through which he could view the business. It instilled an appreciation for the complexity of retail banking, for how everything interconnects. It sharpened his decision-making skills in an ever-evolving industry. 

“You really can’t engineer that very easily inside a day to day work environment,” Barnhart says.

“I started my banking career as a corporate banker, so the notion of a graduate school of retail bank management was not front and center in my thinking or in my career path,” says Barnhart, today the executive vice president and head of branch banking for PNC in Pittsburgh. “I felt like it would be a good opportunity to broaden my perspective.”


 Andrew J. Harmening

 Vice Chairman, Consumer Banking
 Bank of the West

It was a Friday night in Kansas City, and Andy Harmening sat alone in his empty house with a computer and a printer. 

He was moving in the coming days to a new job in San Francisco and was also at the end of his last year in the CBA Executive Banking School program. Exhausted, Harmening was now on deadline to finalize his projects for the executive education bank program by the next day.

“I’ve got to power through this,” he said to himself. 

He did. And the satisfaction Harmening felt when he graduated from the exclusive  education program could not have been sweeter.

“It gives you the confidence when you’re under the gun as you move up the corporate ladder and you have a tall task before you,” he says of the experience in the rigorous program for rising banking stars. 

Now, as Bank of the West’s senior executive vice president of the regional banking group, Harmening nominates up-and-comers at his bank who he believes can power through the challenges of the executive education program – and, ultimately, the challenges they will face as they take on more leadership roles in banking.

At any one time, Bank of the West has 15 to 18 students attending the retail banking program. They come from different regions and areas of the bank, including the communications, operations and the digital departments. 

Graduates return from the program sharper, and with a capacity to participate in and digest the outcomes of top-level strategic decisions, Harmening says. “They’re able to communicate why a decision is being made with confidence,” he added, “instead of trying to sell something that’s not believable to their employees.”

Such skills encourage more employee engagement, which translates into better customer service, which can lead to additional sales, Harmening says.

Indeed, the CBA program’s ability to cultivate a fraternity of top achievers – those who can power through any challenge - is an essential investment in a bank’s future.

“It’s had great value in my career and it’s had great value to our company,” Harmening says. “It’s a small amount to pay to have an effective executive with a broad view of your company – otherwise, I wouldn’t send people.”

“If you want to have high visibility and the opportunity to be upwardly mobile, the banking school is the best personal investment somebody could make. I believe that very strongly. I’ve watched it time and again.”

“The Bank Com simulation is unique and more comprehensive than any other model I’m aware of in the industry.”


 Debra Paterson

 Executive Vice President & Head of Human Resources for Community Banking
 Wells Fargo

 It was while Debra Paterson oversaw learning and development for Wells Fargo Regional Banking that she came to recognize the  unique education opportunity provided by the CBA Executive Banking School.

At the time, Wells Fargo was assessing how best to leverage opportunities with banking schools nationwide, says Paterson, who is now executive vice president and head of human resources for community banking at Wells Fargo in San Francisco. The bank had traditionally sent most of its rising stars to a banking school on the West Coast and a few to the CBA program. 

After visiting the latter, Paterson and her team designed a strategy for Wells Fargo’s investment in executive banking education programs. The bank ultimately has promoted the CBA program as the go-to offering for anyone on a retail banking career path and for staff who support the retail bank. Wells Fargo does not have an internal program that educates its high achieving bank officers about the economics of banking; the CBA curriculum helps to fill that gap.

Paterson says she was particularly impressed with the executive education program’s interactive “MarketSim” curriculum, which teaches students how to run the entire consumer business of a bank. “We think it is a very good fit for developing the financial expertise and critical decision-making skills related to the industry for our future leaders in the bank and our senior staff people,” Paterson says.

Indeed, senior staffers who participate in the program gain a deeper understanding of the internal workings of a community bank. That knowledge “gives them the foundation of banking knowledge that we don’t teach anywhere within the company,” she says. “It’s just a great foundation for those middle management leaders to bump them up to the next level.” 

Wells Fargo on average sends eight to 10 bank officers to the CBA program each year.

“We plan on continuing to use the school as part of our middle to senior management learning plan,” Paterson says. “We feel it adds value and it’s very applicable after the first year. (Students) come back and see things happening in the regional bank and they can say, ‘Oh, now I get it, now I know why they do it this way.’”

“We continue to find it to be a good, worthwhile investment when we send the right people.”

“Our job is making sure we send the right people who have the readiness and then the school does their part with continuing to refine the curriculum to meet the needs of senior leaders in the retail bank, based on the changing economy and the changing regulatory environment.”

“Banking school provides (bank officers) with a simulation experience that we feel is very much based in the reality of decisions we make in a retail bank our size. It’s a really nice way to get them grounded.”

“The whole experience of banking school – its curriculum, meeting other people in the industry, working as a team, developing a lot of the soft skills through the leadership components that the school has developed over the last 10 years – those are the components we think are valuable to our mid to senior leaders.”