Q&A with Texas Citizens Bank EVP / Chief Credit Officer Kelley Lee
There’s a new credit sheriff in town.
Veteran banker Kelley Lee joins Texas Citizens Bank (TCB) as Executive Vice President, Chief Credit Officer, and board member. The former regulator, consultant, and banker brings perspective and proven leadership.
As a regulator, he learned the rulebook. More specifically, he saw how adhering to compliance guidelines helps banks and their customers in the long run. As a consultant, he took on the role of a lone ranger, hopping from hotel to hotel as he took on some of the biggest banking clients across the wild, wild west (America during the financial crisis). For the past three decades, Kelley has served in various financial leadership roles. Most recently, he led the wealth management and international banking groups at Lone Star National Bank.
Like most of us, Kelley does not love the camera. However, he was kind enough to let me record our interview. Get to know our newest board member by watching the three-minute video below. Still have a question for our new Chief Credit Officer? Read the Q&A transcript below for the deep dive.
After the interview ended, one thing was clear. Kelley Lee knows banking. He’s regulated banks. He’s advised banks, and he’s been a banker himself. We are excited about the experience and wisdom he now brings to the best bank in Texas.
Where did you grow up?
“Born and raised in Texas. Lived here all my life. Grew up in Dallas; went to school in East Texas. I fell in love with the piney woods and raised our kids in east Texas.”
What first sparked your interest in banking?
“When I first went to college, I thought that I was going to be a petroleum engineer. In 1981 two things happened that made me change my mind. One, I was taking a Physics class called ‘Dynamics.’ Two, the price of oil dropped down to about ten dollars a barrel and petroleum engineers couldn’t find a job. So, I decided I needed to do something different.
I’m a third-generation banker as it turns out. Both my grandfathers, my dad, all my uncles were bankers, so I don’t know why I fought it … I found out later that’s where I belonged.”
What did your early years in banking look like?
“The times were chaotic. Right out of college I joined the OCC. The S&L crisis was just unfolding, and I was thrown into the fire. It looked like the nation’s financial system might collapse. I left the OCC and spent the next 20 years in community banking, primarily in Chief Lending Officer roles. We sold our bank in 2005 to a group and that’s what brought me to Houston. A few years later, I joined SolomonEdwards as a partner at the consulting firm just in time to experience the great recession.
This crisis was far worse than what I experienced in the mid and late 80s. There was a lot of pressure, a lot of urgency, as you might imagine. I was traveling almost 100 percent of the time. SEG did some very interesting work
… For example, SEG was a prime vendor to the FDIC and its division of resolution and receivership. So, we closed and managed over a hundred failed bank receiverships over a few years’ time.
We did work for some of the largest banks and financial institutions in the world as well as some of the smallest community banks. My partners and I were very busy during my five years with SEG. People needed our help right then, so we worked hard to take care of them.”
What brought you to TCB?
“I worked with Russell McCann at Franklin Bank. He reached out to me about Barry’s pending retirement and the bank’s need. I met with Duncan and the board and felt that the vision and long-term goals of the bank really lined up well with my philosophy and experience. TCB provides me a great opportunity to rejoin somebody that I’ve worked with, know, and respect a good deal, and do something challenging. And [something] that I think will bring benefit to not only the bank’s customers but the shareholders and the board as well.”
What impressed you about this bank?
“A lot of banks talk about being committed to their customers. For many banks, that’s just lip service and they say it because their customers expect them to say it, but they don’t really live it out. Texas Citizens Bank reminds me of a bank where I spent the majority of my career in east Texas. Where you really are committed to serving and servicing your customers. You know your customers and their kids, like them personally, and in many situations become a trusted adviser and almost a part of their family. I saw this attitude very early on when I met with TCB’s board and executive team… that the bank’s commitment to the customer is a top priority. I believe whole-heartedly in that approach.”
How would you describe your role here?
“I see my role here at the bank as a risk manager. The board, the shareholders are willing to accept a certain level of risk and it’s my job to make sure we’re approving loans and doing transactions that are in line with those risk parameters.”
What about your new role excites you?
“I believe the bank [Texas Citizens Bank] is well-positioned … There’s a lot of business activity, there’s a lot of need. And so, it’s a great place for us to bring our client commitment and our products and services to the markets we serve. I think we can make a big difference.
… They [Tom Watson and Mike Cornett] have a heart for and a commitment to their customers. That is big. They’re not just a number, not just an account. These are real people that they care about and that they want to take care of.”
What skills, experience, or unique perspectives do you hope to bring to the table?
“I personally feel blessed that throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a regulator, as a consultant, and as a banker … It’s given me perspective.
For example, as a regulator, I learned how to run a safe and compliant bank and the importance that comes from running a safe and compliant bank. As a consultant, I really learned to embrace change. Learning when and where it’s appropriate to challenge the status quo to benefit that bank and its customers. As a banker, I love working with customers and clients in relationships where after five or ten or fifteen years you can look back and say, you know, I played a small part in their success. That is what really drives me as a banker. I can look back and take pride in that years later.”
What’s your philosophy on lending credit?
“We as bankers need to have an attitude of ‘yes, but only when the risks are acceptable.’ A lot of banks today start with no and ‘convince me why it’s not a no.’ I think we should start with ‘how can we make this transaction work for the client and make sure that it’s on a level of risk that’s acceptable to our board?’ That takes creativity, it sometimes takes time to work through issues and questions. And, again, it all really is how committed to your customer are you. We can’t say yes to everybody, obviously, but if you’re willing to work with a client, you can get to yes a whole lot more often than if no is your starting position.
It sounds a little passé, a little corny, but the five Cs of credit, they were good 30 years ago as a basis to start formulating your decisions. I believe they’re still good today.”
What are you most looking forward to?
“Making new friends and colleagues and relationships. I have always viewed myself as a very involved credit person. I like to meet the customers, I like client-facing with them. Meeting new people, making new friends, that’s what excites me most.”
How do you spend your free time?
“I’m married. I have a beautiful wife; her name is JJ. We have four kids, so … my family is my top interest. For recreation, I love to play golf and I’m actually a Harley owner, so I also love to ride my Harley-Davidson … I really enjoy riding. Particularly if we’re riding into the mountains. Cooling down and riding through to see all the vistas and creation.”