This is Charlotte, so if you’re not a banker yourself then you probably live next door to one. Chances are, they’re a vice president.
Before you start to feel inadequate about your career, you should know this little poorly kept secret in our city’s corporate culture: Being a bank vice president doesn’t really mean anything. Except if you’re not one.
In most industries, being a vice president generally means you’re in control of a big piece of the company — like being VP of operations, or VP of finance. But in a bank, that’s not the case at all.
A lot of bank employees move up the chain from assistant vice president to VP to senior vice president without their job changing significantly. There’s often no raise, no bonus and no perks associated with the title change. It’s more of a sign of longevity with the company than of growing prestige, according to a number of current and former bank employees I spoke with.
“Half of Charlotte is a vice president,” one banker told me.
Check your LinkedIn and see how many connections list vice president of a big bank as their current position. I had nearly 9,000 show up in a search.
Title creep began in the 1970s when banks were much smaller and more regional. Instead of paying big salaries, banks could give away promotions. The titles served the bank’s purposes, too. Clients feel much better when they’re speaking to a vice president. It conveys credibility.
In reality, “It’s a sign of middle management,” said Tony Plath, a banking professor at UNC Charlotte who has been a VP plenty of times himself.
That’s easy to forget if you’re not immersed in the culture.
Back in 2012, part of the reason it made such a big stir when 33-year-old Greg Smith wrote a scathing New York Times op-ed about the culture at Goldman Sachs was because he was a vice president. CEO Lloyd Blankfein said at the time that Goldman had 12,000 vice presidents, or roughly 40 percent of the company.
The percentage likely isn’t as large at banks like Bank of America or Wells Fargo, which have many times more employees and large retail presences. Wall Street is a different animal, where moving up the ranks to managing director does signify a larger paycheck and more responsibility.
But if you are in a big bank, you think about it and talk about it. It’s almost an inside joke when you bring it up with a banker. In general, bank employees are quick to say people aren’t hung up on titles.
“I don’t think people get the same sort of juice out of it as they did a few decades ago,” one banker told me. “Your reward comes by what you achieve. I don’t think having a title really correlates with that anymore.”
Wells Fargo said the bank uses titles to “recognize team member’s scope of responsibility, leadership and influence, sustained performance, and technical or professional expertise.”
Bank of America said in general, “the decision to promote someone to a VP or SVP is based on their contributions to the company, experience in their role and demonstration of our values.” The Charlotte bank uses a sophisticated band system to sort employees, where Band 0 is Brian Moynihan, Band 1 are his direct reports, and so on down the line. Vice presidents tend to fall in Band 4 through 6, which in an employee network document the bank called “a critical level consisting of those who are really the frontline managers for the enterprise.”
Check your email for the new VP list
These days, earning the vice president title carries little pomp and circumstance. Yes, it may take your manager vouching for you to get approval, but the process isn’t super rigorous and the twice-yearly announcement of who made it comes through the corporate listserv and is filled with scores of names.
Big bank vice presidents in Charlotte tend to earn about $110,000, according to data submitted to the career site Glassdoor. There is some variation depending on division, though. A better range would go from $80,000 to $200,000.
The “senior vice president” title is much more coveted because it requires the approval of a more senior manager. Your name is heard much closer to the halls of power.
Executive vice president is when you’re really starting to be high in the ranks. For example, Kendall Alley, the local regional president for Wells Fargo and in line to lead the Charlotte Chamber, is an executive vice president.
Not having the title does mean something, though.
You can say the vice president title doesn’t mean anything, but it does in one crucial way: If you don’t have the title, there’s something wrong. People soon start to get insecure if their title isn’t moving as quickly as they expect, or if changing jobs means they move down a rank.
In general, the career path goes like this: You become an AVP sometime in your late 20s to early 30s, a VP in the mid-30s, a SVP is in the 40s and potentially an EVP in the 50s.
If you’re not following that path, that’s a major warning sign.
As Plath put it, “If you’re not a vice president in a bank by the time you’re 40, you’re washed up and overlooked.”