In spite of her desire to make a good first impression on her new CEO, Nancy Rosentrater couldn’t help but be distracted. In the lobby, a disagreement between a customer and a teller was percolating. Rosentrater could hear snippets of what was being said between the two; she saw their faces framed in frustration; she was beginning to understand that if she didn’t step in, the conflict might escalate. But there was David Lamb in her branch in May of 2015, talking to her. She was the branch manager and he was engaged in a bankwide get-to-know-you tour. Instead of training her focus on him, she interrupted him and ran to her teller’s side.
“I treat everyone the same,” Rosentrater remembers telling Lamb after she’d diffused the situation. “My customers and team members are just as important as trying to impress you.”
Her words resonated. A week later, Lamb called Rosentrater and invited her to manage all of the bank’s branches. “I didn’t have the background to run nine branches,” she reflected, “but I had the passion and the drive.”
Rosentrater is now Oxford Bank’s chief operating officer and the only female serving on the $750 million Oxford, Mich.-based bank’s executive committee. She is one of several women honored this month as a BankBeat “Outstanding Woman in Banking.”
Rosentrater came to Oxford Bank in 2012 from Chase Bank. Oxford had a workout CEO at the time, and Rosentrater had been promised opportunities to lead people and develop holistic training programs that got at the heart of every activity required to succeed in banking. That opportunity didn’t materialize until after Lamb took over and he empowered her.
Calling Rosentrater “a natural leader,” Lamb said she trusts her team, advocates for them, and empowers them. Giving people the training they need lies at the heart of that success, Rosentrater said.
Training programs, Rosentrater said, tend to be role-specific. It’s her belief that new hires need to learn banking from the ground up with each task broken down to its essence. “You need to understand the ‘whys,’” she said. “Do they understand how banks make money? Do they know what the board does? Why is it so important we treat all customers equally, or close a loan on time?”
Without giving people the “why,” you struggle to earn buy-in or foster cohesion across departments, Rosentrater explained. “If the business banking team is doing well but retail is suffering, we all lose. It was important for me to understand that one small decision affects everyone in the bank, and mistakes can affect trust or cause customers to lose faith in us.”
Notable among her accomplishments is the bank’s Interactive Teller Machine strategy, which she undertook in early 2016, when ITMs were expensive and not well understood. “I was scared to death,” Rosentrater recalled. “I thought I’d get fired.”
At first blush, ITMs appear contrary to community banking’s value proposition: High-touch customer experiences. But as one who doesn’t back away from challenges, Rosentrater focused her outcomes on improving job satisfaction, and compensation, for affected staff. Buy-in would be critical, figuring people would already be assuming success would result in the loss of their jobs.
Once the bank rolled out ITMs — the first in Michigan to do so — Rosentrater called the implementation one of her greatest accomplishments. “We made those jobs better, with better pay and flexibility,” she said. Oxford gained customers and efficiencies and didn’t lose staff, she added. Importantly, the bank was set up perfectly to operate during the pandemic. “Our ITMs handle about two-thirds of all transactions,” with all seven in the ITM group working remotely even today.
Oxford Bank’s ITM strategy has become a model for roughly two-dozen other community banks. “She is singularly responsible for leading efforts to enhance and develop the infrastructure to put Oxford Bank in a position to enjoy our success and growth as a community bank,” Lamb said.
With no background in bank treasury and on the outside looking in, Rosentrater turned her “rebuilding” focus to the operations and product lines of the bank’s commercial operations, creating a treasury group Lamb called the “envy of the community banking space.” Rosentrater’s approach to transformation was the same as she deployed in other areas of the bank, breaking down tasks to their essence and mentoring people to success. In this case, she coached a young part-time teller to become the treasury operations manager.
When she’s not training or mentoring employees or building customer relationships Rosentrater raises awareness and funds to fight homelessness and poverty. She’s spent five nights in recent years sleeping on the streets in a cardboard box for Covenant House.
“In our society, if kids are not taught day-to-day things they need to know, if they’ve aged out of foster care, where do they turn?” she asked. She’s answered her own question by being that person at Oxford Bank, where her passion for helping people grow jobs into careers is on display daily.
“I’m always looking for people who just need a break, who need the right person to come into their lives at the right time, who want to learn from the ground up.” Like she did.