OMAHA, Neb.-If a business lending program is going to be successful, it has to involve tellers and MSRs.

That is the stance of Centris FCU, which turned around a troubled business lending program and received the Small Business Administration's Lender of the Year honors (see related story) due in part to leaning on the skills of its front-line teams. Centris calls on branch staff to spot good business loan candidates and refer them to the business lending department.

"The success of our program really starts with the referral from branch staff who ID those prospects," said CEO Kevin Parks. "That has been the key to finding business loans and working those opportunities."

Parks explained that Centris spends a lot of time talking within the entire organization about the importance of referrals and mining the member database. "We actually put branch staff through a referral and sales training program to help them ID what good business loan prospects are," Parks said.

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• The Right Staff: "You have to have staff with the right knowledge and background, skill, and attitude. Loan officers have to be personable. They have to understand the philosophy and the nature of the type of lending you want to do. We have business lending staff go through a series of sales and service training programs we call 'The Centris Way.' We cover how we want to sell-that being a consultative sales approach with high service."

• Improve Staff Skills: "We make sure our loan officers have a good understanding of all of our products and services. Across the entire organization we have an annual product knowledge test employees have to pass, including our commercial people.

"We also require our commercial staff to have a basic understanding of financial statements, how to do an in-depth credit analysis, how to look at and analyze cash flows and assess collateral values, and so on."

• Stay in Touch: "You need to keep in constant contact with your business loan clients to monitor what is happening with their companies. Our review process is based on the size of the loan, which dictates how frequently and in-depth we review the loan. Smaller-dollar loans receive less frequent reviews that are less in-depth."

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