GBA Member Banker Profile

Thomas Williams
SVP, Sr. Compliance Manager
United Bank, Griffin
GBA Compliance Committee Chairman

Q: What reaction do you get from people you meet when you tell them you’re a bank compliance officer?

I still get the “oh no” every now and then but believe it or not, the role of a bank compliance officer is becoming more understood than it was in the past. I think that can be attributed to so much attention being placed by the regulators on the importance of having a strong compliance management system, coupled with the increased scrutiny and fines that banks endure when cited for non-compliance. I first started in compliance back in the day when senior management just picked someone to fill the role for the organization. Now, the role has grown into so much more, and I have truly developed a passion for it as a profession. As the Compliance Officer, I get the opportunity to interact with everyone in the organization on some level. At the end of the day, it’s the people and the interactions with each one of them that makes my job so rewarding.

Q: There are a lot of binders, documents and checklists associated with bank compliance. How do you and others make it personal and relate it to helping customers of the bank?

Compliance is a double-edged sword, no doubt.  On one hand, you have to be thorough and detailed to ensure that the bank complies with all the regulations.  On the other hand, you can never lose sight of the reason that we are all in business; that is the customer. The regulations are in place to prevent customer harm and protect the safety and soundness of the bank. Sometimes just being able to explain that to our customers is the greatest challenge. My approach has always been to explain the “why” about the reason things have to be done a certain way. I also encourage our compliance staff, lenders, and other colleagues to ask the “why” question. Being able to equip my staff with the answers and an understanding of why things are the way they are makes explaining changes to the customer or banker much more effective. I don’t think any of us always agree with some of the regulations we have to enforce, however, if we can educate our staffs on the basis for the regulations, then together we can build a forward-looking plan for success.

Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about bank compliance programs?

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about a bank’s compliance program is that the role of compliance exists to slow down production. That could not be further from the truth. The one thing all bank employees want is for their organization to be successful. And, to be successful the organization has to be productive. I’ve found that working with your peers through the challenges of compliance, rather than just telling them the way that things have to be done goes a long way. When you involve your fellow employees in the process and help them understand that we are all in this challenge together, it makes the outcome much different. We are all fighting the same battle, but we are just approaching it from different angles.

Q: Tell us a little bit about why the GBA Compliance Committee decided to start a new GBA Compliance School?

Ever since I joined the GBA Compliance Committee we’ve talked about starting a new Compliance School. There is so much more to compliance these days than just having an appointed Compliance Officer for the organization, and we felt that we needed to do our part to educate those individuals that are supporting the compliance role in their organizations. Bank regulations are more complex and more numerous, and there are more and more people working in bank compliance than before. Some are new to the role, and some have taken on expanded compliance responsibilities, so the time is right for a new school. We are very excited about what the GBA Compliance School in May has to offer, and we are equally excited about the experienced compliance professionals in Patti Blenden, Steve Moore and Jim Bedsole, who are our faculty for this school.  I believe this will be the beginning of something special that compliance professionals will look forward to for years to come.

Q: What’s something you’ve learned from a mentor or another banker you’d like to share?

One of my favorite all time motivational speakers is Zig Ziglar. He was once quoted as saying, “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.”  I firmly believe there is value in never ceasing to learn new things. In compliance, the learning curve is exponential as the dynamics in this industry change daily. I believe the most successful people are those who treat people with respect, surround themselves with people of good character and are always willing to learn.

Q: When you’re not on the job at the bank or helping out on the GBA Compliance Committee, what do you like to do?

Spending time with my family, participating in church activities, coaching youth soccer, playing golf and spending fall afternoons in Clemson, SC, watching Clemson Tiger football.