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So. Many. Case Studies?!?!

We can just about set our clocks by it.  Throughout the year, the Barret staff will get several emails in between graduate school sessions about the number, depth, and complexity of the case studies.  In truth, they are very similar to (and in some cases, the exact same) as the case studies you would receive at the other graduate schools of banking, but there is a reason why case studies are so effective in the graduate school format.

Here’s the thing…whether you are a visual, audio, or tactile learner (big words for you have to see it, or hear it, or do it) a case study is the best way to engage with the content in a meaningful way.  Said another way, it’s the best way to learn the concepts.

See, you can sit in a class and have someone lecture and you will stand a good chance of learning something particularly if the facilitator is engaging and knows their stuff.  Yes, that even applies to things in banking like Commercial Lending, Balance Sheet Management, Compliance, etc.  I promise!!  You would likely be surprised at what classes are the highest rated at Barret.  I was.  However, it’s not until you get your hands dirty and really grapple with the content that you will really see where to apply the concepts.  We can teach you about funding needs on the balance sheet, but until you start thinking about actually how to go about getting deposits at the right price or go out into the markets to find treasuries or brokered CD’s will you really grasp the original funding concept.  “Grow deposits by 25%” is easy to say…much harder to execute.

A recent article by the Harvard Business Review (here), defined this as “meta-skills” or the side skills one picks up by doing a project/case study.  The article compared it to kids learning an instrument.  This resonated to me because my son is on the drum line at school and my daughter is working on piano, ukulele, and wants me to teach her guitar.  Yes, Kelly and I live in a very loud house.  Pray for us.  But the meta-skills are not the musical abilities one picks up from an instrument.  The meta-skills are the discipline of practice, creativity, dexterity, self-confidence, etc.

I wanted to expand on what the article named as 7 of the key meta-skills and how they apply to a banking education like what we offer here at Barret.

  1. Preparation—This one is pretty obvious, but doing these case studies teaches you to be prepared for a problem. Part of learning is knowing what you know, knowing what you don’t know, and approach the problem with that knowledge.  How do you prepare to meet a problem?  How do you approach a situation?
  2. Discernment—I like this one. How do you cut out the noise?  How do you take all the information available to you and distill it into cogent information you need to solve a problem?  Case studies force the banker to focus on the essentials of the problem.
  3. Bias recognition—This speaks to knowing yourself and your natural inclinations. Let’s be honest here…a marketer is not going to look at a problem the same way as the compliance officer.  There’s nothing wrong with either perspective.  In fact, both of these perspectives are equally as valid.  But you have to know yourself and know what inclinations you bring to the table and adjust accordingly.
  4. Judgment—Dove tailing off of the previous two meta-skills, at the end of this the banker has to decide and analyze what the solution(s) might be. No waffling allowed!  You can’t unmake a loan once the money is out the door!
  5. Collaboration—This is the flip side of bias recognition. It does not help the banker to simply lean into a problem from their own perspective.  He/she has to learn to work together and see what the other perspectives are.  This is exactly why we have marketing officers make loan decisions, loan officers build a dynamic marketing program, compliance officers make hiring decisions.  For one, it stretches the boundaries of their perspectives, but also, we encourage them to go ask someone in the bank.  I can’t tell you the number of times we hear non-lenders remark how glad they were to take a case study to a lender to hear how they would look at the case and why.
  6. Curiosity—Banking is a big industry. There is room for nearly every personality type (those that are constructive anyway!) and there are so many different types of jobs required to be a strong and growing bank.  Silos, however, are bound to spring up without curiosity (learning).  Spending time learning about the different aspects of banking…just because you’re curious…offers employees enormous advantages if for nothing else to see where their job fits into the grand scheme of things.  At that point, their position moves from just being a job to being a part of something greater and finding a career.  Wouldn’t you rather have that type of employee?
  7. Self Confidence—I love this one too. There is nothing better as a banking educator than seeing a banker get self-confidence and do something they didn’t think they could do.  Barret’s graduate program is not easy.  It’s not designed to be easy.  It’s a graduate school of banking for a reason.  Universities have given graduate school credit for our program.  For many, that scares the daylights out of them.  However, seeing bankers tackle a case study that’s a little scary and then nailing it…that’s the greatest feeling on Earth for us.  Self-confidence allows the banker to embrace the next problem and then the next one.  It also gives them the courage to pick themselves back up when they fall.  It’s going to happen.  Nobody has the right answer all of the time.  However, it is self-confidence built over time by tackling “scary” problems that brings out the best in the banker.

So, I do empathize with the students.  As I said, Barret’s hard but we help you through to see you succeed.  But also, there are reasons for what we do.  It is these meta-skills mentioned.  In truth, those are the skills you would want to learn at this level.  Learning how to read a balance sheet or get around in FRED is good to know…having the self-confidence to convert that information into something useful is, by far, the best use of your time in growing your knowledge in banking.


written by


Byron Earnheart is the Programming Director for the Barret School of Banking in Memphis, TN and the host of the “Main Street Banking” podcast…the only podcast solely devoted to community banks. He has over 15 years experience in the financial services industry; 11 of which have been in banking in various roles from teller work to branch management. He spends his time playing guitar and singing in Delta Heart (the “house band of the Mississippi Delta”), writing music, cooking, reading, and enduring the University of Tennessee Volunteers athletic seasons. He is married to his wife Kelly of 11 years and has two children, John Aubrey (11) and Mary Laura (7). If you'd like to hear Byron's music, check him out on Spotify:
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