For Jim Harris, banking is personal.
As U.S. Bank’s community bank president and commercial team leader for Colorado and southeast Wyoming, he spends a lot of his time establishing the personal relationships and partnerships he considers key to U.S. Bank’s success. And he enjoys having close, personal ties with people in the community.
Harris’s father was an Air Force officer, and from the time he was 3 weeks old, his family was on the move. He finished all four years of high school in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and considers Las Cruces his hometown.
Harris graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting and finance, and studied graduate-level banking, corporate finance and securities law at the University of Washington’s Pacific Coast Banking School.
After graduating from UTA 34 years ago, Harris started his career at a large regional bank in Austin. That bank failed in the mid-1980s.
“While that was not a fun time to be in banking, looking back, it provided me with a lot of experience early in my career,” he said.
Harris went on to work in roles ranging from commercial loan officer to senior vice president at large, for national institutions including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo.
He moved to Colorado Springs 12 years ago to manage Wells Fargo’s regional business banking.
In 2014, he joined Peoples Bank of Colorado as senior vice president, bank lending and sales manager. Four years later, he became U.S. Bank’s senior commercial leader and was promoted to community bank president when his predecessor, Tom Naughton, retired in July 2019.
Harris spoke with the Business Journal about how technology is changing banking, how U.S. Bank is working within the community and why he thinks he’s found his “forever job.”
What made you decide to go into banking?
When I was graduating from college, there were two main career tracks that people took. One was in banking and the other corporate finance. I was attracted to banking for two reasons: I liked the relationship aspect of working directly with clients, and I wanted to be able to put down roots in the community. Growing up, we moved a lot, and I liked the idea of being able to truly become a part of the community.
What are your current responsibilities?
In addition to serving as the community bank president for Colorado Springs, I also serve as the commercial team leader for the Colorado and southeast Wyoming region — excluding Denver, which operates as a separate region. My team of commercial relationship managers is spread among Pueblo, Colorado Springs, northern Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming. Of course I’m biased, but I think we have the most talented team of business bankers in the state.
One of the best kept secrets about U.S. Bank in Colorado Springs is that we serve as the headquarters for the Mountain States Community Banking Division, which spans from El Paso, Texas, on the Mexican border north to the Canadian border. Essentially we cover all of the markets in the Mountain Time zone. By being a regional hub, most of our senior management is located in Colorado Springs.
I’m fortunate to be supported by a local community advisory board that advises us on how to best meet the financial needs of the community. Some of our long-time board members include Kyle Hybl, BJ Scott and Sandy Kraemer. We also have a community advisory board in Pueblo.
Talk about the digital revolution in banking and how U.S. Bank is adapting to technological changes.
Let me tell you a true story. We were in a regional meeting talking about this very subject, and my teenage daughter called me on my cell phone. As you know, that is unusual. Teenagers don’t call, they text, so I thought maybe it was an emergency. When I answered the phone my daughter said, ‘Dad, I just received a $100 bill from our neighbor for house sitting and I want to deposit it into my account, but I don’t know how to do that.’ I said, ‘I don’t understand. What do you mean?’ She said, ‘Well, you know when I get checks, I just take a picture with my phone and it goes into my account, but I don’t know how to deposit cash.’ I said, ‘Sarah, just go to the King Soopers and find the U.S. Bank teller, and they will help you.’ This next generation, they don’t see a bank as a building or, for that matter, even a teller. They see their bank as an app on their phone.
This is the new reality, and it means that banks have to adapt. At U.S. Bank we are adapting by being incredibly personal and phenomenally digital. We even have a name for it — we call it ‘Show us your shoes.’ Traditionally when you go to the bank, you approach a teller window to make a deposit or cash a check. Have you ever noticed what kind of shoes the teller was wearing? Of course you didn’t, because they were behind a teller window. Now we are encouraging our tellers to come out from behind the counter, show their shoes and greet the customer when they enter the lobby.
We want to show people how they can use technology to improve their lives. We received an email last week from one of our bankers who helped an elderly client who is having surgery next week. The client came into the branch to make a deposit and the banking center manager asked if he would like to learn how to deposit his check using our mobile app. He said that he had given up on banking online because he struggled to remember the password. The manager helped the customer download our app, set up touch ID so he wouldn’t have to remember a password and demonstrated how to deposit a check via his mobile app. The customer was so happy and so relieved that he’d be able to manage his finances while recovering from his surgery. That is what it looks like when people and technology work together.
How are banks addressing competition from nontraditional sources such as Apple Pay and Microsoft’s credit card?
For banks that don’t have the ability to invest in their digital platforms, it’s going to be very difficult to survive in this industry. U.S. Bank is investing $2.5 billion a year to ensure that our digital banking technology is responding to that competition and meeting our customers’ needs. I think that’s pretty impressive from a competitive standpoint, but it’s all in how you deliver it, and we deliver it very personally. We have what’s called Tech Tuesdays, and you’ll see all of our bankers wearing this red T-shirt with a QR code on the back. One of the easy ways for our clients to download the U.S. Bank app is just to hover their camera on the QR code. It will automatically bring up either the login to their U.S. Bank app or allow them to download the app. Our tellers are no longer going to be behind the line. Now, they’ll greet you in the lobby with an iPad, and they’ll show you how to set up your online banking and answer any questions you might have. Think of it like when you go into the Apple store. You don’t go up to a counter and ask for service. Somebody greets you when you come in the door. We’re trying to kind of duplicate that on Tech Tuesdays.
How is U.S. Bank involved in improving the Colorado Springs community?
Banking is all about relationships, and we value the many partnerships we have in the community. We have a long history of supporting the Colorado Springs community, not only through community grants and sponsorships but through hundreds of hours our employees spend volunteering in the community. We have a local volunteer president of our Community Development Network, Sam Giaffoglione, who organizes monthly service projects for our employees to participate in, like serving meals at the Marian House or stocking the shelves at Care and Share Food Bank. We also are the premier sponsor of Small Business Week and founding sponsor of the Downtown Partnership Art on the Streets program, just to name a few.
What I’m most proud of is our commitment to affordable housing in Colorado Springs. … We recently made a $12 million equity investment in the Springs Rescue Mission Greenway Flats project to house people experiencing chronic homelessness. We are also working with Greccio Housing on another senior affordable housing project, and we have made an initial investment to help fund the Affordable Housing Collaborative focused on El Paso County. We also support Partners in Housing and Family Promise.
I personally serve on the board of Peak Vista Community Health Centers. I was the chair of one of the first Peak Vista Breakfast of Champions events when Mark Spitz was the keynote speaker. We are so fortunate to have Peak Vista in our community, as it serves as a model for the country on how we can deliver health care to people with access barriers. I also serve on the board of Pikes Peak Hospice and on the selection committee for Colorado Springs Leadership Institute. I’m also active in the Colorado Springs Executives Association, El Paso County Contractors Association and Southern Colorado Commercial Brokers Association. I am a past chairman of Pikes Peak United Way.
How do you see your career going in the future?
I’ve been at U.S. Bank for a little over a year. I’m really the rookie. I’m always impressed when I meet people who have been here for 22 years, 26 years. We have somebody who just retired after 44 years, and Tom was here for 34 years. Longevity and stability is really important to U.S. Bank, and to me. I plan to retire with U.S. Bank.