Courtesy Leah Baldwin

When Leah Baldwin’s husband, Luke, passed away in April 2019, she didn’t know how she was going to pick herself up again.

With love and support from her family and friends, she began pursuing a career as a relationship banker.   And that’s what she does today, offering her customers at Vectra Bank advice during some of life’s most trying times.

“No matter how low you find yourself, you can always rise up higher. You can always pick yourself up and get moving forward,” said Baldwin, who has lived in Colorado Springs since 1996.

Baldwin, 34, has worked in the banking industry for the past decade, starting out as a part-time teller with Chase Bank. She grew into a full-time position and eventually moved into a management role at a branch in Falcon. Later she moved to the bank’s downtown Colorado Springs branch, which at the time was the second-largest branch in the state. 

She made the move to Vectra Bank in December 2018 and became a relationship banker there the following March. In her new role, she focuses on building lasting relationships with her customers.

Baldwin spoke with the Business Journal about her career and how the banking industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is a relationship banker?

A relationship banker is obviously a banker, but to me the more important part of the job title is the relationships. My job and my goal here is to build relationships with the community and with my clients. I don’t want to open a checking account for someone and say, “OK, that’s that, I’m never talking to them again.” I get to know people and give them solid financial advice; I’m not just pushing products. In terms of banking, though, I do open accounts for people, and I talk to them about things like lending and credit cards. Vectra specializes in business accounts, so I work with both businesses and consumers.

What do you enjoy most about banking?

It may be cliché to say, but it’s the people. There were a few times over the years when I didn’t know if I wanted to do it anymore. My dad thinks it’s funny that I work in banking. I always hated math, so my dad thinks it’s hilarious that I’ve been in banking for 10 years. But, I’ve met some of my best friends through this job and this career path. I have run into some of the most challenging situations workwise and professional-wise that have really built up my character and shaped who I am. 

How has the banking industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

In much the same way as other businesses. The numbers for our growth have gone down, and in that sense we have been tightening our belts. We have stricter lending rules now than we did six or seven months ago. The pandemic has also changed the way we think about banking. People are not as likely to use cash right now, so we’ve been helping them understand more about debit cards and the security with those as well as remote and online options for banking. It’s also changed the way we interact with clients. I’ve probably emailed more clients in the past few months than I have in the last 10 years. I’ve been personalizing my emails with little smiley faces and things to give it a personal touch. We’ve had to pivot and find more creative ways to help our clients, especially when they aren’t able to come to the branch. For those who can’t come to us, we’ve been letting them know that we can come to you, or we can talk via email or over the phone.

What advice have you been giving to your customers during this time?

A lot of our advice has been around the Paycheck Protection loans. We’ve been working with longstanding clients, but we have also opened a lot of new accounts and started new relationships. There has been a lot of anxiety around the whole program and especially around the forgiveness piece. The best advice I’ve been able to offer people is to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and don’t get too in your head about it,  because we’re all following the same trajectory right now. People want to think ahead and look to the future, and in the financial lanes, we do that a lot. So, we’re trying to walk that balance of ‘Yes, we do want to think about the future, but right now we also have to take things one day at a time.’ 

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in banking and how have you approached them?

One of the big challenges in recent years has actually come about as technology advances. As automation becomes more and more commonplace, it changes how we do business. I’ve had clients and colleagues alike who worry about teller jobs going away permanently as smart ATMs get smarter. The way I meet that challenge is by being even more people-

focused. Yes, technology in banking is good and I encourage my clients to use those conveniences, but ATMs can’t smile or think creatively or let you know you could get a better rate on your mortgage. It’s more important than ever to see the humanity in people and show them your own.

Outside work, what are your hobbies?

I have always been a reader and a writer. National Novel Writing Month happens every November. A lot of people have a goal to finish a novel, and then life happens and they never finish it. So, the goal of National Novel Writing Month is you have 30 days to write a 50,000-word novel. It may turn out to be a terrible book, full of grammatical errors and plot twists that don’t make sense, but you can always edit it later. The goal is just to finish it. I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2005. The last few years, some things happened in life and I wasn’t able to participate, but for about 10 years or so I did it and I did finish novels. I’m planning to do that again this November.

I also love to hike. It’s hard to live in Colorado and not love the outdoors. I spend a lot of time hiking. I also enjoy yoga, and I love to meditate. It helps me feel clear-headed and ready to start my day. 

What community organizations are you involved in?

I’m the treasurer for Colorado Springs Dance Theatre. They were calling around to some banks and just kind of shopping. It turned out not only were they looking for a bank, but they were also looking for a treasurer. I ended up talking to their executive director and said, what would you be looking for in treasurer. Things worked out pretty well, and now I’m serving as their treasurer. This is my first board position, and I’m really excited about it. It’s only been a couple of months, and it’s been a learning process. The funny part, too, is that I am not a dancer. I couldn’t dance to save my life, but I do love the arts. My sister took ballet; I love to write; I enjoy going to the First Friday Artwalks. I really love the arts, and I think we need more of them.