The first quarter of 2023 was marked by turbulence and chaos in the banking world. The sector navigated a stormy sea, underlined by bank failures and confusion among seasoned professionals and the public alike.
This was not the story for Western Alliance Bank, though, which has not only weathered the storm but emerged more robust. To Western Alliance, which has over $65 billion in assets and serves customers across the country, the start of this year served as a springboard to redefine the banking landscape in the years to come. In fact, Bank Director and American Banker recently ranked Western Alliance Bank as a top U.S. bank for 2023.
One of the cornerstones of Western Alliance Bank’s strength lies in its leadership team’s unwavering commitment to a clear strategy. From the onset of this year, the Western Alliance team recognized the need for adaptability in an ever-evolving financial landscape. Their foresight and ability to make informed decisions, combined with a commitment to transparency and strong communication, have proven to be invaluable assets, ensuring that the institution remains at the forefront of innovation and financial stability.
Originate Report sat down with two Senior Vice Presidents of the Note Finance group within Western Alliance Bank, Lisa Alberti and Mark Roberts. The two banking veterans stressed how the group continues to prioritize resilience, innovation, and a longstanding client-focused ethos throughout this period and beyond.
“If we go back to mid-2022, the executive management team saw that there may be challenges on the horizon in terms of the macroeconomy,” Mark said. “This allowed us to be well-prepared for the unique challenges we saw this year. Western Alliance prioritizes a very strong risk management environment, an environment that carries us through all seasons. Our diversified banking model also allows us to prioritize areas of growth.”
The importance of this diversified model was reiterated by Lisa, who added that Western Alliance’s experience throughout economic downturns and market corrections assisted in the response to the turmoil of early 2023.
“The speed and certainty of execution of our offerings is a critical element to our continued success,” she said. “Our private lenders are moving very quickly in this fast-paced environment, and they need to feel assured that they have access to capital. The entrepreneurial nature of Western Alliance also allows us to tap into different niches and become subject matter experts, which in turn allows us to offer the best possible rates and experience for our customers.”
In a sector sometimes criticized for prioritizing profit over people, Western Alliance Bank’s commitment to its clients has been a breath of fresh air amid banking sector concerns. Their client-centric approach coupled with personalized solutions and a deep understanding of the unique needs of each client has solidified Western Alliance’s reputation as a trusted financial partner.
To Mark, maintaining a competitive edge is impossible without establishing a track record of excellence and trust.
“Accountability and transparency are more than buzzwords to us,” he said. “When there are downturns in the market or specific tension points with one of our products, our executives and senior management are ready to meet with clients and listen to their concerns. It is rare for a customer to be able to meet with the CEO of a bank, but that sort of open-door policy has allowed us to keep the lines of communication open with our customers.”
At the end of the day, Lisa said, the results speak for themselves. In quarter two of 2023, Western Alliance has already seen approximately 1,000 new accounts with $3.5 billion in deposit growth (as of June 30, 2023 vs. December 31, 2022.)
“What we have experienced in quarter two and beyond just reaffirms the strength and stability of the bank going forward,” Lisa said. “We’re looking to continue those conversations to deepen our relationships with customers and selectively look at new customer relationships.”
Lisa expressed that it can be easy to get lost in the numbers on a balance sheet. What is not expressed in quarterly earnings reports and mere numbers, however, is the underlying mindset that leads to sustainable growth. This point was echoed by Mark, who said Western Alliance has built a strong customer base and rapport with players from across the field.
“We have a reputation for delivering consistently for our clients,” he said. “We receive a steady stream of referrals from our existing customers which only strengthens our credibility in the marketplace. An extremely important ingredient for our success, though, is the team that stands behind Western Alliance every day. Whether a customer needs to get a wire out at the last minute or needs assistance with something as routine as pulling a bank statement, we often joke that our customers come for the loans but stay for the customer experience.”
When thinking about today’s competitive marketplace, Lisa said she is often surprised at how many new customers who come to Western Alliance have already met with others in the space.
“Clients will often approach us having already been to five or six other groups. They feel like no one speaks the same language as them,” she said. “We understand the inner workings of these complicated deals, and our external partnerships with groups like Geraci allow us to tap into an extensive professional network at an enterprise level. We feel comfortable with our clients because we know what they do. And we take the time to get to know them and learn what they desire from the customer/bank relationship.”
An important element of this ever-evolving customer/bank relationship, Mark said, is the importance of due diligence and follow-through. While some lenders only focus on the speed of deal flow, Western Alliance prioritizes efficiency and attention to detail.
“We are always looking at the factors that can influence deal flow,” Mark said. “This includes asset class, geography, and market concentration. When we meet with our customers, we want to impress on them that we are viewing the landscape from a bird’s eye and boots-on-the-ground perspective.”
What is continuously expressed to clients is the mantra that Western Alliance stands behind its word.
“It’s not just about making promises; it’s about keeping them,” Lisa said. “This commitment is shown in our diversified banking portfolio where we serve a wide range of clients with unique financial needs. Our ability to see a process to completion is evidence of not only our outstanding staff but the underlying principle of dependability in place at Western Alliance.”
In addition to this emphasis on transparency, Western Alliance’s dedication to clients is shown through an investment in technology. With words such as ‘AI’ and ‘automation’ buzzing around the banking industry, Mark said it is imperative to focus on the products that foster an environment of forward thinking and consistency.
” At Western Alliance, we have been investing in technology that makes our customers’ processes more efficient and beneficial,” Mark said. “This includes our asset-based lending loans that measure how much borrowers can advance. When we look through a historical lens, tasks that used to take a full day can now be accomplished in a half hour. What we want to be keenly aware of, though, is how we are utilizing technology without over-relying on algorithms. That mindset can lead to a false sense of positivity about a deal – and not consider the human element of a transaction.”
While technology does play a pivotal role in modern banking, it is the way tools are harnessed that truly matters, Lisa added. At Western Alliance, technology is not just a tool – it is a means to enhance the human touch. This is shown through the bank’s strategic use of tools to streamline operations and create meaningful connections with clients while preserving the essential element of personal interaction.
“Technology is very important for speed and efficiency,” she said. “Because of the nature of our business, though, there are very few products that can be purchased off the shelf. We have to start from scratch and build proprietary tools that improve our workflow and client relationships. We’re also always thinking ahead to the next step, and how we can improve tools to make them smoother – both internally and externally.”
Just as technology platforms ebb and flow out of popularity, Mark added that some entrants to the space lack the expertise and awareness to gain traction. Western Alliance’s commitment to innovation not only shows their grasp of customer needs but that the bank is here for the long run.
“What we see in the space, often, is groups jumping in and out of lending. This is not our approach,” Mark said. “We have the staying power and ability to take on whatever the market throws our way. Our team of dedicated professionals on the lending side of the equation wakes up every day and focuses on nothing but private lending. That is a key reason we are successful.”
Consistency and commitment are the hallmarks of Western Alliance Bank’s approach to lending. In a market sometimes marked by fluctuations and uncertainties, their steadfast focus on private lending – and utilization of market-wide data – sets them apart from the competition.
“We have access to data from across our products and the industry as a whole,” Lisa said. “In addition to our portfolio, we have a finger on the pulse of what is happening on a larger scale. We often meet with clients two or three times a week, and because of this high-touch, hands-on mindset, we can share that information with clients in real time. This doesn’t only allow us to maintain transparency, it also lets clients feel as though they are an active stakeholder in the bank’s success.”
Where there are periods of success, however, there also are times of doubt. This is not a justification for ‘hiding behind the phone,’ Mark stressed, adding that communication becomes paramount when navigating market concerns.
“Our journey through the turbulence of the first quarter was a testament to the power of experience and technology working in harmony,” he said. “Our track record provided a bedrock of stability, while our commitment to embracing new methods allowed us to adapt and thrive in these challenging times. It’s not about choosing one over the other; it’s about finding the balance that enables us to deliver exceptional value to our clients. It’s an age of rapid change, and we have found synergy between learning from the past and keeping our eye on the horizon.”
Despite the difficulty associated with navigating less-than-optimal conditions, Lisa said there is much to learn from what many would consider a negative situation.
“Periods of strain on the banking sector offer invaluable lessons. They remind us of the importance of adaptability, the need for commitment to our clients, and the power of innovation in times of strain,” she said. “These challenges become growth opportunities, and they show the enduring strength that comes from a dedication to excellence, trust, and the pursuit of lasting partnerships.”
Looking forward, Mark said that Western Alliance’s ability to adapt – partnered with a robust balance sheet and experienced staff – will continue to support lasting relationships.
“We continue to stress to our customers that our commitment is unwavering and constant,” Mark said. “We are not just a bank; we are your financial partner, standing in your corner through ups and downs. Your goals are our goals, and your success is our success. We’re here, ready to listen, adapt, and provide solutions that empower you, because when it comes to financial journeys, we’re with you every step of the way.”
With more than $65 billion in assets, Western Alliance Bancorporation is one of the country’s top-performing banking companies.
Its primary subsidiary, Western Alliance Bank, Member FDIC, offers an array of solutions and services delivered by banking and mortgage experts who put customers first. If you would like to learn more about Western Alliance Bank or its Note Financing group, visit westernalliancebancorporation.com/commercial-corporate/note-finance.