We spoke with Austin Braithwait about talent development in the fast-growing corporate trust group…and his successful goal of running a marathon in all 50 states before he turned 50.
What is your role at UMB?
I’m responsible for two institutional business lines, one of which is corporate trust. Our group serves clients as trustee, escrow agent, transaction settlement agent and more, all depending on a client’s needs. We’re best known for our work serving municipalities that issue bonds and need a trustee to hold and disburse the funds.
In recent years, we’ve grown aggressively in other specializations, such as the aviation, cross border, loan agency, asset-backed-securities industries, and Delaware statutory trusts, as well as serving corporations more generally.
Is there a driving force behind your work?
Earlier in my career, before coming to UMB, I was with an institution that had to be wound down at the time of the Great Recession. Shutting something down is really tough. What drives me personally is wanting to build something enduring, that keeps people coming to work over the long term.
With the corporate trust group, a big part of my job has been guiding our growth and making sure we have a talent development model to support it.
What’s behind corporate trust’s strong growth?
I would emphasize our service—we provide clients with a single point of contact, shying away from an 800-number where if someone picks up the phone that person may or may not be familiar with your account. To our clients, our service level means something, particularly in the specialty areas where we have been expanding.
Prior to the spike in inflation last year, and subsequent ongoing Federal Reserve response, some competitors slimmed down their corporate trust services to focus on efficiencies. Banks can earn interest income, and benefit on the balance sheet side of things as well, when interest rates are higher. But when rates were near zero, many banks shied away.
At UMB, we take a different approach. We’ve acquired multiple teams from other banks as these competitors shifted priorities. We’ve done so with a focus on diversifying our revenues to emphasize fee income rather than the fees related to interest income. This approach has benefited us greatly in terms of new talent and increased assets under management.
Throughout all our specializations, our focus is on having a fully baked cake. The fee income is the cake. Potential future interest income is the icing on the cake.
What achievements—and challenges—has growth led to?
In a nationwide ranking of corporate trust providers, UMB has risen to number two, as measured by Refinitiv for new issues where UMB serves at trustee and/or paying agent. We’re alongside national banks that are household names.
As for challenges, one of the big ones—not just for us, but across the corporate trust function industry-wide—is the need to attract and develop the next generation of expert service providers.
Across the industry, you’ll see employee bases heavily weighted to those within 10 years of retirement. We recognized years ago that we needed to be just as aggressive with talent development as with acquisitions.
How are you going about talent development?
I’ll highlight three of our initiatives that focus on talent development:
- First, our mentorship program. We have 72 associates involved in this completely voluntary effort, which was relaunched in 2021. We did matchmaking work, pairing mentors and mentees based on experience levels and our associates’ stated interests. The program is beginning to flourish, with our biggest challenge now being time. Our team is so busy with the inflow of new business that it is challenging for our mentor/mentee pairs to prioritize making time for informal discussions about the business.
- Second, our emphasis on rotation. In the corporate trust world, many people get locked into a particular role. My early career was with the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, in a management training rotational program. It emphasized moving program participants around to build well-rounded knowledge. I’m a big believer in getting exposure to many parts of a business, and, in corporate trust, that means giving our associates the opportunity to have different deal types within their book—and not just a singular focus on one specialty.
- Third, we recruit talented associates in entry-level positions in other parts of UMB and provide them additional opportunities to grow their career. We look for associates with longevity that have an appreciation for our culture, and who find the opportunity to grow along with our business to be attractive. These folks have come to corporate trust and really had their careers take off. They start in an apprentice-like role as an associate relationship manager working with a seasoned relationship manager. Then, as they learn the business, they have an opportunity to gain more responsibility and take on their own book of clients as a relationship manager. We have also experimented with adding interns to identify talent fresh out of college and expect to expand that approach based on some early success.
We talked about what drives you professionally. How about away from work?
I’ve always been sports guy, playing whatever sport was in season at a small high school and then football in college. My wife was also an athlete, so our two kids really didn’t stand much of a chance. Like a lot of families, we crisscrossed KC from ballfield to gym and back while the kids were growing up. Now that they are grown, we still like to watch sporting events together. Throughout, I had always used running to stay in shape.
In my mid-20s, on a whim, I decided to run the Kansas City marathon without nearly enough preparation…it was an awful experience that I managed to complete. I don’t like not doing things well, so the experience gnawed at me, and, in my mid-30s, I got the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon. It happened to be one of the hottest on record in 2004, so although I was prepared, it turned into another miserable experience.
This time, it didn’t take me another 10 years to get back in the saddle, and after a year I decided to make one more attempt at a good marathon experience. The third time was the charm. I was running that third marathon with a friend and got to talking about having done each marathon in a different state. That conversation started a 13-year quest to finish the other 47 states before turning 50. Luckily, I completed Minnesota—my 50th—prior to the pandemic, which cancelled official marathons for almost a year.
I am also an avid weekend golfer and enjoy cycling. I am currently prepping for triathlons with the goal of completing an Iron Man event.
UMB is a nationally recognized and ranked provider of bond trustee and agency services to the corporate and municipal marketplaces. Learn how UMB can support your organization’s trust and escrow needs, or contact us to be connected with a corporate trust team member.