Rita Cook always knew she wanted to work with farmers. She recently returned to her home county to work as an Ag Loan Officer in Iowa Falls, Iowa with Green Belt Bank & Trust where she has been for one year. Rita talks about what she has learned in her first year of work as an ag loan officer and her advice for those interested in the career path.
What made you want to become an ag loan officer?
I grew up on a diversified grain and livestock farm in Iowa, and knew I wanted to work hands-on with farmers to help them be successful. The bank had an opening for an ag lender. It was a perfect fit to combine my passion of helping farmers with lending.
What is a day in the life like for you?
A lot of days are spent meeting with customers or visiting with them on the phone. I work with customers to update their balance sheets, put together projected cash flows for the coming year, and then analyze those numbers. Once the analysis is done, I present the customer’s request to our internal loan review committee for approval. There’s a lot of leg work that goes on behind the scenes, especially if a farmer is purchasing farm ground or a putting up a livestock barn.
What skills do you think that someone should possess to become an ag loan officer?
A love for numbers and financial analysis is critical. However, communication skills are also vital. You not only need to be able to communicate with coworkers, realtors and attorneys, but communicating with farmers is especially important. A thorough understanding of production agriculture is also important. And finally, being detail-oriented is incredibly important as you review credits and prepare loan documents.
If you were talking to someone who wanted to be an ag loan officer, what kinds of special training would tell him or her they need?
For ag lending, a degree in banking and finance would be very fitting. Personally, my degree is in agricultural business and economics, and that’s also a great fit. Experience-wise, gravitate toward jobs working in banks but also jobs on the farm – this will help you understand what it takes for a farmer to succeed in today’s economy.
What do you enjoy about being an ag loan officer?
My favorite thing about ag lending is helping a customer take a well-thought-out plan and turn it into reality. Especially when I’m helping a young farmer get started – sometimes with their first farm real estate purchase or livestock facility project.
What would surprise someone to know about your job?
I think people would be surprised to know how many hours actually go into reviewing a credit, especially if it’s more complex or if there are some struggles. There are a lot of hours behind the scenes that the lender puts into the analysis and getting everything ready to set-up financing for the next year. Also, if there is a real estate purchase or restructure, that involves a fair amount of time preparing behind the scenes.
What advice would you give to an aspiring ag loan officer?
If you didn’t grow up on a farm, I would really encourage you to get a summer internship or a part-time job working on a farm. That will help you get a better understanding of how farmers think and what they need. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. That will help you gain respect with potential customers down the road. Also get a part time job working with a bank. Perhaps most importantly, learn how to communicate effectively with farmers.
Find ag lending careers like Rita’s on AgCareers.com.