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Generalist vs. Specialist — What do you expect from your banker?

I think we’ve all read enough articles about the pros and cons of generalists versus specialists, and how each type can be of value in any organization. I’d like to look at this more specifically in commercial banking and from the customer’s point-of-view because after all, without them we wouldn’t need generalists or specialists!

Masters of None a.k.a Navigators

I think we, as humans are natural generalists. It’s in our DNA and we grow up being able to navigate our way through life balancing and juggling multiple things and managing our way through them. Let’s focus now on a more micro level of being a generalist in our profession, in my case — finance or banking. Large financial institutions are able to set up an infrastructure that is conducive to generalists. The way the organization is structured allows generalists to go out and act as the top of a funnel, take in everything and then find the right area of the company to navigate the particular request or task. Generalists add value because they know how to get something to the correct channel and in the right hands. In large firms, this is critical as it could take a client a very long time to figure this out on their own, so having a generalist is the solution. In the case of banking or commercial lending, there are so many avenues that a particular deal may go down, it’s important to have people that can look at the deal and find the best place within the bank that can handle that type of opportunity in the best interest of the customer. Naturally, this type of environment creates a collaborative approach to doing business but it can also unintentionally confuse the prospect when building a relationship with the banker and then they are introduced to the subject matter expert or specialist by way of the generalist.

Masters of One a.k.a Experts

Specialists have an important role in any organization, but large companies tend to utilize them in a unique way. From my personal experience I’ve witnessed specialists in the banking world being sheltered from the front lines and typically a deal only gets to them once it’s been vetted, and green-lighted. Now there could be good reasons for this, as the organization likely only wants to utilize their time to do what they do best and not have to act as a filter or do operational tasks that take away from their expertise. However, there’s some danger of becoming “out of tune” with the clientele, the market, the competition, etc. if they are too sheltered and not getting a taste of the front lines from time to time. Experts in my eyes are the “do-ers” they have the most control to execute and work toward an end goal for a customer. They are so important and their expertise is invaluable. Obviously, when an expert spends their time doing one or a limited number of things, they improve their knowledge and skill level, but also do not work on other parts of their profession or life, so I guess it’s all about the scenario and perspective.

There’s a pretty good quote out there by Brian Rose of LondonReal that looks at this concept at a very macro level, and I will leave you with this to ponder for a minute:

“Despite humans being the original generalists, so many of us go on to specialize and we accomplish so many great things as being specialists and as a specialist we almost rob ourselves of the beauty of being you.”

I’d like to hear your thoughts on generalists versus specialists, and feel free to get specific as it applies to your business or personal experiences.

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