(512) 557-2265 ralphdowling@gmail.com

A program designed to generate new loans, enhance financial institution business-development programs, expand the scope of your customer relationships, and increase earning assets.

By Ralph Dowling


A Gatekeeper (“GK”) for our purposes, is an individual at the center of a concentric, circular network who has access to prospective loan and deposit customers.  The Gatekeeper Method is designed to focus on these individuals or groups, primarily as a source of referrals from their network.  Processes should be in place to prioritize GK referrals to insure ongoing business opportunities, both with the original source and the referred party.  Communication and follow-up with GKs are best frequent without being intrusive.  In addition to e-mails, cards, personal notes, invitations, and rewards —including event tickets or other outings—are an integral component of this program.  Build the relationship!


While working with consent-order financial institutions, I experienced the challenge of relocating into new and different areas of the country.  During my career, I’ve held the position of CEO in five diverse markets. Each area contained its own set of dynamics, both in terms of demographics and types of loan availability.

As a result of my years as a transitional manager, entering into markets with a minimum or non-existent customer network was standard procedure.  While many of these financial institutions were troubled, the importance of maintaining the earning asset base remained a strategic priority for the bank. Term loans pay down every day and the bank’s competitors were already targeting prime customer relationships.  Traditional call programs frequently resulted in more paperwork than production while the Gatekeeper Method generated results and led to an increased number of loans, deposits and new customers.

Rifle vs Shotgun Approach

Most call program efforts struggle to achieve their goals due to poorly defined priorities and lack of focus.  Marketing lists are generated by various means and calling officers are often required to achieve quotas.  This shotgun approach fails to prioritize leads or assign values to possibilities, and the outcome is too often a meaningless stack of reports produced to check a box.  

The Gatekeeper Method is a Two-fold Rifle Approach

First Phase

Identifying attorneys, home builders and contractors, other bankers, accountants, title companies, reators and others with links to potential customers is the first step in the GK identification process.   This process should be ongoing with director and customer referrals added to the list. The list needs to be stratified and prioritized.  An  “A, B and C list”* should also be compiled.  Top potential GK visits should include a member of executive management and a loan officer. particularly on the initial meeting.  A social or lunch setting is preferable to an office visit.  While not excluding the “A” GK as a potential customer, the focus of the conversation should remain on the bank, the bank’s organizational strengths, and its ability to respond to referrals while providing the best customer service and competitive products.  An indirect benefit of this process is that the new generation of loan officers witness executive management in action and learn from management’s messaging and sales approach.  This is a great opportunity to turn your loan officers into “Rainmaker”.

Second Phase

The second part of the equation is the actual referral produced by the GK.  Once again, executive management or the senior lending officer needs to be involved in the initial contact, particularly on an “A” list referral.  Prior to this contact one should collect whatever information is publicly available.  Also important is the need to identify areas of commonality and connections.  The key here is to “WOW” the referral so that he thanks the GK.  

Action Plan

Gather your team and enroll them in the value of this concept. Get them involved in both the compilation of the GK list and reaching out process. Include incentives for success.  Ensure that your response systems are nimble so that you are in a position to respond rapidly to referrals.  Underwriters need to be ready to move a referral to the top of the list.  The approval process needs to be streamlined, and one needs to communicate the importance of rapid turnaround to the attorneys, appraisers, and title companies involved in the lending process. 


As previously stated, touch base with your GKs on a regular basis.  Seek to identify areas of common interests and strive to keep the relationship a two-way street, such as referring business opportunities to them as well.


With persistence and patience, the Gatekeeper Method is an efficient, effective process that can build the customer base.  In my experience, it generally takes up to 6 months to build the GK network and up to a year to develop a regular referral network.  At some point a critical mass is reached as new customers bring additional referrals, thereby elevating the GK network.   This is the time that you know your efforts are succeeding.

*List-A/B/C- Based upon sphere of influence, nature of their “circle” and perceived likelihood of referral possibilities

Mr. Dowling is a financial institution consultant with practices in Texas and Maryland.