Monday, March 25, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
WHY is the president of the Nevada State Bank learning how to process transactions at the teller window?
For the same reason that there's only two days in March without classes scheduled for the bank's 450 employees.
"It's because George Hofmann's here," said NSB Vice President and Operations Administrator Barbara Boos. "Everything's changed."
Hofmann was named president and CEO of the state's oldest bank one year ago, when former President and CEO Richard Carlson retired.
"Banking is one of the most marvelous, dynamic, exciting businesses there is," Hofmann said. "When you've turned around, it's changed on you. I love it. And I love the challenges of keeping up with it."
He should know.
The 46-year-old Hofmann has been in the banking business for 24 years, starting at Valley Bank of Utah, now Bank One, where, he said, he ended up "doing a little bit of everything."
In 1989, it was on to Zions First National Bank Utah, a subsidiary of Zions Bancorporation, where he headed the real estate division.
In 1985, Zions Bancorporation purchased Nevada State Bank. Hofmann said his arrival here is part of the company's effort to make a good bank with a good reputation even better.
"Banking 10 years from now won't be the same, with the information transfer and new technology. The challenge for us is how to keep up with all those changes and remain the community-based bank that we've always been," he said.
Thus, the aggressive schedule of classes, changes and Hofmann's willingness to get down in the trenches.
Boos said that under Hofmann's tutelage, bank managers and supervisors are studying in-house, what she learned at the School for Bank Administration.
"He even teaches some of the classes himself. You don't normally see management training on this level in the bank itself. Actually, I've never seen it done in a bank before. We call it George's Banking School," she said, adding that the process is invigorating for everyone.
Even Hofmann is taking a class, learning how to use the teller machine and process transactions.
"George made a vow to a teller that he'd go out and work. He's in an accelerated class, he'll be out there in a month," Boos said.
Hofmann doesn't spend much time talking about how unique his approach is. He simply sees it as logical.
He explained that employees are learning to do their jobs better, which makes them more confident and efficient and customers happier.
For example, employees are learning things like more specific consumer, real estate and business lending and marketing techniques, and how to better identify and understand customer needs in the rapidly changing business climate.
"In the 1960s, bankers were order-takers. People came in to the bank with a request and we took their order. But we're not just order-takers anymore," he said. "We're identifying needs and offering services to meet those needs. We're going out to customers. Our bankers are personal bankers to their clients."
So far, the approach seems to be working.
This month, the Nevada State Bank topped $500 million in assets.
"We've had great loan and deposit growth over the past six months," Hofmann said.
Hofmann attributes that success to the changes at Nevada State Bank -- the largest of which is the expansion of branches and banking centers.
When Zions purchased the bank in 1985, there were six branches where customers could cash checks and make deposits. In 1989, the move into Smith's stores started with banking centers, where customers could cash checks, make deposits and apply for loans.
Now, there are 19 branches and banking centers, including one in Pahrump. Two opened last year in Elko and Mesquite and five more are planned for this year.
"We find niches that no one else goes to," he said. "Plus, getting branches in Smith's is the most cost-effective way to get our banking services to clients. And it's on the customer's hours, not ours."
There's also some new services that have started during the past year, such as corporate lending and real estate and construction lending divisions and beefed-up ways to help small businesses.
A private banking division for higher net-worth customers is also in the works, as well as more competitive banking and cash management services.
Staff has increased by about 10 percent from last year.
And there's other more visible changes -- like the bank's new logo.
The new, bright green NSB sign is a way of telling people that the bank has changed and is growing, according to Hofmann.
Inside and out, the bank has been spiffed up. Its new image is brighter and more modern. The bank's communications and computer network have also been expanded.
"The biggest change is that with the distribution network we now have, we're not just a business bank," Hofmann said.
But by his standards, things still aren't moving quite fast enough.
"The change is taking longer than I thought. The ideas come quickly, but the education and implementation takes longer," he said. "What we've set in motion is not an overnight thing."
Zions President and CEO Harris Simmons said he's not surprised about what Hofmann accomplished in a year.
"George is one of the greatest problem solvers I've never known in the business, especially in the area of real estate lending. He also developed programs for low-income borrowers and the disadvantaged communities when he worked here in Utah," he said.
Hofmann's former boss at Zions said Hofmann has a combination of qualities that is rare among bankers.
"George is not only a good banker but a good manager," said John D'Arcy, Zions chief credit officer. "He's good both from a technical side and from managing a business. He's not necessarily an easy person to work for because he's demanding. He sets high standards. He's a very intense type of individual."
D'Arcy hired Hofmann because of his obvious leadership qualities as well as his experience.
"You could see it just in talking to him. And his skills as a leader have grown -- his style has moderated a bit. There were actually a few people who were a little afraid of him," he said.
After Hofmann came on board at Zions, he quickly earned the respect of his superiors, according to D'Arcy.
D'Arcy explained that in the late 1980s, a number of banks in the industry had suffered some severe losses after making loans to the real estate community. Consequently, Zions had a somewhat jaundiced view of real estate lending.
"Zions Bank is relatively conservative. We don't intentionally take a lot of risk. At that time, we had a real estate department but it wasn't effective. George's job was to rebuild the department and there were several different focuses," he said.
The focuses included construction lending to builders and developers and serving commercial customers' real estate needs for expansion of their facilities.
"He provided the direction that was needed. George's major accomplishment has been to earn the confidence of the bank's executive management in commercial real estate lending," D'Arcy said.
Hofmann takes pride in the company he works for.
"We are part of the institution (Zions) that U.S. Banker is calling the highest performer of the year," he said, adding that in spite of Nevada State Bank's impressive parent company, the local bank makes its own decisions.
Hofmann and his wife, Sara, are also in the process of building a new house. His son George, 24, is in law school. Daughter Heidi, 21, is in her third year of college.
Hofmann said they're settling comfortably into Las Vegas, although it's quite a change from Salt Lake City. "It's much more friendly here," he said, adding that he intends to maintain that atmosphere at the bank as well.
"The smallness of Nevada State Bank affords clients the ability to interact with their banker and have that small-bank feeling while receiving big bank services," he said. "That's our goal."
Among those who know him, there's no doubt that he will succeed.
"He put the dream out there," Boos said. "And we're heading for it. One thing's for sure, it's certainly not boring working around here."