Seeking talent assets

Banking industry looks to recruit next generation of professionals

Posted on Dec 2, 2019 :: Banking
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

As a small community bank, American National Bank pursues four main priorities. They include overall growth, long-term deposit strategy and improving client experience, but the No. 1 objective for President and CEO Paul Northway is talent management.

“Talent is the key. You cannot improve the client experience and you cannot grow the bank without really, really good people,” he says.

The banking industry encompasses a wide variety of positions and offers financially and personally rewarding opportunities, but Northway says he sees a lack of awareness around banking careers. While people who study finance or accounting might find their way into banking, he says the industry needs to develop a more concerted effort to educate young people about careers.

Banking isn’t necessarily presented to students as a prominent career path. For example, Marquette University is the only school in the state and one of only four nationwide to offer a commercial banking program.

“We’re not, probably, getting enough cultivation of folks interested in going into banking,” Northway says. “We really have great colleges and universities in our marketplace, so let’s start encouraging some of these folks to start thinking about banking as a potential career.”

The Wisconsin Bankers Association has begun reaching out to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to connect with students and encourage them to think about banking as a career, he says. In addition, American National Bank works closely with St. Norbert College and offers a formal internship program through UW-Green Bay.

Brooke Sprang, vice president of human resources for Investors Community Bank, says the Manitowoc-based bank also offers internships and has upped its presence at colleges. “Not only do we want students to know who Investors Community Bank is, but we want them to see all of the opportunities there are in banking,” she says. 

Outreach also can begin at an early age. Representatives from many financial institutions, including American National Bank and Investors Community Bank, go into schools to volunteer in the Junior Achievement program. JA teaches business and financial literacy skills in an age-appropriate way while also allowing volunteers to educate even the youngest students about banking careers, Sprang says.

On the other end of the age spectrum, the banking industry, like many others, faces a demographic shift and looming retirements. Kari Christoph, vice president of human resources for Prospera Credit Union, says Prosperas average employee age is around 43. When it comes to succession planning, the company maps out when people will become eligible for retirement so it can prepare for those transitions, she says.

“The big thing there is that you want to have time, so you don’t lose all that knowledge,” Christoph says.

Sprang agrees. She anticipates retirements in a few roles at Investors Community Bank within the next three years. However, she says keeping discussions open and using the right succession planning tools helps eliminate many of the concerns that can arise with retirements.

Next-generation talent

To find success working in many banking roles, people need to bring a combination of business development and relationship-building skills, but increasingly, they also need to be technically astute, Northway says. They must be able to understand financial statements while also knowing how to underwrite and analyze risk, he says.

Christoph says IT skills have grown increasingly important at Prospera, and the company is working with Fox Valley Technical College to recruit an IT intern. Employees at all levels need to be prepared to help members with tasks such as setting up online banking or accessing the company’s app.

“I think as our jobs become more focused on technology and as our service becomes more focused on technology … generally our workforce grows with that,” she says, also noting the importance of remaining vigilant about cybersecurity.

Sprang says that infusion of technology is also what makes the banking industry an exciting place to work. Throughout the last five years, Investors Community Bank has created new roles that stem directly from innovation within the industry. Top roles at the bank going forward include credit analyst, personal banker and customer service associate.

Cultivating a workplace that’s appealing to young talent has become increasingly important. The company culture at Investors Community Bank has helped it recruit new talent through employee referrals, Sprang says. At the bank, the word “customer” applies to both external clients and employees, she says. To that end, it aims to create a culture of service both internally and externally.

Northway says culture has become a major focus at American National Bank. Younger people, especially, want to work for a company that makes a difference and does meaningful work, he says.

For Northway, that means showing recruits how American National Bank helps fund people’s dreams, bolsters the local economy and supports small businesses, which in turn support others in the community. The bank also is dedicated to volunteering — a revolving roster of two workers from the bank volunteers at St. Joseph Food Program in Menasha every Friday.

Ultimately, banking offers a flexible, satisfying career — one the community views positively, he says.

“What we do here in Northeast Wisconsin, you can drive around town and see the impact. I think it’s very rewarding to help small businesses flourish, and you realize that beyond that, it’s jobs. These are local families,” Northway says.