Sowing Seeds for Banking’s Future

By Bruce T. Whitehurst

During our most recent strategic planning process, a clear priority emerged for the Virginia Bankers Association: help attract bright, young people to banking.

Realizing that we needed to dedicate more resources to our financial literacy and outreach efforts, we hired a sixth grade math teacher who has proven to be an excellent addition to the VBA staff. She has taken the lead with financial literacy and spearheaded two programs aimed at attracting more young people to consider banking careers.

First, we added more emphasis to an existing program. In 1991, the Virginia General Assembly designated the third Tuesday in March as Bank Day. On this day, high school seniors shadow bankers in order to learn about banking, financial services and the vital role banks play in their communities. They are encouraged to write an essay based on their experience for a chance to earn one of 12 scholarships, ranging from $1,000-$7,500. Bankers and VBA staff have the honor of attending awards ceremonies to present these scholarships. In 2016, 375 high school seniors shadowed in 36 Virginia banks.

The current chairman of our VBA Emerging Bank Leaders group participated in Bank Day as a senior in high school, went on to work for that bank and is now the vice president of strategic engagement. She credits the VBA Bank Day program with leading her to the banking profession. Her story is one we would like to see repeated over and over.

Our second—and brand new—initiative is a summer bank internship program for college students. Working with a focus group of seven banks that will pilot the program next summer, we have developed a program that has been met with enthusiasm from our member banks. Knowing that many banks already hire college students in the summer, our program is built to enhance the experience by adding industry awareness, training and networking components. We will provide template documents to help banks recruit students and design their in-bank summer experience. There will also be training for the bankers who will serve as mentors for the interns.

In May, the VBA will host an intern orientation where we will introduce the program, provide a banking industry overview, talk about careers in banking and business etiquette. This will also be a chance for the students to become acquainted as they begin their summer internship experience.

In July, we will bring the interns back for a mid-summer meetup, where we will have a panel of emerging leaders talk about their banking careers and offer advice and guidance. Throughout the summer, we will also encourage banks to send their interns to regional emerging bank leaders networking and educational events and attend community events or volunteer opportunities through the bank. The interns will also have online training opportunities and complete a capstone project focusing on an industrywide topic, all leading to a certificate of completion they can add to their resumes. Our hope is they will return to school in the fall seriously considering a banking career.

I didn’t grow up planning to be a banker, but after getting a job as a part-time teller in college, I now have over 30 years working in this great industry. Our goal with these two VBA programs is to introduce banking to young people who most likely don’t have a banking career in mind—yet!

Bruce T. Whitehurst is president and CEO of the Virginia Bankers Association.

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