Don’t Call Me a Banker

By Deb Stewart

“Don’t call me a banker. I’m not that boring!”

That’s a quote from a very talented banker, the millennial marketing director of one of the best-performing banks in New Jersey. So as banks grapple with how to attract and retain millennial customers, we must also figure out how to attract and retain millennial and Gen Z employees as the baby boomer staffing core retires in increasing numbers.

How do we frame banking as a career and reconstruct the employee experience in a way that is relevant and exciting to the younger generations?

The 2016 Gallup study, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, identifies six priorities for this group:

  1. Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck—they want a purpose. They want to work for organizations with a mission and purpose.
  2. Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction—they are pursuing development. Purpose and development drive this generation.
  3. Millennials don’t want bosses—they want coaches. Millennials care about having managers who can coach them, who value them as both people and employees, and who help them understand and build their strengths.
  4. Millennials don’t want annual reviews—they want ongoing conversations. The way millennials communicate—texting, tweeting, Skype, etc.—is now real-time and continuous.
  5. Millennials don’t want to fix their weaknesses—they want to develop their strengths. Gallup recommends that organizations not ignore weaknesses but minimize weaknesses and maximize strengths.
  6. It’s not just my job—it’s my life. Millennials want to know that the organization they work for values their strengths and contribution and gives them a chance to do what they do best every day.

What does this really mean? How are some of these priorities being turned into actions by banks today? We talked with banks that have enjoyed success in this area, and we saw some commonalities—as well as some stand-alone great ideas.

Millennials want a purpose.

“From the time we step onto a campus we emphasize a couple of things,” Janice Mazzallo, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at PeoplesBank told us. “First, banking does not equal cash handling! Second, and more important, when you work for a community bank you’re giving back to that community every day. Whether you’re lending money for a new business or making a mortgage for a homebuyer or talking to high school kids about budgeting and debt you are giving back. You are making your community and the people who live there stronger.” She added, “This group is looking for an employer that cares about more.”

Rob Raynor, assistant vice president of compliance and risk oversight, joined PeoplesBank in 2009. He described his experience, saying, “I didn’t think much about banks in college except for the ATM on campus or when I got my first overdraft fee. One of my professors introduced me to PeoplesBank. When I visited their website it outlined their connection to the community, even in the area of the environment. I had never thought about how the community bank I used growing up helped to start businesses or buy a first home. All that became even clearer after I was hired. I feel that I’m making a difference.”

ConnectOne Bank is a fast growing company that wants evolving talent. “We build awareness of our great culture and values for all generations through a robust social media presence, boots on the ground marketing efforts, an active CEO, speaking at events and having a relevant brand,” said Siya Vansia, ConnectOne’s VP of marketing (and a millennial herself). “Brand ambassadors are out there talking up the brand everyday. All of these initiatives build awareness and interest among millenials.”

Now focused on the members of Gen Z, ConnectOne’s internship program is one way to immerse younger associates in that culture. Here’s how it works:

  • It starts with the selection of candidates aligned to the bank’s values.
  • Day one, the interns build and decorate a light fixture or other home item. At the end of the day they choose which local non-profit to donate it to.
  • Day two, the interns meet with the director of Corporate Giving.
  • The 15 to 20 interns are divided into two groups. Each picks a non-profit from the bank’s list or pitches another. Each team is given $500. Then it’s a contest to see who can raise the most money or in-kind donations for their charity.
  • Interns work with all areas of the bank—marketing/promotions to publicize, compliance to ensure their communications are okay, finance to pay for it. They collaborate across all departments.
  • They are challenged to find a way for the project to continue to give back after their internships are complete. For example, one recent team of interns involved area bike shops in a bike drive. That has now become an ongoing initiative in the community.
  • At the end of the summer, each team presents to the executive team. Teams consistently come up with great ideas and execute them well. Last year’s teams raised over $11,000.

“Our internship program has now become an ongoing channel for recruitment,” Vansia explained. “Internships are paid. We require departments to have an approved project for each intern to ensure meaningful work. In addition to working in their own department, interns do job shadowing every Tuesday across different departments.”

Millennials are pursuing development.

The management training program is back. For Mazzalo, recognition of the need to reintroduce a training program came shortly after she joined the bank. Looking at the senior leadership at PeoplesBank, she realized that most of them came from a training program that had been discontinued many years earlier.

In the bank’s first employee survey, she got a clear message that associates felt there were few opportunities for development or advancement at the bank. In answer to those concerns, PeoplesBank introduced its Management Development Program (MDP) and Leadership Development Program.

The MDP program focuses on recruitment from local universities, including the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The 18-month program began with two hires in its first year, and has consistently continued to produce staff leaders over the years.

Trainees report to the head of HR during the 18 months and are assigned to host managers as they rotate across departments. Some 95% of participants have stayed with the bank, with many VPs and First VPs coming from the program. Raynor told us, “The MDP program was important in that I knew my career was going somewhere. I worked in every area—the branches, HR, Operations—and elected to go to Audit for my first full time position. And now I’m in Compliance. Going in, I knew that I would learn a lot. But by the end of the program I realized this was more than just a place to work. Roots take hold in MDP.”

The Leadership Development Program is available to all associates, and focuses on topics that include coaching and how to provide useful feedback. It operates on a key assumption that managers need some help to become good managers.

Mentorship is a key development component at ConnectOne. “In onboarding every person is assigned to both a mentor and a connector,” explained Maria Fusca Gendelman, chief culture and experience officer at ConnectOne. “The mentor is someone in their department. The connectors drive culture through the organization, helping new associates acclimate to the culture and the new environment.”

She added, “It’s important to note that access to mentors and to our development program are available to everyone in the company. We believe that it’s up to each associate to drive their career forward, but it’s up to us to provide the tools to help them. Development check-ins at three, six, and nine months have recently been introduced. This process may identify internal classes, outside classes, job shadowing and other tools.”

It’s not just my job—it’s my life.

Both banks work hard to make their environments both flexible and fun. When they hear ideas from associates, the question is, “Why is it we can’t do this?”

For PeoplesBank, that has resulted in a farmers market and farm shares coming to their office during the summer months, and an annual chili cook-off in the fall. A social committee arranges trips to New York for Broadway shows, ski trips, and family trips like pumpkin picking. Coffee with senior officers helps associates learn about the specific career paths of their leadership—both the good parts and the struggles.

All of these events allow associates to make connections with people they would never meet or that they know purely from a work perspective. “It makes you want to go the extra mile when you know people personally,” Raynor told us. “These events give context to people—they had a baby, they’re getting married, they’re caring for their parents—connecting with each other really helps.”

Gendelman sums up their approach to their younger associates in three words: growth, opportunity and empowerment. “Generational differences are real, and there are challenges around managing millennials,” she said. “We make them a real part of growing our business and their careers. We give them opportunities to work on meaningful projects and access senior management. Perhaps most importantly, we give them a seat at the table, helping us to guide our bank into the future.”

Raynor uses classic movie characters to sum up the generation and banking. “Most millennials are George Baileys rather than Mr. Potters. We want to keep that Bailey Saving and Loan persona. We want to be looking out for those we’re living with.”

Deb Stewart is a contributing editor to ABA Bank Located in Charlotte, N.C., she is an independent consultant working for the financial services industry. Email: [email protected].