The Ongoing Hunt for Talent

By Monica Meinert

Bankers weigh in on the challenges of finding, attracting and retaining qualified employees.

One of the biggest challenges banks face today is finding the talent they need to stay competitive. In a recent ABA Community Bankers Council survey of community bank CEOs, 58 percent characterized the task as “difficult” or “very difficult,” and it ranked alongside regulatory compliance as a top concern keeping CEOs up at night.

Location, location, location.  

As value propositions go, one would think that the chance to live in Hawaii would be a compelling one. Not so, says Bryan Luke, president and COO of Hawaii National Bank in Honolulu. For one, the cost of living is high and unemployment is low. “It’s a challenge to find qualified people, and then make sure they are going to stay,” he says. “How do you select applicants who want a career in banking in Hawaii and not just a short-term diversion in a tourist paradise?”

On the flip side, how can banks convince recruits to consider moving away from major cities? With unemployment in Midland and Amarillo at less than 3 percent, FirstCapital Bank of Texas—a $1 billion institution headquartered in Midland, Texas—often has to look outside its local area to find new hires. “Staffing is probably our number one issue, especially when you get into specialty positions,” such as commercial lenders, trust officers or treasury officers, says Jay Isaacs, the bank’s president.

FCB relies on recruiters to find people with skills that are in short supply, but finding the right person is only half the battle, Isaacs notes. “If candidates don’t have family or social ties to this community, it’s hard to get them to consider moving to West Texas from metropolitan areas such as Dallas, San Antonio, or Houston.”

That’s where value proposition comes in. FCB offers a competitive benefits package to its new employees, including three weeks of vacation at the time of hire, a 7 percent company 401K match, college tuition reimbursement for family members, bank-matched contributions to an employee stock purchase plan and a family-oriented culture, among other things.

“Our benefits package is very good because we have to compete with oil and gas companies in Midland that are providing very rich benefit programs,” Isaacs says. “In our opinion, it has made us a very attractive bank to work for in terms of compensation, benefits and culture.”

Rising through the ranks.

In addition to recruiting outside the organization, bank CEOs are also investing heavily in developing talent within their own ranks.

“I’m a strong believer in training from within and promoting from within,” says Rheo Brouillard, president and CEO of Savings Institute Bank & Trust in Willimantic, Conn., whose bank typically recruits from college finance or accounting programs and trains new graduates using a blend of ABA online courses, in-house training and management leadership training. “It’s rare now that we hire for key positions from outside.”

The ABA survey found that bank CEOs invest in their employees by sending them to job-related conferences and seminars (88 percent) and providing online training (85 percent), on the job training (80 percent), classroom training (69 percent) and mentoring and coaching opportunities (58 percent).

At American Community Bank and Trust in Woodstock, Ill., development starts on day one, says CEO Charie Zanck. The bank has a 90-day onboarding program that grooms new bankers through a variety of approaches, including pairing them with mentors and cultural ambassadors as they go through ABA online training, on-the-job training and classwork, followed by six months of mentoring.

And in Nashville, Tenn., Citizens Savings Bank and Trust president and CEO Deborah Cole emphasizes the importance of continuing education. “No matter how large or small you are, if you don’t continuously educate your people, you become stagnant.”

Cole adds that learning and development isn’t just for bank employees—CEOs must also be on the lookout for opportunities to expand their skill set. “I’m very big on education,” she says. “We take advantage of regional schools, local classes. I myself just last year went to the ABA-Wharton CEO Leadership Lab.”

To learn more about the latest in community bank priorities, download the full report.

Monica C. Meinert is associate editor of the ABA Banking Journal and ABA Daily Newsbytes.