The Imperative of Developing the Next Generation of Bankers

By Jim Edwards
ABA Viewpoint
As my time as ABA chair begins to wind down, I am thinking about the future, and how the banking industry moves forward. And the best answer to that is to continually develop the next generation of banking leaders. This is a subject very important to me.
One of the exciting and fun parts of my job as a bank CEO is working alongside the next generation of banking professionals as they learn and grow in their roles. Whenever I take time to connect with this group or with participants at ABA’s emerging leaders events, I always come away energized and excited about the future of our industry.
I was certainly pleased that ABA’s Emerging Leaders Forum returned, this time virtually in April. I participated along with former NFL quarterback Alex Smith, who inspired with the story of his comeback from a terrible injury. Our industry has really led the way for our country’s own comeback, and I am very proud of that.
The rapid evolution of what it means to be a banker just continues. When I speak to groups about banking careers, I talk about opportunities in technology, digital marketing, customer relationship management, cybersecurity and so many other areas until recently few associated with banking. As industry leaders it’s our responsibility to make sure we communicate these opportunities to local colleges and technical schools. Banking has always been about people and no bank is better than its employees, so it’s incumbent on all of us to recruit the best and brightest.
At United Bank, we have created a popular program to not only engage potential future leaders here, but to build relationships that make us stronger and more resilient. Day to day, as well as during challenging times.
It’s called Leadership United. We select eight or so participants, based on performance and potential for leadership. We pair each with a mentor for six months, who establishes an individual leadership development plan. We hold group meetings regularly and bring in speakers focusing on topics such as communication skills, leading through change, servant leadership and effective meetings.
Mid-way through the process, which lasts about six months, the mentees are placed into three teams, and given a topic to research relative to current bank or industry initiatives. In the final meeting, the teams present to a panel of five judges, along with the entire Leadership United class of mentees and mentors. The judges use a presentation rubric and select one team as the winner.
And it turns out that leadership building can be a positive experience both ways. Frankly, I thought it would be difficult to convince some of our experienced and very busy employees to sign up to be mentors, but I’ve been surprised how many of them ask to do it year after year and are even disappointed if they are not selected. The mentors gain insight into how younger employees view bank issues. And it really has opened our eyes to the value of bringing in new perspectives, which can mean so much when we’re problem solving a bank issue or considering a new customer product.
This industry that has meant so much to me and to my family proves to me every day that it can adapt and grow and meet any challenge. And one challenge that we all must meet is to support and grow the next generation of leaders. Just by doing so, you can bring a new energy to your bank.
ABA Chair Jim Edwards is CEO of United Bank, Zebulon, Georgia.
ABA Viewpoint is the source for analysis, commentary and perspective from the American Bankers Association on the policy issues shaping banking today and into the future. Click here to view all posts in this series.