These four banks excel at creating employer brands

When it comes to retaining top talent, marketers can lead their banks to new purpose-filled frontiers.

By Martha Bartlett Piland, CFMP

Employer brands will always be a big deal. Because whether it’s a tough hiring environment or an easy one, banks still need to attract and retain the best talent. The kind of talent that embraces the brand purpose also helps advance business goals. Finding them and keeping them requires a strong employer brand.

Banks attract people who share their purpose when they:

  • Ensure that purpose is well-defined and differentiates your outward-facing brand
  • Intertwine that purpose and public brand with a standout internal brand
  • Walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
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And: Is your purpose unique and actionable? Having a defined purpose seems to be a challenge for many banks. Many marketing slogans based on ubiquitous themes such as “big enough to serve, small enough to care,” “high tech, high touch” and “your bank for a lifetime.”

While those are laudable attributes, they are not unique. They are dusty platitudes that are rarely referenced by marketing, human resources, operations or any other areas of the bank.

It’s important for financial marketers to look beyond those comfortable fall-backs to find true points of difference. These may be rooted in the corporate values and mission statement, so that is a good place to start. But if those are also look-alike/sound-alike statements, then it is the marketer’s job to lead the institution to some new purpose-filled frontiers

Every employee can benefit from a company with a strong employer brand. But a special note: millennials and Gen Z now make up 46 percent of the U.S. workforce. And they have even greater expectations of employers than previous generations. In addition to work/life balance, their top reasons for choosing an employer include:ethical leadership; mentally healthy places to work; diverse and inclusive workplaces; purposeful work; and social responsibility.

That means an attractive employer brand is vital to the success of businesses.

Huntington National Bank: striving to include everyone

Steven Steinour, chairman, president and CEO of Huntington National Bank in Columbus, Ohio says that Huntington believes “putting people first—our customers, colleagues, and communities—is at the very core of everything we do.” The bank states its vision as becoming “the leading ‘people-first, digitally powered’ bank.”

Those are big promises that may not be completely unique. But what does make Huntington National Bank unique is the way the bank works to live up to these promises for all customers, both internal and external.

A powerful example of how the bank walks the walk was recently highlighted in Banking Dive.

Huntington has partnered with the Magnusmode app to help neurodiverse people bank better, by offering free step-by-step guides on tasks such as depositing checks, withdrawing money and disputing charges.

Donald Dennis, Huntington’s chief diversity, equity, inclusion and culture officer says, “We believe that everyone deserves a shot at financial success.”

“Everyone” isn’t just external customers. It’s Huntington employees—colleagues—as well.

The step-by-step guides feature two Huntington colleagues who joined the bank through its Autism2Work program, which has provided workforce training and employment opportunities for neurodivergent adults, including those with an autism spectrum disorder. And Dennis says that employees gave input on the topics the guides cover.

Not only is Huntington making the bank and its services more accessible to neurodiverse customers, the bank also invests in a diverse workforce that includes neurodiverse people. In other words, they work to address serving all internal customers.

Just a few of the things Huntington offers colleagues: ongoing colleague and leader training and development; benefits and perks; cultural celebration day; a week of cultural celebration; colleague appreciation week; annual diversity, equity, inclusion and culture awards; tuition reimbursement and tuition pre-imbursement programs; dependent scholarships; business resource groups; inclusion councils; communities of practice; military benefits; and volunteer opportunities.

“Living our purpose and ensuring we have an environment where colleagues can be their authentic selves is important,” Dennis says. Many of the business decisions the bank makes include input from its colleagues. That ensures they continually work to keep the mission alive.

Walden Mutual Bank: lasting change in local food ecosystem

Walden, located in Concord, New Hampshire is the first new mutual bank in 50 years. Their mission: “To enable anyone to make positive and lasting change to our local food ecosystem.”

The team they’re recruiting: “We’re a mission-driven company committed to sustainable food and agriculture in New England and New York, and we’re building a diverse team that shares our passion. If you are inspired by ambitious missions and working hard to support borrowers and depositors, we want to talk!”

Their walk: certified B Corporation; $100 summer farm food dividend; impact investing with customer savings; employees on site and in town—place-based investing directly in the community

This is a brand-new bank, but since it has such a narrow positioning, it’s worth watching and following to see what evolves.

Regions Bank: making life better

Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Regions describes itself this way: “We’re committed to keeping customers first, providing tech-driven convenience and being a strong community partner.” Like Huntington Bank, at first glance, Regions’ brand description does not sound that different. But the way the bank expresses its work looks very different.

The team they’re recruiting: Regions makes life better: “Our mission is more than just a corporate tagline—it’s at the center of every decision we make. It is the guiding principle behind the products we develop and the services we offer. It is the foundation for every customer relationship that we form. The result is that we create shared value for the customers and the communities we serve.”

An employee is quoted on the website pointing to some important employer characteristics: “This great company allows us to put people first, both internally and externally, which in turn drives our process and production. I know at the end of the day, we’re asked to do what is right and there is no greater feeling. I get up every day energized to work with people that want to collaborate and find new ways to improve what we do for our associates, customers and communities!”

The Regions YouTube channel is filled with videos to help customers and employees make life better. One playlist called Bank Like a Banker features employees as the stars, giving non-bankers helpful advice on investing, saving, managing budgets and more.

Other videos show Regions recognizing employees making life better with above-and-beyond work in the community. Video profiles feature the honored employees and show the bank making a donation to that employee’s favorite charity.

Their walk: physical, mental and financial health coaching; emerging talent program for interns and new grads; military friendly employer; associates log thousands of hours of community volunteer activities; ongoing professional development and training; career advancement education; free tuition benefits.

First Federal Bank of Kansas City: prosperity and a home for all

The Kansas City, Missouri-based mutual bank has more than a century of service. Stuart Bilan, First Federal’s marketing director, describes the employer branding philosophies in this mutual bank. “It doesn’t start with benefits,” he says. “Those are table stakes. What we do goes back to the story of us being focused on home ownership” and helping communities.

The bank does not offer a credit card, Bilan says, “because we think they can get a lot of people into debt that’s difficult to resolve.” Getting Bank On certified is another step in living the mission.

First Federal offers robust financial education to customers through EVERFI, Bilan adds. But the bank also encourage employees to participate in these offerings. He says the bank offers first time home buyer workshops and home mortgage rates for employees that at great rates—“just about at the cost of funds.”

The bank has also established an internal Servant Leadership Program focused on up-and-coming employees. The program was created and led by Les Norman, a radio host, keynote speaker and former Kansas City Royals baseball player. The six-week program helps employees learn how to serve themselves better, which in turn helps them serve the community and ultimately the bank.

The team they’re recruiting: “The answer is simple: to help people. First Federal Bank was founded in 1934 with the sole purpose to help people achieve the dream of home ownership. And as a mutual bank, helping individuals and families save for the future is truly in our DNA. To achieve these high goals, we surround ourselves with people that have a passion to deliver the best experience to our customers. Does that excite you? If so, let’s talk!”

Their walk: A few of the other offerings from First Federal: highly attractive employee loan programs; gym reimbursement; employee education assistance program—college/university tuition reimbursement up to 50 percent of the cost; flex spending accounts; employer contribution to HSAs

Actions speak louder than words. In the ever-challenging talent marketplace, an authentic employer brand will always triumph over “great pay and great place to work.” It is clear that for banks who seek excellence and high returns, an investment and focus on employer brand are essential.

Martha Bartlett Piland, CFMP, is president and CEO of BANKTASTIC, a marketing agency that helps financial organizations build love and loyalty, and offers a special focus on millennial audiences. She’s a national speaker on branding, marketing, business development and advertising and has served on three bank advisory boards. Martha is a regular source for financial reporters. Her second book, Beyond Sticky, is available at all major booksellers. Find her also on LinkedIn.