Bankers work to raise awareness, education about the industry

Emerging from an eight-year recession during which many bank training programs were discontinued, the industry is now experiencing a need to recruit and train new bankers - some of whom will be the banking's future leaders. These young individuals begin their journey toward a career in banking by first learning about the diversity of the industry. If they decide banking is a good fit for them, they must then prepare academically for their chosen career. Wisconsin's banking industry is working to pave that career path and, ideally, guide more young talent into the challenging, dynamic field of commercial banking.

Discovering Diversity 

One of the primary barriers preventing young professionals from selecting a career in banking is their lack of understanding of the industry. Many students simply aren't aware of the diversity available within a banking career. Agricultural lending, information technology, human resources, retail banking, and trust banking all require different skill sets and appeal to different individuals. Scott Kopp, president/CEO of the Bank of Galesville and a member of the WBA Board of Directors, told a story of a young man who interned at the bank recently. "He didn't realize all the different functions that go on inside the bank," Kopp said. "He didn't have any idea about banking as a career." Through his work and by sitting in on various meetings, including board meetings and ALCO committee, Kopp says the internship opened the student's eyes to the wide variety of possibilities within a banking career. While the Bank of Galesville doesn't have a formal internship program, fostering students who express interest is a priority. "Interning at the bank gives students the opportunity to decide if this is what they want to do," said Kopp, pointing out that banking isn't the right career for everyone. "I think they'll know if this is the type of atmosphere they're looking for," he said. 

Bank interns can learn about the many different aspects of banking both through their daily duties and through exposure to other areas of the bank. Great Midwest Bank, S.S.B., Brookfield, developed a formal internship program in the summer of 2015 to fill a need during the peak season in their mortgage business. "While performing their daily duties, our interns obtain knowledge about real estate financing from different perspectives," said President/CEO Dennis Doyle, a member of the WBA Board of Directors. The interns also meet with members of the senior management team to learn more about the larger issues impacting community banks. After this in-depth introduction to banking, the next task for aspiring bankers is to prepare academically for their career.

Career Preparation

For the past several decades, many individuals who become bankers obtained a degree in finance, were hired at a commercial institution, and then worked their way up through the ranks, learning about the industry and the inner mechanics of banks while doing so. Unfortunately, many of today's bank employees tend to be "accidental bankers," a term former banker Kent Belasco learned of and uses to describe the phenomenon that these bankers didn't start their careers with the goal of becoming a banker - they just ended up in banking. Belasco is assistant professor of finance and director of the new Commercial Banking Program at Marquette University's College of Business, and he hopes to professionalize the banking discipline through this program. "One of my primary goals with this program is to professionalize this field through academic training, similar to other disciplines such as accounting and law," he said. The program, housed under the broader, well-ranked Finance Department at Marquette, allows students to focus specifically on commercial banking as part of their education. Just as a student studies law to become a lawyer, or accounting to become an accountant, a student with a commercial banking concentration will become a banker.

Students in the program will take nine core courses: three focused specifically on commercial banking and the remainder in finance. The first is a broad overview of the structure and basics of commercial banking; the second outlines and explains the key functions that occur within the bank, including retail and commercial sales management, IT, wealth management, administration support functions and operations; the third covers all aspects of risk management. Additionally, each student will complete two summer internships and two related electives. "By the time they graduate, they'll be well-positioned to enter a bank in a full-time position," Belasco said. "There are a lot of ancillary goals, but at the end of the day this program is about giving these students great careers and filling a talent and succession gap in the banking industry." 

Benefits

In addition to professionalizing banking and readying students for a career in banking, Belasco says another primary goal for the new program is influencing students' opinion of banks through education. "When you educate students more on the risks and regulation that occurs in the industry, you can hopefully create an opportunity to stimulate productive thought and facilitate the changes that are needed in the industry, in addition to changing the perception of bankers," he explained. That same benefit applies even for those students and/or interns who choose not to continue on in banking. "At the very least we're exposing tomorrow's leaders to the world of community banking, a vital part of our economy," Doyle said. "Hopefully, the internship program gives them more insight into the industry and aids them in making an informed career decision." 

In addition to the benefit to the industry as a whole, banks that participate in internship programs or who actively engage with interested students also benefit in tangible ways. "We look at it as a way to fill a need the bank has and also one the student has," said Kopp. "It's a two-way street." The student gets to experience the life of a banker first-hand and the bank has an opportunity to gauge the skill level of a potentially productive long-term employee. "The bank benefits by having a productive employee for three months who is eager to contribute during our peak business season," said Doyle. "The program also gives us a glimpse of potential candidates for full-time employment following graduation." What is clear is the talent waiting to come off the bench and into banking. "Our interns have been bright and industrious individuals that were capable of quality work despite a small window of time," Doyle continued. "That tells us talent is out there and it is up to us as community bankers to promote our rewarding profession to our future leaders." 

Ultimately, not every bank will be a good fit for interns, and not every intern will be a good fit for banking. However, no matter where that student's journey in banking ends, they will step off the path with a deeper understanding of the industry, whether they become a bank employee, business or community leader, or simply a more well-informed consumer.