Make the most of your WBA membership

By Daryll Lund

For 130 years, the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) has strived to offer member banks expansive opportunities to grow and thrive within our industry. In being a member-led organization, the WBA highly encourages bankers of all levels to engage with educational and advocacy-related events, programs, and groups.

As part of its mission to support every member, WBA annually offers hundreds of educational opportunities — from one-hour webinars to five-day schools. While the main objective of all WBA programming is of course professional development, one significant benefit many of us have sincerely missed over the last several years is our ability to connect with one another.

The team at WBA regularly expresses to me how special it is to witness our member bankers — there are over 35,000 of them — meet and foster connections through WBA conferences, outings, and groups. As events continually return in person, I am excited to serve witness once again to the all the new ideas created and connections formed as many Wisconsin bankers reconvene for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

Since WBA’s inception, the development — both professionally and personally — of bankers has been a focal point in our mission to support Wisconsin’s banking industry.

In addition to the training and educational programs WBA offers throughout the year, there are many other volunteer opportunities that individual bankers of all levels may engage in.

These opportunities not only allow for bankers to gain further insight into a specific area of the bank from their peers but encourage them to ask questions and assist WBA staff members in creating meaningful and relevant programs, resources, and content for other bankers throughout the state. Volunteering as a WBA Advocacy Officer, attending the Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Summit, or engaging with one of WBA’s Connect Peer Groups — to name just a few of the opportunities WBA offers to members — allows bankers the ability to make their voices heard throughout the industry.

As your bank looks ahead to all the programs, classes, and events that WBA will be hosting for the remainder of the year, we look forward to welcoming many of you back in person as well as assisting you and your teams in enhancing your connections to your industry and peers across the state.

A Graduate Profile of Tionne Riley, Bank Five Nine
By Hannah Flanders

Tionne Riley leads life with ambition for anything she sets her mind to. A former customer service representative at a local grocery store, Riley was ready for a change. When her stepmother gave her a Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development flyer for BankWork$, it was meant to be.

Riley graduated from Primavera Online High School with a passion for math, networking, and finances but wasn’t entirely sure where her path would take her. However, her dedication and persistence allowed her to develop even more skills, such as customer service and cash handling, that would make her the ideal candidate for the BankWork$ program and ultimately a career in retail banking.

After completing two interviews and allowing program directors to get to know her, she was accepted to participate in the eight-week program which covered topics ranging from customer relationships and the fundamentals of finances to preparing for employment. Riley described the program as “extremely hands–on” and the small class sizes allowed for one-on-one learning within a team-oriented environment.

“I was looking for a career rather than a job” said Riley, who graduated from BankWork$ in June 2021. After the graduation ceremony, a hiring event is held for banks to connect with qualified talent. “We have been incredibly impressed with the program, its leaders, its instructors, and of course, the students!” said Ann Knutson, senior vice president, human resources director at Bank Five Nine. At this event, Riley was recruited by Bank Five Nine’s Brookfield branch as a universal banker. With her interests in finance and service to her community, she was a wonderful fit for their team.

“Tionne has been a great addition to the team,” said Bank Five Nine branch manager Michelle Kurth. “I feel the BankWork$ program has allowed her to adapt very quickly to her surroundings, which allows her to accurately process her transactions, assist our customers in a professional convenient manner, and even assist her peers!”

“Bank Five Nine has been involved with the BankWork$ program since its inception in 2018,” told Knutson. Alongside fellow advisory committee members from around the U.S., Knutson has been able to offer guidance and input into the program and offerings at BankWork$ to help create graduates that are ready to succeed at any bank.

Riley spoke of both BankWork$ and Bank Five Nine with pride, “Everybody here wants to see you win.” She has gained mentors throughout the industry, even in a short time, and has enjoyed working with like-minded, focused individuals who encourage her to consider the possibilities of her future in banking.

Riley perfectly exemplifies quality talent that needed the right opportunity, as offered by BankWork$ and Bank Five Nine, to help turn their interests into something more. “Completing the BankWork$ program really gave [Tionne] a sense of pride and accomplishment in a work environment that maybe she would not have otherwise explored or realized she would be successful in,” said Kurth. For banks looking to recruit talented, young individuals to join their organizations or even those looking into connecting with BankWork$, Riley offered some words of advice from her experience in completing the interview process.

“My advice for banks would be to make sure the people you hire are dedicated,” she said. “This job is not for everyone, and we are changing people’s lives, make sure you have a team to execute the goals of the industry.”

Patrons gather at a local bar for Friday happy hour. A young couple enjoys a romantic dinner at a restaurant. Children run around a splash pad to cool off from the heat of the summer day. 

As Wisconsin cautiously reopens and its citizens begin venturing out again, these familiar scenes from pre-coronavirus life are slowly returning. 

However, for nearly 151,000 Wisconsinites, a cloud of financial uncertainly looms over what could otherwise be a hopeful summer. That number represents the workers who are still waiting on unemployment benefits from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. 

As of June 19, the department reported having 859,399 unpaid weekly claims, up from 795,305 on June 6. Over half of the unpaid claims (57%) are being held for adjudication, meaning that those recipients are waiting for someone to take their claims and call them back. Those unpaid claims belong to about 151,000 unique claimants, according to reporting from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

On top of the number of claims still waiting to be processed, DWD must also grapple with an estimated $1.2 million in possible fraudulent benefit payments that were sent out (the agency reports it blocked nearly $10 million). According to a DWD statement, the agency is working with the state Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and banks to try to find those conducting fraud. 

These delayed payments could have catastrophic effects on families and individuals. While a federal ban on evictions is in place until July 25, the statewide eviction moratorium protecting those who aren’t covered by the federal ban (Section 8 housing or property with a federally insured mortgage) ended on May 27. Subsequently, eviction filings jumped 42% year-over-year in the first two weeks of June, despite a $25 million rent assistance program (funded by CARES) administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration. 

The downstream impact of these missed payments and/or evictions has concerning implications for the housing sector and commercial real estate. 

Brush up on your TDRs with this Troubled Debt Restructuring webinar recording, available on-demand from WBA. The webinar covers TDR identification, Concessions, documentation, Impairment Analysis, accounting rules, and regulatory reporting requirements. 

Exacerbating the problem, the additional $600 benefit provided by the CARES Act is set to expire on July 31. Unless federal lawmakers step in to extend the program, Wisconsinites will see their weekly payouts return to normal—the national average is $378 per week. With incomes cut nearly in half, many out-of-work borrowers may need forbearance or other loan modifications they previously did not. 

Looking forward, the pace of unemployment claims has slowed, but the severity of the recession has not. Economists also estimate that layoffs happening today are more likely to be the result of permanent business decisions or sector disruption than a temporary hiccup caused by lockdowns. 

In Wisconsin, the latest jobs numbers show a slight rebound; data from DWD show after dropping 400,000 jobs in April the state added 72,100 in March, spread across industries and geographies. However, private sector employment is still down 338,100 from 2019. If the state keeps its current pace of jobs gains, it will take until October to reach pre-pandemic levels

Coincidentally, that’s when one model predicts Wisconsin’s UI fund will run out

What can banks do? As always, listen to your customers and clients and work with them as much as possible. Many businesses are beginning to recover and rehire, and some sectors—including tech—have even seen a bump in business (Madison-based EatStreet, anyone?). 

Seitz is WBA operations manager and senior writer.

By, Amber Seitz

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” — Peter Drucker

In the midst of an intensely competitive labor market, major U.S. companies including Amazon, Nationwide, and JPMorgan Chase are taking Peter Drucker's advice and predicting the future by creating it. Specifically, they are investing today in the workforce of tomorrow.

With the U.S. experiencing a record-breaking period of economic expansion and low unemployment, many companies face the challenge of growing without an ample supply of qualified job candidates to support that growth. In December 2019, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows employers sought to fill 6.4 million openings from a pool of 5.7 million unemployed Americans who were actively looking for work.

Banks whose strategic plan includes organic growth (rather than purely M&A-based growth) must prepare now for how they will recruit and retain talent to fuel that growth. One effective strategy: plan (and hire or train) the workforce of tomorrow.

For example, in mid-2019, Amazon pledged to dedicate $700 million to improve the skills of 100,000 U.S. employees. In January 2020, Nationwide announced plans to spend $160 million over five years to improve employees' digital literacy. And in February, JPMorgan Chase announced its investment of $75 million in a global initiative to better prepare young people for the jobs of today and tomorrow and advancing smarter policy solutions.

What does tomorrow’s workforce look like?

The three aspects of the workforce that will see the greatest amount of change between 2020 and 2030 are demographics, essential skills, and "gig" work. Bank leaders must adapt their talent management strategies today to ensure they have top talent tomorrow.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2034, the U.S. population will cross the tipping point at which there are more people over age 65 than under age 18. At the same time, while Americans aged 65 and older are living longer, 30-year-olds are nearly 25% more likely to die today than in 2012—the result of dramatic increases in fatalities from drugs, alcohol, and suicide. This has many implications for banks on the customer side (affecting everything from mortgage demand to the viability of municipal bonds as governments struggle to fund pension plans), but also means that banks will need to “do more with less” when it comes to staff.

In addition to being smaller, tomorrow’s workforce will look different than it does today. Another milestone the U.S. is projected to cross between 2030 and 2040 is international migration outpacing natural increase as the primary driver of population growth. The Census Bureau projects that by 2045 under 50% of the population will be “white,” making the country a “minority-majority” population. While there will be some local variance, most banks should expect their workforce to resemble the customers and communities they serve—and put programs in place now to help ensure recruiting and retaining that diversity is effective.

Can old dogs learn new tricks?

According to a 2018 McKinsey report, only 20% of today’s workforce has the skills required for the majority of jobs that will be available in the next 5 to 10 years—and the demand for technological skills will rise by 55% by 2030. Does that mean banks should fire tenured cashiers and bookkeepers in order to hire coders and AI engineers? Of course not. In order for businesses to succeed in 2030, their employees will need a mix of hard and soft skills (analytics, data science, machine learning, but also communication, writing, presenting skills, and emotional intelligence). They’ll also require managers to lead those diverse teams (the same McKinsey study revealed that the demand for leadership and management skills will rise by 24%).

In banking and financial services, technological advances and consumer preferences will drive a reduction in the number of jobs that consist mainly of basic data input and processing (ex: tellers, accountants, credit analysts) but an increase in the number of roles directly tied to customer engagement or technical expertise (ex: CSRs, programmers, financial managers).

When combined with the demographic shifts that will impact the workforce of 2030, this data is a strong signal to bank leaders to increase development budgets substantially. Reskilling current employees may be a more effective strategy than trying to compete in an intense labor market for top talent. Plus, training current employees on new skills (whether those skills are technical, “soft” or both) has the positive side effect of increasing loyalty and reducing turnover.

Who are “gig” workers?

Finally, the workforce of 2030 will rely more heavily on freelance workers and independent contractors in what is sometimes called the “gig” or “sharing” economy. According to the 2019 Upwork and Freelancer’s Union survey, 53% of Gen Z workers (ages 18-22) freelanced in the past year—compared with 29% of Baby Boomer workers (ages 55+), 31% of Gen X workers (ages 39-54), and 40% of Millennial workers (ages 23-38). As the young Gen Z workforce grows, so too will the percentage of the overall workforce who choose to make their income via contract work; today, nearly 60% of freelancers do so by choice, citing flexibility as a primary motivator.

Banks will be among the many companies that benefit from the gig economy structure. Though companies like Uber made the gig economy famous, Upwork’s survey found skilled services are the most common type of freelance work, with 45% of freelancers providing skills such as programming, marketing, IT, and business consulting. That means in 2030, many banks may outsource those functions to contracted gig workers rather than staffing marketing and IT departments in-house. And on the consumer side, banks that develop effective parameters for providing credit to gig workers (who may have highly volatile incomes) could become market leaders in this emerging lending space.

Tomorrow’s Workforce, Today

Bank leadership today should consider these three key tactics to employ in their strategy for 2030’s workforce needs:

1: Research demographic projections for your market area and develop or adjust a recruitment and retention strategy to ensure your staff will reflect your customers. This could mean a wide variety of things, from creating or improving your diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiative to investing in local high school or college career fairs.

2: Identify future essential skills and assess your current staff to identify gaps. Build individualized development plans to reskill or train as necessary in order to close any discovered skills gaps.

3: Review your current employee policies with an eye for areas that could provide more flexibility in the future. Develop or update policies related to hiring contract workers.

Knowledge is Power
Stay ahead of the competition with access to the Wisconsin Banking Industry Compensation & Benefits Survey, the largest Wisconsin-specific survey for banks. The survey report contains salary and benefit information for 117 different jobs based on 113 participating financial institutions, representing over 6,600 employees! The compensation survey is open for participation from March 16 – April 17, 2020. Participate today and save nearly 60% on your purchase of the report! Visit today.


Seitz is WBA operations Manager and Senior Writer.

By, Amber Seitz

undefinedAccording to 2017 research from Dale Carnegie, two-thirds of American employees are not fully engaged at work. In addition, after internal meta-analysis of their employee engagement surveys of hundreds of companies (both large and small), Gallup reported recently that "business or work units that score in the top quartile of their organization in employee engagement have nearly double the odds of success… when compared with those in the bottom quartile. Those at the 99th percentile have four times the success rate of those in the first percentile."

Setting an Example: The Best Banks to Work For
The WBA member banks interviewed for this article each were named to the most recent American Bankers Association list of Best Banks to Work for. Congratulations to these institutions for going above and beyond in demonstrating the power of employee engagement. 

What does that research mean for Wisconsin banks? Dedicating energy, time, and resources to improving employee engagement will yield dividends. Banks who make engagement a priority will enjoy a competitive advantage over not only other financial institutions but also other employers with whom they compete for top talent. In order to achieve that advantage, however, bank leadership need to understand what "engagement" truly means. "Engagement isn't about being happy and satisfied at work. You can be happy and satisfied and still coasting," explained Dave Furlan, senior HR business partner at The Payroll Company (TPC) HR. "It's about making sure employees are invested in the company's mission and success." 

Benefits of Engagement

The advantage companies with more engaged employees enjoy over their competitors surfaces in three main areas: customer service, productivity, and talent management. "Community banking is all about taking care of our customers and being responsive, and that starts with being engaged," said Mike Molepske, CEO at Bank First, Manitowoc. "We can't deliver good customer service unless we have an engaged workforce." Ann Knutson, HR director at First Bank Financial Centre, Oconomowoc stressed the importance of considering the employee experience just as much as the customer experience. "A positive employee experience will translate to a positive customer experience and higher levels of customer satisfaction," she explained. This concept also applies to internal customers. "When you have engaged employees, they're always thinking about the betterment of the customer and their peers," said Dennis Vogel, president and CEO at Citizens State Bank of La Crosse. Employees who are invested in the bank's success also tend to be advocates for the bank by serving the community. "We're being successful at engaging employees, customers, and communities," said Bill Sennholz, president/CEO at Forward Bank, Marshfield. "We've had multiple communities ask us to open locations in their area because they see what we're doing."

When it comes to productivity, numerous studies and countless hours of research have proven the positive impact of engaged employees. "The productivity of the organization improves and will be at a high level when you have people who believe in your company," said David Fritz, managing partner at Executive Benefits Network (EBN). "Engaged employees can more easily help push the organization's agenda forward." Understanding what the bank's goals are helps employees understand how their work affects the outcome, which leads to higher productivity. "Invested employees really care about what they do and have higher levels of productivity," said Knutson. "They become ambassadors for your organization, whether it's referring others to bank with you or work for you." 

Which leads to the final key advantage of employee engagement: "It's easier to recruit when you have an engaged and supportive workforce," said Fritz. "When you're trying to recruit younger employees to an organization, they're looking for culture and a sense of fulfillment as much as compensation. An engaged employee culture will be easier to recruit to." When engagement becomes ingrained at the cultural level, it shrinks some of the recruitment hurdles businesses face in tight labor markets. "When I started here 14 years ago, I told the employees I wanted to make this place the envy of all other places in town to work," said Sennholz. "When it comes time to go out into the market and find skilled employees, our reputation precedes us. In the end, it's paid dividends as we compete for employees in the marketplace."

Getting Started

With all the significant benefits of an engaged workforce, why do so few companies make it a priority? Simply, because it is a difficult challenge to create and sustain high levels of employee engagement. "It can be a painful process for management to go through because they'll find out where their warts are in some cases," Fritz explained. For bank leaders who are up for the challenge, the first step is to collect direct input from employees. One of the most popular tools for accomplishing this is employee surveys, which can take a lot of work, but are worth it for the insight they provide. "You need objective data to work with, rather than guessing," Furlan explained. "You can do it through large consulting firms or create your own, but you need a baseline."

Next, diagnose any issues raised by the employee input and then classifying them. "Identify which issues are fixable and which are non-negotiable," Fritz recommended. In a banking context, examples of non-negotiable pain-points could be compliance-driven processes or certain response time requirements. It is imperative to follow this step with clear communication about what can't be changed and why. "For issues that non-negotiable, leadership need to communicate passionately and honestly why that is the case," Fritz advised. 

Finally, implement what changes you can based on employee feedback, and ensure that those changes penetrate the entire organization. "It's not just the relationship managers and CSRs," said Molepske. "It's also the operations folks. We all have customers, whether they're internal or external, and we need to make their experience as positive as it can be." For example, Vogel says that everyone at the bank goes through sales training as part of their development. "It doesn't matter if you're in IT or operations, you're part of the customer experience," he explained.

Incentivizing Engagement
Consider one of the following rewards/incentives recommended or utilized by the experts interview for this article:

  • Enhanced onboarding process: make sure all new employees feel welcomed
  • Paid time for volunteering/flexibility to leave and volunteer during work hours 
  • Different options for on-the-spot awards with the same perceived value
  • Bank-wide award for engagement presented at the annual meeting
  • Bring in real baristas to make specialty coffees and beverages for staff
  • Hand employees physical "thank you" cards for jobs well done.

Best Practices

While employee engagement will look different at each bank—varying by factors including strategic goals, geographic market, and size—there are four common engagement practices that are effective for most organizations: regular feedback and recognition, education and development, diversity, and communication. 

Feedback and Recognition
"Recognition is a huge part of employee engagement," said Knutson. "It's become part of our culture at the bank to say, 'thank you.'" In fact, First Bank Financial Centre recently created and launched a peer-to-peer recognition program to complement their existing executive- or manager-to-employee programs. Regular performance feedback also helps foster employee interaction and confidence. "When people don't get that feedback, they start to get more insular and don't interact as well with others because they don't know if they're doing a good job," Furlan explained.

Education and Development
"If you can help people grow, they will provide excellent customer service," said Molepske. Building a culture that supports employee growth and development requires investment, but yields invested employees. "We have a culture surrounding learning and development," said Knutson. "We find that we've been able to increase engagement because of that." Furlan advises looking beyond training to overall education for employees. "We spend most of our waking hours during the week at work, so employers can teach their employees how to be healthier, for example," he said. Another example, and one that is growing in popularity, is financial wellness. "When workers are stressed about their finances and we can teach them strategies to deal with that, they're able to be less distracted at work," said Furlan.

"Diversity plays a big role in engagement," said Molepske. "We pride ourselves on having age diversity, and it's also having people who think differently or have different geographic backgrounds. Whenever you can put differences together, they're more engaged and they perform better." A diverse group of employees will also respond differently to engagement incentives. "We've definitely tried to come up with engagement strategies that will impact employees at various stages in their career," said Gwen Schnitzler, HR director at Forward Bank. "The things that motivate new college graduates are very different from motivations for someone who is approaching retirement." Vogel says Citizens State Bank utilizes a combination of tailored and universal incentives, guided by a software program that helps managers identify what motivates each employee. 

Sennholz says Forward Bank focuses on having strong internal communication practices. "Part of our marketing team's job is internal marketing, so employees know how important their position is and their impact on the community," he explained. As with most communication, these internal practices must be ongoing in order to be effective. "Engagement is part of our discussion from day one, and it's part of our monthly coaching sessions," said Vogel. "We define what 'engaged' means." They even print it on the bank's mousepads to keep it top-of-mind for all staff.

Ultimately, building employee engagement is about fostering a sense of ownership among employees. When bank employees understand how their actions and work impact the institution as a whole, it's more likely they will become invested in the bank's success. "Engaged employees go the extra mile for customers without being asked because they see engagement as ownership," explained Jennifer Sobotta, VP marketing director at Forward Bank. "The ownership and responsibility they provide our customers cannot be replicated by others."

Executive Benefits Network (EBN) is a WBA Bronze Associate Member.
The Payroll Company (TPC) is a WBA Bronze Associate Member.


By, Amber Seitz

WBA Insurance Services Resources To Help You Win

It is nearly impossible to drive to and from work these days without noticing the "Now Hiring" signs in front of businesses. The signs may even list catchy phrases like "Great Benefits and Wages," as well. Your employees notice these signs, too. To attract and retain talent, bank employers must offer high-quality benefits as well as competitive wages. 

Many of you as HR professionals or CFOs have just gone through another year of health renewals for your business. The challenge of what to change in the form of deductibles and back-end risk for your employees seems to be a never-ending balancing act. It can be a difficult process to make those decisions and explain them to employees. One tool that can help banking HR professionals navigate renewals is the Wisconsin Banking Industry Compensation and Benefits Report, the largest Wisconsin-specific report; it contains salary and benefit information for 113 different jobs with data from 111 participating Wisconsin banks. The report is an excellent tool to help banks compare their benefit packages with peers. Visit for more information or to purchase your copy of the report and to learn about participating in the 2019 report.

Another strategy to help create increased employee satisfaction and engagement is the idea of a "Benefit Stipend." It is a simple concept where the employee gets a set amount of premium dollars to use on supplemental coverages that the employee deems to be important to them. While many banks importantly provide company-paid life insurance and long-term disability coverage, these are plans that some employees may not see the immediate value today.  Providing your employees with access and some financial assistance to take care of pressing medical costs like deductibles and coinsurance gives them a greater feeling of financial security as a bank employee. 

Benefit stipends for supplemental insurance can start out at $5 to $10 per week and can be set up in a way to be used for plans that range from Accident, Hospital, and Critical Illness. WBA EBC is now offering a special pricing partnership with Aflac for bank employees to take advantage of these supplemental insurance plans. These benefit stipends can be designed to reflect length of service; with more tenured employees eligible for a higher amount which creates another value proposition for longevity of employment. 

Here at the WBA, we would love to talk to you about creative ways that a benefit stipend and other programs can help you maintain long-term employee relationships. WBA EBC has many product lines for your employees, including our WBA AHP, dental, vision, life/disability, and other ancillary products to help banks attract and retain the best talent. To start that conversation, please contact Brian Siegenthaler at 608-441-1211 or via email.

Lund is WBA executive vice president – chief of staff and president of EBC and MBIS.

By, Amber Seitz

Update: Efforts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus have meant many more workers than usual (including bankers) are working remotely. WBA is republishing this August 2018 article with actionable advice and examples for banks as they make the transition to remote work.

Eric Walters' morning commute only takes him a few minutes, even though his job is over 300 miles away. Walters, vice president of credit administration at Madison-based Settlers bank, is among the growing number of bankers who work remotely on a regular basis. He has been working remotely since February 2011, when his family needed to relocate from Madison to Marquette, Mich. Despite only working for Settlers for a year and a half, Walters decided to pursue telecommuting as a way to keep his role with the bank. He proposed the arrangement to his manager and the bank's executive team. "They ran with it, and I was as surprised as anyone!" Walters said. "The transition worked so well, it's now been seven and a half years of working remote, and I love it." 

Walters is one of the estimated nine million Americans working from home at least half-time (2.9 percent of the total U.S. labor force). That number rises dramatically when you include occasional remote work—43 percent of American employees reported working remotely in 2016. As more and more companies begin offering remote work opportunities as an employee benefit, the banking industry will need to adapt its historically conservative stance on the issue in order to attract and retain top talent. Adopting a more permissive stance on working remotely provides tangible benefits for both the bank and its employees, so long as both parties work to address three key challenges.

Bank Point-of-View

Banks that are considering allowing remote work must weigh the potential risks—including employee productivity and security concerns—against one major benefit: standing out in the talent market. "We're going to have to become much more creative and flexible in offering telecommuting, especially with the millennials and the shortage of employees, if we want to attract and retain quality employees," said Sue Mares, senior vice president – human resources/administration, Premier Community Bank, Marion. "This is one of the benefits they are looking for when searching for a job." And they're finding it. A 2017 Deloitte survey found 64 percent of millennials report having "flexible locations," up from 21 percent in 2016

In today's tight labor market, it can be especially difficult for employers to attract talent to rural areas. "It gives us the opportunity to attract candidates who would not have otherwise applied, or to retain employees because of that opportunity," said Renee Peterson, talent acquisition and development officer at Horicon Bank. Other benefits for banks that permit remote work include a reduced need for expensive office space, less wasted "windshield time" for employees with long commutes, and staff involvement in communities and markets where the bank currently doesn't have a presence but may want to enter in the future.

One of the primary barriers banks face to implementing more robust remote work policies is the very nature of being a service industry. "It's a little more difficult in the banking environment to implement telecommuting for all employees because of the fact that we are a financial services organization," said Mares. "For many of our positions, we need to be in front of our customers to portray our image that we are here to serve them." Many customer-facing positions in banking are difficult—if not impossible—to perform well outside of a branch. "Thinking about banking and how much we assist our customers in person, people have the mindset that you need to be in a branch, and sometimes that's true but not always," Peterson explained. "There just aren't as many positions in banking where someone could work remotely."

Staff Perspective

For the employee, working remotely provides flexibility and demonstrates the bank's confidence in them. The additional autonomy allows the employee to balance family, social, and work obligations, which doesn't require working outside the office on a regular basis. In fact, the Gallup report found most individuals who report working remotely do so infrequently—25 percent say they work remotely less than 20 percent of the time, and 20 percent say it's between 20 and 40 percent. That flexibility is important to a growing number of workers, as well. Over half of the employees surveyed by Gallup (53 percent) say a role that allows them to have greater work-life balance is "very important" to them when considering whether to take a new job. 

Another significant benefit to the employee is the empowerment that comes with the bank's demonstration of trust. "You know that the institution has to trust you on a fairly substantial level to allow you to work remotely, both with respect to productivity and data security. Having that trust is a very big appreciative factor for me," said Walters. "It shows the bank is willing to grow with me. When you're looking at whether your employer values you, that's a huge impact."

One unique challenge telecommuters face is difficulty staying connected to other staff and the culture of the bank. While Walters returns to Madison every four or five months for an on-site day, it's not a substitute for the many social interactions coworkers have that leads to feeling connected. "One way to make remote staff feel connected is using video conferencing tools," he said. "Being able to see the other person makes you feel like you're there."

Key Challenges to Address

In order to implement remote work successfully, banks and their employees must work together to overcome three primary challenges, each of which should be addressed in the bank's formal policy (if there is one). The first challenge is to clearly define "remote work" and set guidelines for where and when employees may choose to work outside the office. "Have clear guidelines and expectations," Peterson advised. "When you're rolling out something like this, you need to have the qualifications and follow-up laid out. That makes it easier to decide what positions and employees can work remotely." When considering this question, bank leadership should remember that "working remotely" could mean working from a different branch location than the rest of that employee's department, for example. One bank responding to a recent WBA survey said they require employees to have a home office or dedicated workspace in order to work remotely. Another supplies tablets that allow employees to securely connect to their in-branch workstations. The bank and employee must determine which of the many types of remote work are the best fit for their situation. 

Another challenge is identifying the appropriate roles and individuals for remote work. "Make sure that the job requirements, responsibilities, and duties are compatible with working from a different site and still allow the employee to be efficient and productive, and that the employee is a good fit for working remotely," Mares advised. Some employees may be in a role compatible for telecommuting, but lack the personality or work style to do so successfully. Conversely, some employees thrive working remotely and find they are less distracted outside the office. "If the employee is happy working remotely or from another branch location, they will work more efficiently," said Mares. "It's not for every employee, but we have seen positive results with the ones that we have provided this benefit." 

Clear expectations and concrete goals will help both the bank and employee measure productivity to determine if telecommuting is effective. "When someone is going to work remotely, they must have regular communication with their manager to ensure tasks are completed by their deadline," said Peterson. Walters recommends beginning the remote work program with an employee who has a "history of high performance and motivation," he said. "You then have a productivity baseline to measure from." 

One major obstacle for telecommuting in the banking industry is the critical need for security. Multifactor authentication, bank-provided electronic devices, and strict security protocols can help mitigate those risks. In addition, for many banking positions, an electronic filing system at the bank is the only way to make telecommuting feasible with regards to data protection. Compliance and IT personnel should be directly involved in rolling out any remote work practices at the bank. 

Despite the challenges telecommuting presents, Walters believes it's worth the process of trying. "The bank should absolutely consider it, but it won't be for everyone," he said. "If it isn't working, terminate the remote work option for that employee and move on." Ultimately, successful telecommuting relies on the bank and employee working together. "You want it to be a mutually beneficial relationship," said Walters. "There has to be open communication between the employee and the bank in order to reach that balance."

By, Amber Seitz

Talent management plans develop your people for enterprise-wide ROI

One of the most important investments an organization can make is to develop its staff. A recent Gallup study found that companies that have implemented strengths-based management practices have more engaging and productive workplaces, leading to increased profits of 14-29 percent. Lower turnover also helps these companies maintain performance levels. "The organizations that do talent management well have consistent performance year-in and year-out," said Tom Hershberger, president of Cross Financial Group. "If you don't develop talent you'll miss opportunities." 

A strategic talent management plan also provides a solid foundation for succession planning: "Talent management puts teeth into a succession plan," said Jennie Sobecki, co-owner of Focused Results, LLC. A strong talent development and succession plan will improve the bank's ability to hire and retain top talent, ultimately benefitting the institution's performance. "Overall talent management has a huge impact on both recruitment and retention when it comes to succession planning," explained Jenna Atkinson, president of Jenna Atkinson Consulting. "Investing in your team's individual success shows that you care about your people and helps build ties and reduce turnover. It'll help you recruit and retain top talent even in today's competitive hiring market."

Train & Retain

Talent retention is an important priority in today's highly competitive job market. Honey Shelton, president of InterAction Training, says talent development can help banks keep their competition from recruiting away their best performers. "I think every company has a 'short list' of best performers who you just don't want to lose," she said. "Sharing the reward of being a high-performance bank is really critical." That reward doesn't always need to be monetary, either. Recognition and growth opportunities are equally important to many workers, so clearly laying out each employee's growth trajectory is an important component of talent management. "When you incorporate performance development and enhancement into performance reviews it provides a pathway and you'll have more satisfied employees," said Sobecki. Those satisfied employees are far less likely to leave the institution in order to advance their careers, according to Atkinson. "If they know what their internal opportunities are they are less likely to seek those opportunities at another organization," she said. Using a talent management strategy to reduce turnover directly benefits the bank as much as the employees. "Ultimately, you end up with lower operating costs because you're not hiring and training as much," Hershberger explained, noting that the bank's customers will also benefit as bank staff deliver more consistent service.

Engage & Recruit

On the recruitment side, Shelton explains that engaged employees can be the bank's most effective recruiters. "Your greatest recruiters can come from your payroll, if they're highly satisfied," she said. Investing in staff development can even be a component of overall brand management for the bank. "Rather than investing in projects that don't deliver direct ROI, consider investing in your people," Atkinson suggested. "Instead of investing in a billboard, invest in 50 walking billboards: your employees. It's the best marketing that you could ever buy." In addition, an established training and development program makes for a less stressful and more confident place of work by reducing the uncertainty that can arise from less well-defined succession plans. "If there is ongoing talent management and development in the organization, that makes selection and placement of the next leader much easier," said Hershberger. "No one can move past their current responsibilities until someone else knows how to take on those current activities." 

Develop Your Talent Management Plan

With these benefits in mind, how should bank management and/or human resources personnel go about creating or improving their talent management plan? First, create development goals for every position within the bank. If your institution doesn't have a talent management plan, your instinct might be to first identify areas of the bank (or specific positions) to relegate to the back burner or skip over entirely. "That's like asking which part of the ship is best to have a hole in," Atkinson pointed out. "There's not a good place to have gaps." A comprehensive approach to talent development also means you're developing your "bench strength" throughout the institution. "A succession plan isn't just for the top team," Sobecki clarified. "If your branch manager ever wants to be the retail administrator, they first need to make sure that someone can take over the branch manager position."

Second, it's critical to establish clear lines of communication and feedback for managers and employees. "It's important for everyone to be on the same page and provide the amount of feedback that your employees' want," said Sobecki. Managers must be trained to work with their employees to define expectations and evaluate results. "Great managers make the discussion of performance expectations and reviewing outcomes part of their ongoing management practices," said Hershberger. This is especially important at community banks where the org chart tends to be very flat – upward growth is difficult when there are only three or four layers to the institution. "When moving up isn't an option, you can't develop someone and give them the opportunity to take on more responsibility without setting clear expectations for growth and performance and then measuring that," Hershberger explained. Since feedback goes both ways, Atkinson also stressed the importance of giving due consideration to any comments received from employees. "If no action is taken, it's more damaging and discouraging than not accepting feedback at all," she warned. 

Third, incorporate talent development into annual performance reviews, ideally with periodic check-ins throughout the year. In today's banking industry, training and development often falls to managers, where in the past many institutions employed full-time trainers. "The best way to replicate that kind of development is to incorporate it into the performance review and include quarterly milestone updates," said Sobecki. Managers should incorporate tangible, trackable indicators into their reviews and identify resources their employees will need in order to achieve their targeted goals. "When you get down to performance indicators, things that can be tracked, evaluated and monitored, it makes evaluation real," Shelton said. "That's how you develop self-managed people. They know what they're shooting for and that they have someone in their corner giving them what they need to get there."

Finally, ensure the talent development plan aligns with the bank's overall strategic plan. "Place the importance on talent management and recruiting according to your strategic plan," Shelton advised. "What is the bank trying to become, and what do you need more or less of?" The answers to those questions should inform the bank's approach to talent development and succession planning. "Succession planning is a long-term, continuous process that should be employed in every area of the organization," said Hershberger. "How can you plan for the future success of the organization without taking a candid look at who will be leading that staff, project and corporate direction?"

So, where to begin? The first step will differ for every institution based on its current development practices and talent needs. Shelton recommends evaluating the bank's current practices to identify a starting point. "Each bank has to decide what they think is working, what isn't working, and how they know it," she said. "Then, prioritize where to begin."

Learn more:

Jennie Sobecki will lead a Train the Trainer workshop on April 6 in Madison designed to equip attendees to train frontline bank staff on Listening for Opportunities, a Center for Financial Training (CFT) module. The morning is devoted to learning about how to train for impact and a review of the Listening for Opportunities content. The afternoon will focus on how to transfer skills to the job for employees, test presentations by attendees, and receive feedback from the instructor. For more information or to register for this seminar, please click here


By, Amber Seitz

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." 


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.

By, Amber Seitz


There’s no question we are living through a dynamic period in history. With low unemployment levels, a diminished labor market and the effects of COVID barely in our rear-view mirror, companies must focus on their people — now more than ever. The ability to work remotely will forever change how and where we perform our work. High performers have choices and can be lured away by the competition. It behooves employers to analyze their workforce and implement creative practices to retain their talent.

This webinar will cover

  • The challenges organizations face due to low availability of talent in the current market
  • Identify today’s unique workplace issues requiring employers to implement proactive strategies to retain talent
  • Define strategies to retain top talent that can be implemented immediately

Target Audience
Human resource officers, supervisors, CEOs

Barbara Low, Wipfli LLP

Registration Option
Live presentation $275

Recording available through May 2, 2022