Saturday, May 29, 2010

Be all that you can be.

Banking’s largest investment is in its people. I have recently written about how critical our people are to the bank’s success. Executives often lament to me about the lack of quality, experienced bankers in the marketplace. They recall fondly the days when large banks would put recent college graduates through management trainee programs, credit schools, and the like. This created a healthy pool of qualified candidates that wanted to move from large banks to community financial institutions.

Those programs are gone now, and their alumnae are aging. This leaves a gap between the seasoned banking professional, and the entry level banker. Making matters worse, the media coverage of our industry portrays us as a bunch of unethical miscreants, making it difficult to attract quality people. While this portrayal hurts our efforts to attract the best and the brightest, our self-imposed obsession with “experienced” bankers plays a much more significant role, in my opinion.

Imagine if Southwest Airlines, in its infancy, searched for an airline executive to run the company. Would we have the innovative, point-to-point, low-fare strategy we have today? Herb Kelleher, one of the founders and former CEO, was an attorney. What if IBM, in a tailspin, hired an experienced tech executive in 1992? Instead they hired the former CEO of RJR Nabisco, Lou Gerstner, who led them back to relevancy. Nabisco!

Why we are so obsessed with “experienced” bankers is beyond me. Given the challenges my clients are having with their current employee base, one would think to take a fresh set of eyes to our hiring practices. On this Memorial Day weekend, let me make a suggestion.

I spent seven years in the US Navy. I was a cryptologist. This has no relation to banking. I did not learn how to calculate a debt service coverage ratio. I did not learn how to be proficient at the Jack Henry Silverlake system.

Here is what I learned: How to manage, and quite often manage more people than most bank executives today; how to lead, and lead people from varied backgrounds; how to follow; how to learn; how to teach; how to speak; how to write; how to counsel; how to give and accept criticism; how to work under pressure; how to be flexible; how to hold myself and others to high standards; how to work hard; how to persevere; how to win.

Every military veteran can speak of similar experiences and skills. We are not “experienced” bankers. But could we be?

In community financial institutions’ quest to remain relevant to our customers and communities, perhaps we have to look elsewhere for the type of employees that will carry us into the future. Limiting ourselves to a shrinking pool of aging candidates only artificially increases their salary demands, lowers the quality of our employees, and strengthens the status quo.

Be different. Be relevant. Think to the future. Hire a vet!

- Jeff


  1. Speaking from a marketing perspective, I'm not sure I've seen the same "hire only experienced bankers" syndrome you refer to.

    Over the past few years, there seems to me to be too much focus on hiring marketers with retail experience who are somehow expected to bring the Starbucks-like magic to the branch experience.

    If anything, I think there's a lack of realization that "selling" financial services products might not be the same as selling coffee, or other retail consumer products.

  2. Ron I think you are right about marketing to be the first department in a bank to look outside banking. I supppose Umpqua and First Merit Banks that pursue a retail "experience" might benefit from former Nordstrom marketers, but for the rest of community banks seeking to build relationships rather than transactions, financial services is about selling ourselves. So again, I agree with you.

    Next time I'll disagree. I promise.

    - Jeff

  3. As a bank marketing director who has worked in the business for 25+ years, I find that hiring of mix of people (varied ages, experience, backgrounds) is the healthiest and the most productive. But, when I can find a good bank marketer (not always easy to find), I am thrilled. People who understand banking and marketing are able to hit the ground running because they understand the peculiarities of the banking industry. This is especially true for staff who are involved in product development, marketing research, MCIF systems, etc. Makes my job as the manager much easier.

    From a selfish standpoint, I wish more bank presidents understood how important bank marketing experience is when hiring a marketing director, because I would be working at a bank now instead of doing contract work! I spend hours every day keeping up with changes in the financial services, banking regulations, bank product trends, social media marketing, contributing to bank marketing forums, etc., and I have to believe I bring to the table than someone who is coming in from another industry.

    Lori Philo-Cook (@PhiloCook)

  4. Lori I agree with your "mix of people" comment. Evolution requires it. I don't want to give the impression I'm suggesting not hiring experienced bankers. Just don't hire "only" experienced bankers, especially in some key leadership roles.

    - Jeff