As a bright-eyed, ambitious career woman starting out in the early 1990s, I found myself in a dream job heading up college recruiting for a large regional bank in Texas. My territory covered all the major campuses throughout the state and the bank had a stellar reputation. No matter how large an army of bankers I led onto each campus, my interview schedules would be filled – within hours – with the best and brightest students, clamoring to make it onto the schedule ahead of their classmates and desperately hoping to be accepted into one of the bank's in-house training programs. There was an air of excitement during a day of campus interviews; lifelong careers were beginning for many young adults and we all felt it.
Today there's a stark contrast to my early experience with college recruiting in Texas. Consider the results of a recent student survey commissioned and discussed by Lloyds Banking Group Chief Executive Antonio Horta-Osorio in a recruitment speech to students at Oxford University in May. "The truth is that business education – like business itself – is a global affair," said Horta-Osorio. As a result of the role played by bankers in the financial crisis and the ensuing scandals, and the overall loss of trust in banking, only 2% of students would now be likely to pursue a career in banking and 30% would be embarrassed to admit they work in a bank.
This crisis-of-confidence in banking as a career could not come at a worse time. Within the next decade thousands of baby-boomer bankers will retire. It is imperative that we be able to excite, recruit and develop the next generation of bankers. For those of us who made our careers in the field, it is arguably our duty to prepare the next generation.
But why would a young person entering the business world today choose banking as a career?
The logic for pursuing a career in banking today is largely the same as it has been for generations. The reasons are directly tied to banks' impact on the overall economy and the communities in which they operate. This was clearly articulated in a study released this year by the California Bankers Association and Beacon Economics entitled The Economic Impact of Banks: Measuring the Impact in California.
Bankers provide funding for society's infrastructure: For the houses in which we live, the businesses where we work and even the landmarks that are our national treasures. While working in San Francisco for Bank of America, I would gaze out at the Golden Gate Bridge and marvel that during the Depression A.P. Giannini, founder of Bank of America, had stepped in to provide funding for that now-historic bridge's construction when no one else would.
A banker's involvement in, and support of the community, can be a lifeline in many ways. I once toured a lower-income development in east Dallas being revitalized with funds provided by the local regional bank. Children were playing in a park that a few months before had been in severe disrepair and certainly unsafe. During a 2008 wildfire in Montecito, Calif., the local community bank, Santa Barbara Bank and Trust, stepped in to offer temporary shelter to customers and noncustomers alike who were being evacuated from their homes with nowhere to go.
Many banks encourage employees to be personally involved in their communities, often with paid-time-off programs or additional compensation and recognition for their work done in the community. Short of working for a nonprofit, there are few other fields in which a person can contribute to the community to such a large extent.
Finally, bank employment provides better than average compensation and benefits. While the industry has recently been painted with a very large brush for handing out ridiculously high, undeserved compensation packages to certain executives, those packages are not the norm. A review of U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics studies, however, does confirm that average annual wages for the banking industry are higher than for private-sector employees and that banking employers provide, on average, higher subsidies for health insurance premiums than other industries and more often provide retirement benefits.
A career in banking is still an excellent choice for people who want to be part of helping their communities thrive and prosper. Pride in being a banker is the only thing that will bring the best and brightest people to work in the industry. And the only way to bring pride back to banking is to increase the trust that people have in the industry. This will take bank executives leading their banks in ways that are safe, sound and have a positive impact on their communities.
Noma Bruton is the chief human resources officer of Pacific Mercantile Bank in Costa Mesa, Calif. She has over 20 years of banking experience and writes the HR Sagacity: Insights in Banking & Finance blog.