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Banking Is Still a Great Career Choice

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.


(6) Comments



Comments (6)
If we all worked for the same bank as Jimmy Steward in its "A Wonderful Life" then your premise may hold water. I have been a banker and the COO of a privately insured institution that invented the NOW (not the gentleman in Worcester, MA) and consider myself successful.

Yet today when I have applied for bank employment I was told in so many words that I was "over qualified." Frankly I have forgotten more about banking than many of the personnel interviewers actually know.

Hence community banking versus money center banking can not be made out of the same piece of cloth. Many of the local institutions personnel
departments are better named the sales prevention department turning away more experienced applicants in favor of the $1.98 variety.

Money center banks recruit a different kind of player seeking the more educated and better connected individual.

Yet neither want anyone over forty and certainly not one that is a sales minded banker today versus one that can smile but could not beat their way out of a wet paper bag.

The coming war games are gona be won with sound thinking and not just good deeds. People will get hurt, loans denied and life goes on. Like in real estate one rents, owns and rents once more then you croak.

Just being able to hand a potential customer a bag of popcorn is not going to cut much longer. I have sought to introduce Title One lending to all levels of the banking sector whose product is FHA insured but have gotten no where. When one can no longer depend on the refi market to bolster earnings what will be the effort to recruit players to carry the flag forward.

In short banking is still a great place to hang your hat but only if you are a member of the club or least want to be.

allen hardester

Posted by hardester | Wednesday, August 14 2013 at 2:41PM ET
Recruiting employees is like recruiting customers. There has to be a value proposition that fulfills an underlying need. In regards to potential employees; you need to fulfill their need to make a difference. The world around us changes, but human nature is a constant you can't ignore. Unfortunately, for the banking industry they (recruits) don't see a career in banking as having value because, as your customer there isn't any real value within the current relationship. Regardless of your current reputation, why would anyone want to dedicate their career to a valueless enterprise? Recruiting employees is like recruiting customers; offer overwhelming value to satisfy an underlying need and you will drive traffic thru the doors.
Posted by Bill Westrom | Wednesday, August 14 2013 at 12:57PM ET
Noma, I think many things contribute to the decline in the perceived attractiveness of commercial banking careers. It is much less common for candidates to find reputable, challenging training programs in the banks as you describe from pre-2000. Second, many candidates now want to be making complicated, high-margin loans two-weeks after hire - no longer does the apprentice/mentor model seem to prevail. Too bad - not to date myself, but I was the beneficiary of a tough, year-long credit training program (MBank Dallas) in the 1980s. Heck, you had to re-interview/get hired out of the credit program to be a lender - there were not guarantees (much less entitlement). The art of underwriting and consultative sales has too often been replaced by over-reliance on electronic score cards, check lists, and arbitrary credit boxes.
Posted by Mark Gaffin | Wednesday, August 14 2013 at 11:35AM ET
Good article. Very accurate. The challenge is for the smaller community oriented banks to separate themselves from the top 100 banks. However, those 100 banks hold most of the money (over 95%). Because the top 100 banks are publicly traded, many have sold their soul to the devil (about 30 Wall Street industry analysts). Few of those 100 CEO have a record of being blunt with the analysts about supporting roles in the communities and the analysts do not care. It also appears that many of those 10 biggest bank CEO's do not care about reputation (other than lip service); therefore, their cultures will follow the lead of the CEO. For me, banking was a great career but I too am embarrassed to admit my participation. The only positive about the past decade of banking is that few "bankers" have gone to jail; therefore, they can only be judged as "incompetent". It is hard to develop talent when the top dogs are incompetent unless the criteria is knowing how to walk the line between minimal ethical and legal behavior versus criminal behavior. Trust is not formed with that background.
Posted by frankarauscher | Wednesday, August 14 2013 at 11:15AM ET
I would not recommend banking to any young person. The system is broken! Too much regulation, too much power to regulators, too much hot button on this one exam then something completely different the next! All the work in the bank is now based on what examiners would do and most of them would have no clue how to actually get the job done as a bank employee, they are good government job people.
Posted by brokenbanking | Wednesday, August 14 2013 at 11:03AM ET
Nice Article....banking is still a great career choice in deed.

Carlos J. Arboleda, Managing Director at COI access

Corporate Lobbying | Strategy Execution | Talent Advisors
connecting Centers Of Influence
Posted by Carlos J. Arboleda with COI access | Wednesday, August 14 2013 at 10:52AM ET
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