It's been a dreary holiday season and the world of finance is feeling it hard. According to labor-tracking firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, the financial sector cut 91,356 jobs - just in November. That's the largest cut since September 2001 and brings the 2008 total to more than 220,000 jobs.

One San Diego bank has looked to tap this growing pool of bankers. Torrey Pines Bank is only five years old and has grown from under $100 million in total assets to over $800 million. The bank's president and chief executive, Gary Cady, credits his management team and employees for the bank's success, despite playing in a tough market.

Part of Cady's strategy has been to hire bankers with big-bank experience, he says. Over the past six months he has hired three bankers from Wells Fargo, California Bank and Trust (an affiliate of Zions Bancorp) and Union Bank of California. "Historically, the larger national banks offer very thorough management training programs and it's a great place for people to start in the industry and learn the fundamentals of commercial banking," Cady says. In the coming year Torrey Pines will look to grab even more talent. "Most of our senior managers have had a combination of large, national bank experience as well as community bank experience," Cady says. "There's definitely an opportunity to gain professionals."

Poaching talent from money center and super regional banks is nothing new - but the availability of big bank talent is. In addition to the training advantages, hiring a big-bank employee can build corporate spirit because the recruit is often actively looking to join a community bank, says Hugh Lane, president and chief executive officer for $235 million-asset Bank of South Carolina. "You generally get well-trained people and you get people who are making a conscious decision to switch to a community bank because they want to stay in the community," Lane says.

Many of the nearly quarter million bank layoffs have come in the New York metropolitan area. Though The Big Apple is more known for Wall Street than Main Street, community banks have a strong presence. New York Community Bancorp is the holding for six community banks: Queens County Savings Bank, Roslyn Savings Bank, Richmond County Savings Bank, Roosevelt Savings Bank, Synergy Bank and Garden State Community. Combined, New York Community has 178 banking offices with $32.1 billion in total assets.

Based out of Westbury, New York Community has hired former-employees of several of the most well-known institutions, including Citibank, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, says Ilene Angarola, evp and director of investor relations for the company. "We have taken advantage of the opportunity to employee certain officers and employees who recently left larger institutions as a result of the layoffs there," Angarola says.

However, not all community bankers are sold on the value of big bank experience. Kirk Dowdell, the chief executive of Sacramento-based Golden Pacific Bank, says in his 30 years in the industry he has found that bankers that come directly from a money center bank do not work out as well as someone with previous community bank experience. While the big bank experience and training is valuable, it can be, at times, a difficult transition.

Golden Pacific is a de novo that just opened its doors in December, so Dowdell understands the talent market. "I've hired folks that have been with large institutions and I've hired folks from small institutions; I think the biggest challenge when you are hiring someone who has been at, say Citibank, is, can they rise to the occasion in a community bank setting?" he says. "There's no place to hide when you're working in a community bank and a lot of these folks that work in very large, bureaucratic organizations where they do one part of a 10 part process - I've frankly not had that many experiences where they've transferred very well from a big-bank culture to a small-bank culture."

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