Banks go to high school to find next-gen talent

Register now

Grand Savings Bank in Grove, Okla., is doing its part to engage the next generation of bankers.

The $465 million-asset bank hires a handful of high school students each year. They report for duty after school for a few hours, along with Saturdays, to train with bankers until they can take over a teller line. It’s a valuable practice for Grand Savings, which needs the help on weekends and during the summer.

The program also provides the bank a chance to be more plugged into the community.

"It's just something that we enjoy," said Tyler Steele, Grand Saving’s vice chairman.

Several community banks have similar programs for high schoolers, though they are not as widespread as college internships. Bankers and industry observers see these programs as a way to signal to Gen Z that banking is a viable career option. Employees also learn from mobile-savvy students, bankers said.

“Bringing young people into contact with practicing bank managers while these kids are still early in the formative years of their personal and professional lives is a great idea,” said Tony Plath, a retired finance professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Hiring young people is a good way to make banking top of mind as students consider career paths.

“A little personal contact and experience with the banking industry very early in the careers of young people could help remove some of the animosity and cynicism that currently exists between millennials and the banking industry,” said Plath, who noted that enrollment in his banking courses had dropped dramatically over the last decade.

Institution for Savings in Newburyport, Mass., also hires high school students, typically as tellers. Some students continue working for the bank once they graduate, said Judy Langill, the financial institution’s education coordinator.

The $3.4 billion-asset bank keeps a few branches in local high schools north of Boston. Students work in the branches, which are managed by bank employees. The students are fully trained before they go to work; they can also pitch in at other branches when needed. Student employees also attend industry conferences and participate in competitions.

While it takes time and experience for students to learn how to interact with customers, especially with more complex transactions, working in a professional environment builds confidence, Langill said. A couple students have stayed with the bank and moved into different roles after completing the high school training program, she said.

“It’s an opportunity for students to get in on the ground floor of banking,” Langill said. “Working after school, they get to see the other career opportunities open here.”

Still, it is more common for banks to offer part-time employment opportunities to college students.

Belmont Savings Bank in Massachusetts works with local colleges to find interns, said Hal Tovin, the bank’s chief operating officer. Hiring local students builds brand awareness and creates a pipeline for young, energetic talent. The interns also fill in when the $2.9 billion-asset bank needs extra help, Tovin said.

“It really should be part of the bank’s strategy,” Tovin said. “It shouldn’t just be, ‘I need to hire temporary, quick help.’ It should be trying to find people that you think will add value to the banking experience as well as to the students. We try to look at it both ways — not just putting an ad out looking for students. We target schools in our geography and find programs with students who would find value in what we do.”

Student bankers can offer a fresh perspective, said CarrieAnne Cormier, vice president of retail operations and strategy at Avidia Bank in Hudson, Mass.

“The level of enthusiasm they bring is infectious,” Cormier said. “We have a number of employees here who are mentors. It’s also an outlet to give back in different ways.”

Some bankers worry about the future of banks’ internship programs and entry-level jobs. As technology eliminates transactional posts, such as tellers, there could be less of a need for student employees, said Robert Rivers, chairman and CEO of Eastern Bank in Boston, which also hires college interns.

The shrinking number of teller positions is just one example of how technology and automation are eliminating certain roles, Rivers said. Banks, going forward, are likely to hire more experienced employees that can handle various responsibilities and transactions.

Rivers said he spends a considerable amount of time thinking about the widening wealth gap and who is able to access jobs that once required a high school degree.

“I’m a firm believer that artificial intelligence will destroy more jobs than it creates,” he said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.