Midlevel bankers seeking professional training used to pack their golf clubs for two-week courses held offsite, where instructors covered a wide array of topics.
Today the same executives are more likely to attend a one-day seminar at the bank, for a blitz of narrowly focused information deemed strategic by senior management.
Over the last two to three years bigger banks have been pulling their training and development programs in-house. The larger size of the major banking companies has made it easier to fill classes, and increasing competition has led some banks to conclude that it makes more business sense for them to teach their own staffs.
By supervising their own programs, banks are making sure they are getting their money's worth out of their training dollars, experts say.
"In the past, the idea was that any education is good education," said D. Anthony Plath, an associate finance professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. "You won't hear anyone in training and development talk that way any more. Today it's all targeted, it's all structured, and results are evaluated in a substantive type of way."
Banks used to trust outside consultants to deliver lessons, either by bringing them into the bank or by sending workers afield. Nowadays banks are working with third-party experts to develop proprietary curriculums, and shying away from boilerplate programs.
Banking schools feel the pinch and are taking steps to make themselves more attractive and relevant. They are offering courses in more diverse subjects, such as cross-selling and financial planning. To accommodate busy schedules, some have cut back the amount of class time needed to complete a program.
"People simply can't get away from the bank for two weeks anymore," said Michael Glass, managing director of executive education at the Bank Administration Institute.
Chicago-based BAI used to offer a three-year certificate course, which students attended two weeks a year. It recently shortened the course to one week a year for two years. As a further draw, it began housing students in hotels rather than dormitories.
BAI's midcareer program hosts about 400 senior bankers a year; other academic offerings attract about 17,000 people annually.
"You can still populate the programs" despite the in-house trend, Mr. Glass said. "We spend a lot of time with banker advisory groups in assembling the curriculum, so we don't just throw something together."
Executives at the country's half-dozen banking schools say 80% or more of their students are from community banks, which tend to have too few employees to run programs of their own. Community bankers are also less fearful of learning alongside direct competitors.
"If you've got a room full of First Union executives, they don't want to be sitting next to SVPs and VPs from NationsBank or Wachovia," said Mr. Plath, a former banker who has been teaching executive programs for 12 years.
"It used to be the big banks would call us and say, 'Come teach capital budgeting, teach financial mathematics,' whatever the subject happened to be," Mr. Plath said. "Now they say, 'Why don't you come down and we'll design a program together. You'll teach this module, and we'll deliver these two modules.' It's much more customized and targeted to what the banks want a set of people to know."
Three years ago First Union Corp. set up First University, an in-house system of six "colleges," each with its own academic dean. About 350 First Union executives are considered faculty members, and employees can choose from a 35-page course catalogue. As many as 60,000 workers have taken courses, which are offered lecture-style, on CD-ROM, through the Internet, and on satellite television.
"We still do send some people outside to some self-awareness programs, but the majority of the training we do is internal," said Kathryn Heath, director of First University. The focus of the curriculum is "how we lead and manage at First Union."
Among the colleges, one is dedicated to wholesale banking, and two relate to consumer banking. The one geared to senior managers is called "leadership and quality."
Enrollment has been brisk, Ms. Heath said-perhaps because of the shakiness of the job market.
"People really do know that their skills and expertise are their ticket, so they're asking to be in training," Ms. Heath said.
At Chase Manhattan Corp., 15 "development resource centers" are available for employees who are taking bank-sponsored courses. Employees can access a course directory on-line or by telephone, and can use the library-like centers for study time.
Chase does send bankers away to programs run in conjunction with Harvard and Cornell universities, but on-site training has become the norm.
"Our focus moving forward is increasingly on ensuring that learning happens as close to the workplace and the job as possible," said Patricia Coglianese, senior vice president, director of education, in Chase's human resources department. "We're really taking a hard look at how we develop programs," she said. Chase wants "shorter development cycles, more customized to the needs of the business."
In practical terms, Ms. Coglianese said, this means "instead of a two- day program, we might do four half-day programs, or we might have a combination of a self-study module and a classroom module."
For employees who did not earn a college degree, Chase pays tuition costs at some New York-area colleges. Banking educators say such stipends are rarer than they once were.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Mr. Plath said, many people-including him- "got their MBA and had the bank pay for it, and then turned around and left the institution." For that reason, banks began stipulating that people stay a few years after earning an advanced degree. Today, Mr. Plath said, it is more typical for a bank to offer an MBA student $1,000 or $1,500 a semester, perhaps more if the student earns good grades.
Two decades ago banks groomed high school graduates for management positions and sent them to banking schools to learn the fundamentals. Today virtually all management trainees and executive-level hires have college degrees or more, and banker education programs have had to make their course work more sophisticated.
These changing demographics have worked against the schools and state banking associations whose courses were once a rite of passage. Consolidation has reduced the number of banks, and meant that the remaining banks are larger-big enough to hold classes of their own.
"We have seen a dramatic decline in enrollments over the last 15 years," said James Pappas, president of the graduate school of banking at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He estimated the student body had dropped 60% in that time.
To stay afloat, the university's banking program is devising an Internet-based curriculum and holding focus groups with bankers, "to try to get a sense of the kinds of programming they see as being demanded in the future," Mr. Pappas said.
As a nod to the industry's growing complexity, the graduate school of banking at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge has actually added work to its two-week program. "It is our philosophy that these days bankers need to know more rather than less, and you cannot teach the same thing in less time," said Don L. Woodland, director of the school.
The school feels "pressure from mergers" in its enrollment, but believes it will always fill a role. "Large banks are not interested in education- they're interested in training," Mr. Woodland said.
At the American Bankers Association's Stonier Graduate School of Banking, instructors have tried to update the curriculum, offering new courses on topics such as how to serve as a financial adviser to customers.
Both Stonier and BAI say enrollments are smaller than a decade ago, but holding fairly steady. Community bankers continue to sign up.
Like BAI, Stonier has shortened its program, from two weeks to eight days a year. Charles Hoffman, director of Stonier, said the school is trying to "take education beyond the classroom" by asking students to solve real-life problems at their banks.
For example, one student set out "to rethink the CRA requirements and see how they could be turned into a profitable business," Mr. Hoffman said. The student returned to the bank to try his ideas.
Despite the trend toward in-house education, bankers say there will always be a role for outside experts-particularly those with rarefied knowledge.
One example is a program in which computer programmers from Lockheed Martin Marietta are teaching technologists at the former NationsBank Corp., now BankAmerica Corp. Each participating employee is assigned to a Lockheed Martin "coach" who gives lessons on HTML, Java, Web technology, and other topics.
James Howard, senior vice president of personnel in the technology solutions group at BankAmerica, said, "one of the things that retains good technical people is the ability to enhance their skills."
Mr. Woodland of Louisiana State University said job-specific courses like the one at BankAmerica were becoming more typical, since large banks no longer see a need to provide a general banking education. "They don't have career paths for their officers anymore," Mr. Woodland said. "If you're going to be a bond salesman at NationsBank, you're not going to get into commercial credit."
Mr. Woodland predicted a reversal, in which banks would once again come to rely more heavily on outside educators.
"I think the point we need to sell to the larger banks is that they're outsourcing so much of their operations, why shouldn't they continue to outsource education?" Mr. Woodland said.