Banks up and down the West Coast are having a tough time finding new employees, according to federal regulators.

In the Federal Reserve Board's latest review of regional economic conditions, San Francisco Fed economists noted that a tight labor market is putting the squeeze on banks looking to hire.

"Instead of there being three workers applying for every opening, there are only two out there, so it's taking something like 33% more effort to fill job openings," said Rob Valletta, a senior economist at the San Francisco Fed. "The matching process is getting far more challenging."

The strong economy in the West, particularly in California, is bringing with it high demand for new employees, said Mr. Valletta, who authored the San Francisco Fed's contribution to the national economic survey called the Beige Book. The latest installment came out last week.

Until recently, consolidation may have shielded the banking industry from such worries, Mr. Valletta said. "Restructuring may have freed up some additional labor at most skill levels," he said

But now, Mr. Valletta said, the pool of banking workers cut loose by mergers and acquisitions has mostly dried up.

The Beige Book is compiled eight times a year by the 12 Fed districts and released two weeks before the Federal Open Market Committee meets.

To get a sense of banking industry conditions in the nine states that form the San Francisco Fed district, economists sent out lengthy and detailed questionnaires to banks of all sizes, Mr. Valletta said.

West Coast bankers said the workers most needed are loan officers, technology experts, and entry-level people to be tellers and clerical workers.

Banks are having the toughest time finding technology pros, said Leon A. Farley, managing partner of Leon A. Farley Associates, a San Francisco executive search firm.

"There is an absolute drought of people who can work in the information systems area," Mr. Farley said.

Banks have already snapped up many technically adept people to help them deal with year-2000 computer problems, he said. Also, many bank systems are based on older computer languages, such as COBOL, and there is a lack of technologists familiar with it, he said. "Young people don't even know what COBOL is," Mr. Farley said.

In addition, nobody wants to be a teller these days, he said.

"It used to be that people would say, 'Why not be a teller at $12,000 a year and have some job security?' But now there are simply much better, well-paying opportunities and alternatives out there," he said.

Besides, the position has become far less prominent, interesting, or important at banks. "Being a teller in a bank has become increasingly devoid of human process," he said.

On the other hand, Mr. Farley noted that there is still a steady supply of senior-level bank officers.

"There is definitely a glut of people at the senior level because of consolidation," he said.

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