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Scott Ramon had only worked at software firms, and the banking sector was not on his radar.

Earlier this year, however, Ramon noticed a community bank making a splash for its work in the fintech space. Articles in business publications and mutual acquaintances piqued his interest in NBKC Bank in Overland Park, Kan.

Ramon, 36, joined NBKC as its chief technology officer in October.

“As someone who really likes building software, I didn’t want my efforts to be a cost center for the business — I want it to be driving the business,” Ramon said.

The $662 million-asset NBKC frequently hires people from outside of banking; half of its workforce is made up of millennials, said President and CEO Brian Unruh. Hiring people from nontraditional backgrounds helps the bank solve problems in unique ways.

While many community banks are struggling to put together a younger workforce, NBKC and a handful of other banks have been able to attract talent from outside the industry.

Banks that are successful at this sort of recruiting will reap benefits, said Tiffani Montez, a senior analyst at Aite Group. These include an ability to diversify talent and to offer the types of products and services younger customers want, she said.

“You want people who have grown up in digital environments,” Montez said. “To compete in that environment, banks have to bring people in that only know how to interact in a digital environment.”

Having a high-tech and high-touch environment appeals to potential employees as well as customers, said Kevin Tweddle, head of innovation and financial technology for the Independent Community Bankers of America.

“It builds an environment that gives them the sense that they are creating the future in trying new and innovative approaches while still providing a sense of community and a chance to build relationships,” Tweddle said.

Citizens Bank of Edmond in Oklahoma has also attracted entrepreneurial employees, said CEO Jill Castilla. Offering nontraditional work arrangements and a flexible working environment has helped the $262 million-asset bank recruit innovative employees.

Employees, for instance, have the option of working in Citizens' Vault 405 co-working space. Citizens also aims to empower employees to make suggestions or pursue new ideas.

“When we post position we have dozens of applications,” Castilla said. “Previously, when we were more traditional, it was much more of about us finding applicants for a position.”

In the past, Citizens’ senior executives were the only ones fostering an innovative culture, Castilla said. That strategy could be effective in the short term, but it doesn’t establish longevity, she said.

“Having everybody thinking about how we are constantly improving to stay relevant — it makes it so the whole organization is driving towards improvement and relevancy rather than a top-down approach,” Castilla said.

Citizens helps foster entrepreneurialism by helping employees maintain and grow their own “side hustles,” Castilla said. One employee started a literary subscription service and another produces bath soaps. Citizens started a program where it provides resources, including graphic design help, work space, mailing services and a business address, to employees with side businesses.

“Having more of an innovative mindset has attracted staff that value that and that then adds to the innovative culture,” Castilla said.

To create an entrepreneurial environment, Leader Bank in Arlington, Mass., created teams with the sole purpose of moving the bank forward, said Jay Tuli, the $1.5 billion-asset bank's head of retail banking and residential lending.

“We have quite a few people just really focused on making the bank faster, more modern, more automated and offering better service,” Tuli said. “That’s a new thing that we didn’t have before. It has made product development and innovation more of a top priority.”

The approach has helped Leader recruit employees, especially technology talent, in a market dominated by tech firms, Tuli said. Like NBKC, Leader hires employees with no background in banking.

“When we're talking to employees, they are very attracted to a place that is thinking differently and wanting to move forward,” Tuli said. “They want to be with a company that is committed to being a leader in the future.”

As for NBKC, the bank doesn’t have a mission statement or core values written on a wall, Unruh said. Rather, employees and executives refer to “the NBKC way.”

“We talk to everybody in interviews about it and at executive levels,” Unruh said. “It’s short and simple. It’s listen intently, strive to simplify and embrace the culture.”

The company has single-digit turnover rates, which Unruh is proud of. He said being recognized as a best place to work in local news outlets also helps the bank attract the right people.

“We have spent zero dollars on headhunter fees in the last two years,” Unruh said. “We just don’t have to go that route anymore.”

Unruh credits NBKC’s recruiting abilities to a unique culture. NBKC's fintech accelerator, which it launched earlier this year, was one of the reasons Ramon was drawn to the bank.

“I see a lot of neat company culture stuff going on here," Ramon said. "People are really buying into what the bank is trying to promote as its culture.”

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