This article originally appeared in the June issue of American Banker Magazine.
The ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking is situated on the busy campus of the University of Pennsylvania, but Stonier students bankers from all over the country aren't invited to partake in the wild frat parties, the infamous Spring Fling or the popular pub crawl known as the Walnut Walk.
So there must be another explanation for the fact that registrations at Stonier are up 20 percent this year, surpassing a 20-year enrollment record set in 2012, according to the American Bankers Association, which manages the program in conjunction with Penn's Wharton School.
As more banks return to financial health, executives are reinvesting once again in their employees' development, says Luis Lobo, chairman of Stonier's advisory board and an executive vice president at BB&T Corp. in Winston-Salem, N.C. At the same time, more banks are looking for answers to questions raised by emerging industry trends.
At Stonier, students are schooled on the nuts and bolts of banking-loan reserve issues, marketing and mergers, for examplebut there also is instruction in nontraditional topics such as reputation and social media.
"Bankers need to do things different than they've been doing and Stonier teaches this," says University of Kentucky finance professor Don Mullineaux, who has served as Stonier's curriculum director since 2002.
"The world has changed so fast, especially in banking. What worked before doesn't necessarily work now."
Dr. Harold Stonier, a renowned educator and an ABA executive, helped create the first ABA graduate-level school of banking in 1935, when the country was still floundering from the Great Depression. Since then more than 20,000 students have gone through the program, including Lobo.
"I graduated from the program in 1999 and as a young banker the courses I took made a huge impression on me," Lobo says.
The three-year program is comprised of three one-week sessions, plus extension work between sessions. Fees range from $3,395 to $4,395 a year.
Newbies are thrown into a bank management computer simulation, where there are consequences for every move made in regard to pricing, risk and other key decisions.
"The bank simulator made me realize what I needed at this point in my career and what I wanted to learn," says John Sadowski, executive vice president and chief information officer at Sandy Spring Bank in Olney, Md. "I enjoyed my time at Stonier so much that I would love to teach some courses. It made me more of a well-rounded person."
A final project at the end of the program, called the Capstone Strategic Project, is intended to help students develop a program or make a strategic decision that can be put into action by their employers.
Sadowski, who graduated from Stonier last year, says that his Capstone project prompted Sandy Spring to change how it recruits employees, the premise being "if we got the right people on the bus, we would need 10 percent less people."
Julie Livingston, president and CEO of Marblehead Bank in Marblehead, Mass., and a member of the Stonier advisory board, says Stonier's partnership with the highly respected Wharton School is a draw. (Over the years, Stonier has been hosted by schools including Rutgers University and Georgetown University.)
Livingston is a 1990 graduate of the National School of Banking, a program that was housed at Fairfield University and combined several years ago with Stonier. "The students who attend are energetic and enthusiastic about being bankers, which is wonderful to see," she says. "I wish I wish I were younger and going through it all over again."
It took Robin Hager, chief administrative officer of NewBridge Bank in Greensboro, N.C., 25 years of working in the banking industry to finally attend Stonier, but she says she always knew she would go through the programjust like her father did in the late 1960s.
"I kept putting it off because of work and family, but it was always on my wish list," Hager says. "The program offers leadership courses that are invaluable, not to mention the legacy, reputation and rich history of the program. To me, attending Stonier is the crowning touch to my banking career."
Hager finished Stonier in 2011 and says NewBridge plans to keep sending people. "From our perspective, we are getting a great return on our investment," she says, adding that NewBridge has been able to implement five different Capstone projects, counting two that will be presented this year.
Beth Eller, NewBridge's director of mortgage banking, is the bank's latest recruit for Stonier. She begins the program this month. Eller says she became intrigued with the banking school early in her career, because graduates seemed to be held in high regard at their banks, and "understood finance with a broader view than many of their teammates."
Though she thought about attending over the years, self-doubt kept her from taking on the challengeuntil now. "This summer, I will have the opportunity to defeat my doubt," she says.