The skill level of the average trust department employee is rising as financial institutions offer more technologically based goods and services, industry observers said.
The most serious human resources implication of this trend is that searches for entry-level trust employees tend to be much more complex and arduous than only a few years ago.
"We used to be able to hire people off the street with little or no background for the entry-level positions," said C. Elizabeth Stockwell, a vice president at Saint Paul-based First Trust, a unit of First Bank System Inc.
"Now that the industry is offering a broader array of products and using technology to increase efficiency and servicing," she said, "we need people who have computer skills and can be trained on the various systems."
To help address this problem, the American Bankers Association's Institute of Certified Bankers is considering creating a certifying process for securities processing operations employees.
Certification would be similar to that for the ABA's certified regulatory compliance manager program or its certified lender/business banking programs, which aim to prescreen candidates for financial institution jobs.
"We are working on establishing a core competency program that provides guidelines for the industry," said Bernice Hamblin, vice president and manager of trust accounting for San Francisco-based Union Bank. She is also member of the ABA's fiduciary and security operations committee.
A proposal for securities processing certification has been drafted by the committee, and a decision on the proposal by the institute's board of directors is expected this year.
Ms. Hamblin said employees would not need to have a background in securities processing to be certified. But they will need some basic computer knowledge so they can be easily trained to operate systems and interpret data.
The committee believes the certification process will make it easier for institutions to ensure the people they hire have the right skills for the job.
Industry executives said there is need for such certification.
"We are getting away from entry-level positions which act primarily as clerks and are hiring staff that have a variety of disciplines so that they can understand how the total operation works," said F. Kevin Granville, a senior vice president at Fiduciary Trust International Corp., New York.
The requirement for more skilled workers is a direct result of a desire to make securities processing more efficient. This desire has led, unsurprisingly, to increased automation.
"By educating existing staff and hiring people with a higher level of skills, we are able to make the operation work better, offering better service more efficiently," said Ms. Stockwell of First Bank.
Jeff Infusino, a vice president at Mercer Management Consulting Inc., New York, said increased competition among trust banks is driving the demand for higher levels of service that improved technology can often provide.
"Banks need to offer the services, and to do that they need to have the right systems in place and the people who can operate the technology efficiently," he said.
"The key is to arm the employees with the right tools while providing the training to insure they can get the most from the technology."