Bank employees receive a lot of training today that typically focuses on information and skills necessary to perform their jobs. Such training is essential. However, training differs from, and is not a substitute for, education, which is broader in scope and not specific to any particular job function.
Bank employees, like those in all industries, should want to learn as much as possible about the organization they work for and the industry they compete in. They need to become knowledgeable about the big picture, not just what is necessary to perform their particular job. Too often, bank management does not believe that rank-and-file employees have any need to consider big picture issues and, moreover, are not likely to have any interest in them.
My experience tells me otherwise. Having, for example, at least a rudimentary understanding of the structure of our banking system and how it has evolved over the years makes an employee more well-rounded. Also, how the Federal Reserve influences interest rates, a process not widely understood, is something that all bankers should be familiar with.
The financial services industry is very competitive today. Who are these competitors, and for what types of business are they competing with commercial banks? What are key issues for banks today? These are just a few big picture items that come to mind that I have found to be of interest to bank employees at all levels. In fact, in my experience, lower level employees often have a keener interest in these topics than their managers, who tend to regard non-job-related information as a distraction. I believe sometimes, subliminally, they fear that more knowledgeable employees might outshine the boss.
In painting the big picture for employees, management should include information about the bank's strategic plan, which can only be successfully accomplished if everyone buys into it. Even in small banks, employees tend to work in silos and their knowledge of the bank's operations usually does not extend much beyond their department. Periodic meetings among representatives of all departments in which the participants describe the nature of their work and the issues they are currently dealing with would help fill in the picture and provide a forum for an exchange of ideas. All employees should be salespersons for their banks and the more they know about their bank and the industry, the more effective they will be.
Senior management of large banking organizations often give lip service to the idea of cross-selling and working cooperatively across divisions, but, in practice this does not usually occur. I once suggested to the CEO of a large banking organization where I was employed that there probably wasn't anyone in the organization who knew all of the products and services offered by the bank and its nonbank affiliates. I recommended that representatives of all affiliates and divisions within the bank be brought together to describe their various businesses and discuss how they could work cooperatively for the good of the organization. He responded by telling me to let him know if I had any revenue specific ideas. He missed my point, which was to set in motion a process that, hopefully, could lead to some revenue specific ideas.
Another common fault of large organizations is that they do not take advantage of their affiliates' knowledge of local market conditions in diverse geographic areas. For example, if a holding company has a consumer finance affiliate in Cleveland, the chances are that its management will have knowledge about what is going on in that market and will have developed contacts that could be useful to corporate lenders hoping to do business in the area. However, a corporate lender in an out-of-state bank affiliate would not typically think of visiting with management of the consumer finance affiliate to tap into their knowledge of local market conditions.
Educating employees about the big picture should prove to be beneficial to both employees and the bank. It enables employees to see the whole playing field, stimulates their interest in banking and strengthens their overall game. This, in turn, strengthens the bank's entire team. By providing opportunities for staff to meet and discuss issues with employees outside of their departments' cross-fertilization could possibly produce new approaches to problems and innovations that would not otherwise have occurred.
William M. Aukamp is counsel at the law firm of Archer & Greiner in Pennsylvania and a former chairman of the Delaware Bankers Association.