When it comes to fulfilling their life goals and career ambitions, the idea of a career in banking isn't exactly at the top of the list for most millennials. They came of age in the wake of the Great Recession and have developed a hardened skepticism about banks.

To attract millennials as employees, it's going take more than a promise of work-life balance. Banks will need to rely on the emotional halo of a brand purpose, live their core values and offer a unique work culture.

Why is this key? Because for millennials in particular, an appreciation of the workplace is becoming increasingly critical to how they evaluate a company's reputation.

And relative to other industries, banking has historically ranked at the bottom of the list in terms of workplace merits, based on research conducted by the Reputation Institute.

But two banks in particular can be models for those that hope to do better. As evidenced by our most recent study of U.S. bank reputations, Regions Bank and KeyBank stand out from their peers as being the two institutions viewed most positively by customers and noncustomers in terms of their workplace. Inspired by strong leaders, these banks have taken proactive steps in recent years to create a rewarding workplace environment and have demonstrated thought leadership on corporate social responsibility issues.

Off the 33 banks evaluated in the study, Regions, based in Birmingham, Ala., has the best overall score this year in the workplace category, and is the only bank strongly recognized for demonstrating concern for the health and well-being of its employees. This is a testament to its commitment to creating an empathetic work environment, developing caring and highly ethical leaders, and taking meaningful action in support of employees and the communities they live in.

With a philosophy of putting people first, Regions encourages a shared passion between employees and its organizational mission. In 2012, a group of Regions employees created an online platform called seethegood.com in an effort to share stories that exemplify their experience at work, and to highlight the "good work at work" Regions is doing. Actions such as these are highly attractive to millennials, who see the organization as serving a higher purpose that transcends just making money.

KeyBank has made it a top priority to develop a high-performing and diverse workforce. A diversity and inclusion council it created in 2012 is tasked with advancing this goal.

Today, the Cleveland-based bank's leadership team includes a significant number of women and minorities, and women also represent the majority of the board of trustees. This aura of inclusiveness and diversity is a big draw to would-be millennial employees — and a powerful employee retention tool as well.

So it is no coincidence that both Regions and Key not only lead the banking industry in terms of perceptions of their workplace, but are also two of the most reputable U.S. banks overall among millennials and the general public.

What this tells us is that, for millennials, perceptions of the workplace can provide banks with a competitive advantage. It also suggests that banks committed to investing in people and creating an appealing workplace culture will most likely reap the dividends of an elevated financial return on their reputation.

The idea of a bank actually banking on its people can become a new differentiator in the financial services industry.

Stephen Hahn-Griffiths is a vice president at the Reputation Institute.