College grads wanted for entry-level community banking careers

Bank lender shaking hands with customer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Bank lender shaking hands with customer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Matt Krumrie AvatarMatt Krumrie
March 23, 2017


Recent college grads seeking entry-level jobs in the banking industry are heading into the field at the right time. That’s because many baby boomers who hold senior-level positions are expected to retire in the next five to ten years, and community and regional banks are looking for recent college grads and entry-level job seekers to emerge as industry leaders.

“America’s banks employ more than two million people with various backgrounds, skill sets and job functions,” said Mike Townsend, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association. “Thousands of baby-boomer bankers are likely to retire within the next decade, and opportunities for advancement will be abundant for the next generation entering the workforce.”

The need for emerging talent is a real issue across the country, including in the state of Ohio, where many banking jobs are going unfilled because there aren’t any workers to fill the openings, according to Bob Palmer, president of the Community Bankers Association of Ohio.

“There is a talent drain occurring very quickly in our industry,” Palmer said in the article Clark State adds banking program to meet demand for workers.

“The majority of those involved are older and in the later stages of their careers and we are experiencing a large amount of retirement,” said Palmer, who added, “quite frankly if we don’t have the talent to take care of our local community here, there will not be a place for community banks.”

The leaders at the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) are aware of the shortage, and working to fill the skills and talent gap. CSBS is a nationwide organization of financial regulators from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The vision of CSBS is to be the recognized leader advancing the quality and effectiveness of regulation and supervision of state banking and financial services.

The CSBS has created the Community Bank Case Study Competition, partnering with representatives from 33 Universities across the county for an engaging and experiential learning opportunity for undergraduate students as they interact with local businesses by partnering with community banks to conduct case studies. Students who participate in the CSBS gain valuable, first-hand knowledge of the banking industry through interactions with bank executives and networking opportunities. The competition is also an opportunity for students to sharpen research and analytical skills, practice problem solving, and enhance communications skills.

“The competition gives students an opportunity to learn in a tangible way about community banking,” said Mike Stevens, Senior Executive Vice President of CSBS. “They also get direct engagement with bankers and other business leaders, expanding their network.”

The case study competition energizes both students/participants and experienced professionals already working in the industry.

“The (students) bring much needed energy to banking,” said Stevens. “When the winning team presents at the CSBS-Federal Reserve research conference, the bankers are happy to see students interested in what they do. The energy and attitude in the room changes dramatically.  One thing that surprised me is that everyone who participates in this project – faculty, students, bankers, and judges, all say how inspiring it is to see the work product and engage with the students.”

Stevens says entry-level jobs in community banking are a great career path for recent college grads truly looking to learn a wide variety of skills.

“Community and regional banks provide a lot of opportunities for an entry level banker,” said Stevens. “Community bankers really have to do it all.  A recent college grad coming into a community bank has the opportunity to learn about nearly every area of a bank in a relatively short time period.”

What many recent college grads overlook is the fact that they don’t always have to have a background or education in finance to start an entry-level banking career.

“Banks need people with a variety of skills – marketing, information technology, security, legal,” says Stevens. “I hear many hiring managers say, ‘give me someone who can write, speak, and think through issues, and I can teach them about banking.'”

Below, we look at the education, soft skills, and keys to success for recent college grads seeking entry-level banking career opportunities:

Banking/finance industry career paths

Recent college graduates seeking a career in finance or banking should possess strong analytical skills and be well trained in Microsoft Excel said Michael Puleo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Finance at Dolan School of Business at Fairfield University. “Relationship management, attention to detail, business acumen, and the ability to present complex financial concepts to a general audience will also prove invaluable in developing a successful career in the financial industry.”

Entry-level retail banking jobs could include roles as an account manager, client service representative, teller and IT analyst. Entry-level commercial banking jobs include roles as financial analysts, associate, associate analyst, IT analyst, data analyst, and business analyst.

“Banks typically look for individuals with strong analytical and interpersonal skills, those who are comfortable working in teams and on a wide variety of projects,” says Ramiro J. Atristain, Executive In Residence at the Brennan School of Business, Dominican University.

College students and recent college grads can build a successful banking career by understanding their passion, and matching that to the right type of bank that supports their objectives and goals, says Brian Rhonemus, who has over 25 years of experience in the financial services and recruiting industries, and is CEO of Sanford Rose Associates-Rhonemus Group, a Columbus, Ohio search firm that is part of Sanford Rose Associates, the nation’s 10th largest executive search firm focusing on mid-to-senior level roles within credit unions, national banks, and community banking institutions.

The most well-known entry-level banking jobs are typically in commercial lending, consumer lending and mortgage lending, says Rhonemus. However, those who are interested in analytics could pursue positions such as loan processor, credit analyst, in branch operations, accounting, finance or risk management.

“The path is linear in each of these titles, meaning if you start your career in commercial lending, most people stay in commercial lending and grow into a leader or manager, which could turn into executive level roles,” says Rhonemus.

A credit analyst can expect to get more involved in complex credit transactions as their career progresses, and ultimately to a role as a credit manager, chief credit officer, or in risk management.

Recent college grads are often curious about the differences in jobs at a community or regional bank, or with a large banking/financial institution – think Bank of America Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, for example.

“A career at a community bank, or a regional bank represents the greatest opportunity to gain broad exposure to different areas within banking,” says Rhonemus. “A management training program in a large bank could lead to an executive role in a community bank as his/her career progresses.”

Education needed

A business or finance degree is helpful for recent college grads seeking entry-level banking jobs – but not a must; meaning those with other backgrounds, such as a liberal arts degree, communications degree, or other educational background, are attractive to employers seeking entry-level banking candidates.

“If your desire is to be an accountant, that requires a degree in Accounting, but for most positions a degree is expected, and an MBA is preferred at the senior level,” says Rhonemus.

However for entry-level finance jobs, attitude, passion and being the right fit are more important than specific degree/background, says Rhonemus.

“Most career bankers feel strongly they can teach any skill necessary to be a successful banker,” says Rhonemus. “Attitude and passion make up for a lack of skills as a young banker. Our rural community bank clients focus on these two personality traits more so than the degree or experience.”

A college grad must also show they fit into the corporate culture – and every bank has a different culture. If one can find the right fit a career banking can be a rewarding and satisfying career path, says Rhonemus.

“Many of our clients use testing platforms to assess personality and intelligence such as Wonderlic, PDP, and Predictive Index,” says Rhonemus. “Small and large banks are looking for college grads with experience in social clubs, team sports, and preferably examples of community service. A passion to give back to the community is attractive to all banks.”

Rhonemus encourages college students and recent college grads to join banking industry associations, and to attend bank association industry events to make contacts, learn more about the profession, and expand their industry knowledge. Continuing education and ongoing learning is important for banking professionals looking to move up the company or corporate ladder.

“Be a sponge for advancing your professional education to add new tools and skills to your toolbox,” says Rhonemus. When interviewing and applying for jobs “have confidence in your ability to add value and be able to articulate that to a potential bank hiring manager.  Develop a relationship with someone that can act as your advocate, and mentor. This will keep you focused on making good decisions as you start your banking career.”

Stevens agrees, saying aspiring banking industry professionals should start laying the foundation for career success in college, or before graduation.

“Students need avenues to meet people in the industries they may be interested in working,” said Stevens. “Get your professors to invite industry people in to the class. Get people you know to introduce you to people they know in the industry or people with interesting backgrounds. Banking industry professionals love to advise and mentor young people. Students just need to find ways to seek them out. Internships are critical.”

Creating a lasting and engaged network of professionals that includes alumni, faculty, peers and university staff is important to college students and recent college grads searching for entry-level banking/finance careers, says Thao Nelson, associate director of Undergraduate Career Services with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

“Just like any other career, banking is a profession based on relationships and the ability to develop strong relationships is just as important as any technical skill or academic preparation,” says Nelson. “From a technical stance, mental math is a close second. Any area of banking requires an ability to think quickly and the candidate who can compute quickly and accurately without a calculator wins.”

Communication skills are also important, says Nelson. Written and verbal communication in a professional environment is highly sought after. “A company has to know they can put you in front of a client,” says Nelson. “For most entry level roles in banking leadership is looking for eager, intelligent employees who are able to learn quickly. So it’s about the whole candidate and an ability to ramp up quickly not just a specific skill set. Comfort and exposure to analytical tools such as Excel are highly desired but since many platforms and software products are proprietary, it’s all about the ability to adapt and learn quickly.”

When Nelson talks with recruiters who are looking to hire graduates from the Kelley School of Business, she often hears that in addition to education and the right skills, it’s also about the right fit.

“When they come to a top school, recruiters know the technical skills will be there,” says Nelson.

So the question becomes: Does the candidate fit with our organization from a value perspective and personality standpoint? Recruiters then ask: How will the candidate fill gaps on my team?

Jennifer Lasater, Vice President of Employer and Career Services at Kaplan University said “recent college grads interested in working in banking should review job descriptions thoroughly to understand what key skills are needed for the field as a first step.”

Some examples of key skills needed could include paying close attention to detail, strong customer service skills, teamwork and problem solving.

“Then think about your previous work or educational experience and how you could give strong examples of times you needed to use those skills and the outcome of the situation,” says Lasater. “This exercise will help you prepare for a possible behavioral interview situation and will also help you to decide if you should apply for that particular job.”

And remember, if you do apply, take the time to customize your resume so you are showcasing your skills that the employer is looking for.

“Taking the time to focus on a quality job search will pay off in the end,” says Lasater.

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