Willard Bunn, Managing Director of Colonnade Advisors, recently published on recruiting and retention programs in the Illinois Bankers Associating magazine.
Reprinted with permission from the Illinois Bankers Association
Our People Are Our Most Important Asset
One would be hard put to find a Long Range Plan of any bank which didn’t contain verbiage roughly equivalent to “Our people are our most asset.” And that is as it should be, since it is really the employees who differentiate one bank from another. It is little wonder then that bank managements expend plenty of effort to recruit and retain quality employees.
But of course each bank does it differently, and what I have tried to do in the piece below is to advance some ideas which I have seen work in the roles I have had in both managing and advising banks.
At Marine Bank in Springfield (now JP Morgan Chase) we worked hard to establish relationships with leading business schools in our operating area, in our case primarily with the College of Commerce at the University of Illinois in Champaign. We felt that not every outstanding student would want to head to the hurly-burly of Chicago, and we wanted to be acquainted with those who elected to begin their careers in downstate Illinois. The professors could help us identify leading students and could give us exposure to them through classroom presentations. One finance professor wrote and published a case study (still extant) on a business decision we faced. We used that case in the classroom to give students an exposure to the kinds of situations we encountered and our management approach to solving them. Some U of I students were among our finest recruits.
In addition we established a tie with a leading executive recruiter in Chicago. For specialized needs, such as an IT Officer or a Trust Department head, we thought we needed a broader reach. That company helped us on several occasions. We used another Chicago-based firm to help with behavioral assessments, trying to insure a candidate fit the company in all ways, more than just filling a job.
A final note on recruiting: Interview Day was important to us as figured we would get only one chance to put our best foot forward. One critical aspect of that day was outlining a path of upward mobility and then introducing prospective employees to junior offers who were on that path.
Over time we found the most important aspect of retaining employees was active communications to insure everyone knew the direction the company was headed, and we knew from them what trouble spots they were seeing. Each month we held an all-employee meeting following the board meeting to give them our financial performance and any other important news from the meeting. Also, each month the chairman and president hosted a lunch from a random list of employees and went around the table to hear from each participant about what was going on in his or her department. We also held monthly “classes,” using case studies from various industries, including the case on our own bank mentioned above.
At each board meeting, we always asked a senior officer to report on his/her department. That reporting assured the officers their work was receiving the highest level of attention, and their reports gave the Board a good look at the next level of management.
We tried hard to get each employee invested in the company, both literally and figuratively. When we were a private company we issued Stock Appreciation Rights (the good kind of SAR) and later, after we went public, we issued stock options to as broad a base as we could (including to our directors).
At the same time, we wanted our employees exposed to a wider world, encouraging them to establish contacts with other bankers. We regularly sent our people to IBA seminars and farther afield too, like to the Darden School at the University of Virginia.
Some signs suggest our programs worked. Several of our officers elected to stay in the Marine/Banc One/JP Morgan Chase organization and went on to substantial careers, one of them (a U of I grad) retiring as recently as last week after 38 distinguished years with the combined company. Other officers from those days are scattered around banks in Central Illinois occupying senior executive positions. Not every recruiting and retention program works for every bank, but the ones outlined above worked well for us.
Willard Bunn is a Managing Director of Colonnade Advisors in Chicago, a boutique investment banking firm which works with banks and other financial institutions. At an earlier time he was Chairman and CEO of Marine Corporation in Springfield, now the downstate flagship for JP Morgan Chase.
The Illinois Bankers Association Magazine can be found at http://www.ilbanker.com.