It seems that everywhere in the banking world these days, people want to talk about the war for talent. It’s been the subject of many recent presentations at industry conferences and a regular topic of conversation at nearly every roundtable discussion. It’s called many things — the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffling, quiet quitters or the Great Realignment — but it all comes down to talent management.
There are a number of reasons why this challenge has landed squarely on the shoulders of banks and organizations across the country. In the U.S., the workforce is now primarily comprised of members of Generation X and millennials, cohorts that are smaller than the baby boomers that preceded them. And while the rising Gen Z workforce will eventually be larger, its members have only recently begun graduating from college and entering the workforce.
Even outside of the pandemic disruptions the economy and banking industry has weathered, it is easy to forget that the unemployment rate in this country was 3.5% in December 2019, shortly before the pandemic shutdowns. This was an unprecedented modern era low, which the economy has once again returned to in recent months. Helping to keep this rate in check is a labor force participation rate that remains below historical norms. Add it all up and the demographic trends do not favor employers for the foreseeable future.
It is also well known that most banks have phased out training programs, which now mostly exist in very large banks or stealthily in select community institutions. One of the factors that may motivate a smaller community bank to sell is their inability to locate, attract or competitively compensate the talented bankers needed to ensure continued survival. With these industry headwinds, how should a bank’s board and CEO respond? Some thoughts:
- Banks must adapt and offer more competitive compensation, whether this is the base hourly rate needed to compete in competition with Amazon.com and Walmart for entry-level workers, or six-figure salaries for commercial lenders. Bank management teams need to come to terms with the competitive pressures that make it more expensive to attract and retain employees, particularly those in revenue-generating roles. Saving a few thousand dollars by hiring a B-player who does not drive an annuity revenue stream is not a long-term strategy for growing earning assets.
- There has been plentiful discourse supporting the concept that younger workers need to experience engagement and “feel the love” from their institution. They see a clear career path to stick with the bank. Yet most community institutions lack a strategic human resource leader or talent development team that can focus on building a plan for high potential and high-demand employees. Bank can elevate their HR team or partner with an outside resource to manage this need; failing to demonstrate a true commitment to the assertion that “our people are our most important asset” may, over time, erode the retention of your most important people.
- Many community banks lack robust incentive compensation programs or long-term retention plans. Tying key players’ performance and retention to long-term financial incentives increases the odds that they will feel valued and remain — or at least make it cost-prohibitive for a rival bank to steal your talent.
- Lastly, every banker says “our culture is unique.” While this may be true, many community banks can do a better job of communicating that story. Use the home page of your website to amplify successful employee growth stories, rather than just your mortgage or CD rates. Focus on what resonates with next generation workers: Your bank is a technology business that gives back to its communities and cares deeply about its customers. Survey employees to see what benefits matter most to them: perhaps a student loan repayment program or pet insurance will resonate more with some workers than your 401(k) match will.
The underlying economic and demographic trend lines that banks are experiencing are unlikely to shift significantly in the near term, barring another catastrophic event. Given the human capital climate, executives and boards should take a hard look at the bank’s employment brand, talent development initiatives and compensation structures. A strategic reevaluation and fresh look at how you are approaching the talent wars will likely be an investment that pays off in the future.