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Bank CIOs Look to Recruit and Retain Top IT Talent

How are the state of the economy and current industry challenges affecting banks' ability to recruit and retain top IT talent? BS&T's Elite 8 2009 honorees share their opinions.

That mantra, Beran adds, has become a part of Comerica's IT recruitment philosophy. "That's what we really try to do when we recruit folks -- it's about the practical applications of technology that create business value for our internal clients and the customers they serve," he explains. "That's a challenge -- to try to get young folks oriented toward the practical application of technology rather than just playing around with technology."

Gary Greenwald, chief innovation officer, Citi Global Transaction Services (GTS), says he takes GTS techs with him to client meetings so they can see that the technology they're working on is part of a solution to a problem. "There's the excitement factor of being part of something new," he explains, adding, "Making banking technology appealing [to prospective employees] is about optimizing technology. If the best and brightest are to come to banks, they need to see this focus. It's central to those who aspire to do higher-order innovation. There will be plenty of opportunities where banks will make money going forward."

Filling the Tech Talent Pipeline

To keep the IT talent pipeline full, North Shore Credit Union works closely with colleges and universities near the credit union's North Vancouver, B.C., headquarters to develop homegrown talent, according to CIO Fred Cook, who, borrowing a sports term, calls this "building through the draft." "By working with the tech schools, if you set up that strong relationship with them, it's actually a bonus because they're actually working with you to help you find the right sources of new talent coming out," he says.

Though some of his counterparts may view IT recruiting as a challenge, First National of Nebraska's chief operating officer, David Downing, tells BS&T that while Omaha -- where the bank is based -- is not necessarily as high-profile as Silicon Valley or Massachusetts' famed Route 128 corridor, there's something about the city that makes finding talented IT staff relatively easy. "In this market we just don't have a hard time getting good people," he says. "Omaha always shows up as [one of the] great places to live. ... The talent coming out of the universities [including Creighton University and the University of Nebraska] and graduate schools is very rich."

While Downing hasn't had trouble finding talent in the Omaha area, he does recognize that there is potential for local competition, with several Fortune 500 companies based in the region. Overall, though, he hasn't had much difficulty recruiting and retaining IT talent. "First National of Nebraska is viewed as an employer of choice in the Midwest," Downing reports. "It's not very hard for us to get and retain good people."

The real challenge, Downing submits, is keeping the most talented and valuable employees at the top of their game. "[A top priority] is keeping the really smart people challenged, because if you don't, they'll either break something so they can fix it, or they'll get you in trouble trying crazy stuff," Downing says. "Our primary challenge is keeping the good, quality people we have challenged all the time."

For Barbara Perino, SVP, operations and technology, The Washington Trust Company (Westerly, R.I.), the key to keeping a small (11 staffers) IT and operations workforce motivated is a combination of culture and striving to develop efficient processes. "We've accomplished a lot with very little increase in staff," she says. "We've just gotten better at what we do."

There are a number of reasons why Washington Trust has been recognized in various awards programs as an outstanding place to work, according to Perino. "It's the benefits we have, the way we treat our employees, the flexibility we have with scheduling," she says. "It's just a very nice place to work. So even if it does get stressful, I surround myself with great people, and we laugh -- because sometimes you just have to."

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