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Generational Differences, Budgets Challenge Banks' Leadership Growth Initiatives

Generational differences and tighter budgets are among the challenges banks face as they grow their future crop of leaders.

HSBC’s Couture says the bank is well aware of the priorities and attitudes of the various generations that comprise its workforce. One way the bank manages the new generation of workers is to offer employees more flexibility. “I call it ‘work/life integration,’ ” he relates. “Our company has implemented a flexible work strategy called HSBC@Work. The program fosters a progressive environment and culture that motivates and satisfies employees by increasing flexibility and mobility while still meeting business and customer needs.”

Another step the bank has taken was to upgrade its technology infrastructure in its offices to accommodate the work habits of employees. For example, its HSBC North America headquarters building in Mettawa, Ill., is equipped with free Internet access. Employees can check e-mail or search the Web at coffee bars or other public spaces in the facility during lunch or other personal time. But engendering the loyalty of a new generation of workers isn’t all about accommodating their desires; it’s also about nuts-and-bolts training. Internships and structured training programs can play a large role in helping future and current workers of any generation understand the corporate culture and the expectations the bank has for them, experts agree.

Launching Technology Careers

At Fifth Third Bank, a formal entry-level training program consisting of four six-month assignments was established to launch recent college graduates into the bank’s technology organization. According to Fifth Third’s Deloatch, the program provides extensive mentoring: a peer mentor, a program adviser, an assignment leader and a mentor from the leadership team. “At the senior leadership level, a monthly resource planning session is conducted solely to identify movement and growth opportunities for our IT talent across the lines of business,” Deloatch relates. “This is done to ensure an increasing number of rotational assignments at the mid-career level.”

To make the most of its internship programs, Deloatch says, Fifth Third is on the advisory boards for many of its preferred recruitment universities. This, he adds, helps drive the marketing campaign for new students in the program, allows the schools to change curriculum based on the bank’s real-world experiences, and generally helps build ties to the school administration and students for hiring.

“We view college internship programs as an early identifier for both the bank and the student,” Deloatch explains. “It allows for each to assess if this is the right fit. A good internship program is one that builds a relationship with the student and the university; provides challenging growth assignments; and accelerates the cultural transition a student must go through from school to the business environment, including formal mentors.” In general, notes generational expert Johnson, good internship programs give the students a realistic expectation of what it’s like to work at a bank. “Good internships give feedback,” she says. “It’s not just free labor. You want these people to walk away with tools to allow them to become valuable employees for any company. And the more structure you have in the program, the better.”

Unfortunately, amid the current business climate internship and training programs at banks may feel the impact of the broader spending slowdown. Banks made big investments in cost-efficient online training vehicles prior to the economic collapse of late 2008, BAI’s Bianucci says. “But the world changed in 2008,” she points out. “I’m seeing signs of banks holding back on some of their employee development. But as they continue to understand consumer preferences and behaviors, they can also apply this on the training side for employees [when things turn around].”

Training Amid Turmoil

Neither HSBC’s Couture nor Fifth Third’s Deloatch seem too concerned about the impact the financial crisis is having on their respective employee development efforts. “As a global company, we focus on cultivating and retaining our IT talent under all economic conditions,” says Couture. “We will always keep our eye on the talent development to ensure that we are meeting our current and future business needs.”

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