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Learning The Business: How To Develop The Banking IT Leaders Of Tomorrow

Future IT leaders need business acumen and skills in addition to technical knowledge. Here's how three banks are using leadership development programs to provide those skills.

The biggest challenge in training young banking IT professionals is in transitioning them from a technical environment such as school to a work environment that emphasizes teamwork and business acumen, says Anthony Abbatiello, a managing director at Accenture Financial Services.

"You need to get talent to understand the business and project management methodology. They have to understand the culture of a banking IT organization, which is different than working for a tech firm, someplace like Google," Abbatiello says. "The banks who are training new talent are more focused on training the business side and the culture of the organization."

That challenge is even more prominent when training the future leaders of a bank's IT organization, for whom understanding the business and IT strategy is critical.

Helping young talent get a fuller understanding of the bank's structure and business means making their training as specific as possible, Abbatiello says. Banks sometimes keep the training process too general by giving only an overall vanilla introduction to the organization. "[Banks] need to provide business-specific training. They have to understand that this employee's training will require more specific training in this area versus that area," he says.

Increasingly, however, banks are placing promising IT professionals into specialized training programs designed to speed their education about the bank's lines of business and how technology supports these segments. These programs are designed to provide future IT leaders with the kind of specific training that Abbatiello describes. The participants usually work on important IT projects and take rotations through different parts of the IT organization to drill into the details and mechanics of each of those areas. Here are inside looks at three banks that are successfully offering targeted training programs for young IT staffers whom they have identified as their potential future IT leaders.

BNY Mellon: Giving Prospects A Voice

BNY Mellon (New York City based with $359 billion in assets) has been offering its Information Technology Leadership Development Program for 12 years to undergraduates and master's students who the bank believes have the potential to fill IT leadership roles in the future. The program consists of two five-month rotations, says Dana Stewart, the bank's managing director for IT staffing and vendor management.

The first rotation starts at the bank's offices in Pittsburgh and introduces participants to the bank's lines of business. Part of that introduction includes ensuring that each student gets to speak directly with senior-level executives at BNY Mellon. "This generation is very social; they want to be heard and share their ideas with our CIOs," Stewart explains. The bank tries to communicate with the participants as often and in as many ways as possible, he adds. Before they even enter the program, BNY Mellon ensures that the participants (there are currently nine in the program) are in regular contact with recruiters, mentors and executives to welcome them into the organization and introduce them to the bank's culture.

BNY Mellon utilizes mentors in all of its IT training programs for new hires, but it arranges two mentors for each student in the IT Leadership Development Program. The first mentor is always an alumnus of the program matched with the trainee according to each of their skill sets, Stewart says. The second mentor is picked from among the bank's divisional CIOs and provides a touch point with senior-level management.

Many banks use mentoring as part of their leadership development initiatives, but often the formality around the mentorship hampers its usefulness, Accenture's Abbatiello says. The trainees are entering a new, unfamiliar phase of their professional lives and "need to be comfortable asking their mentor stupid questions," he adds. The mentor has to be someone with whom the trainee shares like minds and can easily relate to, but also someone who can challenge the trainee, Abbatiello advises.

The second rotation of the BNY Mellon program involves working on a specific IT project within the bank. The key to making the rotation successful, Stewart says, is making sure the students feel that they are doing meaningful work -- they don't want to feel like they're doing menial tasks. "We want them to be working on visible projects where they feel they are making a difference. If their project is going slow, we have to put them on something that is important to make them satisfied with their role," Stewart explains. BNY Mellon taps the program's alumni to try to find suitable proposals for the trainees and the bank, and the projects are then voted on by the bank's executive steering committee, according to Stewart.

BNY Mellon tries to stay heavily involved on college campuses to find and attract the IT talent with the potential to enter the development program. "We are recruiting year after year, even if we're not hiring. We visit engineering clubs and IT clubs. And we bring pizza -- that usually helps," Stewart says.

One of the best recruiting tools BNY Mellon has at its disposal for the leadership program is its separate internship program for undergraduates. The interns are potential candidates for the leadership program later on, and also serve as ambassadors for the bank on their campuses. "The interns are great marketing back to the colleges. The best press we can get is someone going to back to their campus and bringing a great experience back with them," Stewart says.

Fifth Third Bank: Getting To Know The Business

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank ($121 billion in assets) has been running its Information Technology Leadership Program since 2005. The program has 14 trainees; eight are in their first year of the two-year program, and six are in their second. The bank recruits those trainees from regional colleges with which the bank has had long-standing relationships, such as Xavier University, Ohio State University and the University of Miami, Ohio, according to Pauline Fitzgerald, the bank's CIO leadership program manager.

The development program includes four six-month rotations in different parts of Fifth Third's IT organization, Fitzgerald reports. At least three of those rotations involve filling one of the bank's "core" IT roles, such as developer, business analyst or project manager. To get acquainted with the business side of the bank, at least one of the rotations can be in a non-IT area, such as finance, Fitzgerald says. This way the trainees get a taste of the many different functions within Fifth Third Bank. "The goal is to provide challenging and distinct opportunities to accelerate the growth of leadership, business, technical and banking knowledge," she explains.

Fitzgerald says the bank encourages its senior executives to urge their managers to put the trainees into projects that relate to Fifth Third's strategic goals. These managers act as mentors and coaches that help and track the trainees' day-to-day growth.

By rotating through different areas, the participants can network and connect with multiple teams across the bank, Fitzgerald says. This is an important aspect of IT leadership in banking today, she points out. "The program is teaching them leadership. Now they are part of multiple teams across IT and across the bank," she explains. "They have to influence, collaborate, hold others accountable, understand multiple facets of the business and the customers, leverage resources and work in an ever-changing environment with a focus on security and risk."

Like BNY Mellon, Fifth Third also uses mentors, chosen from the bank's executives at the VP level or above, to help the program's trainees develop, says Julie Fite, Fifth Third's VP of college graduate leadership programs and campus recruiting. The mentors are chosen by the program's steering committee and matched to the students according to similar interests or skills. And the program also uses internships as a recruitment tool for its leadership development program "to develop a strong pipeline of candidates for the leadership program," Fite adds. The summer internships involve working on an IT assignment for three months, and the interns can network with current leadership program participants to see if they want to take that next step in their careers with the bank.

Jonathan Camhi has been an associate editor with Bank Systems & Technology since 2012. He previously worked as a freelance journalist in New York City covering politics, health and immigration, and has a master's degree from the City University of New York's Graduate School ... View Full Bio

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