Building Your Own Talent Pool: 8 Challenges and 8 Possible Solutions for the Banking Industry

Banks manage financial assets and the success of that management is dependent on the capabilities of the persons who manage those assets.

Therefore growth in this sector is dependent on effective management and leadership capacity and dominance in retail services is directly related to the expansion of the branch network through which the bank’s retail products and services are distributed.

The central departments or bank headquarters form the nerve center of the bank by providing direction, developing new products and services, handling high value investments, treasury management and credit activities. However, it is through the network of bank branches that the retail services developed by the central marketing function are distributed. The network of branches acts like the five senses as well as the arms and the legs of the body by sending critical information from the field to the central departments and executing the corporate strategy by successfully linking the needs of the public to the products and services developed to meet those needs.

The quality and the quantity of that exchange between the branches and the central departments have a great impact on the ability of the bank to leverage its products and services in the market. Simply put, the branches are the points of sales for all the retail products and services developed by the bank. Even though sophisticated, high-value products and services are facilitated by the central departments concerned, the ‘retail services’ are the ‘Cash Cow’. A bank’s ability to expand its branch network through which its products and services are distributed is therefore critical to its growth and profitability.

The question arises – “What is that growth dependent on? And the answer is – “It is dependent on the human capabilities available in the form of individuals who have the skills, the knowledge, the experience and the personality to successfully manage newly established branches. Herein lies one of the major challenges faced by many banks: Their need and their readiness to open new branches both in the home country and abroad is frustrated by the scarcity of individuals who are genuinely capable of successfully launching a new branch or ‘turning-around’ an existing branch.

The purpose of this article is to explore some of the reasons for the scarcity and to suggest some things that can be done about it the in the short term and in the longer term.

8 Challenges and 8 Possible Solutions

Challenge 1: There is no training and development program designed specifically to prepare individuals to move from ‘competent employee’ to ‘competent branch manager’ with the requisite leadership skills.

Solution: Identify individuals with leadership potential as early as possible in their careers through various activities and through multiple sources and methods. For example, if ‘leadership’ is identified as one of the core competencies of the bank and it is fully integrated into the appraisal system at all levels, there will be regular feedback through the performance appraisal system. This feedback can be further validated through regular Assessment and Development Centers designed to identify talent in various areas. Once identified, a clear career path should be presented to these individuals and a systematic development program applied to ensure that we not only identify capable individuals but that we retain them. A clear career path with well defined requirements for moving from one position to another contributes very strongly towards the retention of ambitions and talented leaders. When linked to ‘Succession Planning’ there will also be a timeline that ensures adequate preparation for successors and minimal disruption of work due to sudden departures.

Challenge 2: The competition for talented individuals who have the potential to lead is very high because the demand far exceeds the supply. This increases cost because salary levels have to be raised in order to attract and hopefully keep the best talent.

Solution: Recognize that intelligent and talented individuals are looking for something more than just the salary. So make your bank one that attracts the kind of people you want. Intelligent individuals with leadership capability are looking for a credible organization where they can grow and where they are given the opportunity to contribute as well as enjoy the fun and challenge of working in that place.

Challenge 3: The type of person who is good at managing the branch operations and attending to all the administrative details may not necessarily be good at leading and managing a bank branch from a commercial perspective. Therefore the assumption that it is possible to promote the operations manager to branch manager and then bring someone up from the ranks to handle operations is simply not valid.

Solution: Recognize that ‘Work Preferences’ are an even more powerful predictor of job satisfaction and productivity than academic qualifications and experience. ‘Work Preferences’ must be measured, understood and built into career management and staff retention programs. A person who is good at one thing may not necessarily be good at another. The ‘Work Preferences’ that make a good operations manager are the exact opposite of those that make a good branch manager. When Operations Manager and Branch Manager positions are filled with individuals whose ‘Work Preferences’ are congruent with their skills and their roles it leads to complementary. This increases to a high degree the potential for a great performance. Therefore ‘Work Preferences’ should be factored into the recruitment, selection, career planning, talent management, and succession planning and retention programs of the bank.

Challenge 4: The ‘Critical Success Factors’ for the position of Branch Managers need to be redefined so they reflect current market realities. The branch manager certainly needs to have a solid foundation in the banking know-how that brings the highest revenues to the bank – Credit and Trade Finance. There are far too many branch managers that are not really able to discuss business affairs with their more sophisticated clients in a satisfactory manner. Moreover, many are also unable to adequately coach their staff on the effective preparation of credit files or trade finance documentation and credit.

Solution: Develop a rigorous testing and evaluation system in these areas and use it as a pre-requisite for promotion to the position of Branch Manager. In other words, if candidates for promotion to the position of Branch Manager are unable to pass a knowledge test and a practical skills assessment, they will have to develop their abilities and pass the tests and assessments in these areas before their promotion can go through.

This will contribute to building a sense of professionalism in the sector.

Challenge 5: There is little or no emphasis on the essential ‘soft skills’ for branch management. This includes the effective management of people – inspiring, motivating, developing and challenging them to get the best results. The soft skills are underrated in comparison with banking techniques, whereas they are equally important. Here there are a wide range of skills that are vital to success; the least of which are customer relationship management that goes beyond dinners and lunches or funerals and weddings. Business Ethics is another critical area that must receive attention in light of the recent global economic crisis.

Solution: Develop a set of corporate values and a clear set of interpersonal and managerial competencies that are ingrained into the psyche of every employee through an ongoing coaching and mentoring program. Train and develop your managers so that coaching and mentoring is part and parcel of their daily routine. As they communicate these values and build the competencies into daily behavior, they will contribute to the creation of a new corporate culture where those who do not fit will move out and those who do will move up. This will increase the supply of better qualified candidates for leadership and managerial positions.

Challenge 6: Many think of the Branch Manager as a Public Relations Officer or a Liaison Officer facilitating the exchange of documents and information between the central departments and the branch. In fact many banks have designed the job of the branch manager so that he or she is no more than an informed ‘button clicker’ authorizing transactions through the bank’s operating system. Certainly the ‘control’ function is a very important one and one that cannot be relinquished. However, it has to be considered in light of the role of the branch manager and the optimal utilization of capacity.

Solution: Answer the question of what exactly is the role of the branch manager and what is the most valuable contribution that such a manager should be making. Unless this question is discussed in depth and in light of the future strategy of the bank the role of the branch manager will remain vague and will by necessity be defined by the personal preferences of the individual occupying that position. Those who like dealing with people will become Public Relations Officers, those who like dealing with things and with numbers will become Controllers, those who like ‘challenges’ will become Demanding Bosses. Each role has its merit but the bank needs to decide which role it wants to emphasize and to select its managers accordingly. The important thing is that the decision must be aligned with the banks corporate strategy for growth and expansion.

Challenge 7: From the branch manager’s perspective the question always arises: “Do I have any real power or authority within this centrally controlled structure?” There is no doubt that there are those who will take charge and confidently communicate with the central departments and get the support they need and there will be those who perceive themselves as waiting for orders and are therefore not really responsible in the final reckoning.

Solution: This relationship needs to be considered and clearly defined including the identification of the inevitable ‘grey areas’. Some individuals will be able to rise to the occasion but are waiting to be invited or to be told that they do have permission of the ‘powers that be’ to interact assertively and openly with the Central Departments. They are on the same side.

Challenge 8: Branch Managers also ask: “Where do I go from here? What is my future? Do I remain a Branch Manager for the rest of my life?”

Solution: The answers to these questions are critical to attracting suitable candidates for the position. This is also linked to the role we want our branch managers to play. Are we looking for ambitious entrepreneurs with a solid ethical grounding who are prepared to go after promising opportunities? Or are we looking for ‘button clickers’ who will scrutinize the details, follow the rules and religiously adhere to procedures? Or are we looking for someone who enjoys being a Public Relations officer and gets along really well with people but lacks the solid banking knowledge that will yield high returns from these customer relationships?

This is an important decision as it will determine who you get to fill the position. If you don’t want to settle for taking the first ‘okay’ candidate, a decision must be taken.

Looking at these Human Capital challenges and solutions leads us to propose two main courses of action. One is to make the most of the current situation and the other is to be better prepared for the future. Below are the details on both approaches.

Short Term Human Capital Investment:Take advantage of the current crisis to recruit the talent you really want and to build a pool from which to choose in the future. In the Harvard Business Review you will find steps of consideration to ensure that when you do hire, you hire the right person, at the right time, with the right skills to ensure that when you need specific outcomes, your people are able to deliver.

Hiring Top Executives: A Comprehensive End-to-End Process

1. Anticipate the Need

  • Conducting ongoing, proactive analysis of future needs.
  • Continually evaluating the pool of potential talent.
  • Developing rigorous periodic forecasts of the company’s talent needs.

 

2. Specify the Job

 

  • Defining the specific demands of the job.
  • Specifying which skills and experience are relevant.
  • Identifying the team the candidate will need to work with or recruit.

3. Develop the Pool

  • Developing a large pool.
  • Including insiders, outsiders, insideĀ­rs, outsiders, and outside-insiders.
  • Considering people on the periphery of the organization (employees in remote offices, consultants, suppliers, customers).
  • Tapping your networks and involving the right external partners.
  • Asking candidates’ peers for nominations.

4. Assess the Candidates

  • Using a small number of high-caliber, well-trained, properly motivated interviewers.
  • Employing rigorous behavioral event interviews.
  • Conducting detailed reference checks.
  • Including top stakeholders in candidate assessment.

5. Close the Deal

  • Demonstrating active support for the candidate’s interests.
  • Describing the job realistically.
  • Involving the hiring manager personally, not just HR, in closing the deal.
  • Ensuring that compensation is fair to other employees.
  • Involving C-level for top positions.

6. Integrate the Newcomer

  • Using veteran top performers as mentors.
  • Making sure the newcomer checks in regularly with boss, mentor, and HR even when no problems have arisen.

7. Audit and Review

  • Removing bad hires within the first year.
  • Regularly reviewing recruiting practices.
  • Identifying and rewarding excellent interviewers.
  • Holding all assessors accountable for the quality of their evaluations.

Source: Fernandez-Araoz, C, Groysberg, B and Nohria, N 2009, ‘The Definitive Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad’, Business Harvard Review, vol. 87, no. 5, pp.79.

Long Term Human Capital Investment:

Identify, develop and retain top talent by using a number of structured and unstructured innovations in ‘Talent Management.’

Build Your Own Talent Pool

Forward-looking Banks today realize that what limits their ability to expand and develop retail operations is the availability of qualified managers to head new branches. The absence of an effective second or third line management layer within a bank means that the bank will face a succession crisis if there isn’t a swift and effective response to this reality.

The challenge is how to make sure that the right persons have been selected and that the path of their development and training will be one that properly prepares them to carry the bank into the 21st century. More importantly, will these individuals be ready to respond to the impact of the political, legal / regulatory, environmental and social changes in the world and in the region? Will they be prepared to handle the reality of borderless financial markets and the ever-increasing pace of technology driven change?

There is no doubt that banks already have or are actively recruiting high potential individuals to lead their banks into the future. The problem, however, is how to accurately identify and accelerate the development of these high potential people so that they can get to where you need them to be in 1 or 2 years instead of five or ten. The second challenge is how to retain them.

These are the challenges that this Bank Branch Manager Accreditation program addresses.

CRITICAL PROGRAM SUCCESS FACTORS

This is an ambitious program and dictates that we proceed with full awareness of the necessary conditions to ensure success.

  1. Full support and or commitment from top management.
  2. Selection on merit and competence so that the investment is made in the right people and the program is perceived as credible.
  3. Selection on merit and competence so that the investment is made in the right people and the program is perceived as credible.
  4. Address the expectations of all stakeholders to prevent misconceptions regarding the outcomes of the program.
  5. Develop a supportive succession and retention plan for those in the program and those directly impacted by them.
  6. Set a realistic budget for this project and demonstrate the high return on investment.
  7. Give the program the optimal time for successful implementation.

OBJECTIVES

The main purpose of this program is to prepare successful individuals to fit smoothly into the role of future Branch Manager of fast-growing banks that have a regional and or international client base. This will involve a number of subordinate objectives:

  1. Train and develop future Bank Branch Managers quickly, effectively and economically.
  2. Use techniques that will bring out the best in your staff and help you decide, without a doubt, where each one will perform best.
  3. Ensure that the development program is totally targeted to your bank’s culture and business strategy.
  4. Identify those who can deal with high change and high stress business environments.
  5. Differentiate the true team players from those who do better alone.
  6. Change your corporate culture to reflect the values and competencies that are vital to the future success and sustainability of your business.
  7. Provide real management experience at low risk to you and your staff.
  8. Involve more than one group in the change process to ensure maximum ‘buy-in’ or ownership of the development process.
  9. Increase the supply of qualified candidates and so reduce the risk of poaching by competitors.

The more we know of human nature and the workings of the human brain, the more we realize that the story of our lives is written in every cell of our body and shaped by every significant relationship. The importance of getting the right people in the right place and the right group of people working together cannot be overestimated. The right outcomes will seem to come as if by magic.