When I talked with the 16 students of the Next Generation Bankers Academy last week, many of them wanted to know how to get started in the financial industry. These young people, juniors and seniors in college, see many possibilities ahead of them.
Co-hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities, the Pennsylvania Bankers Association and the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers, the free, week-long program taught students different aspects of community banking. They got a close look at various banking careers and networked with senior bank management. Executives volunteered their time to teach the classes. This was a true collaboration to engage students about leadership and careers in financial services.
On the last day, I had the chance to talk with students about their experiences during the week and their hopes for the future. In my career, I have served in both the private and public sector and was able to share with them some advice.
Your personal and professional integrity is your most significant asset. By working hard, you can rise to the top really fast; having integrity is the way to maintain it. Your long-term reputation and professional character are absolutely critical to advance.
A common defining characteristic of high achievers is that they love what they do. In discovering this to be true, one student said, "Talking with bank executives who are passionate about their field really inspired me."
Because people tend to assume that financial services is a dry profession, it can be surprising to find out it is actually highly dynamic. Bankers are absolutely engaged with their communities and are gratified to see other people prosper. One student put it this way, "The relationship to the community drives the organization. That resonated with me."
Another thing I learned during my career is that most people don't realize that there are all sorts of career opportunities in the financial services industry. We have human resources, marketing, information technology, examiners, lawyers, wealth management and much more. The NGBA program reflected that reality. As one student said, "I became inspired each day by the different opportunities that were presented to us."
I also advised students to embrace change. The financial services industry is always going to innovate, so it's important to adapt. You don't have to be the Amazon of banks; you just have to be a really good bank. I believe the key to that is customer service and a personal touch. The traditional banking institutions are responding to a need, so just make sure you keep an open mind.
In terms of leadership, I especially encourage women to work toward executive roles. The fact of the matter is that it has not been a level playing field for decades. Men and women do govern somewhat differently, and results will be better when board leadership reflects the population and accepts various perspectives.
Career paths are not always strictly linear. You never know how you will get your first break. But, securing an internship is key. If you demonstrate a real interest on the job, the industry will respond well. Banks want and need younger people, because it is an aging industry. Find what you love, and you will excel.
We don't know yet what the future holds for these bright young students. Graduates of last year's academy have gone on to internships and full-time positions in banks. We hope to see the same outcome this year.
As the students of NGBA can attest, seasoned banking professionals truly care about the next generation coming up. One student said, "Everyone cared about us moving forward in banking, as young students and professionals."
These young people will be future leaders in Pennsylvania, and we have a responsibility to equip them with skills for success. Much opportunity waits for them in the Commonwealth.