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Tapping the passion of tomorrow’s talent


Now a leader at one of the nation’s Top 25 commercial banks, Julieta Falcón—who graduated from a distinguished business school—admits she had “zero knowledge of what a bank does.”

That was until BBVA Compass recruited her to join a highly selective program that develops young leaders. Known as LEAP (Learning, Evaluation, Application and Placement), it provides a wealth of networking and career development opportunities while exposing 30 recent college grads or newly minted MBAs to the operations of several lines of business within the Houston-based bank.

The tracks, in which the young bankers serve six-week rotations, include risk management, engineering, business development and consumer banking.

Falcón earned a marketing degree in 2011 from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas-Austin. “Graduating from one of the nation’s top business schools gets you in the room,” Falcón says. “But you can’t rely on that entirely to get your career underway. I’d say about 60 percent of career success is based on the individual making the most of their opportunities.”

As for where the next wave of banking hopefuls will find similar opportunities, they could follow in some of Falcón’s footsteps. In 2016, BAI selected her for its new Emerging Leaders program. And for the past two years, Falcón has served as adviser to the expanded BAI Emerging Leaders Network, which is currently accepting applications for this year’s class.

“The program was repositioned from a limited scholarship to a network that includes a whole array of skills training, mentoring and recognition,” says Debbie Bianucci, president and CEO of BAI. “Recognition is very important to the millennial generation and we’re putting more of a priority on helping financial services organizations understand the trends in talent. Investing in the future leaders of the industry is a sound investment.”

The creation of the network and its mentors speaks to the heart of BAI’s mission, says Bianucci. “One of BAI’s most important roles is to help financial leaders be more forward-thinking about how they make decisions about their businesses.”

Three tracks for future leaders

Programs to develop financial services leaders aren’t just for the biggest institutions. ESL Federal Credit Union, based in Rochester, New York, launched its Leadership Development Series in 2015. (ESL has $5.9 billion in assets, 21 branches and more than 750 employees.)

The series features three separate yet related tracks: Emerging Leader, Developed Leader and Advanced Leader. All three center on the credit union’s six leadership competencies: acting with integrity, being comfortable with change, building relationships, confronting problems, demonstrating commitment and leading with vision and values.

“The goal of the program is to create strong leaders,” says Julie Ahrens, manager of Learning & Development and Administrative Support. “Strong leadership translates into how well we treat our members and our employees.”

The Emerging Leader track enrolls up to 16 participants and may include new managers, those new to management at ESL or individual contributors who candidates to develop core skills because their peers see them as a leader or they manage a project. Says Ahrens: “The program is very selective. We meet one-on-one with each candidate and with his or her manager to ensure that everyone understands the commitment involved.”

Over the course of five months, the emerging leaders attend instructor-led workshops on a variety of topics, do team-building exercises, collaborate with peers via social media and craft an individual career development plan. The emerging leaders also get several opportunities to present and exchange ideas with top leadership.

“Senior management’s involvement is critical,” Ahrens says. “We wouldn’t be successful with this if our senior managers were not on board. They lend a lot of their time to all three tracks and impress on employees how critical their work is in executing our corporate strategy so that our business goals are met.”

ESL’s commitment motivates employees who consider a future career path as vital at an organization that consistently appears on the Great Places to Work list. Ahrens believes the Leadership Development Series helps ESL attract talent.

A clear career path

Atta Tarki, CEO of the Los Angeles-based ECA, says the combination of a learning path to become a well-rounded leader with a clear-cut career track is essential to recruit talented millennials. They expect a robust career path and often consider it the most attractive feature of a job, even above salary. Lately, millennials have overlooked financial services in favor of technology or consulting, two fields perceived as more glamorous.

Research by The Wall Street Journal found that financial services fell below consulting in 2017 as the leading destination for grads from the nation’s Top 10 MBA programs. According to the Journal, the share of full-time MBA grads from the Top 10 schools who accepted financial services jobs dropped from 36 percent to 26 percent between 2012 and 2017. During the same stretch, grads accepting tech jobs rose from 13 percent to 20 percent.

A 2016 report by the global consulting firm EY entitled “Building financial institutions for the future now: Talent and organizations in a digital world” noted that financial services organizations must offer a breadth of experiences to remain competitive. “Unless banks, insurance companies and wealth and asset managers can offer employees the range of experiences they seek, they risk losing them to businesses that will,” the report stated.

Financial services can level the playing field by offering emerging leaders programs, Tarki says. “But these so-called rising stars must be given a real opportunity. It just can’t be a dinner with the CEO two times a year. They need to be assigned to substantial projects to have a genuine impact.”

Banks—and investment banks in particular—have developed a poor image because they’re perceived “as ruthless money-making machines.” Tarki says. There’s also the perception that a career in banking is too narrowly focused. Unlike in consulting where a variety of tasks are executed across numerous industries, in banking “you’re often solving one problem really well.”

To change those views, it will take an influx of talented people who, like Falcón, have been equipped to see things differently even as they pursue a captivating career vision. For them, the timing to lead and make a difference couldn’t be better.

“In many industries there is a wave of retirements impacting the C-suite,” Bianucci says. “These retirements are putting pressure on the banks and credit unions to ensure that they’ll have a deep and broad bench. They need to develop the young talent that will ultimately move into a leadership role.”

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A former senior journalism instructor and communications manager at DePaul University, Edmund Lawler is a BAI Banking Strategies contributing writer who lives in New Buffalo, Michigan.

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