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Banker training becoming more rigorous in response to changes

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Susquehanna Bank spent more than $3 million to remodel this former American Home Bank headquarters, which now is the Susquehanna Learning and Resource Center. The facility at 3840 Hempland Road in Mountville opened it this summer as a centralized training center for Susquehanna Bank employees. Photo/Submitted
Susquehanna Bank spent more than $3 million to remodel this former American Home Bank headquarters, which now is the Susquehanna Learning and Resource Center. The facility at 3840 Hempland Road in Mountville opened it this summer as a centralized training center for Susquehanna Bank employees. Photo/Submitted

This summer, Susquehanna Bank opened the Susquehanna Learning and Resource Center at the former American Home Bank headquarters in Mountville.

Renovated at a cost of more than $3 million, the 44,000-square-foot facility provides a single centralized location for training employees from throughout the bank's four-state, 260-branch footprint.

"In a rough economy, training is one of the things that always takes the big budget cuts," said William Reuter, Susquehanna chairman and CEO. "We thought it important, not to cut the budget significantly, but to invest in people."

As bankers cope with a slew of changes, both regulatory and technological, they say finding and training good employees is becoming more important than ever.

"The most critical aspect of all of these changes is people and leadership. … One of the challenges for our industry in a time of stress is continuing to recruit and retain new talent into our industry," incoming American Bankers Association Chairman Matt Williams told American Banker magazine in an Oct. 2 article.

Susquehanna acquired the center as part of the Tower Bancorp Inc. deal that closed in February. The bank runs its 10-day customer-service-representative training program there continuously, starting a new class every two weeks, said Scott Macbeth, vice president and director of talent management. Susquehanna has trained close to 200 tellers so far this year.

The facility hosts many other types of sessions: retail lending training, various types of sales training and leadership development. There are 14 training facilitators and 19 staff members in all.

In recent years, webinars have grown in importance, Macbeth said. Some cover marketing; others are created by vendors to explain new products or product upgrades. The marketing team averages 400 webinars a year, he said.

Online training is efficient when the goal is to share information, but when trainees have to show how they are applying information, face-to-face interaction is best, he said.

Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank conducts much of its training through "PNC University," a corporate training organization with sites scattered throughout its footprint, said Kathy Prime, the bank's director of talent development.

Like Susquehanna, PNC offers a mix of online and face-to-face training and focuses both on skills and on leadership development. The latter is especially important in today's environment, Prime said.

"Our ability to grow talent internally is huge," she said, but to do so, "we have to make sure our managers are the best they can be."

Susquehanna previously had a decentralized training program, and often classes consisted of just a few people, Macbeth said. With classes now nearing a dozen people on average, sessions are more energized and students are more engaged, he said.

The bank continues to maintain training sites in Greencastle, Sunbury and Vineland, N.J., and offers classes at them on a rotating basis, he said.

Above the teller level, employees' continuing education is even more important, Reuter said.

Susquehanna sends promising students to the schools set up by the Pennsylvania and Maryland bankers' associations, to universities for master's and Ph.D. programs and to leadership training programs such as Leadership Lancaster and Leadership Maryland.

Susquehanna plans to continue expanding course offerings at the center and may one day offer for-credit classes, Reuter said.

Much of the course material is developed in-house, Macbeth said. An important exception: The online modules that teach employees about federal regulations such as the Patriot Act, the Bank Secrecy Act, consumer protection laws and so on.

For those, Susquehanna subscribes to a service that keeps the curriculum up to date as laws change, Macbeth said.

While regulatory complexity helps drive changes in training, even more important are customers' changing needs and delivering standout service in a competitive environment, Reuter and Prime said.

"We believe one of our main differentiators is our people," Prime said.

Local company helps banks keep training current

In the past few years, thanks to all the changes in financial regulation, TRC Interactive Inc. has grown busier and busier, CEO Jay B. Bowden said.

TRC, based in Lower Paxton Township, is one of only five bank-training companies in the world, Bowden said. It offers banks and credit unions a range of consulting services, an "industry-leading" online teller training program, fraud prevention programs and a library of roughly 100 modules dealing with all aspects of regulatory compliance, he said.

Before the 2008 financial crisis and the regulation it spawned, TRC would update its compliance training software about once a month.

"Now we have changes virtually daily," Bowden said.

The company has a full-time programmer who does nothing else, he said.

TRC software lets trainees learn procedures by manipulating dummy accounts rather than real ones. Banking software developers rarely create such "sandboxes" in their systems, Bowden said.

Its modules on regulatory compliance come with learning management software so banks can track employees' progress, something regulators now require.

Before the crisis, continuing education was almost a formality for banks, he said. That no longer is true.

"There's more and more pressure on that training to be specific to job function" and for people to demonstrate they understand and can apply particular regulations, he said.

Locally headquartered institutions Metro Bank and Members 1st Federal Credit Union are among those that offer testimonials to TRC on its website.

"We in some way represent or are involved with 25 percent of all large banks and up to 1,000 banks in all," Bowden said.

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