The community banks beating the Great Resignation

Malvern Bank Group

Following their stints as interns, Malvern Bank retained the talents of (L to R) Cody Sorenson, Keegan Wederquist and Adam Konfrst, hiring them as full-time, mid-level team members. Photo: Colin Conces

A mass exodus of the U.S. workforce during the pandemic brought challenges in recruiting entry- to mid-level staff. These community banks share how they have (or haven’t) altered their hiring strategies.

By William Atkinson

Every employer knows that, over the past couple of years, it has become more difficult to attract high-quality workers or, for some employers, any workers at all. It’s all down to what is being called the “Great Resignation,” which was largely triggered by a number of factors related to the pandemic.

Fortunately, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), banks aren’t having as much of a problem as employers in general. According to the BLS, “quit levels and rates” by employees is higher in all employment sectors than it is in “finance and insurance” specifically, which is where community banks would fall (see table below).

Apr. 2021 Dec. 2021 Mar. 2022
Total employment 2.6 3.0 2.9
Finance and Insurance Industry 1.2 1.2 1.7
Total employment quit rates by region:
Northeast 2.0 2.3 2.2
South 2.9 3.3 3.4
Midwest 2.7 3.1 2.7
West 2.4 2.8 3.1

We spoke to two community banks to see how they’re using everything from higher salaries to innovative benefits to attract both entry- and mid-level employees.

Eclipse Bank: Reputation matters

Like many community banks, Eclipse Bank in Louisville, Ky., has seen some challenges in attracting and recruiting both entry-level and mid-level employees.

“Entry-level positions have always been the most difficult to fill,” says Andrew Pyles, president and CEO of the $350 million-asset bank. “People looking at these positions typically aren’t lifelong bankers. They are often agnostic as to what industry they work in. As a result, you are not only competing with other banks but also numerous other businesses. That is particularly pronounced in today’s environment.”

How does the bank attempt to address these challenges? “We’ve been fortunate to attract some incredible team members,” says Pyles. “Pay is certainly one component. We’ve increased our starting wage by at least 25% over the last few years.”

Reputation is also a major factor, especially in an age where someone can find out everything about a company with one click. This has worked in Eclipse Bank’s favor, according to Pyles, in that it was named among the best places to work in Louisville by a local business publication last year. “I believe that has also helped in recruiting to some degree, or at least certainly hasn’t hurt,” he says.

In terms of attracting mid-level employees, Eclipse Bank has benefited from several acquisitions that have taken place in the local market. “Between displacement of operational folks and discontent among lenders trying to adapt to a larger bank, we’ve been able to pick up some great talent,” says Pyles. “That said, high-performing lenders are still incredibly difficult to recruit, and their salary demands are rising rapidly.”

“We tend to receive several strong candidates for our entry-level positions, forcing us to make some very difficult decisions in our selection process.”
—Katelin George, Malvern Bank

As such, pay is obviously a big component of recruitment today. “You must be willing to pay up for the right person,” he says. “I often remind our team leads that a rising tide lifts all ships. If that person makes the team successful, we all benefit. We also rely on our team to help us recruit. Successful bankers are typically friends with other successful bankers. They’re able to share their perspective on the company authentically and unbiased.”

Malvern Bank group

Left to right, Katelin George, Adam Konfrst, Kate McGann and Cody Sorenson represent part of a growing banking team at Malvern Bank in Malvern, Iowa.

Malvern Bank: Creative recruitment in a rural community

While many community banks struggle to find the best new entry-level and mid-level employees, not all of them do. One of these is $180 million-asset Malvern Bank in Malvern, Iowa. The bank’s single branch is located in a rural town 35 miles from Omaha, Neb. “Theoretically, this means that we could pull from the metro’s talent pool,” says Katelin George, human resources and marketing manager. “However, in reality, that means we are competing with those shiny corporate Omaha salaries.”

Although George recognizes that the labor market has become increasingly competitive over the past year, Malvern Bank has not felt the impact. “We tend to receive several strong candidates for our entry-level positions, forcing us to make some very difficult decisions in our selection process,” George says.

The community bank relies heavily on the full picture when conducting the interview process. “Not only do we note our competitive compensation and benefits, but also our focus on family, our supportive working environment and our innovative leadership team who are receptive to change and development,” says George.

To assist in the process, Malvern Bank utilizes an emotional intelligence pre-screening test that provides it with a good idea of the candidate’s natural strengths and tendencies, allowing it to make the best choice possible for a culture fit, especially when deciding between several candidates with strong resumes and interviews. “Of course, we do utilize our local bankers association reports to ensure we are remaining competitive with all salaries and benefits, and adjust as needed,” says George.

Mid-level focus

In terms of attracting and recruiting mid-level employees, Malvern Bank has noticed that word tends to get out that it is a good place to work. “We recently hired several past interns who chose to come back to a tiny town in rural Iowa to work at our small bank when they had several other, larger opportunities elsewhere,” George says. “We also tend to receive unsolicited resumes throughout the year, so that when we have a mid/upper-level opening, we have a talent pool that we can pull from, without even posting the job opening.”

When the community bank does have an official job opening, it hears from the candidates that “everyone in town knows how well you treat your employees.”

In addition, Malvern Bank prides itself on its “top of the line” customer service, which is also reflected when it asks potential employees why they would want to work at Malvern Bank. George reports that a candidate recently said during an interview, “You were so supportive and helpful to my little sister when she bought her first home, that I’ve always felt a connection to Malvern Bank and would be happy to work in such a great place.”

5 tips for better recruitment

1. Assess your pay rate.
You can’t ignore the fact that, these days, applicants are expecting more money than they did in the past. Rather than look to nationwide “numbers” on average starting pay rates, though, look locally. Get a sense of what other employers in your community, especially other banks, are offering for entry-level positions.

When it comes to attracting mid-level employees, it is also important to get a sense for what employees being attracted to other banks are being offered.

2. Consider your work environment.
Your bank’s reputation in its community is important in attracting new talent. People talk more than you might think, so do what you can to make sure that they are saying positive things. This goes for not only what people are saying about your bank in general, but also what they are saying about people in senior management positions.

3. Reflect on how you treat your employees.
If you treat your current employees well, word will get out. So, you’ll be less likely to lose good existing employees and more likely to attract new applicants.

4. Reflect on how you treat your customers.
If your customers have nothing but good experiences with your bank and the people in it, they are likely to share their good experiences with friends, family members and neighbors, some of whom may be looking for work and thus more likely to apply at your bank.

5. Encourage current employees to recruit friends and family.
Find ways to remind and encourage your current good employees to get the word out to their friends, family members, and neighbors that, if they are looking for work, your bank may be a good place to consider.

William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.

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