Student wariness hurts bank hiring

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Five years after the financial crisis, some small and midsize banks say they are having a hard time filling core positions -- in part because graduating finance majors are more leery of going to work in traditional banking jobs.

Banking insiders blame the talent shortage on multiple causes, including the loss of training programs at large banks, turnover within banks and the growth of other types of jobs in financial services.

College students with a general understanding of banking could help fill the void. But some students worry that the banking industry offers too little job security, a perception forged by years of negative headlines since the financial crisis, bankers and academics say.

Daryl Kerr, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte's Belk College of Business, said business students' No. 1 worry about working for a bank is job security.

"They see financial institutions laying off," he said. "I hear a lot of them talking about that."

"Banking as an industry ... does feel like maybe it's a little bit less stable, maybe it's a little bit more dangerous," said Joseph Hiatt, a UNC-Charlotte finance major.

Tony Plath, a UNC-Charlotte professor who teaches finance courses, said enrollment has fallen in the university's commercial bank management course since the financial crisis. The course enrolled 91 students in 2006-07, according to the university. Last year, it was 13. This fall, it's up to 39.

The reluctance of students is potentially bad news for banks that want to groom interns who can be moved into positions that become open when more experienced bankers leave or move up within the company.

John Hipp, CEO of Charlotte-based New Dominion Bank, said banks are turning to one another for help in finding job candidates.

"This is honest-to-God the truth: I have another community banker here in town wanting us to send them the names of anybody that we didn't hire, because they couldn't find or source commercial bankers," Mr. Hipp said.

But even if more students pursue banking, some wonder whether small banks will be able to attract them -- especially if they worry about job security. That's because some small banks are still struggling to be profitable, leading many in the industry to predict more acquisitions.

"I think a lot of people are worried about what the future of banking, particularly if you're at a small bank, may be for you," said R. Patterson Jackson, CEO of Newport Beach, Calif.-based Sabal Financial Group.

Retired Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr. acknowledges that the banking industry's image has been damaged in the financial crisis. But the industry will recover and generate plenty of jobs, he said.

"They may be run differently, and certainly the delivery systems will be different because of the Internet. That being said, there will be plenty of jobs," Mr. McColl said.

"The banking business has been with us forever -- for centuries -- going back to biblical times. And it's not going away."

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