Filling Financial Needs

0713Virtual-Vault

Employment opportunities in the financial services sector are plentiful in northeast Wisconsin. The number of qualified applicants is not.

Story by Lee Marie Reinsch

Call it “The Case of the Missing Finance Employee.”

OK, so maybe Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t take it on, but
it’s a mystery just the same. It’s less a whodunit and more a who-didn’t-do-it-and-why-not?

Rather than a search for a specific employee gone missing, this is a case of new ones sparsely materializing.

The situation: Decent-paying entry- and mid-level
jobs in the finance sector that don’t require advanced degrees are going unfilled for long enough periods of time that it’s got industry professionals stumped.

“It’s a strange one,” said Kim Olson, associate dean
of business, health and services division for Appleton-based Fox Valley Technical College. “For some reason, it’s extremely difficult to attract students to that sector of
industry.”

FVTC’s two-year business and financial services associate degree program prepares students for jobs in places like banks, credit unions, insurance companies and investment firms. But enrollment isn’t exactly the stampede to the fore that FVTC and financial industry firms might like. FVTC has waiting lists for other academic programs, especially health, as a result of impressions many have of job demands in health fields, Olson said. “People think ‘Oh, health isn’t going away; we will always need doctors and nurses.’”

It’s a different story for the financial program: Olson said only 96 students are pursuing the FVTC program, and not all of them are fulltime.

She’s noticed another eyebrow-raiser through her contact with the student-services department and the online jobs database her program uses.

“What’s really interesting is we have more positions posted than we do students in the program,” Olson said.

Most of her students are returning students above age 30, she said, but age runs the gamut.

Money matters

Pinning down “decent-paying” and “good” jobs is tricky. Numbers fluctuate depending on whom you ask, the kind of job, the training required, whether benefits are included and the hours. One common denominator seems to be that they’re all at least several dollars above the minimum wage, which in Wisconsin is $7.25 an hour.

Average income for an entry-level fulltime position in the finance sector ranges from “about the low $20,000s” to the mid to upper $30,000s, according to our industry pros. But it’s hard to calculate because sector averages are skewed by top earners with more education and experience.

“It’s across the board,” said Jeff Sachse, northeast Wisconsin regional economist for the state Department of Workforce Development. “If you look at just this sector in general, you are looking on average careers that pay around $53,000 per year. But the problem I run into is that includes the bank teller making $25,000 and the investment advisor making $110,000.”

Olson said the FVTC program has a 93 percent employment rate over the last five years. But the fact that many of her students are non-traditionals wanting to move up in finance jobs they already hold distorts their average wage.

“I’m always a little cautious to give dollar amounts because those folks skew it,” Olson said. “I would say $30,000 to $35,000 to get started. Closer to $30,000 is typical.”

That’s an awfully high estimate for a bank teller, indicated Amy Otis, a human resources senior strategist with Kimberly-based Capital Credit Union.

“I’d say low twenties is more like it,” she said.

Still, it’s not the worst salary for someone without a four-year degree, and the FVTC program prepares students for jobs other than bank teller.

So where are the banking and financial services students, and where are the job applicants?

“Damned if I know,” said Peter Prickett, president of the Neenah-based First National Bank (FNB) – Fox Valley.
“We offer a clean, professional environment and stability. Our benefits are excellent and there’s room for growth. But for whatever reason, it can be difficult to find qualified people that want to come into the banking environment to work at good jobs.”

Why the worker shortage?

This is no job for Inspector Clouseau to goof up. So Nancy Drew and Hercule Poirot are on the trail of an ever-growing list of characters.

Following is a lineup of suspects that may provide some clues into why financial services industry jobs are hard to fill:

Suspect No. 1: The Preppy Boy-Next-Door Who Turns Out to be Ted Bundy. Otherwise known as crooked financial people who have given the industry a bad name.

The last couple years – whether it’s one bank’s mortgage hooligans, another bank’s money launderers, the thugs behind the LIBOR-rate rigging, Ponzi schemers like Bernie Madoff who resembled upright citizens – haven’t been pretty for the financial services sector’s image.

Financial advisor Mark Vander Linden, owner of Professional Financial Management, Inc. of Little Chute, said his industry is still suffering a black eye from the past few years.

“It’s a naughty word to be a banker or associated with financial services,” Vander Linden said. “Those things are current in people’s minds. Relatives or friends are saying ‘Why would you want to get into that industry? Didn’t they do things wrong?’”

Given the roster of rascals that seems to keep growing, many would say the sector deserves it.

But Prickett says the little guys like him shouldn’t be in that mugshot lineup.

“Our industry had some bad press: the media singled out us bankers as being big, bad fat cats, and maybe there is some of that out there,” Prickett said. “But the perception that we are big bad people isn’t true, especially at the community-banking level.”

Suspect No. 2: Unmanned Drones — a.k.a. technology.

Because today’s generation practically lives online, they’re not always cozy with the concept of a brick-and-mortar bank or face-time with an actual human advisor, Vander Linden said.

“There’s a population coming out of high school that doesn’t utilize banks the way we did 20 years ago,” Vander Linden said.  “To them, a bank is within their smartphone. They don’t go to a bank to apply for loan – they apply online. They don’t see that there are people that provide those services.”

Online banking could end up reducing the number of employees needed to run brick-and-mortar operations – or at least that’s the perception people have, thanks to consolidations like the recent melding of M&I into BMO Harris, according to Vander Linden.

This change in direction could end up benefiting finance-sector workers of a different stripe: numbers-people running the network systems and keeping things rolling behind the scenes.

“With increasing regulations, there will be more employment for compliance-related people in finance – lawyers and the like. There will be potential for employment in financial services, but not so much brick-and-mortar, face-to-face,” Vander Linden said. “There are opportunities, but it’s a changing environment.”

Suspect No. 3: The Body Snatcher —  a.k.a. competition from other industries

Whether they want to admit it, banks have some pretty brutal competition for entry- and mid-level employees, according to one jobs specialist.

“A couple occupations like bank teller always seems to be in demand, just because of the fact that there are always new branches opening,” said Sachse with the state’s workforce development department. “The jobs themselves are relatively low paying: a typical bank teller can earn around $25,000 per year, which is on average not that bad, but we have been noting that a lot of banks have been going toward hiring
more part-time employees over the last 10 years.”

“Bankers’ hours” and working environments have changed, since banks are opening in grocery stores and strip malls and staying open after 5 p.m. on Fridays and sometimes weekends, he said. “They need more workers but they hire more part-time workers to fill those positions.”

Some teller jobs have benefits attached to them; a lot of them don’t, especially part-time.

Call centers and insurance providers in northeast Wisconsin are stealing potential employees away from banks for customer-service work. In the last five years, growth in those two areas has far outpaced growth in the finance sector, Sachse said.

“There’s more competition among a bunch of different industries for basically similarly skilled workers,” Sachse said. “So you’re looking at the possibility of doing a teller’s job where you are making maybe $12 an hour – probably less than that around here – or something similar where you’re working more hours and have insurance and vacation.”

Otis said she finds part-time jobs aren’t easy to fill. “People apply and then are surprised when they learn it’s only part-time,” even though the job was posted as part-time. “They need the income of full-time work.”

Suspects No. 4, 5, 6 and 7: Myths and Other Ghost Tales a.k.a. misperceptions.

This gang of hoodlums operates as one united front. Stereotypes and assumptions add to the financial industry’s image problem, according to industry leaders. Such
incorrect presumptions include:

Myth: “It’s all numbers and data.”

You don’t have to be a certified public accountant to stick your toe into banking, according to Olson.

“It’s really heavily gauged on customer service and really gauged on the customer’s need,” Olson said. “Whereas accounting is based on achieving a zero balance, banking is based on finding a way for growth for customers and clients.”

That relationship-building makes Will Deppiesse tick.

“You get to work with business owners who have some vision of how to take their product and do some unique things,” said Deppiesse, who is vice president for First Business Bank Northeast. “You can work with five companies in the same sector that all do their business a bit differently, and you get to see what decisions they made that led them to where they are, and that’s the part that’s the most intriguing.”

Myth: “The job of a bank teller is a dead-end position.”

Another vicious rumor, according to Prickett.

“That’s a misnomer – just this week we promoted two tellers to different jobs at the bank,” he said during an interview with B2B in mid-June.

Bank telling and other entry level positions can be good groundwork to help employees understand banking, basic transactions and commerce in general, Prickett said.

“If you have additional customer-service skills, it’s an excellent entry-level spot.”

Many students from the FVTC program move forward pretty early on in their careers, Olson said.

“A lot of students will start in a customer-service role in relation to loans and, as they get more skilled, they can move up into risk-assessment for loans or loan processing and move forward,” Olson said.

But the farther they go, the more training they’ll need, she added.

“Students should be willing to refresh their skills,” Olson noted. “They should like learning.”

Myth: “There are no growth opportunities.”

Many institutions offer training and promote within, and some have their own training departments.

“The second point in our mission statement is to provide opportunities for employees to excel,” said Otis of Capital Credit Union. They post jobs internally to measure interest and stay on top of employees’ career goals.

“A lot of times that leads to a trickle-down effect, leading us to look outside for entry-level positions,” as employees move up the ladder, Otis said. Capital, too, promoted two bank tellers recently.

Myth:“The real money’s in investment banking.”

Maybe for those who’ve developed extensive networks, but not for most newbies. “Because the lion’s share of those positions (investment banking) are more commission-based, it becomes a negative for a lot of people” who might otherwise be interested in a financial career, said Vander Linden. “It creates the impression that it’s not a career path that is (viable) to them. They may go into sales of a different sort.”

Vander Linden said a Wall Street investment-firm employee told him they didn’t pay commission on accounts under $250,000 – meaning small-time and beginning brokers earn zilch.

“They would need to market themselves to households of $1 million or $1.5 million, and when you do find them, how many of them are going to work with a new, 23-year-old trainee?” Vander Linden said.

Investment banking jobs are easy to get but not so easy to prosper in.

“Their entry-level positions pay what ours do, and they provide a platform to go further in your career,” Prickett said. “I don’t care what it is, you’re not going to walk right out of college into $100,000-plus job anyplace – maybe an attorney or a doctor, but not finance,” Prickett said. “Sometimes it’s an expectation thing.”

Lee Reinsch writes and edits from Green Bay.