Small Lenders Struggle to Maintain Local Identities Amid Hiring Crunch

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The ebb and flow of remote work opportunities has created a talent war for many back-office positions, an area where turnover was historically modest, Berrettini said.

“Our clients are implementing a wide range of solutions to cope with and manage this volatile talent economy, but in the end, it is a rat race and the agile win,” he said. “Whether you agree with them or not, quick and effective interviews, flexible work schedules, remote work options and aggressive compensation packages should be in your holster and ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

Ocean Bank in Miami attests to that. The $5 billion-asset company has made sweeping changes to retain and attract talent over the course of the pandemic. It has raised pay, ramped up its health insurance benefits and, most importantly, embraced remote and hybrid work arrangements, said Jeanelle Boscan, the bank’s senior vice president of human resources.

Twenty-two percent of the bank’s workforce is now fully remote and another 36% work remotely part of the time, Boscan said. Before the pandemic, the company had a pilot flexible work program but no positions were 100% remote.

“Flexible work, that’s been the No. 1 issue” for new recruits, Boscan said. While Ocean Bank focuses on South Florida, it has employees throughout the state and is now open to hiring nationally for positions that are not customer facing. Its number of open positions in recent months has declined about 10%.

To better enable remote and hybrid work, the bank remodeled its headquarters, dedicating an entire floor for remote staff to use when they want to collaborate in person or meet with clients.

In addition to the short-term hiring crunch, small banks and credit unions face long-running problems developing leaders, said Carll Wilkinson, a managing partner at recruitment firm Smith & Wilkinson.

“When it comes to skilled hiring, community banks and credit unions do not have enough of a pipeline of emerging talent because small and regional organizations largely gave up on management training programs in the late ’90s,” he said. “These chickens are still coming home to roost as more and more late baby boomers retire and there are fewer and fewer appropriately seasoned executives to replace them.”

Chris Nichols, a strategist and head of capital markets at South State Bank in Winter Haven, Florida, said the $41 billion-asset is increasingly open to remote hires, recruiting across the country.

“We were already remote-focused; the pandemic accelerated it,” he said. “But talent is still hard to find — and expensive.”

Regional banks such as South State have more resources and broader arrays of business lines than smaller institutions, enabling them to offer more variety and career paths to prospective employees, Nichols said.

Small banks and credit unions will have to recruit remote workers from outside their footprints to keep their staffs at full strength, Nichols said.

“A lot of them haven’t made the leap. They are concerned about their cultures, and that’s legitimate, but I think we’ve entered a new era and they’ll have to adapt,” Nichols said.

Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, is heeding such advice.

The $513 million-asset institution gave its front-line staff a 5% salary boost and increased paid time off by a week per year. President and CEO John Holt said Nutmeg State, already flexible with remote work for back-office staff, intends to remain so and is now willing to scour the country to find workers.

“I am totally open to hiring anyone from anywhere assuming it can be a remote position,” Holt said. “We have additional things planned for 2022 and have hired an engagement and culture manager to assist us with the effort.”

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