James Vaccaro

Remarks from the NJBankers Annual Conference - May, 2017

I am honored to represent your interests and lead the New Jersey Bankers Association as the 2017 to 2018 Chairman. Moving through the chairs over the  past couple of years has provided me a fresh perspective at the issues facing our entire industry. While  the issues run the gamut from regulatory relief to cybersecurity, I cannot talk about my thoughts/vision for the next year and my enthusiasm about representing the Garden State’s banking industry without first thanking Angela for her wonderful and meaningful service to the association.

Let’s please recognize her guidance, accomplishments and dedication to promoting our interests before state and federal government officials; regulatory authorities; and the press.

I look forward to dedicating my time as Chair of NJBankers  to all of you in order to advance association based  initiatives that will benefit our respective organizations and our industry.

Last year, Angela recognized a dire need and encouraged us to think about emerging leaders, the future of our most precious industry.  She led an effort eagerly to ensure the future of our banks and our industry by embracing a generation that prefers to work in a conference room with peers than sit in an office behind a desk. 

With that encouragement and vision, NJBankers launched the Leadership Academy, with the full support from Fulton Bank of New Jersey, to provide the tools for emerging leaders to succeed in their careers. I recognized an opportunity to benefit Manasquan Bank and enrolled one of our up-and-coming stars who has embraced the program’s challenges and is certain to make a long-term positive impact on our enterprise.

As a seasoned  leader of a financial institution, I recognize that one of the biggest challenges we are facing is attracting and retaining the talent. Our workforce will need to ensure  that  our industry can remain relevant and sustainable with the ability to  thrive in the future. Let’s face it – the banking industry was painted with the taint brush to be the bad guys who certainly played  a major negative role  in the great recession. That did not sit well with the younger generation who take great pride in practicing social responsibility. On top of that, despite what we experienced bankers think, we are simply not perceived to be a  “glamorous industry! To attract the brightest and best, we need to make a connection with Millennials and we want to do it quickly. Creating the appropriate culture is what will position us so a Millennial will want to work with us.

We need to acknowledge, however, that presently, our industry generally lacks many of the ingredients that are required to attract this younger generation. Millennials have distinct expectations; they require innovation and ongoing enhancements and upgrades. They just view the world differently.  

An interesting article in Forbes magazine about the top places Millennials want to work, besides tech companies, included St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital; the Mayo Clinic; Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; or a local hospital.  Commonality?

Millennials want to do good. They want purpose; they want to make a positive difference.

A 2016 Gallop poll revealed that there are several key elements that they “expect” as they move into the workforce.

  • They want to like what they do each day and be motivated so they achieve their goals.
  • They want supportive, nurturing, professional relationships.
  • They are very interested in their economic life to reduce stress and increase security, and
  •  They want to have pride in their community, be socially responsible and interestingly, they want good health and enough energy to get things done daily.

I don’t see that so different from what we strive for every day – for ourselves, our customers, our neighbors and our communities. Yet on the list I just shared about their ideal jobs, where does the local/regional/national bank rank?

How do we, as bankers, craft a business/work model that is attractive to this generation so that they understand what we do? How do we make it desirable  working for a financial institution? How do we harness their energy and use their talents to energize our own bank brand?

We, as an industry, do a credible job developing products and services. The delivery of those products and services, however, is often executed poorly due to the historical culture in our banks and the industry where we have become  simply too comfortable. We have been comfortable partially because we serve the “Greatest Generation”, “Boomers” and “Gen X’ers” or perhaps because the competitive landscape offered few viable alternatives for consumers and small businesses. Guess what, that game is over.

To move forward, we need to create institutional discomfort. We need to better understand prospective, consumer preferences and their thoughts and behavior. Then we need to educate a talented and motivated individual on why they should join us and stay with us. We need to be nimble, innovative and drive independent thought. We need to make a connection now. Above all we need to be energetic and passionate.

There are barriers we must remove which include the intellectual, logistical, emotional and cultural barriers like “we’ve always done it that way”, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” and “you’re too inexperienced to do this job” or even the “this place”. I guarantee that “this place” is followed by something negative. So we need to create disruption, change the paradigm, expand our thought process and embrace change.

We know that the next generation of leaders want to do something positive and impactful in their lives. We need to communicate that as bankers, we impact people, businesses and communities we serve every day. Our model is their model.

Yet when was the last time that you interviewed a person for a position and started the conversation on how the bank impacts its neighbors, its communities? Do we tell candidates how loans help a business grow? Do we share our enthusiasm for helping our customer’s savings grow for a comfortable retirement? I can tell you that as an industry, we are not very effective communicators. We begin the conversation with a job description like “responsible for business development” or “responsible for regulatory compliance”.

When was the last time you spoke to a young candidate about all the things you do outside the bank to support your societal causes like our walks to end heart disease, or how we build houses for the needy? I can go on and on about our philanthropic efforts. So can you.  

At Manasquan, not only am I proud to have the function of Chief Executive Officer and Chief Performance Officer, but I also wear the title of “Chief Discomfort Officer”. I challenge you to become the same.

We can no longer measure professional contribution based on tenure.  An associate with a terrific understanding of CECL or the Bank Secrecy Act may simply not be a great leader. We have never been professionally trained  to think that we should change that culture and process and replace it with a culture that embraces mentoring and coaching before we put anyone in a supervisory role. When Millennials hear about a mentoring program, they will consider joining your team.

The challenge, then, if we succeed in hiring members of the next generation of leaders, becomes retaining that talent.

Our community service initiatives can satisfy the younger generation’s need for relationships and making a difference but we need to more effectively communicate how serious we take corporate responsibility to this generation. Disruption and discomfort makes you think about how you communicate, the message being sent  and how developing a new culture is essential for your bank to retain talent.

Begin by sharing your passion for what you do to better your world because they want to change the world.

Share your enthusiasm and they will be enthusiastic.

A recent Gallop poll noted some simple tactics we can implement right away. It suggested that:

  • Managers should be open to conversations with Millennials about life outside of work. Work – Life balance is important to them.
  • It suggested that individual employee development plans should include goals for each element of well-being.
  • Also, companies should consistently provide opportunities and activities for each element of well-being such as periodic financial classes, access to a fitness center and volunteer programs; all actions many of us already have in place.
  • And finally, for recruiting and retention strategies, companies should emphasize what they do to promote an overall culture of well-being.

It is important if not imperative that we incorporate this approach into our strategic plan. Failing to do so will result in our words being just that words and not a serious call to action. We need to change how we think because familiarity breeds a kind of complacency.

When I just described providing a fitness center, did you only hear that part of the survey and dismiss it as not doable? Perhaps we aren’t in a position to build an in-house gym like Google. Then start thinking!  What about gym memberships?  Did you hear me about Millennials wanting periodic financial classes? Let’s build education into our strategy just as we build in risk management/ERM. Fostering positive career development and a concern for well-being is an opportunity to attract and retain the best and the brightest. Innovation, enthusiasm, and intensity are needed for the health of our banks and our industry going forward.

The company that I am sharing with you is from a company outside of the financial services field that has positively transformed its image and it’s has met with new success in its quest to attract young and aggressive talent.

As you know 3M is the company that produces Post-It Notes and Scotch Tape which may not be the most dazzling or sensational industry to some, and like banking, these products are simply not glamorous. Yet the company is actually an innovative company producing scientific research that goes beyond stationery. They offer positions in technology and engineering.  

So 3M has made a commitment to make this known to young people. According to a Millennial Career Survey from the National Society of High School Scholars, 3M made a strategic goal to build their brand among these Millennials.

The company is indeed appealing to Millennials and they beat Google to become the number one company where Millennials want to work. The company was clearly uncomfortable to not be considered by high school and college graduates. They stepped outside their comfort zone and went to the places where Millennials gather and where they voiced the innovative ideas and solutions the company offers.

We too need a culture where this new generation would want to work. We need to go where they are and share our innovative ideas and solutions as well. This is not a one-time initiative but the creation of a new mindset that embraces fresh perspectives.

Talent recruitment and retention are essential for moving our banks into the future so that we; our customers and future customers; the communities we serve; and the organizations we support all benefit. Innovation, enthusiasm, and intensity are needed for the sustainability of our respective banks and the banking industry. We’re doing it at Manasquan Bank because I and my team attempt to reinvent ourselves daily  and  encourage our associates to think and act with creativity   so we don’t become the steam car of the banking industry. We need a different type of energy to make us move forward.  And it all starts with us as leaders. 

Let’s be energetic, passionate, disruptive, and dissatisfied with the status quo. Let’s change the way we look at the generation that frankly is looking right back at us. Let’s invest in our future by investing in and retaining talent. Let’s change how we think and encourage and allow thinking. Let’s infuse enthusiasm throughout our organizations. By doing this, we’ll make our banks and the banking industry glamorous then we too will attract and retain the best and the brightest who will ensure our success.

I pledge to you that I will work diligently to support you in this endeavor and use the many resources available to us through NJ Bankers.