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Tips and insights for attracting talent in 2023

Our series on key issues for banks in 2023 focuses this week on finding, nurturing and retaining talent.

Megan Burkhart, chief human resources officer at Comerica, discusses how her bank is dealing with the talent challenge and she offers insights that may be of value to other institutions.

A few takeaways from the conversation:

  • As difficult as hiring is these days, she sees no indication of widespread rejection of careers in banking by recent college grads.
  • Experienced candidates are looking for three key things in a new job: a pay raise, better work-life balance and good benefits.
  • For other institutions creating a hybrid work program, she suggests having role-based policies instead of manager discretion.


Megan Burkhart, chief human resources officer at Comerica, welcome to the BAI Banking Strategies podcast.

Thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here today, and I’m excited to talk about what’s coming in 2023.

Megan, if we could just maybe start by talking in general terms about what you see as the biggest talent-related challenges facing financial institutions – not just Comerica, but more broadly as we move deeper into 2023.

There’s a few things at play, I think. Over the last decade or so we’ve seen particularly tech companies begin to enter into the “finance” space through things like fintechs, and digital payment platforms, and more. So finding a way to hire talent out of school just broadly in the market with a really compelling value proposition is more important than ever because our candidates that we’re looking for have more options in terms of industries, geographic locations, work arrangements, all those different factors. So we’re no longer just competing against other traditional banks and financial services firms for talent. We’re now competing against companies like Apple, who have entered the payments and finance space, and so we really need to make sure that we’ve got the strongest value proposition we can to compete in this talent market. And I think other companies in banking and financial services are finding the same.

That difficulty that you’re talking about lines up with recent BAI research findings that identified finding and keeping talent is one of this year’s three top business challenges for banks and credit unions. Financial services has historically been a magnet for ambitious jobseekers, so banks have had their choice of promising talent. Have you seen anything in your experience that might indicate that today’s smart young people view finance differently than their predecessors?

I’ve read some speculation about that, but I have not personally seen it. Here at Comerica, we continue to see really strong demand for our internship and college graduate entry-level programs. That hasn’t slowed down, which indicates to me that financial services is still a compelling career choice for young professionals. Our commercial bank development program, for instance – which has been a hallmark of Comerica for a long time, and we’ve revamped over the last couple of years – continues to be a really strong talent pipeline for us with a lot of interest from people leaving college and looking for that opportunity. More broadly, kind of beyond those college graduate folks, there’s a lot of data that would say that candidates are really looking for three things when deciding whether or not they’re going to take a new job, and if we can do those three things well, we’ll be strongly positioned to attract the talent. So we can also think about it from a retention perspective – if we reverse engineer that data, we know what our colleagues might be looking for if they’re looking at another opportunity. Those three factors really are, “Is this new opportunity or the opportunity that I’m looking at 15% or more pay than I currently make?”, “Is there a better work-life balance to include some remote availability?,” and “Is it a better benefits package?”, which includes lots of things: health, wellness, retirement, 401(k), pension, paid time off, all of those things. Those are really the things that I think candidates are particularly looking for, whether they’re young professionals or otherwise.

How much of the talent challenge do you think is that the digital evolution that banking is going through means that banks need to attract different kinds of talent than when it was more of an analog business, we’ll call it? The name of the game used to be find sharp young people, run them through training programs, but now there’s greater demand for specialized skill sets coming in, especially tech skills, and other businesses need those same skills as well.

We still need sharp people, right, and they still need to go through training programs. But there has been a shift that we’ve seen away from finding sort of sharp “young” people and just finding sharp people wherever they are in their career, because people are looking for continued growth and development and opportunities regardless of the stage of their career. The expansion of training and development programs from sort of traditional banking parts of the company into technology and other parts of the organization, where the business demands and therefore the skills we need are changing, is also part of the puzzle.

Compensation has historically been one of the big attractions to jobs in financial services, if not the biggest attraction. I know you mentioned earlier that one of those three factors being at least a 15% pay bump from whatever you’re doing. But I keep seeing articles about how the money part isn’t as important to young millennials and Gen Zers as it was to previous generations. So when you look at the list of rewards that new employees are looking for, what’s on that list, and where does the paycheck fit in?

Salary is definitely a part of it, right, the paycheck, as well as incentive opportunity, and an opportunity to earn additional compensation based on your performance and the performance of the company. But the things beyond kind of compensation that we have seen are important are benefits like time off, wellness programs, parental leave, flexible work arrangements, and things like that. I think also beyond rewards, candidates – particularly kind of the young millennial and Gen Z group that you’re talking about, but others too – also want to know that the company is focused on sustainability, volunteerism, diversity, equity and inclusion. And the candidates that we talk to specifically call out how community-minded we are as a company, and that really speaks to them. One of our core values is “a force for good.” That’s a concept that we take very seriously, and that resonates well with kind of that particular specific labor market demographic. So I think it’s a combination of things. It’s compensation, it’s those different rewards that I mentioned, but also kind of the social aspect of the company and the values.

The latest monthly employment numbers were surprisingly strong in terms of hiring, even as the Federal Reserve continues its tightening policy. But that report in December showed hiring in the profession slipping and wage growth slowing a little bit. Expectations are still high for a recession in 2023, so if that does come to pass, do you think that stands to change the market dynamics a little bit in terms of the availability of talent?

Well, I think the answer is, we don’t know yet. Comerica hired more colleagues in 2022 than ever in our history. Hiring did slow a bit towards year end, but that also could just be a byproduct of the time of year as hiring typically slows down then with hiring managers taking time off and candidates unplugging for the holidays. And kind of a tactical note, but the observed day for Christmas and New Year’s both fell on Mondays, which is the day of the week that new hires usually start. So kind of taking all those things into consideration, while the hiring slowed down a bit, we’re also at 50-year lows for unemployment, so there’s still remains of scarcity of talent that’s available, and we’ll have to wait and see how the dynamics play out over the next few months to see if it really is slowing or if it was just kind of a normal seasonal dip.

Of course, it would be taking a big chance to just rely on a slowing economy changing a seller’s market into more of a buyer’s market for talent, so what are some of the new things you’re doing at Comerica to attract and keep talent?

We are confident that we pay competitively, but we are also especially proud of our efforts around WorkBest, which is really our approach to hybrid work and where people work now and into the future, and our total rewards package. We made several enhancements to our rewards package that we knew were critical to colleagues over the last two years, including adding parental leave, enhancing our bereavement leave, and providing paid time off for volunteering. We also, when we renewed our medical benefits for 2023, we did not increase employee medical contributions for 2023, recognizing that inflation is impacting our colleagues. So we kept their rates the same and Comerica absorbed that additional cost. So beyond rewards and flexibility, development is critical. We have redoubled our efforts around becoming a learning organization with an emphasis on colleague training and development. Taking competitive pay, a really top-notch rewards program, and colleague development and training opportunities, all together those help distinguish us from the rest of the financial services industry and even the broader talent market as a whole.

Banking is not really known as a work-from-home industry. And we’ve heard that some banking institutions are being very vocal about their views on the need for workers to return to the office most of the time or even all the time. So at a high level, what has Comerica learned so far from your WorkBest program that you might use to make a case that a hybrid approach really can work well?

Yeah, we have roughly 60% of colleagues who are hybrid to some degree. And honestly, many of our customer-facing roles in the commercial bank and wealth, as an example, were already hybrid in some ways before the pandemic because those colleagues were out working with customers and not sitting in an office. And that’s exactly what we wanted them to be doing. The hybrid approach was newer for many of our roles that traditionally were in the office five days a week. But I think the transition has been helped by tools that make it easier to connect via video, as an example, with other colleagues and the fact that Comerica is a company with locations in many different geographies. So a lot of our colleagues were already working regularly with people in other markets and in many cases reported to a manager already who wasn’t in the same geography as them. So they were used to working sort of remotely, if you will, even if both were in a Comerica office, they weren’t in the same Comerica office, right? So that piece of it has actually gotten easier because of the tools we’ve put in place. I think some of those folks feel much more connected than they ever did before. We’ve also learned that it’s important to be intentional about days in the office, not just with members of your own team if they’re co-located, but also with partners that you work with regularly in other parts of the company. That in-person connection is still really important.

When everyone came to the office every day all of that face-to-face meant more shared experiences and more chances to connect in ways that create a cohesive whole. I’d imagine it was also perhaps easier to instill and reinforce the institutional culture as well. So how does the culture and connection part work in WorkBest, both for new employees and for those more experienced?

It’s one of my top priorities for this year, and for Comerica, to be really intentional about culture values and the connection between Comerica and our colleagues. We rolled out new core values this past fall, and we’ll be leveraging those this year in monthly spotlights to really highlight what the values mean, how they define who Comerica is, and how every colleague can live those values. Each of our divisions within the bank is taking one of the months to be the spokesperson and highlight a particular value that’s meaningful to them. I think this way every colleague will be able to see themselves in the values. They’ll see the different lines of business, different perspectives. That’s going to be a virtual campaign, but we’re also excited to return to even more face-to-face meetings than we did in 2022. We have employee town hall sessions in each market where our CEO and the leadership team meet with colleagues to hear what’s on their minds. That’s something that we’ve been doing for decades, and it’s really well-received by colleagues. Those will all be in-person this year. We’re also taking a fresh look at onboarding. We hired more people than ever last year. How can we connect new colleagues to our culture and values early on in their tenure using both virtual and in-person opportunities?

Along the same lines, being in the office meant opportunities for FaceTime that could really help those smart and ambitious employees advance their career. How is Comerica dealing with the development side in terms of making sure employees can see a career path and preparing them for advancement?

Yeah. There’s no doubt that career advancement is helped by in-person chances to learn from more experienced colleagues in real-life situations. So whether that’s customer meetings and presentations, brainstorming sessions, all of those situations. At the same time, a lot of formal training and development has migrated, even before the pandemic, to virtual or online development, and we expect that trend to continue. Kind of the old face-to-face training being the norm is really not the norm today. So the trick is how to find out how to make those opportunities really engaging and still foster connection between colleagues even if it’s a virtual development or training opportunity. Beyond the in-person, kind of on-the-job experiences and formal training, we’re also trying to lay out more clear career-pathing for colleagues so they understand what it takes to get from the position they’re in today to where they ultimately want to go in the future. What are the requirements of that, their dream job, and how can they get there? And we’re providing them learning maps that help them navigate that journey. We feel really strongly that if colleagues see a path forward for them at Comerica they are much less likely to pick up the phone when an outside recruiter calls, and much more likely to stay and continue to grow their career with Comerica, which of course is what we hope they will do.

Of course, other banks are coming out with their own approaches to hybrid work as a way to respond to current conditions. So what has your team at Comerica learned from other institutions in the same talent boat that has helped you integrate and fine-tune WorkBest to make it work better for your bank’s employees?

We did a lot of reading, as everybody was during the pandemic, to understand how are companies thinking about return to office, what pitfalls were they facing as they thought about hybrid. And we really took all of that … Honestly, I believe that Comerica is a leader in this space in terms of the program that we put together, the thoughtful and sort of deliberate approach we took, the tons of communication and transparency with our colleagues. I will say I’ve had an opportunity to network with peers through BAI as an example. That was a really invaluable source of information throughout the pandemic and as we started thinking about return-to-office. Every bank is different and had a slightly different approach. It’s not a cookie cutter thing. Every culture is different, so everybody’s approach to hybrid is slightly different. But the sharing of what was working and not working was really helpful as we shaped our own program. It was also helpful to hear directly from those leaders what was actually happening at their organization. Sometimes the headlines that you read, they don’t necessarily provide a full perspective of the approach and what’s really happening on the ground.

Thinking about this from the opposite vantage point, what advice, based on your experience shaping and launching WorkBest, would you give to other banks thinking about trying to put together or to improve their hybrid work program? What should they do, and perhaps more importantly, what should they not do?

Well, we took a role-based approach rather than leaving it up to colleagues and managers. That’s worked well for us. We really focused on what kind of work each role does, and is that work that can be done effectively remotely, or does it need to be in person, or some combination of both? We also communicated frequently with colleagues, asked for feedback from both colleagues and managers once we had some practice with WorkBest under our belt, and we made minor adjustments as needed. So I think you can’t be afraid to say, “What’s working? What’s not working? Do we need to tweak something?” And I think it’s really important to be transparent about expectations and continue to reinforce that we all can earn the right to have this flexibility by continuing to perform at a high level.

Megan Burkhart, chief human resources officer at Comerica, many thanks again for joining us on the BAI Banking Strategies podcast.

My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.

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