Bringing banking back as a smart career choice

2019 Progressive Savings Bank Student Advisory Board. Front row LtoR: Karas Cowley, board vice chair; Zack Grainger, board chair; Ansh Luthra; Kyra Tyler. Second row LtoR: Marilyn Mullinix, PSG community president; Isaac Smith; Ben Davis; Jared Wayburn; Matt Randolph; Blake Reynolds; Ottis Phillips, PSG CEO.

How Progressive Savings Bank and Tennessee Tech are taking experiential learning to another level

By Michelle Price
UCBJ Managing Editor

COOKEVILLE – When Progressive Savings Bank’s Mike Porten joined fellow banker Marty Maynord (of American Bank & Trust) for lunch a couple years ago, neither knew the impact their conversation would have. Their discussion would be the impetus for a new experiential learning opportunity for Tennessee Tech students.

Over lunch, Maynord mentioned that he had participated in a bank internship program while in high school that led to his interest in banking. He shared that he would love to see a program like that done in Cookeville. After discussing it further, they realized this idea was better suited to students at the university level. 

“Being in the banking industry for a while, I realize what banks need,” said Porten. “Having taught at Tech for 14 years, I understand what the university strategies are as well. Someone with my experience and background was a natural to put it together. How to create a credit worthy class, expose students to a great industry/career while assisting with an employee need in banking.”

Although not deserved, commercial banks were given much of the blame for the great recession. The profession took a hit, resulting in college students shying away from banking as a career. Now all most a decade later, this has caused a gap of potential future management/leadership within many banks.

“It’s one of the things that keep bank senior management up at night,” shared Porten. “Who will be my management in 10, 15, 20 years? That’s a big concern.”

Porten worked with Tennessee Tech College of Business Dean Thomas Payne along other faculty and staff to develop a program that would give the students college credit while allowing them a peek inside the bank.

“The advisory board experience is designed to expose the students to the real world of banking,” said Porten. “Whether you are interested in banking, think you might be or have never considered it as a career, participating in this class will help to decide.”

From the beginning in Spring of 2018, the program was very successful. 

The goal for the first year of the program was to select 10 students. Ultimately Tech narrowed 24 applicants down to 16 and sent those applicants to the bank for interviews. The bank decided to keep 12 as student advisory board members.

This year, the second year of the program, there were so many applicants that two banks were needed to field student advisory boards.

One of Porten’s original concerns was how to get students college credit for participating in the experiential learning project. Working with Payne and the COB, a new three-hour finance elective was created. 

“The students write a paper on the banking industry as part of their grade,” explained Porten. “Engagement in the board meetings is evaluated. They have to form a committee that functions as a consultant and are then given a real-life situation that the bank is facing. Their assignment is to develop a solution and present it to the board as well as to the senior management.

“The board experience exposes the students to all the different opportunities in banking,” said Porten. “The guest speakers are from various functions within the bank including HR, credit, operations, cybersecurity, marketing, etc.”

The student advisory boards often give members their first experience working within Robert’s Rules of Order. Students are educated on how to take a motion, vote, start a meeting, and end a meeting. 

“We have them come in suits, so they are nicely, professionally dressed,” Porten explained. “We try to get them as close to the real world as possible.” 

“One of the first things that I learned from my board experience was the difference between business casual and business professional dress,” shared Kyra Tyler, Progressive Advisory Board member. “For the first and last meetings, we were required to be business professional and that helped me gain insight as to what business professional meant.”

The bank executives involved make the advisory board meetings as close to their actual board meetings as possible. Reviewing the bank’s financials is always the first order of business.

“Using mock borrowers and financial information, we look at loan requests,” said Porten. “The loan request are as close to real loan request as possible. The advisory board reviews and discuss these request and then vote if they would you make the loan or not.”

Reviewing the mock loan requests were one of the activities that were most impactful to Tyler.

“I found that very insightful as to what banks look at for loan approvals including credit score, where your income is derived, whether or not you have a secondary income and your experience,” said Tyler. “So, it gave me a lot of ideas of what I need to work on and what banks are looking for when lending.”

“The experience of the advisory board opened my eyes to the careers available in banking such as marketing and HR and not just being a teller” added Tyler.

A benefit to the banks that participate in the advisory board is the opportunity to glean the Gen Z mind set. This direct feedback has dispelled some of the common beliefs that bankers had about Gen Z’s views on banking. 

One such belief was that this age group didn’t want to have direct contact with bankers and would prefer to use electronic devices. The advisory boards showed that for routine money transfers, banking on their phones was fine but for loans, etc., they wanted to meet a banker and be part of the process.

There are additional benefits to the banks.

“I think the bank benefitted from exposing itself to some pretty sharp young men and women who spent the last three to four months having meetings at our facility, giving us some insight, and possibly future employees,” said Ottis Phillips, Progressive Savings Bank CEO. “It gives us a leg up there in terms of talent. 

“They did a couple of projects while they were here and gave us some ideas and thoughts about how we might market ourselves and just some other ideas for locations, for branches and other things. It was a good exercise for them, and I think we got some good information out of it ourselves.”

Going back to today’s need for bankers, TN Tech has developed a banking program which will include a certificate. 

In addition to five classes, students earning the certificate will be required to do an experiential learning activity, either internship, advisory board, or they can participate in a bank competition. Other course work will involve financial statement analysis and underwriting loans. 

Porten and Payne hope that the development of this certificate program and the student advisory boards can spark an interest in banking once again.

“I think part of it is getting students who are interested in remaining and making their lives in rural communities plugged in earlier on and seeing that there are opportunities in those (communities) that they’ve never thought about,” said Payne.

The student advisory boards tie into Tech’s Rural Reimagined initiative and the Tech Tomorrow Strategic Plan extremely well. 

“The new strategic plan at TN Tech calls for opportunities in experiential learning. Opportunities that get the students out of the classroom and experiencing the real business world,” added Porten. “Community banks really enjoy doing this type of activity. It’s all about giving back.” 

Michelle Price is the managing editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal and can be reached via email. Send an email.

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