HR Insights with Amy Bauer
VP, Human Resources Manager
Coulee Bank, St. Paul

Interview by Eric Hauth, MBA Director of Education & Communications

EH: How did you get your start in banking?

AB: Purely by accident! I had recently moved back to the Midwest from the east coast without a job and very few connections, and I was desperate to find a position in HR. I had a degree and experience in HR, but not in banking. I came across a posting for an HR position with a small community bank that intrigued me. When I interviewed, I was greeted by everyone I came into contact with. It seemed like such a warm and welcoming family, and a great fit for me at a time when my husband and I were just starting to lay down our roots in the Twin Cities metro area. I started my career in banking in 2011 and haven’t looked back.  

EH: What do you most love about working in banking?  

AB:  Whenever I conduct an exit interview with a departing employee, I ask “What did you like most about working here?” Every time the answer is always the same: The People! Bankers are passionate, caring, and intelligent professionals that are genuinely interested in improving the financial well-being of the customer. They are problem-solvers and community advocates generous of giving their time and resources to help improve the communities they live and work in. It’s hard to dispute that the best part of banking is The People. 

EH: In your role with Coulee Bank, what do you see as the biggest challenges in recruiting talent to the bank?

AB: Finding good, qualified candidates in a competitive market, and working fast enough to keep them interested in the position throughout the recruiting process. We’ve had to utilize our own personal and business networks more often in recent years. Rather than posting a position and then waiting for candidates to find us, we’ve become more proactive in reaching out to potential candidates from our networks and from employee referrals. 

We share postings with all employees and encourage them to reach out to their network of people to see if they can generate any possible leads. We offer an employee referral bonus if we hire a candidate that they referred.   

EH: How do you reach someone who’s in college but hasn’t thought about banking?

AB:  Every year we participate in a job fair at a local university where our main office is located. There may not be an immediate opening at the time of the job fair, but we use it as an opportunity to proactively reach out to students studying finance and accounting so we can share with them possible careers in banking. We also seek out students in other degree programs, such as Information Technology, Marketing, and Human Resources, to share with them the opportunities available within banking that are not what people think of as traditional banking roles.     

The biggest selling point to students is our community involvement and sense of feeling like you are a part of a big family when you work at Coulee Bank.   

EH: What would you say to a potential candidate if they’re concerned about advancement in a smaller organization?

AB:  While job titles are limited at a small community bank and there may not be a defined career path to get from job A to job B, the breadth of experience you gain by working for a small bank is greater than what you receive working for a larger financial institution. I also share with candidates that that there are opportunities for you to get involved in projects that expand your skillset and give you experiences beyond what you would get at a larger organization.   

EH: In your view, what is the best strategy to retain employees? 

AB:  First, good managers and supervisors make all the difference in whether someone will stay with the bank. Provide opportunities for your leaders to learn and develop their leadership skills. Make leadership development a priority, an organizational wide strategic initiative. Providing leaders with the proper training and necessary resources will make an incredible impact in your bank.  

Second, simply talk to your employees. Ask employees to share their opinions on what the bank does well and where there are opportunities to improve. We recently rolled out a model called The 8 Factors of Engagement. A large portion of the model is focused on listening and responding to the needs of employees. We hold regular focus groups and encourage employees to share ideas, identify areas where we can do better, and then help us put those ideas into action. Not only do employees feel like they are heard, they also feel empowered and engaged. We have seen a steady increase in our employee engagement score since implementing this model. 
Finally, bring in the right talent from the start and don’t forget to onboard them to your culture. 

EH: Given all the changes occurring in banking, what do you try to instill in your employees to keep pace? 

AB:  We look for employees that are highly adaptable but also customer focused. Our constant is always exceptional customer service, both internally and externally. But we need a workforce that can quickly adapt to changes as they are made without sacrificing the high level of customer service we are known for. 

EH: You currently serve as the Chair of MBA’s HR/Education Committee (thank you, by the way!). What’s the best way the MBA can support banks in their efforts to recruit and retain the next generation of bankers?  

AB:  When I started my first HR role in banking, I didn’t know anything about banking. So I relied on various MBA resources to help me fully understand HR’s role in banking. It was through the MBA that I was introduced to an amazing network of other HR Banking professionals in similar roles.  The network of people is amazing, and we are very good at sharing knowledge, resources, and ideas of what has worked/has not worked for our banks. Continue offering programs like the HR Roundtable to help connect HR Bankers to other HR Bankers and encourage the sharing of knowledge and resources.