Banking

Small banks look to fintech academy for talent, fresh ideas

The value that students and interns can bring to community banks is encapsulated in a conversation Kim Kirk of Queensborough National Bank and Trust Co. had with Georgia college students at a virtual panel she participated in back in March.

“I’m 45, but some days I feel more like I’m 75 when I talk to some of these kids coming out of college,” said Kirk, chief operations officer at the Louisville, Ga.-based bank. “Their thought process and how they have been exposed to technology is so different.”

For example, at the panel, “they asked if we were doing anything with QR codes,” she said. “No, but tell me why I need to!”

The panel was hosted by the Community Bankers Association of Georgia and Georgia Fintech Academy, a talent development initiative that unites diverse students from public colleges and universities in Georgia with fintechs, including FIS, Fiserv and Visa. The academy and the association formed a partnership in 2020 to devise ways for students to connect with bankers and vice versa.

The $1.7 billion-asset Queensborough regularly recruits interns from family and friends of employees, local residents and area colleges such as Augusta University in Augusta and Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. But the community bank has attended three of the academy’s career fairs so far (all virtual, even before the pandemic) and hopes to locate future interns there as well.

The partnership between the academy and the community bankers group to link fintech-minded students with community banks is a rarity; the Independent Community Bankers of America is not aware of similar initiatives in other states.

But community banks anywhere can benefit from seeking out students with backgrounds in technology. According to Kirk, these interns are an important source of talent, energy and perspective needed to stay competitive, especially as many banks try to understand what attracts Generation Z customers and how they choose to bank.

In her previous role at a financial institution in South Carolina, she recalls an intern in her core solutions department who profiled the typical customers of a deposit product, parsing out key pieces of information such as average income based on direct deposits that Kirk could use to market to others.

A previous intern at Queensborough, who participated in process documentation for her core solutions team and was later hired, noticed the repetitive nature of some processes.

“Having someone with a young mind coming in from the outside, not being ingrained in the situation, enabled us to get better processes because he started asking questions,” Kirk said.

In her five years with the bank, several summer interns have turned into hires.

At a Fintech Academy career fair on April 16 that focused on community banks, Kirk noticed a tilt toward machine learning, data analytics and predictive analytics in student resumes, “which is somewhat different from resumes I have seen from recent college graduates in the past,” she said. “Data analytics and predictive analytics are particularly interesting to me as we build out our data warehouse and mine our customer data to better understand our customers’ financial landscape, habits and needs.”

Kirk sees such advances as critical to staying competitive.

“Where community banks hang their board out is for relationship banking,” she said. But technology helps. For example, rather than turning to a vendor to streamline lending during the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program, Queensborough built its own platform. It accepted customer applications through its website using Citrix ShareFile, created fillable PDFs, had their customers sign for their loans using DocuSign and used robotic process automation for information management, document population, loan boarding and funding.

The bank made 1,780 PPP loans totaling $151 million using this combination of technologies, gained new business through its PPP execution, and grew by $445 million of assets in one year.

Students may not associate community banks with such innovation. Small banks may also lack the bandwidth or resources that big firms do to formalize an internship program, or are often based in towns that lack the pizzazz of large cities where fintechs have a significant presence.

Even so, community banks have advantages they can weave into their sales pitches.

For one, they present an opportunity for students or entry-level employees to gain hands-on experience with fintechs in other parts of the state. “There are great students in middle Georgia who want to stay in middle Georgia,” said Tommy Marshall, executive director of the Georgia Fintech Academy. “There is a meaningful intersection of community bank demand and need, and students that are committed to their communities.”

Take Queensborough’s approach to managing PPP demand. “If I’m really into fintech and want to stay in Louisville, Ga.,” Queensborough is “a phenomenal option,” he said.

At the same time, students earn greater responsibilities more quickly in smaller operations.

“I believe there is no better way to prepare for a career in fintech than by being a banker in some way,” said Marshall. “With any of those jobs you get a tremendous understanding of the business.”


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