'A hidden gem' is what Kim Olson has heard when it comes to Fox Valley Technical College’s
program. Olson, associate dean of FVTC’s Business, Health, and Service division, accepts the statement as a bittersweet notion. “I’m not sure if I should smile or frown when I hear that,” Olson jokes. “What I do know is that so many people are looking for jobs in this economy, and we currently have 32 regional full-time jobs posted for qualified graduates in banking and finance and not enough students enrolled to fill them.”
The Banking and Financial Services program prepares graduates for career opportunities that include managing loans, risk management, customer service, and asset protection, in addition to providing investment, retirement, tax, and estate planning services. “When interviewing new employees,” states Peter Prickett, president of First National Bank-Fox Valley, “we look for strong customer interaction skills as well as a solid education in accounting or finance.”
“Our graduates are ready to help people actively manage their money and make the most of available resources,” says Olson. Through class work focused on real-world situations, students gain the skills needed to analyze and recommend financial products and services, and propose the best approach to their customers based on individual needs.
“For example, students may be given case studies of bank or credit union customers who are applying for loans,” adds Olson. “They examine the records and recommend the best course of action. They use problem-solving strategies to prioritize and achieve the specific financial goals unique to each customer.”
Olson stresses the importance of preparing graduates to be good financial stewards. “We’ve found the best way to teach our students is to help them see these financial concepts on a personal basis,” she states. “They immediately see how they’ll be impacting the lives of others. Helping a customer build and maintain a solid credit rating, for example, is important.”
All students are required to do an internship at a local financial institution. It’s not unusual for a financial firm to offer interns a full-time position upon graduation. Ashley Rahn, a 2010 graduate of FVTC’s Banking and Financial Services program, knows the value of an internship very well. Rahn, 23, of Brillion, is currently a document management specialist at First National Bank-Fox Valley in Neenah.
“I did my internship here, and then the bank hired me full time as a customer service representative,” states Rahn. “I was immediately ready to apply everything I learned as a result of both my education and the internship.”
Rahn did so well that she was soon promoted after she started. “The bank offered me this opportunity to help set up its new computer records system,” she said. “I have always been interested in behind-the-scenes bank work, and this promotion was a great opportunity for me to learn more.”
Rahn recalls the value of the coursework at FVTC as a significant pathway to her success. “The financial institutions and financial products and services courses really helped me understand what I am doing now,” she says. “When I scan loans, I need to know how to place them in a database. Without the knowledge I gained at Fox Valley Tech, I would not know what to do on my job.”
While Rahn enjoyed working with customers, she finds the challenges of her new position to be equally rewarding. “I’m the first person to have this position here,” she explains. “I like working independently—creating my own work flow to effectively transfer all of our records over to the new system.”
Opportunities for advancement are a big selling point of the program. Like Rahn, a typical first position for graduates may be a bank teller or customer service representative. Financial institutions are in need of multi-skilled professionals who can fill evolving needs in a variety of departments. The field is full of complex regulations, and financial professionals serve as liaisons for customers to better understand these intricacies.
First National Bank-Fox Valley has a formal career enhancement program in which employees are encouraged to advance their careers. “We want our employees to increase their knowledge and skills for a better customer experience, as well as for their own career advancement,” states Prickett.
FVTC’s Banking and Financial Services program attracts students of all ages and backgrounds. Nearly 40% of students enter the program directly out of high school. “When starting the program, many students are a bit unsure what specific career path they will follow in relation to the banking and finance industry,” notes Olson. “Once into the program, they begin to see many different opportunities that are available and work to reach their own individual goals relative to the industry. Some, for example, take a double major with accounting or business management.”
Staff members of the program work closely with an advisory board to ensure that graduates are prepared for success. Advisory board members represent both large and smaller financial institutions. They constantly look at what skills are needed and what competencies will be required in the future of banking and financial services.
Number Crunching Success
Here is a glimpse of some current key indicators for the regional banking and financial services field:
100% graduate placement five years running (2008-2012, total of 47 graduates)
Average annual starting salary for 2011 program graduates: Nearly $28,000; More than $38,000 for alumni five years after graduation in the same field
32 regional full-time job postings as of September 2012
A top 5 in-demand career nationwide in 2012, according to CareerCast