Mary Kay Bates was at a pivotal point in her career as head of human resources at Bank Midwest in Spirit Lake, Iowa, when she weighed the options of enrolling in a master’s degree program versus attending a graduate school of banking.
She opted for the latter, choosing to attend the Graduate School of Banking at Colorado.
“It’s definitely geared toward community banking, so you’re mixing with your fellow peers. Certainly the location of the campus was an added bonus in the decision, but it was really about the curriculum and the quality of the school,” said Bates, president & CEO at Bank Midwest and BankBeat’s 2019 Banker of the Year.
Started in 1950, GSBC offers a 25-month graduate program, comprised of three two-week sessions on campus and intersession projects at the University of Colorado-Boulder campus.
GSBC offers several scholarships through sponsoring state bankers associations and a “second-year direct” option for those students who already have an advanced degree or other significant educational credits.
In addition, graduates can use their credits toward master’s degree programs at the University of Colorado-Denver, University of Nebraska-Lincoln or University of South Carolina, Columbia.
As one of her projects, Bates developed the concept of a centralized service center for 10 locations. “I put a lot of work into statistics and data and cost, so the project was very meaningful to me,” she said. “A few years later, we deployed our service center using the basis of my work for the plan. It definitely brought value back to the bank.”
Four career tracks
“When I go out and speak publicly, I’ll run into graduates all over the country. They may have gone to another university, but they went to banking school at Colorado, and now it’s one of their alma maters. It’s really rewarding,” said GSBC President Tim Koch, who is also a finance professor who writes and conducts research on community banking.
Incoming students can choose from one of four career tracks: Financial Management, General Management and Technology, Leadership and Human Resources, and Lending.
“We organize all of our electives and core classes by track to help students guide their experience and identify where they’re able to build skills while they’re in the program,” said GSBC Director of Marketing Josie Bunch.
“When we ask somebody to teach or speak, we ask them to identify three to five takeaways that every banker is going to take back to their bank that will improve their performance,” Koch said. In early December, he met with a group of faculty to review and update the curriculum for the 2019 session, which will be July 14-26.
This year, some of the key topics that will be covered include cybersecurity and the dark web, preventing security breaches, how to use social media effectively, deposit strategies to stay competitive, and how to better manage expenses and revenue streams.
On the leadership development side, a new required class will be Social and Emotional Intelligence, in which each student will complete a self-assessment to help determine how to best use their strengths; and Why Smart Leaders Fail, on positioning one’s self to avoid common pitfalls.
A class on presentation skills will move from the third year to the second so that students can deliver a presentation at their banks in between, Koch said. Bankers will be videotaped, evaluated and coached to develop this critical skill.
“There will be some people who attend our program — maybe 20 percent — who are senior management, but 80 percent are not,” Koch said, “So it’s good for them to get in front of their boards.”
The average length of banking experience among all students at GSBC is 10.5 years. More than 30 percent of students come from banks with less than $250 million in assets, and another 30 percent from banks between $251 million and $750 million.
“Shortly after I graduated, I had an opportunity to become president at the bank I am still at,” said Andy Noll, president of First Farmers & Merchants Bank in Fairmont, Minn. “I had less than 10 years of experience in the industry at the time, and I still considered myself to be an inexperienced lender. So, virtually all the topics I was exposed to were quickly put to use.” Noll is now a trustee for GSBC.
The Bank Simulation Management program for third-year students is upgraded and modified every year — and as of last year, it’s available on mobile so that students can access it from anywhere on a laptop, tablet or phone.
Critical thinking skills
Rocky Williams, executive vice president at Arvest Bank in Norman, Okla., is one of this year’s seniors. After working in commercial lending for his entire 23-year banking career, “the school has helped me get a better understanding of all aspects of the bank,” he said. Understanding and Strategically Aligning Your Bank’s Culture for Success with Dave Nowling has been helpful in teaching him more about the culture of his workplace, he added.
Nowling, a retired manager in the Bank Supervision Department at the Kansas City Fed and president of The Dunamikos Group, has seen a shift during his tenure at GSBC.
“When I first started 18 years ago, what we now call ‘essential skills’ were looked at as, ‘I don’t need that; I just need to know how to make a loan and make a return on assets,’” he said. “What I’m seeing is a higher thirst for leadership development.”
David Peterson, president of U.S. Dataworks and founder of i7strategies, teaches classes about the effective use of technology and strategic thinking. “My [technology] class is very interactive; there’s spirited discussion about current and future issues. For example: Given that customers and expectations are rapidly evolving, what products and services would a community bank be expected to offer to create sustained future client growth?”
Two additional GSBC schools, both added over the last few years, deal directly with emerging issues in the industry and leadership skills.
The Community Bank Investments School is a four-and-a-half-day program designed for financial officers to dive deeply into their banks’ investment portfolio and better respond to changes.
The Executive Leadership Development Institute is a 19-month program geared toward helping community banks address succession management. “We take just a select 12 to 15 candidates per year and offer a dual bank management and leadership development curriculum that includes executive coaching by a C-level executive from a similar institution outside their competitive trade area,” Koch explained.
No matter the program, bankers say that attending GSBC was a welcome step outside their comfort zones. For Lauren Maclaskey, senior vice president at Happy State Bank in Lubbock, Texas, going to GSBC was a chance to network with a new group of bankers.
“Most of our banks around here send bankers to SWGSB, which is in Dallas at Southern Methodist University. You see a lot of the same people that you see at all of our bank functions, from banks that you’re very familiar with. I was looking for a different option,” said Maclaskey, who found the new connections valuable.
And that’s why so many alumni stay involved. “I get to visit with other alumni all year long, and I get to talk to community bankers who are looking for that logical next step in their own professional development,” said GSBC Alumni Association Chair Sheila Noll, executive vice president and chief operations officer at Midwest Independent Bank in Jefferson City, Mo. “The opportunity to continue to be engaged in GSBC is a joy.”