Historic in its legacy since 1935, the American Bankers Association’s Stonier Graduate School of Banking holds special appeal for its unusual partnership. The respected Ivy League Wharton School of Business hosts the program on its campus at the University of Pennsylvania, and executives successfully completing the courses and a capstone project graduate with both a Stonier diploma and a Wharton leadership certificate.
Stonier’s regular curriculum is completed over three years, but one advantage is an accelerated program for students already holding an MBA. That consists of three one-week sessions, also held over a three-year period, with extension work in between sessions. Faculty includes Wharton professors. The challenging coursework is designed to be relevant to real-life banking situations across a spectrum of departmental areas. This sets Stonier apart from other banking schools, according to alumni. Teams are formed carefully for simulation exercises and study of strategic planning, economics, leadership and financial management.
“The team-based experience is part learning and part building a network,” explained Greg Smith, curriculum director for Stonier who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Lubar School of Business. “We put a lot of effort into creating teams that include a variety of management areas.” A first-year team of five might include a bank regulator paired with a commercial lender and an IT professional working together on decision-based exercises, such as a bank crisis and related communications. By the second program year, six to seven managers are put in competitions simulating policy-setting for a department, or managing capital, Smith said.
One distinction of Stonier’s program is its culminating capstone project with a 50-page thesis and presentation in banking, regulatory or banking services. The school wants students to demonstrate mastery in:
- Examining how the change will fit with overall organizational strategy.
- Analyzing the financial and non-financial impact of the change.
- Presenting an implementation plan.
- Assessing potential implementation problems and steps to overcome them.
Graduates say the executive networking is as valuable as the learning. A majority of the Stonier attendees hold the titles of vice president or senior vice president, while one in five is a chairman or CEO, according to Stonier. The fact that an additional 10 percent of students represent regulatory agencies is considered a plus among some recent graduates.
Tanner Moore, a Stonier alum of the accelerated program, is a central Texas banking executive who specializes in commercial lending. He came in with an MBA, so he chose Stonier for its “breadth of exposure to multiple facets of the banking industry” and representation by banks of all sizes and types. Specifically, Moore appreciated that regulatory agency professionals were part of his class cohort because that specialty isn’t always included in graduate banking schools.
“It was some really great exposure to how that regulatory world works,” he said. Another benefit, Moore noted, was the opportunity to learn about mutual banks, which don’t exist in Texas.
“While at Wharton for eight or nine days, people are fully dedicated and very focused,” noted director Smith, a banking veteran himself who teaches capital planning.
Do Stonier alumni keep in touch following graduation? “Absolutely,” Moore said. “We had a core group and I spent many late hours working on projects and presentations. The networking was well beyond my expectations.”
Kelli Nielsen, an executive vice president of retail banking and marketing who oversees more than 20 branches in north suburban Seattle still participates on a group text with eight or 10 of her classmates to float ideas. Installing a new bank operating system, for example, she said, may prompt someone to ask, “Does anyone have experience with this?” Because Stonier’s alumni are from different states and all around the country, “they are more willing to share and give up their tips and tricks,” Nielsen said.
A Women at Stonier outreach group aims to increase the number of female students. In 2017, 44 percent of the students attending Stonier were women.
“Over three years of time, it’s a huge commitment by the employee, and on the bank’s part. It’s never going to be the ‘right time.’ But we’re all worth it,” Nielsen said she typically advises. “You can be part of something that is much bigger than yourself and your own experience.”
Nielsen advises prospective students to really review the curriculum of a potential school to see if it meets needs. Then, she said, step in and engage from day one; avoid retreating after classes to focus on returning work phone calls and emails. Continue networking with students through meals and gatherings.
“You need to be engaged at Stonier. It’s not just what happens at Stonier. It’s what happens when you leave Stonier,” Nielsen said. “You’re really not alone if you decide to step into this school and be a part of the learning.”