With the goal of training future generations of bank executives, Marquette University is planning to launch a banking program in its business school.
The banking track, scheduled to start in the spring semester of 2017, is intended in part to help remedy what industry professionals say is a shortage of financial professionals pursuing careers as community bankers in smaller towns in Wisconsin and Illinois.
"Our desire at Marquette University is that, at a certain point, the banks will realize the talent they are able to access after these undergraduates go through this program and look at this and say, 'This is where we're going to find the next president of the bank, this is where the succession plan is going to start,'" said Kelly Brown, an industry executive who is chairwoman of the new program's advisory board.
Rob Cera, CEO of Baylake Bank in Sturgeon Bay, said a college-level bank training program is needed to help fill the void left as big banks, some no longer based in Wisconsin, cut back on programs that produced bankers with expertise and skills to become leaders at smaller banks around the state.
In addition, said Cera, who also is on the advisory board for the Marquette bank program, the Great Recession of 2008 and bank troubles of that period gave the industry a black eye it still has not overcome.
"We don't really think college graduates and college students take banking as seriously as they might as a career option, kind of because we just don't do a very good job of promoting it as a vocation," Cera said. "So we think an emphasis at a place like Marquette and having this kind of program can fill the bill on both of those topics and maybe get kids more excited about it as a career opportunity."
The program's director will be Kent Belasco, a suburban Chicago bank executive and college professor who plans to retire from the bank this spring and concentrate fully on Marquette's new program.
Belasco, who is executive vice president and chief information and operations officer at First Midwest Bank, a nearly $10 billion-asset bank based in Itasca, Ill., said the Marquette program will give finance majors another area of focus in addition to investments or pure finance.
"Banking is a tremendous career path for young students because it varies these days," Belasco said. "It ranges from operations and technology to lending to credit risk."
Belasco, who has taught finance at Elmhurst College in Illinois since 2003, said among courses for the new undergraduate program will be an introductory class explaining banking fundamentals, a class on bank leadership and a study of bank risk management — from traditional risks to cyberrisks. The students accepted into the program will have internships at the end of their sophomore and junior years. Guest speakers from the industry will be featured from time to time.
"They'll have a pretty strong foundation when they walk out of there," Belasco said.
Anthony Pennington-Cross, chairman of the department of finance at Marquette, said the university is working with the Wisconsin Bankers Association and the Illinois Bankers Association on the program. Many Marquette students and alumni are from the Chicago area.
"Our idea is to work hard with those associations, to make those connections so we can get folks trained who might be interested in living in Wausau, or whatever smaller town where we have banks," he said. "Our hope is we can send some students out in those areas and also get them engaged with the larger banks in the Chicago area and Milwaukee and Minneapolis."
John Reichert, a Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren attorney who specializes in financial institutions and bank mergers, said one of the reasons the banking industry is consolidating is because chief executives can't find successors to keep their banks going. Reichert, who has a Marquette law degree and is on the bank program advisory board, said he thinks the new banking track can help address that issue.
"That is one of the driving factors for banks selling," said Reichert. "They've got a board and management approaching retirement and for the life of them they can't figure out how to attract that next generation to come and take over the bank. Where is that 30- or 40-year-old who is going to come and run this bank for the next 20 years?"
The new Marquette banking program might be able to provide an answer to that question in the future.
Brown, who is managing partner and founder of American Deposit Management Co. in Delafield, said she expects the Marquette banking track to develop into a world-class program for producing bankers.
"I want to see the community banks in our state thrive. And we can't do that without talent," Brown said.