Budgeting for Employee Training 2021

By Alex Paniagua, Wisconsin Bankers Association

With the challenges that 2020 has brought, many banks are reconsidering how they should be planning their training budgets. In recent months there has also been a major shift toward virtual formats, meaning that many educational programs are beginning to look different than they did in 2019. What do these changes entail for the future of banking education, and is this something your training budget should reflect? 

A Shift to Hybrid Learning

Education is important – you’d have to do some extensive searching to find someone who would say otherwise. But a sensible concern right now is how to approach training budgets for 2021, and how long these educational programs will continue to be conducted virtually. 

“When these events were in person, they would have break-out sessions and networking times, and people could take advantage of that,” said Debi Bartel, vice president, HR director at First State Bank and member of the WBA Human Resources Committee as well as the WBA BOLT Board of Directors. “Right now, it feels like we’re missing out on a lot of that networking, which is a big part of training – just connecting with others in the industry to see how they’re operating at other institutions, then having someone you can go back to later and ask questions.” 

Daryll Lund, executive vice president, chief of staff at the Wisconsin Bankers Association also realizes how significant these connections are. He says the goal of many new virtual opportunities is to retain and even strengthen that ability to communicate among peers. 

“What we talk about at WBA is the ‘hallway talk,’” said Lund. “Networking with your peers in this way has become a hallmark of our training. So even as things are changing, we aim to provide for a community of bankers that can come together and offer that knowledge. It’s evolving, and we’re adapting.” 

Events such as the BOLT Winter Leadership Summit have taken this approach to include banker networking. The event included Banker Peer Group Discussions and a Virtual Networking Reception to encourage bankers to make those connections outside of the education setting. Many virtual and hybrid programs are implementing these opportunities between and after conferences to assure the exchange of information is as good, if not better, than meeting in person.  

Although many are anticipating the day they can safely return to these group learning sessions and reconnect with their peers, this method of attending virtual training programs seems to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. It’s a means of understanding the current situation and doing more than just making it work. At the end of the day, the goal is to make it effective. 

“Hybrid is going to be the new buzz word,” said Lund. “It gives you the in-person option or the virtual option. I don't think we’re ever going to go back to the days of just in-person or just virtual. There’s going to be that element of choice.” 

When considering how to budget training, Lund added that patience is going to be an important factor. The way this current situation is approached is constantly changing, and the prospective events being planned will follow suit. The reality is that an in-person event scheduled for next April might need to adjust to accommodate where the situation is at this point in the future. Even so, the expectation is always that this hybrid method will provide the same necessary and high-quality education and connections we require.  

“If an employee needs training or educational resources, then they need it,” said Bartel. “We have to be mindful of that.” 

Examining Expenses

Many banks have noted that their training budgets are actually staying the same, and others are even increasing theirs. At first glance it may seem that this is a result of a lack of travel and accommodation expenses throughout 2020 rolling over into 2021, but Lund believes there’s a much simpler reason for banks increasing their budget.  

“I think with the rapidly changing digital marketplace for our banks, management and HR are making sure their bankers have the skills to serve their customers,” said Lund. “To stay up to date on current technology, compliance, and everything else, they know it’s important to be investing in their people.”  

Bartel echoed this, adding a reminder that proper training within the banking industry is representative of a culture based on constantly learning. 

“When you’re doing these things, you’re really developing yourself and driving that message to other employees,” Bartel said. “It’s a way of developing the culture that we’re never done learning. There are always new ideas, new concepts, and new ways of looking at things.” 

For anyone struggling to successfully make their training budget work, there are free educational resources available. Providing your employees with crucial information shouldn’t take a hit, so it’s important to keep in mind the free and inexpensive options you have both within your bank and externally. 

“At the time that PPP was first becoming a big deal, we offered a multitude of free conference calls and webinars for our bankers to keep them as current as possible on education,” said Lund. “We felt it was the right thing to do to not charge our bankers for that. It was our way of saying we want to help you during these uncertain times. We want to help you as you help your customers with these PPP loans. When we’re facing these crises, we want to do everything we can on our part to make it less difficult.” 

Along with this and other low-cost opportunities, WBA also offered a nine-part complimentary Coronavirus Management Series for operating during these unprecedented times. The resources are always out there, and many banks already know to take advantage of them. Bartel noted that she’s able to maintain a flexible training budget, not only because of these budget-friendly options, but because of all the education that internal staff is able to provide.  

“A lot of the training we use really has no cost to it,” said Bartel. “There hasn’t been much of a need for a robust budget, because we use the resources we have to the best of our ability and that works extremely well. Don’t forget about all the great help you have at your own bank.” 

Using this on-staff method of training can be a great way to supplement a surplus of webinars and classes. It’s often as simple as putting some reading material together for your employee to have on hand, and it doesn’t have to be anything too complex. At a certain point, Bartel noted, the cost of an employee’s time could outweigh the price of a webinar. Make sure the information is enough to give them a good understanding, and be able to answer any questions that might follow.  

“Have good resources and a good support system,” Bartel continued. “You have that knowledge in your company already. You don’t need to be a 400-page teller manual; just a 10-page cheat sheet going over the basics.” 

Taking this approach can make it easier to determine which programs will be the most effective and worth it for the price; utilize the knowledge in your bank first, and then make sure you’re providing staff with the information they can’t obtain directly from their colleagues. Create priorities for the topics that are current or constantly changing, and, if accessible, look into inexpensive solutions for the rest.  

“Education is a lifetime thing,” said Lund, “and bankers are committed to finding the best training resources for their employees. We want to make that as easy as possible.”