Why Your Bank Needs an Internship Program and How to Create It
This week, we switch it up and talk all about the importance of an internship program. We speak with Lisa Blatter, Director of Campus Recruiting and Career Development for SouthState. She shares her thoughts on why your bank (big or small) should consider starting an internship program to develop a talent pipeline and grow your bank’s various business units. Then, we sit down with two of her summer interns, Shaina Patel and Corey Stepanek, to hear about their experience with this program this summer.
The views, information, or opinions expressed during this show are solely those of the participants involved and do not necessarily represent those of SouthState Bank and its employees.
Intro: Helping community bankers grow themselves, their team, and their profits, this is The Community Bank Podcast.
Erik Bagwell: Welcome to The Community Bank Podcast. I’m Eric Bagwell, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Correspondent division of SouthState Bank. Joining me, Business Development Officer Caleb Stevens. Caleb, how are you?
Caleb Stevens: I’m good. Excited to talk to some interns today, some Gen Z. This might be the first time we’ve had Gen Z people on the show. Have we had any people younger than 24 or five on the show before?
Erik Bagwell: How about younger than 22? I don’t believe we have. We have interns at the bank every year and we get to talk with them. They come to Atlanta, talk to our group about correspondent banking. That thing has grown from three a couple years ago. We didn’t have them last year, but the year before I think there was 20. We had like 22 this year maybe. So Caleb and I spent last week talking with them and got a couple of them to come on the podcast. They were very excited. Shaina Patel is a senior at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina and Corey Stepanek is a senior at the University of Florida down in Gainesville. They were gracious to come on and were very excited to be on a podcast. So, they’ve come on to talk about being Gen Z and entering the business world and what they’re looking for. So, we think it’s going to be some pretty good material for you guys as you start to hire younger folks. And then Caleb does a quick interview with Lisa Blatter. Talk about what Lisa does for the bank.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah, so Lisa is the Director of Campus Recruiting and Career Development at the bank. And so, she runs the program and is sort of the architect of it, and coaches these college students through this summer-long process and kind of gives them a deep dive into all things related to commercial banking. And so, I asked her, you know, what are some key things to focus on for our listeners who maybe have never had an internship program? But kind of like Mark Miller talked about on one of our previous episodes about developing your bench strength, you know, how do you do that on a practical level with your internship program? So, I think Lisa offers some helpful thoughts. Whether you’re a $40 billion bank like SouthState or you’re a $500 million community bank, having an internship program and investing in young talent, no matter your size, we think it’s really important. And so, I think our listeners will get a lot out of that. And I think they’ll enjoy the interview with the interns as well.
Erik Bagwell: Absolutely. So, we’re glad you guys tuned in today, and hope you enjoy this show.
Caleb Stevens: Well, Lisa, thanks for hopping on the podcast today. It is great to see you over our Zoom call. How are you doing?
Lisa: I am doing fantastic, Caleb, thank you for having me here.
Caleb Stevens: Tell us a little bit about your role at SouthState and everything you do with the internship program.
Lisa: Well, my name is Lisa Blatter, I have been with SouthState for almost four years and I’m currently the Director of Campus Recruiting and Career Development. So what I get to do is I get to partner with colleges, and I get to work with young, up and coming future leaders and really customize a program that is an internship during the summer, and if they’re successful enough during that, then I get to have them come back for a full one year, what I wouldn’t say is an internship but more of a management associate track and it’s all focused on commercial banking. So, the main thing is that we’re taking it in small, bite-sized pieces as focusing on one specific function. Within our organization that seems to be the most bang for our buck, if that makes sense.
Caleb Stevens: Awesome. Yeah. So, let’s say I’m a senior or a junior at the University of Georgia or University of Florida and I’ve been selected to be a SouthState bank intern. What can I expect over the course of a summer with you and with SouthState and with the internship program? What does that look like?
Lisa: Sure. So, for the internship, we spend 10 to 11 weeks, depending upon the season. And what you’ll do is you’ll find that you’re going to get an experience that gives you a compliment of each of the different functions that touches the commercial banking role. So, you’re going to spend time learning about our banks, learning about our culture. You’re going to spend time learning about the organization as a whole. And then you’re going to spend time simply in a function of commercial banking. But that function is very big when you look at the grand scheme of things. So, you’ve got commercial credit, you’ve got commercial lending, you’ve got charging management, which is another solution that we provide to our commercial customers. You have correspondent, which is another solution we provide other banks, and then we also have the branch network. So, you get time in all these different functions and you also get to spend time with our wealth team to understand what else we can offer them. So, you get a little bit of doses of some minimal opportunities outside of commercial banking, such as wealth and all those ancillary things. And then you get to really figure out how does it attach? How does it connect to the commercial banking function? So, if I think about the branch network, how do they service those commercial customers?
If any of you have ever gone through the first lane of the drive-thru and waited a long time and really gotten frustrated, like I did, when I didn’t realize commercial banking customers are supposed to go there, you’d be sitting in the same space as I did had I not learned that commercial customers have large deposits, they have lots of requests for change orders, they have to manage a business. That first lane in the drive-thru is actually dedicated to them. You’ll see this sign there; you’ll probably ignore it. Don’t get frustrated if you wait because their transactions take a little bit more time. You can either use the other separate lanes or the ATM or just go into the branch if you don’t want to wait. And that’s definitely some advice I would give.
Caleb Stevens: And I love the idea of connecting the dots to how it all works because I mean, as you know, there are so many different rabbit holes that you could go down within banking, it’s such a broad field, there’s so many different details to every single department. So, I think a lot of times, it’s easy for us to get siloed into one department and not know how our specific function and role connects to the big picture. So, I love that approach to sort of think about how, “Hey, what you’re doing and commercial credit or what you’re doing and wealth or correspondent or lending, it’s all part of a bigger picture and it all feeds into one mission and vision for the bank.”
Lisa: Definitely. It aligns with our core values of who we are, where we’re going to go, and how we’re going to do it. And these individuals have an experience that really complements all of it. Thank you, Caleb.
Caleb Stevens: So, we’ve got a lot of CEOs listening, CFOs listening, executives of smaller community banks, and maybe they’re not a $40 billion bank like SouthState so maybe the resources and the funding for a program like this, maybe wouldn’t be quite what a larger regional bank might have. But certainly, developing young talent, investing in your community is very important to our listeners and to the leaders that listen. Any thoughts for them as they structure an internship program? Anything that you think, “Hey, if you don’t do anything else, here are a few things that I would recommend you focus on”?
Lisa: I would say keep it small would be the number one rule. Keep it simple. You don’t want to necessarily have an internship that’s everywhere. And as a company, what do you want to focus on? Is it building your business for the most profitable unit? Or is it just getting your name out there to say, “Hey, we’re doing this for college students, and we want to invite them in”? If you start off small, and you focus on what the mission is as your company’s objective, and you align it to where you want these interns to fit, then you can customize the path at a more realistically, inexpensive solution. Luckily for you, I happen to have had experience of working with an internship with a company that had 500 employees. And then when I took this internship over, I think there was about 2500 employees here, and now we’re at about 5500 or 5300-ish. And so, we’re still taking it small, we’re taking it in bite-sized pieces, and we’re spending time on the most profitable unit, which happens to be commercial banking. And once we get that done really well, we’ll go ahead and expand it. A comment from David Salyers is “You don’t have to be bigger to be better. You got to get better to get bigger”, right? So, we’ve got to be better at what we’re doing right now and focus on the greatness that’s here and then our program will get bigger.
Caleb Stevens: That’s great advice. Well, Lisa, thank you for your time. This has been super helpful. And we’re excited next to play a segment with two of your interns, Corey and Shaina. So, let’s roll that right now.
Hey, everybody, and welcome back to The Community Bank Podcast. I’m your host for today, Caleb Stevens. I work in our business development office here in Atlanta, Georgia, serving banks in Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Georgia, all over the place, and joined by my co-host, Eric Bagwell. Eric, how’s it going?
Erik Bagwell: Good, Caleb, you doing, okay?
Caleb Stevens: I am doing great. And this is a show we’ve never done before. We’re talking with two of our CenterState– Gosh, CenterState? SouthState. It’s like the MOE happened a year ago and I’m still saying CenterState. Our SouthState Bank interns, we have Corey Stepanek and Shaina Patel with us today. How are you guys doing? Thanks for joining us.
Shaina: Yeah, great. How are you?
Corey: Doing awesome.
Erik Bagwell: And let me say this. You guys are probably the third or fourth in-person live in the studio.
Shaina: Oh, wow, okay.
Erik Bagwell: So, you should be thrilled to be here.
Corey: Feeling honored.
Shaina: Yeah, excited.
Erik Bagwell: The sound ought to be coming through really good, so we’re glad these guys are here.
Caleb Stevens: It’s so much nicer to do interviews in person because it’s just easier. You can see people, we’re all using our nice microphones here so we’re not having to Zoom people in. So yeah, thanks for being here, guys. And this is your last week, right, of being an intern here at SouthState?
Corey: Yep, this is our last week. So, we got our presentations, [big cap’s 10:03] doing final presentations tomorrow.
Erik Bagwell: Talk about internship at the bank because you guys were here. We’re actually here in Atlanta today because we did a presentation in front of you guys. Everybody wants to hear about our division. Gosh, I think there’s like 20 of you guys in the internship program this year. I think a couple of years ago, there was just three. Talk about the program, kind of a high-level overview, and what you guys– How did you apply? I tell you what, first of all, before we can do that, talk about where you’re from, where you go to school. Let’s start there real quick.
Shaina: Yeah, so I’m from Charlotte, North Carolina, born and raised there. I go to Wofford College down in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I’m going to be a senior this year, an accounting and finance major.
Corey: And I’m from Vero Beach, Florida. I go to school in Gainesville at the University of Florida. I’ve got one more year there as a senior and I’m a finance major.
Erik Bagwell: There’s always Florida Gators in the intern program. I guess that’s because we got a big presence down in Florida. So, all right, well, let’s get back to what I asked before. Talk about the program, high-level, did you apply for it? How did that work? Did you know somebody? And then talk about what you guys are doing.
Corey: So, I first found out about it, I was on the golf course and the community president of the Vero Beach region, he’s a member out there and also a family friend. And he just came up to me and asked me what my major was at UF. I said I’m a finance major and he said, “Oh, I actually work for CenterState Bank,” which I didn’t really know. And he said they have a pretty good internship program and that I should check it out, so I did, and I reached back out to him and then started to go through the interview process.
Erik Bagwell: Cool. How about you, Shaina?
Shaina: Yeah, so I learned about it through a professor. He sent it out to all the finance and accounting majors. I reached out to him. It was about our last week of school. He put me in contact with Miss Raquel and interviewed from there.
Erik Bagwell: Cool. So, there’s a lot of banks listening that do internship programs as well at their bank, talk about what you guys are doing, maybe there’s something these guys can pick up on and do as well.
Shaina: Yeah. So, our internship is broken up into rotations, like two-week rotations. It had a heavy focus on commercial lending. I mean, it looked different for all of us but for me, personally, I was able to sit with every lender in my region. So, I was in the Piedmont region in South Carolina, so to be able to sit with all the lenders every day, got to go to some loan closings, got to read some packages, got to help them out with some little side projects. And then we’d go to the portfolio managers, we’d do a little bit with underwriting and credit analysis. It was really cool. We got to see all aspects of lending, which I had no clue that all went into getting a loan.
Erik Bagwell: That’s awesome.
Corey: Yeah, so to go in a little bit more detail, they broke it up into three different segments. First was the credit analyst segment, followed by the underwriting segment, and then the commercial lender segment where we got to actually sit down and watch what the customer-facing part of the bank does, going out and finding new customers and getting these loans set up for them. And that was where we spent most of our time. Both of our community leaders were commercial lenders. So, when we weren’t with them, we were on Zoom calls with the rest of the interns, with Lisa Blatter our boss, and we were also learning about the different segments of the bank.
Erik Bagwell: Cool. All right. So, Gen Z, let’s talk about it real fast. Caleb, you’re actually a Gen Z as well.
Caleb Stevens: No, I’m a Millennial. I’m like the last of the Millennials. I think Millennials are 1981 to like– It depends on which organization or think tank you’re looking at, but they say it’s between ‘96, ‘97 is sort of the cut-off for Millennials.
Corey: ‘95 is the last I heard.
Caleb Stevens: ’95, yeah, so it depends on who but somewhere around the mid-90s is when it stops so I’m like the very last Millennial.
Erik Bagwell: I’m Gen X so…
Caleb Stevens: You’re Gen X.
Erik Bagwell: …I struggle with stuff. And in the presentation, Caleb you made the comment this morning, or I made the comment to the group about balancing a checkbook. And he’s like, “How many of y’all have balanced a checkbook?” after I said that, and nobody raised their hand. I was like, “Well, there you go, it’s generational.” So in like 10 years, Gen Z is going to be like 30% of the workforce. The stereotypes we hear. Talk about what are some of the stereotypes you think that you hear that you’re like, “Man, that’s probably not true.” And what are y’all looking for in a job? Because it’s different than I think my generation, maybe Caleb a little bit. And I’ll just test it – graduated from Georgia and wanted to go get a job that’s paid the most. That’s not necessarily the case with you guys. Talk about it real fast.
Shaina: So personally, I think some of the stereotypes is we’re all just lazy, and no one really wants to work hard for a dollar, which I don’t really think that’s true, especially just looking at the group of interns in our intern class this year. I think everyone’s very hard working and everyone’s going the extra mile. No one is kind of sitting back expecting everything to be handed to us. I think we’re all very eager to go out and get it. So, I think that’s something that isn’t true of all Gen Z-ers.
Erik Bagwell: Yeah, and I’ll say, man, I was very impressed. You guys. Number one, y’all walked in, you had coats on and y’all were business dressed and we really weren’t and that was impressive, too. So, talk about it, Corey.
Corey: I would say a big stereotype is the technology focus, with our heads buried in TikTok on our phones, and all that. But I’d say there’s still a really big focus on impersonal contact, in person rather than online. And even though we’ve gone through Zoom and stuff through the last year with our schools, and even with this internship, I think that’s something we all still really need is that face to face time. And I can actually say in the last day and a half with my fellow interns, I’ve gotten way more close with them than I have gotten for the whole last three months online in the program.
Caleb Stevens: So, man, I was saying in part of my presentation to y’all earlier, you know, when I was in college like you guys, senior, thinking about graduating, what the next step was, banking was very far down on the list of things I ever wanted to do, even despite the fact that I have a lot of family members who are in the banking business. I think part of that was I didn’t understand banking. And the more you understand something, the more it’s easier to get your head around, and if you’re good at it, the more you tend to like it. For you guys, coming into your internship, and now coming sort of out of it, has your view of banking changed? How did you sort of look at it coming in? And do you have a different perspective coming out of it? Or are you kind of coming out of it saying, “This is about what I thought it was”? What are your thoughts on that?
Corey: On the lending side, I learned that the credit risk tolerance is way lower than what I expected. I thought that I could come in and get a loan for $100,000 and they’d give it to me, but there’s really a limit to the biggest loan I can get based on how much income I have, which seems logical. But the amount of focus that they have on the credit side because it’s not their money, it’s depositors’ money that they’re lending out.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah, being just a good guy is not enough to make it through the underwriting process. Even if the lender knows you super well, and you’re buddies and you play golf together, he’s got to see your financials. And yeah, absolutely.
Corey: But in fact, character is the most important of the so-called five C’s and it’s because a shady guy is going to figure out a way to get out of the loan that you give them, regardless of his cash flow, or his collateral and all the other ones.
Caleb Stevens: Yeah, that’s good.
Shaina: Yeah, so going in, kind of like what Corey said, I kind of thought you just got a loan based on your credit score, and how much you could afford, how much you make, but I didn’t realize there’s a lot more going into it. Do you have a guarantor? What your financials look like and all that. And then I also didn’t realize how important relationships were in banking. I kind of thought the bank just sat there, I didn’t think they’d go out and actually look for loans. I always thought it was customers who would come to them, they’re the ones that needed it. But with SouthState, I was able to learn that we just don’t sit around and wait, we go out and form those relationships, we try to appeal to the customer and try to do what’s best for the customer ultimately and try to form that relationship and deepen that and keep it so we have a good customer for a long time.
Caleb Stevens: Well, we’ve got a lot of CEOs and CFOs of smaller banks listening. And maybe they’ve never had an internship program, maybe it’s been pretty informal, you know, you meet somebody coming out of college, and you give them a job and you train them, and maybe rotate them through all the different departments. But for our CEOs and CFOs of small community banks listening, any thoughts or advice you might have for them as they think about structuring an internship program? Maybe some things to think about, and ways that they could invest in their younger talent coming up into the banking business?
Corey: The biggest pain point that my community president has had and shared with me throughout the internship is the lack of background that some of the current lenders or current underwriters have. And that’s the exact background that we’re being given to this program and through the following associate program. So just giving that complete background, like I said earlier with the credit analyst, underwriting, and then lending rotations, it gives– And again, we’re not through the full program yet. We’ll learn more next year, but it just lets you become that much more rounded to make better lending decisions in the future.
Shaina: Yeah, like Corey said, I think all of us, we want to get the opportunity even if it’s a three-month program or even a two-week program. I think just giving anyone the opportunity that’s thinking about banking just the chance to see what it’s like. Because then you don’t want to hire someone that gets into it and they realize two months down the road, they don’t like it, and then you’re stuck with someone that doesn’t like their job, and they’re not going to perform as well as someone that likes it and was able to dip their toe in the water first.
Erik Bagwell: Yeah, I was surprised in a lot of colleges nowadays, and it’s going to change over the last few years, there are not a lot of banking courses, kind of like real-world type stuff. It was surprising to hear that but let me ask you this. Let’s turn it a little bit. As part of Gen Z, what are you guys looking for in a company? What does that company need to look like and what do they need to stand for? Talk about that for a second.
Corey: This summer has opened my eyes up tremendously to what I’m looking for in a company. We’ve spent a lot of time on matching our values with company values, value alignment, and read a book by David Salyers called Remarkable, which I’d recommend to anyone out there listening. It just talks about how the company you work for is more than just what they do. It’s more about the people, and about your satisfaction with what you’re doing and who you’re working with. So, I guess what I’m looking for is a company and a job that gives me energy rather than takes energy away from me so that I can give value to the company rather than extract value as he talks about in the book.
Erik Bagwell: So, go ahead.
Shaina: Yeah, no, Corey couldn’t have said it any better. Definitely looking for a company that’s going to encourage me just like David Salyers said. We were able to speak with him a couple times. Somewhere I’m proud to work for, somewhere that’s going to get me up every day excited, so I don’t feel like I’m actually going to a job, I’m doing something that I enjoy, something that’s going to create opportunities and encourage me to grow and not just hire me for one position and keep me there forever. They’re going to want to see, like, “Oh, you look in this position, let’s try to move you to this one.” Kind of encourage me to grow and further my relationship in the company.
Erik Bagwell: That’s a great answer. So let me ask you this from a manager’s perspective. You need to give feedback, obviously, how important is feedback to you guys and to your generation? I know it’s important to Caleb. Caleb, he always wants to know, like, “Where am I at? Where are we headed?” How important is that to you guys?
Corey: I’d say it’s tremendously important. It took me learning about it about four different times before I started to actively ask for it. And it also took me learning how to accept it and not make excuses and really take it to heart. But I think it’s extremely important because it’s like right now I can hear my voice but until I listen an hour later, I don’t really know what I sound like. So, it gives you that kind of third-person [Cross-talking 21:49]
Caleb Stevens: And you always sound a little different than you think you do when you’re talking.
Corey: Yeah, I’m worried.
Caleb Stevens: So that’s probably a good metaphor for feedback, too. You know, you have blind spots so it’s helpful to get that honest feedback. Especially I think, if you have a relationship with a manager that you trust, and that wants the best for you, then you know whatever feedback you’re getting, it’s for your good, it’s not to discourage you or to make you feel bad, but it’s to help you grow and progress.
Corey: I was very lucky to have my boss this summer, Chris Bieber. We had a very open relationship. I told him exactly how I felt, he told me exactly how he felt about me. And in the beginning, we kind of disclosed that we were both going to be completely honest with each other and I think that allows for the best growth when you’re completely honest.
Shaina: Yeah, for me, feedback is very important. I mean, I’ve learned to welcome feedback at a very young age, I think. You’re able to change and grow. And then without it, you don’t really know because I mean, I could think I’m doing what I’m doing perfectly fine like I’m doing it right, I’m doing everything that’s expected of me but then, from my boss’s perspective, it could be like, “No, I want you to change this.” So, I think being open to feedback, and even if someone really isn’t as open to it, just giving that and receiving it, I think, really helps both parties because then you know what’s expected of you and what someone thinks you’re capable of, and stuff like that.
Caleb Stevens: All right. Well, guys, this has been really insightful. Thank you, guys, both for your time. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed your internship here and hope this has been a good stepping stone to whatever you choose to do in your career. To me, I think, whether you do banking or not, being in banking for a time is a great way to learn business in general because you’re getting exposure to all these different companies that do business with your bank. So, you’re getting to see how they think about making decisions, how they’re planning to grow, and so it gives you exposure to a lot of industries outside of just banking. So, Corey and Shaina, thank you both for your time, and we hope to see you back at SouthState hopefully in the future.
Shaina: Yeah, thank you.
Corey: Thank you so much.
Erik Bagwell: Thanks, guys.
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