SunTrust Takes Training to the Bank
SunTrust Banks, based in Atlanta, operates the eighth-largest U.S. bank. It also has several subsidiaries offering other financial services such as mortgage banking, insurance, and investment management. The bank serves customers in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. As the banking industry struggled to recover from the recent financial crisis and recession (and new regulations) that followed, SunTrust’s management decided that the key to the company’s future lay with fully engaging employees in serving customers. That approach is consistent with the company’s mission of “helping people and institutions prosper.”
SunTrust began to restructure its banking business in accordance with three guiding principles: (1) operating as a single team; (2) putting clients first; and (3) focusing on profitable growth. This principle-driven approach to growth requires managers who know how to foster employees’ commitment to their work and their clients. To that end, SunTrust has made it a priority to develop managers’ leadership skills. First-line managers receive training in how to coach and lead others. Middle managers work with mentors on their leadership skills. Upper-level managers use assessments by peers, subordinates, and others to identify areas for growth and, with coaching, develop leadership skills taught during a three-week training program.
SunTrust also selects its top 3,500 managers to receive training in employee engagement. Managers learn not only to assess employees’ performance in terms of numbers (a natural approach in a bank), but also to consider ways to build positive feelings about meeting goals and serving customers.
For training aimed at emotions to be relevant, it must enable better job performance. To meet the principle of putting customers first, SunTrust conducts surveys of its customers to learn whether they are satisfied with the bank’s products and customer service. It also asks employees whether they have the resources they need to succeed at work and know what the company expects of them. Based on the feedback, the bank’s learning team creates training materials for how to meet customer expectations in each line of business. In a program called “Building Solid Relationships,” employees learn how to define client needs, explain the bank’s financial products and services clearly, and help customers choose which products and services will meet their needs. SunTrust’s CEO, Bill Rogers, saw the impact of this training firsthand when he visited a branch and peppered the branch manager and a financial services representative with questions about a new product. They invited Rogers to watch them role-play a scene between a representative and a customer. Rogers was impressed with their confidence and knowledge.
The bank also provides learning support on its Sun-Trust Learning Portal. This Internet portal gives employees easy access to computer-based training and tools for collaboration that can support informal learning.
Since SunTrust initiated the new training programs, it has seen evidence of improved performance. The bank has enjoyed a record pace of growth in deposits and top scores for the industry in client loyalty. Such feedback has given SunTrust’s executives the necessary justification for increasing training budgets regardless of economic recession.
This is all taking place at a delicate time for the banking industry. Many citizens are irate about the government’s “bank bailouts,” question why banks are now very cautious about lending, and object to the fees many banks have charged to make up for revenue that has shrunk elsewhere. SunTrust, for example, tried imposing a monthly fee for unlimited debit card transactions, but reversed the decision after a public outcry. Still, there are signs that banks are emerging from the worst times. Recent examinations by the Federal Reserve show that the amount of capital on hand at SunTrust and other major banks is approaching a level the Fed considers adequate for sustaining another economic downturn. As conditions improve, SunTrust hopes its strategic investment in training will position it at the forefront of the next round of growth.
How should SunTrust measure the success of its training program?
SunTrust Takes Training to the Bank