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Healthy job market for recent banking and finance grads

Banking and finance graduates of Mississippi colleges and universities are likely to find a good job, especially if they are willing to move to areas of the state where there are openings.

The job market in banking depends on where you are in the state, said Amy West, vice president and human resources manager for Cadence Bank in Starkville.

“Some markets are moving quicker than other markets,” West said. “I know in Starkville right now the jobs are few. There is not a huge demand right now. And it depends on your specialty. If you are a commercial lender or branch manager, the market is moving a little quicker for you than if you are more entry level with non-specialized skills.”

West said the profession is a good place for college graduates looking for an opportunity for advance. Several Mississippi-based banks have manager-in-training programs. People are hired at entry level, and given a chance to work in several different areas to find their specialty. In the higher-skilled jobs, people stay. For tellers and other entry-level jobs, the turnover rate is still pretty high.

A new opportunity?

There may be job opportunities in banking in the state for people who have lost their jobs, such as the 1,200 people laid off from the Sara Lee meat-packing plant in West Point.

“All of those folks, many of whom are in the 40s and 50s, have been forced to make a career change in their 40s and 50s,” West said.

Her recommendation for job seekers is to keep up with technology. That is the key to moving into any industry today.

Healthy market seen

At the University of Mississippi, demand has been good for banking and finance graduates, said Dr. Ken Cyree, Frank R. Day-Mississippi Bankers Association Chair of Banking. Often grade point averages are used as a screen.

“Graduates with 3.0 and above do better than those with 2.0 to 3.0,” Cyree said. “Certainly for the folks who have performed well, the job market is good. This doesn’t mean everyone will get the job they want. But compared to prior years, the market seems to be pretty good. Most of them have had good opportunity, particularly if they are mobile and willing to go to different places. For people with experience such as commercial lenders or branch managers, the market is very good.”

Often college graduates enter a management trainee program. After nine to 18 months of training, they may be promoted to lender, credit analyst or assistant branch manager.

Bank pay in Mississippi averages $22,000 per year for tellers and $28,000 to $35,000 in starting salaries for college graduates. Branch officers earn approximately $41,000 and commercial loan officers, $56,000.

More business, more banks
Areas of the state where the residential population is growing are places where more new jobs may be available in banking. In Hattiesburg, for instance, there are two new banks entering the market.

“You have Trustmark and Hancock Bank in the process of building or planning additional branches,” said John Shappley, president of the northern region, The First, A National Banking Association, Hattiesburg. “Citizens National Bank of Meridian just opened a new branch. All those kinds of things will offer support and new opportunity for new grads wanting to come into banking.”

Commercial and retail growth is booming in the Hattiesburg area, and banks are following to provide services.

Someone willing to put in time to start as a teller or financial services rep can have promotion opportunities as the bank grows. Shappley said when his bank has openings, the first people considered are staff members with a college degree and work experience.

“Get in the position to be promoted from within,” he advises.

Dr. Sean Salter, assistant professor of finance at University of Southern Mississippi, said graduates seem to be having pretty good luck getting jobs.

“I know at least the top portion of our graduates seem to be having no problem getting jobs, and a number of graduates that I am in contact with on a regular basis had jobs well before graduation,” Salter said. “So it seems to be pretty good. But, like always, there are good stories and bad stories. Students I would consider in the top quartile in our banking and finance majors are not really having much of a problem. But there are other factors that determine success like when they start looking and what their geographic preferences are. Those who are flexible, realistic and understand they need to widen their preferences a little bit, I think they are finding they can get good jobs.”

He added that a lot of their more successful students are moving towards finance services such as insurance. Southern Miss has a separate real estate track. The real estate students are getting good jobs in mortgage lending, and those students always have the fallback of the real estate sales industry.

“Top students from that track will be very competitive in mortgage lending jobs because they have both the finance and real estate training, and they tend to have a slight edge in being able to do both parts of their job, the banking part and the real estate part,” Salter said.

While most of the students are young, approximately 5% of USM’s student population in finance are non-traditional students who have worked for a number of years and are coming back to pursue a degree in banking and finance, financial planning or real estate concentration. Numbers seem to be climbing somewhat with the boom on the Coast.

“Of course, the real estate industry fuels a lot of the state’s growth,” Salter said.

Financial services sector growth

The trend is good for continued growth in the financial services industries, said Nancy Anderson, CFA, a financial advisor and president of New Perspectives Inc. in Ridgeland, who also writes a monthly column for the Mississippi Business Journal.

“The demographic changes (growth of the Baby Boom generation), the change from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans and the increase in incomes and standards of living all fuel this trend,” said Anderson, who has been teaching a job market prep course at Mississippi State University to banking/finance majors. “The demand for financial professionals will continue to grow. It’s a service business, which cannot be outsourced overseas. People want one-on-one, face-to-face service when it comes to their finances. There are so many options, too. You can stick with pure banking (lending), go into insurance or go into the financial planning/investment field.”

Anderson said this is a very rewarding business because it is a business about relationships. Usually client relationships are long-term, so you get to know people quite well.

She recommends starting early, learning on the job and building professional designations through self-study and testing.

“Young people, fresh out of college, have a hard time making a go in the business,” Anderson said. “They need an older mentor to help them develop their expertise and client base. But clients value longevity in the business, as well. If you start early, pay your dues and develop your skills, you can be successful.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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