Building the next generation of community bankers at Robbins Banking Institute

Through educational initiatives, W.R. Robbins and his team at Farmers Bank & Trust are doing their part to build the next generation of community bankers.

By William Atkinson

As baby boomers contribute to the largest wave of retirees in American history, succession planning is a fast-approaching hurdle for community banks across the nation. According to ICBA’s 2016 State of Community Banking Survey, 26 percent of respondents consider attracting and retaining qualified staff to be among their community bank’s greatest business challenges.

“Many of them are concerned that they don’t have enough people to replace those who are retiring,” says W.R. Robbins, president and CEO of Farmers Bank & Trust in Great Bend, Kan. “We wanted to find a way to encourage young people in the state to consider finance in general, and banking specifically, as careers.”

Five years ago, Dr. Emily Breit, head of the finance department at Fort Hays State University, approached Robbins about bringing the community bank’s collective expertise to students at the Hays, Kan., university. Robbins has had a personal and professional relationship with the university for about 35 years and has served as a member of its foundation board and past president, as well as many other committees and organizations on campus.

The Farmers Bank & Trust team contacted the professor of finance at Fort Hays and asked if some of the banking professionals from its different branches could each teach a session on banking in an advanced finance class. Today, nine Farmers Bank & Trust professionals lead class discussions on various aspects of banking, including marketing, loans and human resources. They also conduct credit simulations. The bank has spearheaded these efforts every spring semester since 2014.

“Every two weeks during the spring semester, one of the Farmers Bank & Trust professionals leads one of the classes,” says Jacinda Zerr, market president for Farmers Bank of Kansas City in Overland Park, Kan., a branch of Farmers Bank & Trust. “During our last class session each year, W.R. [Robbins] and I wrap things up with a synopsis on banking in general, including perspectives on banking nationwide and statewide.”

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respondents to the ICBA 2016 State of Community Banking Survey said attracting and retaining qualified staff are among their greatest challenges

Endowment for the future
Following the success of the “boots on campus” initiative, Robbins and his team decided that they wanted to take things a step further, so he and his wife, Yvonne, made the decision to endow the Robbins School of Business and Entrepreneurship, also at Fort Hays State University.

The school, which opened in fall 2016, is housed in two classroom and technology buildings and offers on-campus and online education. It provides a variety of business, technology, business education and media courses, which are taught by faculty members with experience in both academia and business.

Robbins and his wife recently also endowed the Robbins Banking Institute, within the Robbins School of Business and Entrepreneurship. Opening this month, the institute is the only school in Kansas to focus exclusively on banking.

“We wanted to find a way to encourage young people in the state to consider finance in general, and banking specifically, as careers.”
—W.R. Robbins,
Farmers Bank & Trust

Finance majors can add a banking concentration by taking an additional 12 hours of banking courses, which will be coordinated and taught through the college of business and entrepreneurship.

The institute will focus primarily on commercial banking, with additional coursework available on agricultural lending. Why the absence of consumer banking? “The need in Kansas is for commercial banking,” Robbins explains.

Flexible learning
Just as at the Robbins School of Business and Entrepreneurship, Robbins Banking Institute classes are available on campus and online. The online program allows participation by place-bound students, including nontraditional students such as current banking professionals seeking additional education and/or certificates.

“We have just hired a full-time director for the banking institute,” Robbins says. “He will teach a few classes on finance and manage and grow the banking institute.”
Part of the endowed funds will go directly to the operation of the Robbins Banking Institute. Other endowed funds will go toward

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respondents to the ICBA 2016 State of Community Banking Survey said attracting and retaining qualified staff are among their greatest challenges

student scholarships, faculty research scholarships, equipment purchases, compensation for guest lecturers and more. “The institute will also create summer internship programs, as well as a job placement program after they receive their degrees,” Zerr adds.

What’s next? Building connections with the state’s junior colleges. “We have set up funding at two of these colleges already,” Robbins says. Institute funding will offer scholarships to students from these junior colleges who want to major in finance or business. “The Robbins scholarships are incentives for the students in the junior colleges to go on to Fort Hays State University to complete their degrees after completing their junior college coursework.”


William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.

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