Back in the mid-1990s, Kennebec Savings Bank in Augusta, Maine, started recruiting interns during the summer when its primary source of loans—homebuyers—was busy. The program is now a significant recruiting tool that’s responsible for attracting one in every 10 of its employees.
By William Atkinson
Name: Kennebec Savings Bank
Assets: $1.1 billion
Location: Augusta, Maine
For more than two decades, Kennebec Savings Bank in Augusta, Maine, has mentored young adults during the summer season through its well-known internship program. Andrew E. Silsby, president and CEO of the $1.1 billion-asset community bank, says there are three big reasons the internship program makes sense for the bank.
First, he says, “June, July and August are absolutely beautiful months in Maine. The weather is spectacular, so most of our employees want to take their vacations during these months.
“They can’t all leave at the same time, of course,” he adds, “but having extra help, especially in the [entry] positions, eases this burden.”
The second reason is that employee vacations often collide with mortgage season in Maine, leading to a squeeze on the bank’s staffing. Mortgage lending is the keystone of Kennebec Savings Bank’s business, and local homebuyers tend to buy in the summer months. “No one wants to back up a moving van on icy front steps in January,” Silsby says.
Finally, bank leaders want to be sure that Kennebec Savings Bank has young employees rising through the organization who can take over as their older colleagues retire. It’s working: About one in 10 of the community bank’s 135 employees have come through the internship program.
The program’s reach extends to the C-suite. Craig Garofalo, executive vice president and chief operating officer, started out as an intern.
“I had worked a few jobs that used more brawn than brain while growing up, so it was exciting to do something with the knowledge I learned during my first year in college,” Garofalo says. “I knew about the [internship] program because my parents were customers of the bank. I was accepted into the program after my freshman year.”
Kennebec Savings Bank generally hires enough students to represent 10% of its workforce, and it rarely has difficulty filling the slots. “We have been doing the program for so long, and we have such a good reputation in the community, that most young people already know about our program,” Silsby says.
Most of the interns are in college, but occasionally a high school senior will participate in the program. The community bank is able to fill about half of its slots by the beginning of January, and it fills the rest in subsequent months.
“We poll all of our department managers just before Christmas each year so we can plan for the following summer,” Silsby says. “We then conduct our interviews with the students when they are home for [winter] break.”
The community bank also has formal relationships with local colleges, including some that provide academic credit to students who complete the internship. Kennebec Savings Bank can also rely on some applicants coming from the families of customers—like Garofalo.
While each internship only lasts for a summer, the community bank doesn’t view the students as temporary hires. “We try to view them as our future employees,” Silsby says.
Many interns are finance majors, but leaders are interested in students with a variety of majors, given that the community bank has employees from a wide range of backgrounds. “We have finance majors, engineers, IT, accounting people and more because we have so many different career positions in the bank,” Silsby says, “such as cybersecurity professionals, IT professionals, compliance officers, facilities people, HR people, [lenders and] financial analysts.”
He’s excited about each year’s new interns. “They are wide-eyed, high energy and excited to learn,” Silsby says. “They are also quick learners, and they adapt easily to technology. They are born with cellphones in their hands, so they can come up to speed quickly, especially in entry-level jobs.”
Garofalo found his internship to be a tremendous learning experience. “It was my first exposure to the ‘real world,’” he says. “The people who work here and the bank as a whole were so welcoming and accommodating and genuinely excited to have me here to learn and help out.”
Besides learning the fundamentals of the various bank positions during his internship, Garofalo learned about customer service and interpersonal relationships. “Above all else, I remember some very vivid lessons of working with people and the importance of maintaining and fostering relationships with coworkers,” he says.
Kennebec Savings Bank makes sure to hold on to interns who show potential. At the end of each summer, each student is evaluated and the senior leadership team identifies those they’d like to invite to come back next year. At least half return the following summer.
“Many of them return for three and four years,” Silsby says, “and it is rare for us to have a problem with any of the students during their summer employment.”
Each year gives the bank an opportunity to improve the program. Silsby says they’re happy with its success, but he’d like to add at least one more component.
“I would like to start an initiative where we check in with them at intervals throughout the summer,” he says, “such as have lunch together, chat about their experiences and see what plans and opportunities might exist for them going forward.”
William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.