By GSBC President Michael Stevens

The rising third year students at the Graduate School of Banking at Colorado (GSBC) customize a project to study a strategic issue facing their institution. The process asks them to engage with senior leaders in the bank, study an issue and develop recommendations for management’s consideration. Each student is supported by an “advisor” from our alumni or faculty. The advisor’s role is to provide expertise, guidance and critical thought during the development of student’s final report.

With 147 community bankers and regulators from across the country submitting strategic topics, it provides a valuable perspective on the strategic thoughts of the industry.

The top categories five strategic topics include:

  1. Talent Management and Succession

  2. Small Business Lending

  3. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

  4. Market Expansion

  5. Opportunities With Fintechs


Talent Management and Succession

There were several projects that addressed a handful of officers who would be retiring over the next several years without a formal plan. This is very important work and critical to the survival of community banks. Projects were also looking at employee retention and development to ensure they were bringing along their future leaders, because there is probably nothing worse than thinking you have plenty of successor options only to find they all are leaving.

Small Business Lending

Multiple projects focused on small business lending while addressing the pros and cons of expanding this service. After all the pain and suffering of PPP during the pandemic, there is a lot of pride in the industry for how they served not only their own customers, but others as well. It may have many banks thinking about their posture in this space. Let’s face it, small businesses are led by interesting people doing interesting things—and they are your neighbors.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)

The goal of these projects is quite simple: for community banks to improve by achieving greater diversity in staffing and in the clients they serve.

Here are some examples: Three students from the same bank are teaming up to help the bank “fulfill its slogan on diversity.” Another student framed the project as, “creating a culture of accountability for diversity, equity and inclusion.” There are positive things happening in the DEI space in community banks.

Market Expansion

There is a lot of activity in this space. There are projects to identify which markets to expand into, how to identify acquisition targets and how to merge operations and improve processes post-expansion. Finally, some projects seek to work through the cultural issues of a merger, or just an organization that has grown and changed.

Opportunities With FinTechs

It is not surprising that banks are evaluating products and services they can offer to their customers through a fintech company. There are also opportunities for how this technology can bring efficiencies to operations.

There is a pretty good mix of topics in this space. There is the broad approach to evaluating the overall impact of fintechs on the industry, including the strategic approach to developing a plan for adopting solutions. There is also the weighing of pros and cons of expansion through fintech vs. traditional M&A. Finally, some are taking the efficiency approach of improving the cost of operations.

There are a host of other topics specific to the needs of the bank. A few students are tackling virtual currency and blockchain. Climate risk management made the list this year, which undoubtedly will increase in the future.

GSBC students have the opportunity to make significant impacts on their institutions and the industry overall.

They are not just the community banking industry’s future leaders—they are leaders today.