training key to ABN AMRO acquisition success
Multinational bank bucks
trends in anchoring acquisiton strategy to centralized training program
"Bankerís hours" arenít what
they used to be. Nor is banking the sleepy industry it once was.
AMRO Bank has been in the news recently with its aggressive program
to change the traditional banking culture. Their acquisition strategy
has made them the largest foreign-owned bank in North America and the
parent to LaSalle National Bank, Cragin Federal, Bell, Comerica and
other well-known institutions. And their proactive policies have thrown
the traditional system of sitting and waiting for business on its ear.
"Weíre going through so much
change," says Judi Davenport, the bankís Director of Training for North
America, "that I think everybody realizes we need to help people through
that change." Itís not enough, she says, to merge new staffs with old
and hope the strongest or smartest will survive. "As people need new
skills and knowledge, we need to be there to give it to them and not
let that happen by chance."
Davenport says that ABN AMRO
is bucking a trend in running its training program centrally. "In many
banks today training is being decentralized into the business units.
Yet there are synergies in having a strong corporate training department.
With separate departments, you have programs overlapping and things
falling through the cracks. We are more economical and serve our clients
better because weíve got all the resources in one place."
Dealing with change
When ABN AMRO makes an acquisition,
management and staff work hard to bring the new employees on board and
make them part of their new parent. As in most successful firms, they
understand that their success is due to their unique way of doing business.
Itís vital that their new coworkers also understand and participate
in their philosophy and systems. "In our retail bank," says Davenport,
"we have gone from, Ďsit and wait for the customer to come iní to Ďget
out there and make business happen.í But when you ask a banker to be
proactive and make appointments...when we expect a branch manager who
has been operationally focused to call on small businesses...when we
ask our commercial bank, our corporate bank, and our other business
units to make equally drastic, fundamental changes...how in the world
can we expect them to succeed if we donít give them formal training?"
In order to cover the gamut
of banking practice, Davenportís department delivers training via
classroom instruction at the bankís Chicago headquarters, field training
at the acquired bankís site, and individualized, computer-based training
at locations across the country. They train, in any given month, anywhere
from 1,300 to over 2,000 people.
"When we acquire a new
bank," says Davenport, "we have to train them on our systems, our
procedures, and our products. For each acquired bank, we do, usually,
six weeks of training, six days a week, with individuals coming in
for two to five days each." In an acquisition, staff set up temporary
training sites at or near the new branch and fly out a complete training
staff plus computers, networks and projection equipment. In addition,
the department offers ongoing staff and management skills training
and new employee orientations. The bank typically will fly managers
in to the training center in Chicago but will send tellers and staff
to a local multimedia training site.
The training facilities
While the department offers
training at any number of locations, Davenport says the classes flow
best at its Chicago headquarters, in a facility designed and built
with the help of United Visual. "Going to a hotel, hauling in the
PCs and trying to get them set up is costly and time consuming. Also,
much of what we do is tied into the systems on our servers and on
our mainframe, and that makes it difficult. Our training center has
all of what we need accessible any time weíre going to do a training
designing the centerís a/v systems, Davenport relied on United Visualís
Doug Carnell, who built a system around a ceiling-mounted Sony data
projector. "The rooms are large and we need to be able to show screens
from the computer and videos in a bigger than life way," says Davenport.
"It was also very important to me that the trainer can stand at one
location and run everything, including the lights, the screen, and
all the audio/visual. Iíve done training where youíre running over
here for lights and over there for the sound, and that can be terrible.
So Doug pulled together a package where everything is controlled from
one piece of equipment."
The multimedia concept
is one that ABN AMRO has also used quite effectively. "We need to
make training accessible to people when and where they need it," says
Davenport. The bank added PC-based systems where people can come in
for individualized instruction. They put them in the training center,
then replicated them in locations across the country. "Our multimedia
training is available in every city where we have people. Where we
donít have labs weíve given people laptops with multimedia programs
loaded on them. Weíre very close to implementing intranet-based systems
to bring training to peopleís desks."
Flexility is a major advantage
of the PC-based systems. "Weíre finding that the multimedia environment
can be much more time effective. If someone needs, for example, some
PC training, they can go to a class for a day, or very often they
can get what they need from the multimedia in two hours. It works
because they can skip what they already know."
Davenport also chose Softboard
PC-based writing boards for two of the new training rooms in Chicago.
"I canít tell you how many times Iíve seen trainers sitting in their
cubes, at their computers, with flip chart pages all over the floor
and the wall, trying to transcribe notes of what went on in a meeting.
Itís a waste of time. With the SoftBoard, you can just collect all
that information while itís being discussed, and then youíve got it
in a computer file."
Davenport says the installation
went very smoothly and professionally. "Dougís a good guy to work
with. He listened and came back with alternatives. He was open, flexible,
and had some good ideas for us. He helped us think of things we hadnít
thought of and was very responsive."
The opportunities to build
the training center and the multimedia sites are among the advantages
of a centralized program. "It was not very difficult to justify, with
the cost of setting things up externally," Davenport says, but the
numbers would be far different with separate, business-unit based
departments. Still, with the speed of the bankís growth and the pressing
needs of her department, the last thing Davenport wanted to worry
about was whether the a/v would work as planned. Having vendors she
can trust, like Carnell and United Visual, are critical to an aggressive
training program like ABN AMROís.