Bank of Montreal Opens Its Checkbook in the Name of Employee Development

Article excerpt

Multimillion-dollar education complex has more than 700 courses, including MBA programs, that 'connect learning to the bank's business strategies'

IN 1995, RYAN MCNALLY had a summer internship at Bank of Montreal Financial Group-more popularly known as BMO. And as far as he knew, that was going to be that. Fresh out of university with an undergraduate degree in history and drama, McNally hardly fit the recruiting profile of a full-time financial services employee.

But the senior-level executives at BMO thought McNally was a keeper. Following four years of intensive training, including the completion of a custom MBA program, McNally is now the regional director of administration at BMO Harris Private Banking, a division of BMO Financial Group that caters specifically to high-net-worth clients.

"It's really noteworthy that the Bank of Montreal hired a summer student from an arts program and then went on to hire him full time because they saw enough potential," McNally says.

Such potential would never have been realized, however, if not for BMO's extensive investment in employee learning and development initiatives. McNally is just one of the more than 8,000 employees annually to receive training at the bank's Institute for Learning, an education complex in suburban Scarborough, Ontario. Both within its walls and virtually via a fiber-optic network, the institute offers more than 700 courses to more than 34,000 employees. These employees receive about six and a half days of training a year-a figure that has tripled since the institute opened in 1993.

Ushering BMO workers along their career trajectories is a high-priced exercise. Over the past 10 years, BMO has invested more than $500 million (CDN) in employee training and development. That's not to mention the $50 million (CDN) construction of the institute, a 13-acre complex encompassing 14 high-tech classrooms, 150 bedrooms to accommodate out-of-town students, a presentation hall seating 400, dining facilities and a gymnasium.

It's a sizable financial outlay on career development that is far from risk-free. In addition to its Canadian presence, BMO is continually bolstering its U.S. subsidiary, Harris Bank, through various acquisitions. These purchases require the retraining of new employees and tailoring course curricula to satisfy local regulations. For years now, Canada's financial power brokers have been pressuring the government to allow national banks to merge, a development that could easily quash BMO's educational endeavors if the company were to be swallowed up by a competitor. And there's no guarantee that a recipient of BMO's extensive training won't march out the door into the arms of another financial institution.

But the advantages of enrolling employees in custom-made courses far outweigh any threat of attrition, says Corey Jack, executive head of the Institute for Learning. That's because unlike the "generic" executive education programs offered by universities, BMO's courses "connect learning to the bank's business strategies," he says. What's more, by sending employees to the institute for training, BMO is helping to reinforce its corporate culture and engender a sense of community among co-workers.

"REAL-TIME RELEVANCY"

BMO offers a wide range of courses. The bank's primary programs include a four-year MBA program in financial services, operated in conjunction with Dalhousie School of Management and the Institute for Canadian Bankers. Managerial leadership training is designed to prepare new managers by enhancing their strategic capabilities. Risk management training, which is offered in partnership with York University's Schulich School of Business, is intended to further develop seasoned risk managers. Project management programs are aimed at instilling change-management expertise.

The programs offer BMO immediate benefits because they deal with realworld issues that the company faces. …