August 28, 2017
Focus: Banking & Finance

CT bankers’ finance/management school trains future leaders

PHOTO | Sandy Aldieri, Perceptions Photography
PHOTO | Sandy Aldieri, Perceptions Photography
Members of the 2017 graduating class of the Connecticut School of Finance & Management pose for a photo earlier this year. The school’s graduates, of which there are 50 to 60 annually, range from junior-level employees to top executives in the C-suite.
PHOTO | Sandy Aldieri, Perceptions Photography
L. Robert Toffey, education coordinator for the Connecticut Bankers Association, addresses recent graduates of the CBA’s finance school.
Cheryl Calderado, senior vice president of human resources and training, Dime Bank

An MBA can get you far in certain careers, but if banking is the path you want to take, Connecticut has a school that offers something much more specialized.

L. Robert Toffey, the education coordinator of the Connecticut Bankers Association (CBA), said the Connecticut School of Finance & Management (CSFM) is unique in that it focuses solely on banking and bank management topics.

Higher education can offer MBAs and degrees in finance and economics, but not this type of knowledge, he says.

"You could get a degree in finance, but there's no banking degree," Toffey says of classes at the CSFM, run by the CBA.

Since the program began in 1962, there have been more than 2,400 students who have completed the program, which is intended for junior and mid-level management personnel and other key bank employees.

The topics include general banking theory, economics, general finance and balance sheet management, investment and loan analysis, banking history and law, and more.

"We try to touch on as many topics as we can in our two years so that we can give them the maximum amount of exposure to all the different management skills that they will need to be successful throughout their careers," Toffey said. "The goal is to prepare them for a greater level of responsibility at their respective banks in the future."

The CSFM program is not accredited, so time spent in it will not necessarily transfer to a formal undergraduate degree. But Toffey says the program has been a "staple in the Connecticut banking community for 55 years." Banks cover tuition costs for employees to attend.

"Often times, CSFM acts as an integral part of a bank's overall employee growth program, regardless of any additional formal or informal education they may have," he said.

Toffey said in the last five years he has seen a greater number of students with advanced degrees — master's degrees and MBAs — in the program. He says that tells him "it is still an important aspect to helping cultivate the best and most well-rounded bankers possible."

Cheryl Calderado, who is senior vice president of human resources and training for Dime Bank in Norwich, says that many graduates of the program hold senior management, or even C-level positions.

Calderado, who serves as the current chairman of the committee that oversees the CSFM, attended the program herself, from 1991 to 1993.

She said the schooling is relevant because students are focused on the challenges of the events they are dealing with — economic, political, regulatory — and they are studying the materials with a focus on their own bank's financials.

"They typically come into the program with banking backgrounds in a specific area of expertise within banking — branch management, lending, operations, marketing, etc. They leave the program with a broad understanding of the industry and how to effectively manage the bank as a whole," Calderado said. "It provides them with the knowledge and tools to better understand why decisions are made, and the impact that every decision has on the organization's balance sheet or income statement."

Calderado said that because students are studying their own financials, they automatically have "real-life, real-time examples" of the challenges that face CEOs and senior managers.

Calderado says that banking is an industry that has seen significant and rapid change — from economics, to regulatory and compliance burdens, to changing consumer habits, and risks. "We need employees who are prepared to adapt, and adapt quickly, and to understand the implications of their decisions," she says.

Toffey said that those enrolled in the program can vary from assistant branch managers to vice presidents and can be from any area of the bank, including finance, human resources, education, retail and commercial banking. "These students are still considered junior in their careers but ultimately, each bank takes it upon themselves to send those individuals they feel will get the most out of the experience and employees that they have targeted to possibly have a greater role within the bank in the near to mid future," Toffey said.

Program’s evolution

Toffey said the school originally began as a one-year program, where students would meet for a few hours each week after work. In 1986, the program schedule was modified, and since then students meet one or two days a month over a two-year period.

"What makes it such a good investment from the bank's as well as the student's perspective is that it is an exceptionally thorough program, lasting over two years and roughly 150 hours of instruction covering a myriad of banking departments and topics," Toffey said.

The instruction is provided by senior executives actively employed at banks along with senior professionals who are involved in the banking industry in any number of different facets, Toffey said.

Toffey said the first year of the program ends with a research project that tests knowledge of everything students have learned up to that point. The second year ends with a three-day simulation program, where the class is broken into smaller groups, each acting as a "management team," he says. "With the help of advisors, each team must run a fictitious institution over that time period, where they are exposed to management decisions, personnel models, balance sheet management and more, all to bring the two-year program and everything they have learned full circle."

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