Clare Marsch is senior vice president of training and development at the American Bankers Association (ABA). Throughout her career, she’s been involved in developing training and learning programs for customers, members, and clients across a wide range of industries and in a variety of formats.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Jeff Cobb talks with Clare about her role in leading learning for ABA, credentialing, and workforce development. They discuss the evolution of learning, the extended reach that virtual provides, and how to carry that benefit forward post-pandemic. They also talk about how to take calculated risks and innovate in smart, measured ways.
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[00:00] – Intro
Leading Learning at American Bankers Association
[01:37] – Can you tell us about the work that the American Bankers Association does and your role at ABA?
ABA is a membership organization with a very large professional development and training component. They host dozens of conferences and “schools” throughout the year around various aspects of banking and financial services. Clare oversees the training programs themselves, which includes anything that’s online or in-bank, excluding live events.
[02:53] – Can you tell us a little bit more about the “schools” that you mentioned?
In the banking industry, there are deep specializations for areas like compliance management and risk management. Wealth managers and trust advisors have specific, deep skills. ABA’s schools used to be in-person but, with COVID, they became virtualized. The schools will stay online, at least as a hybrid solution, because the virtual access was a very popular choice for their bankers.
[04:06] – Are there aspects of your audience or characteristics of bankers that make them special in terms of the types of lifelong learning experiences and training they need?
In banking, there are deep levels of expertise needed for a wide variety of areas, so there is a thirst for ongoing professional development. ABA has arranged its training programs to address the life cycle of moving from an entry-level position to a more professional role in various areas of banking.
[05:40] – Is part of ABA’s role helping people entering the banking profession understand the possibilities and pathways and then providing the support structure to go along with whatever specialization they choose in banking?
Yes, and it’s become more important in recent years because young professionals are less likely to think of the banking industry as a career path after the financial crisis a dozen years ago. Banking got a bad reputation, but now it’s actually a wonderful place to work because of the variety of options.
The fundamentals are to understand the world of banking, the role that banking and financial services play in our economy, the contributions it makes to communities, and the different skill sets and aptitudes individuals bring. There’s a place for everybody in the banking industry, Clare says.
ABA partners with community colleges and schools to get the word out and to be part of their career development programs. ABA plays a role in placing interns, often in collaboration with state banking associations.
COVID’s Impact on ABA
[07:08] – What are some of the biggest impacts of the pandemic on ABA and the bankers it serves with training and learning opportunities?
Along with the rest of the world, ABA had to virtualize everything when COVID hit. ABA was fortunate because the association already had strong online learning capabilities in place, so they were able to pivot quite quickly. The schools they deliver never missed a beat, just shifted online.
ABA looked carefully at the schedule for the schools and broke the content up more and spread it over a longer period of time, less per day, to acknowledge the challenges of living, working, and learning from home.
[I]t turned out to be very successful. We learned a lot that was actually more impactful than in-person, and we’re not going to let that go. We’re going to persist with some of the benefits of a distributed learning program in a hybrid model moving forward.Clare Marsch
[08:27] – Do you feel your audience has been receptive to online learning? Do learners even potentially prefer it at this point, or are they eager for face-to-face to resume?
ABA’s learners are eager to go back to face-to-face because people like collaborating with each other and building relationships. But ABA reached a wider audience with virtual options, so they don’t want to lose online education going forward.
Not everybody has the budget to travel, or they can’t be away from home for long, so some people prefer the online option. Still, there will always be a place for in-person, particularly at the leadership level.
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The Evolving Role of Credentials
[11:27] – ABA offers a number of certifications and designations, as well as other credentials. How have you seen the role of credentialing evolve, particularly over the last decade or so with such growth in the global economy?
Credentialing has become more and more important, and it’s generational as well.
We have a new generation in the workplace that really wants to direct their own learning. They want to create their own learning path. They want to figure out where they want to go, and it’s great.Clare Marsch
ABA started with suites of courses in certain topic areas. They started to build certificate programs in a specialized area that were stairsteps to expanding knowledge and preparing for an industry certification. Even some areas they didn’t think would require a certificate became a growing need, and they had to quickly develop capacity to meet the demand.
There’s a thirst for knowledge in new areas. ABA has responded by providing more programs that have an endpoint—especially those that can add up to a larger certification.
Microcredentials and Digital Badging
[13:14] – Do you offer microcredentials or digital badging?
They haven’t yet offered digital badges complete with metadata, but they are definitely exploring the option. The challenge has been how to effectively disseminate the badges. Although there are systems that help with the dissemination, it can be cost-prohibitive if you have a large audience to reach. In the meantime, ABA is doing a lot with credentials people can post on their own social media. However, those credentials are not linked into a database, and ABA would love to add that piece.
[13:50] – With all of ABA’s different specializations and credentials, it must be complex to establish and maintain the underlying bodies of knowledge and competency models. Can you talk about how ABA deals with this challenge?
Clare says ABA is fortunate. The engine of its knowledge is its members, and ABA relies on a large network of advisory boards for each competency area. ABA uses its own membership as their subject matter experts, and those members develop their own skills in the process. ABA also has some cross-competency area advisory boards.
ABA has a professional development council and representation from banks of all sizes. They meet regularly, poll them, and asks what’s on the horizon as well as what’s falling off in importance. ABA also has working groups specifically around the certifications that meet regularly. They look at the domains, tasks within each domain, and how professionals applye their knowledge on the job.
Career and Workforce Development
[16:00] – How do you interface with the banking industry for career and workforce development? How do you work to make sure that the talent that’s needed in 2030 or 2050 will be there?
There are a couple of different levels. ABA leverages their working groups, but they add learning professionals and performance consultants to those conversations to help translate the information into an effective learning format. Then ABA has skilled instructional designers build their training programs.
ABA’s advisory boards, including the professional development council, are made up of both professionals in certain banking areas and training professionals in the banking industry. ABA taps the expertise of those training professionals because they know what roles are hard to fill, which are changing, and what to focus on.
ABA also has relationships with a number of colleges, universities, and educational organizations that are focused on specific communities to help cultivate knowledge of the banking industry and to promote banking as a career choice.
We are trying to spread the net broadly and not just only serve those already in it that are looking to professionalize but to seed the market for future bankers. That is a very big concern. There is a huge…talent shortage, and there’s so much choice for people who are entering the job market…. They’re no longer even bound by location with all of the remote work options.Clare Marsch
Selling Learning Programs
[18:59] – Does ABA sell on both a B2C basis and a B2B basis?
ABA does sell to banks (B2B0, and it also has an online purchase option for individuals (B2C) or banks that aren’t members. ABA has relationship management teams that promotes ABA’s learning programs. The banks usually negotiate for a license of access to some or all of the programs ABA has, depending on what that bank offers and needs.
ABA relies on the relationships it has developed to let bank customers know what’s new, what can be customized, and what they can bring in-house. ABA has a robust set of offerings, including online options.
The Evolving Learning E-learning Industry
[21:12] – What drew you into the learning world and specifically e-learning? And how have you seen it evolve?
Clare was at DigitalThink when e-learning started up, and the mode fascinated her.
I think why I’m still in the e-learning industry or the learning industry is because it is ever-evolving. As technologies allow us new ways of reaching people more effectively, we’re able to take advantage of that. And, also, you learn a lot when you’re in the learning industry across many industries. It’s just interesting to see what makes up people’s careers and then helping them get better at it. So the changes…come at a faster pace than they used to, but there’s always been evolution.Clare Marsch
Clare says DigitalThink was a pioneer. It offered the first hosted learning management system (LMS), and now everything is cloud-based. DigitalThink also offered tutoring services embedded in their courses. Today, we know that approach as blended learning, and it is a strong and positive instructional technique that we’re seeing more of.
[23:39] – What things going on right now have you most excited, whether tech innovations or the evolution in how we think about learning in general?
Clare points out that the peer collaboration has taken a new place. People like to get together, brainstorm, and ask questions, especially in terms of applying what they learned to their bank or interactions with a customer. Peer collaboration is great way to take knowledge-based training, which you can do by yourself, and work with others to see how you’ll make it come to life on the job.
What also excites Clare are the options available to learners. They can choose to attend a live streaming event, or, if something comes up, they can go access it on-demand at a time that’s more convenient to them. Those options have created an appetite for learning more about everything, and it’s satisfying to put very useful information at people’s fingertips.
Learning in the flow of work is trendy, but it’s not easy for an organization to implement. The organization has to keep lots of little bits of knowledge in a place that’s easily accessible. It’s a great challenge, and Clare loves to think of new ways to build that accessibility into a learning pathway. That keeps her enthusiastic about the next phase of learning.
Advice for Learning Businesses
[25:24] – What lessons learned or advice from your experience would you share with organizations that are in this business of continuing education, professional development, and lifelong learning?
Core to the success of any learning program is knowing your audience. As audiences change and evolve, you have to keep a keen eye on making sure that the way you used to do things isn’t carried forward into a time when it’s not what the audience wants anymore. Always listen carefully. Get a lot of customer feedback on what’s selling and what people are using. See how learners rate courses, and look at that on a regular basis so you can make course corrections.
Innovation is risky. You have to try something new, and you don’t know if it’s going to succeed. So start small. Pilot something with a specific audience or a specific smaller bit of topic, and see what the reaction is. And, if it’s good, then build it out…. It takes a little bit of courage, but, if you do it in small initiatives, then, if it fails, you fail small. You don’t fail big…. [D]on’t be afraid of taking that next step. Just do it in a measured way.Clare Marsch
[27:19] – Wrap-up
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