Public sector banks roll out the red carpet for MBAs

When he took over as the chairman of Union Bank, M V Nair was one of the youngest entrants to the corner office of a public sector bank. So it’s natural that Nair didn’t think twice before rewriting the rules of the recruitment game for his bank.
In his hunt for talent from the Indian Institutes of Management, Nair offered a 12-year fast-forward for young graduates – direct appointment as a Scale III officer (at Rs 500,000 plus other substantial benefits). That’s a game-changer for public sector banks which tend to set great store by seniority to move up the corporate ladder.

The other option was a three-year contract with annual market-linked salaries of Rs 900,000. Most of the 60-odd MBAs opted for the first option at a time when job stability was the key. In fact, Union Bank was the largest public sector bank recruiter from IIMs in the last season. That was the signal public sector banks gave MBAs to make them feel that they are a class apart from other generalists who join as probationary officers.

There is of course a differentiation within B-Schools. Typically, those from the IIMs, Xavier Labour Relations Institute and Indian School of Business joined at Scale III, but graduates from other B-schools were recruited in Scale II.

But compensation was just the first entry point for these MBAs. Mentoring – a hitherto alien concept in public sector banks – was the second.

Most public sector banks have asked senior bank executives to take on the role of mentoring to guide the MBAs during the first year.

A public sector bank executive says existing managers also had to be mentally conditioned to deal with the B-School graduates. “Their expectations might be different, so they needed to be handled differently,” he says.

The biggest challenge was, of course, the cultural gap. A mentor recalls how a recently-hired B-school graduate was reluctant to send Diwali greetings to key customers on behalf of the chairman. The mentor had to use his best persuasive skills to convince the employee that it was a vital part of the job and egos shouldn’t come in the way.

“They are brilliant, but they can also be ivory tower theoreticians. A mentor with the right kind of experience and knowledge can help the kids come down to earth,” a public sector bank chief says.

In order to make them feel special – HR experts refer to the practice as ego massage – several of these banks are also organising exclusive sessions with the chairmen. The job profile also differs from the generalists – the jobs offered to most management graduates need specialised skills such as risk management and treasury. This means they would not have to spend time at branches, which most probationary officers do.

A bank chief said the training module for the B-school graduates was also different though they also spend time at the in-house training academies. “They attended a two-week induction programme to understand their likes and dislikes, hobbies, and other personal aspects. We also take their view on the areas in which they want to work and allocate those departments to them,” said an executive at Bank of Baroda [ Get Quote ], which has hired 300 management graduates, including 18 from the IIMs.

The biggest carrot, of course, is the promise of a turbo-charged career. The MBAs stand a much better chance of rising to the top than probationary officer by virtue of their entry at Scale III. An ordinary probationary officer would take 10 to 12 years to reach that level.

But the jury is still out on whether the special treatment to the youngsters would work at a time when the job market is showing signs of opening up. A senior bank executive says the canteen conversation of the MBAs, specially from the premier schools, is generally over the next job opportunity.

But most public sector bankers think a 20 to 30 per cent attrition rate shouldn’t be that big a problem (it’s in single digits now). “We understand that some of them will leave us in two or three years. But even the short stint will help us learn,” said the HR head of a public sector bank.

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