When PCSB Bank embraced touchless technology during the worst of the pandemic, Joseph Roberto, president and CEO, had to make sure everyone on his team was up to speed. “It was a challenge in the banking industry to service our customers with the minimal personal contact that was available because of COVID and quarantine issues,” says Roberto, whose community bank, based in Yorktown Heights, has branches throughout the lower Hudson Valley. “It was quite an experience. We needed to have our entire branch staff be literate in working with customers to get them to use the technology to do the banking on their iPhone or laptop.”
Fortunately, the team was able to pull it off successfully, even when working with customers who had not grown up with technology and weren’t accustomed to using it. “Some of our branch managers visited the customer through the door and worked them through the process of doing their banking online,” Roberto says.
One factor that put the bank in good stead was its arrangement with Mercy College to recruit interns over the summer for the past five to six years. The bank usually brings on five to 10 summer interns to work in the retail, finance, and IT sides of the business, says Roberto. Some interns later come on board in regular jobs. Most, he says, are tech savvy.
PCSB is one of a number of financial services and fintech firms in Westchester that are realizing how important workforce development is to their future. In an era when many people are conducting transactions on Zelle and Venmo and a mortgage application can be completed on an iPhone, they recognize that even smaller organizations have the potential to develop new products that give them an edge, as long as they have the right talent on board. “Banks are really embracing technology for their customer base,” says Roberto.
Many employers in financial services and fintech fields have focused on workforce development, building networks in the community that will allow them to recruit and train employees who have the tech skills they need to stay on top of technology trends. To attract its interns, PCSB, for instance, offers a tuition reimbursement program. “It’s worth it for us,” says Roberto. “They usually end up staying with the bank. We promote from within.”
Fintech is one of four sectors that Westchester County is prioritizing in the Westchester County Economic Development Strategy, Recovery and Implementation Plan, which Westchester County Executive George Latimer released last summer. The others are advanced manufacturing, bioscience, and clean energy.
One major reason for the interest: the sector creates the types of well-paying jobs that are necessary to keep pace with the cost of living in the region. A recent report by the New York State Department of Labor counted businesses involved in “financial activities,” such as credit intermediation and insurance carriers, as one of 19 “significant” industries in the region, based on rapid and substantial growth, the prevalence of wages above the regional average of $60,700, or strong expected growth through 2026. There were 22,600 businesses in the sector that paid more than $2.6 billion in wages in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available. The report pointed to the presence of employers such as MasterCard.
“[Tuition reimbursement] is worth it for us. They usually end up staying with the bank. We promote from within.”
—Joseph Roberto, President and CEO, PCSB Bank
In hot demand in the sector are programmers, blockchain developers, and cybersecurity professionals. These are high-paying jobs. An entry-level software developer can command $97,250, while a junior-level network security administrator can make $98,500, according to research by Robert Half Technology, a recruitment firm.
The county is home to innovative financial institutions, such as Signature Bank, that rely on this type of talent. The bank, which has branches in New Rochelle and White Plains, runs a 12-month program called the Management Associate Commercial Banking Program to attract team members. The bank made the Forbes Blockchain 50 list for 2021 after introducing a digital currency, Signet, for its commercial clients to use for real-time payments in early 2019. The Signet platform relies on blockchain technology, allowing U.S. clients to make payments 24 hours a day. Signature Bank, which is publicly traded on Nasdaq, has also been a leader in accepting cryptocurrency deposits.
Much of the growth in new fintech jobs in the U.S. is driven by startups. Recognizing this, Element 46, the county’s incubator program, announced in early March that it is recruiting scalable startups that are ready for growth for its third cohort. The Element 46 program is focused on supporting ventures in fintech, as well as digital health, advanced manufacturing, and clean energy. The startups will be matched with mentors who are leaders in industries such as finance, technology, business strategy, venture capital, and marketing. They will also get access to attorneys, accountants, and other service providers.
With the demand for cybersecurity professionals outstripping supply, there are initiatives to create a pipeline of talent in the county, as well. MasterCard, headquartered in Purchase, is now part of a public-private partnership called the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative, to provide students with opportunities to work for federal agencies for two years in exchange for up to $75,000 of student-loan forgiveness. After the two years, they will be invited to apply for positions with the private-sector partner companies and be eligible for the student-loan forgiveness. The goal of the program is to help the nation develop a world-class cybersecurity workforce.
Developing more robust childcare in the county will also be important for workforce development in financial services and fintech. In the Business Council of Westchester’s “Westchester Economic Recovery Task Force” report on the county’s reemergence from the pandemic, business leaders’ recommendations on reviving the financial sector mentioned their concern about shoring up services for parents as the county emerges from the pandemic, as well as the need for better transportation. “We are identifying potential challenges with our teams’ ability to work full time due to childcare commitments, transportation, personal health concerns, and possible other issues,” the report noted. Given all of the competition for talent in financial services and fintech, employers know that creating a welcoming environment for workers in the county is critical to developing a great team and holding on to it.