By Michael Bradley
Special to Delaware Business Times
Cindy Brown admits it. When the president of Commonwealth Trust needs new talent, she knows exactly where to look. At her competitors.
Brown said she isn’t necessarily happy to be poaching, but the dearth of new talent in the world of trust management has forced her to look at rivals’ rosters to fill positions at her company.
“We’ve been having a problem in the field,” said Brown, who has been with the Wilmington-based company for just over 11 years. “It’s acute in Delaware and also around the country. There is a shortage of great people in the industry, and we’ve been stealing from each other.”
Within the next three or four years, that problem could well disappear, thanks to a unique partnership between the state’s trust companies and the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics that has resulted in a new academic program designed to cure the shortage of capable — and interested — individuals entering the field. The trust and wealth management minor is set to debut in fall, 2017 as a complement to the college’s Finance and Accounting degrees.
Students will have the chance to choose from 13 courses to develop the skills and experience necessary to be ready to contribute as soon as they join a firm that performs trust work. Thanks to mentor and intern components of the minor, they will gain practical experience and be even more prepared when they enter the field.
“It’s a great way for the trust industry in the state of Delaware to be in partnership with the university to something great for the state and for students,” said Sarah Long, president and CEO of the Delaware Bankers Association.
The concept grew out of discussions 18 months ago designed to address the talent deficit in the trust industry. Brown was named chair of the new trust and wealth management subcommittee within the association, and within six months, a group met with UD representatives to discuss the possibility of a partnership. It didn’t take long for the university to become enthused about the project and to begin the process of creating the program. Once the school’s faculty senate approves the new minor, the Lerner College can move ahead quickly.
“This is 110 percent a win-win,” said Bruce Weber, dean of the Lerner College of Business and Economics. “This isn’t just that we’re happy to do it as a favor. We are investing in it and building something that we wouldn’t have otherwise had. It’s important for the university and the college.
“Thanks to the internship and the mentoring, students [in the program] are going to get advantages other students in different majors and minors won’t be getting. It’s targeted at the student who wants to try out an industry that has great opportunities.”
Delaware will hire a full-time faculty member to run the minor, and it’s possible that person could be from the industry, rather than from the academic world. Though UD faculty will direct the individual courses, members from the trust industry will participate on an advisory board to review the curriculum and provide feedback, according to Brown. They will also serve as guest speakers and could participate in job fairs.
Perhaps the most important parts of the entire effort are the mentoring and internship components. They will allow students to determine if they truly have an interest in the field, and if they do, offer them real experience they can carry with them into the job market. By 2019 or ’20, a flow of young talent should begin to fill holes in companies’ rosters.
“We’re hoping this brings us students from Delaware and across the country,” Long said. “Financial services are important to the state of Delaware, and whatever we can do to make the industry strong is critical.
“It’s great to showcase new and innovative things going on in Delaware,” she said.