Published On: April 16, 2021By
Training bankers for success - How do associations develop professionals throughout their careers? Listen to this podcast interview with Clare Marsch SVP of Training and Development at American Bankers Association ABA - on The Talented Learning Show with John Leh


How do great associations help members build skills throughout their careers? Listen and learn how ABA is training bankers for success!Continuing education practitioners are a pleasure to interview because they’re often innovative thinkers who are willing to share valuable lessons and ideas. That’s exactly how I would describe my guest, Clare Marsch, Senior Vice President of Training and Development at the American Bankers Association, one of the country’s leading sources of information and guidance on bank management, lending practices and financial regulations, and an expert on training bankers.

Today, we discuss ABA’s extensive professional development offerings – the strategies, systems and processes behind these programs, as well as Clare’s plans to further enhance the learning experience for ABA’s member banks and their employees.



  • Associations are uniquely positioned to shape their industry, even as they prepare individuals for successful careers in that field. Strong professional development programs are driven by this dual purpose.
  • Association members naturally have diverse needs that change throughout their professional lives. Mapping educational content to these realities is essential. But this is a complex, continuous process – especially in highly regulated industries.
  • Continuing education audiences respond well to a personalized approach. But this requires a critical mass of content in multiple forms. It’s also important to choose delivery platforms that are fit-for-purpose, yet work together effectively in a broader ecosystem.



Welcome, Clare. Many people are familiar with the ABA. But for those who aren’t, could you start with a brief introduction?

The ABA – the American Bankers Association – is a membership organization for banks that operate in the US. We represent banks of all sizes, from the very largest to the smallest community banks with only 1 or 2 branches.

We’re based in DC, so advocacy is an important function for us. But we also have a very important professional development mandate, and we provide training for bankers at all levels of experience throughout their careers.

What are your objectives for member education?

One of our main goals is to ensure that there are talented people who are prepared to lead the industry into the future. This means we play a big role in providing basic training to new branch employees who start working as tellers or in other entry-level roles. And then, as they move up through the ranks and choose a career path in the financial services realm, we’re here to help them expand their knowledge, skills and competency.

And compliance training…?

Certainly, compliance training is central for us, and we do train our internal staff. But as an association, our focus is external. And as an extended enterprise education provider, we are here to help our members train their staff and help those professionals expand and improve their skills as they progress through their careers.

So we provide a full spectrum of training for all types of retail banking lending roles. Our programs encompass bank management and risk management, as well as specialty areas like wealth management and trust services. That also includes essential workplace skills and leadership development.

How many roles do you cover, in total?

I would say several dozen – maybe 20 or 25. This includes any roles you may encounter if you walk into your local bank branch. It also extends to all the management roles behind those frontline positions, as well as a variety of specialized financial functions.

The scope sounds massive…

Well, there are nearly 6,000 banks in the US, and most of those institutions are with us. So our learning management system supports 4,000 banks with separate domains – many of them with each bank’s unique branding. This means that even a small bank can offer learning that looks like it’s available through their own internal LMS.

Additionally, we deliver to large banks with their own LMS. For them, we developed what we call a content hub, where they download our courses and deploy them to their own robust internal learning systems. So, as you can imagine, we deliver content to almost every type of LMS available.

Wow. How many learners does the ABA reach overall?

Approximately 215,000 users are on our instance of our learning management system. So it’s very robust and very highly utilized.

To give you a better sense of that, our key performance indicators are registrations and completions. And on an annual basis, we have about 3.5 million registrations and just under 3 million completions.

So we’re delighted that we’re able to serve that many bankers with essential training and professional development.

Impressive! So what does training look like at the ABA?

Our training is not all online. Live events represent a large proportion of our business. We produce a number of professional conferences each year. Plus, we operate residential schools – particularly for bigger banks – where we work in-house to personalize training specifically for each organization. But during the past year, they’ve all gone virtual.

We are fortunate that we already had a very robust online training business in place, so we could leverage technologies and skills from the online side of the house to help facilitate a transition to virtual conferences and virtual schools.

Of course, we’re still in the midst of this transition. But a very large percentage of our business comes from online training, and we provide that either through self-paced courses or facilitated online workshops.

And how do you package training opportunities for individual professionals?

We offer education in a variety of forms. Because much of our training is designed to promote people through their careers, our certifications are an endpoint. Many knowledge-based certificate programs cover specific topics, but they also lead to an industry designation, so ultimately, you can add that certification to your business card.

Of course, that’s a much longer journey. So our training is designed to help people prepare over time in the way that works best for them – either in person, online, at a conference or through a combination of learning experiences.

I see. So tell me a bit more about your certifications…

Well, the most widespread is the CRCM, Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager. And the fastest-growing one is the CERP, Certified Enterprise Risk Professional.

But we also offer other interesting designations like the CFMP, Certified Financial Marketing Professional, and CTFA, Certified Trust and Financial Advisor, which is a very popular specialty area in the Wealth Management and Trust Advisory space.

And for a popular certification like the CRCM, what kind of time commitment is required? Does it take months or even years to earn?

Yes, most of our certifications require a minimum of two years, because people need enough time to learn the material, and also apply what they’re learning. For example, as a chief compliance officer, the number of regulations you need to know in-depth is astonishing.

There is a library of 40 core regulations, and you must have a working knowledge of each. Plus, you need to understand related guidance from all of the regulating agencies. These are not specific regulations, but bank examiners expect you to comply with this guidance.

No doubt…

So you need to learn the letter of the law, as well as how to apply it. You need to be prepared to set up operational structures in your bank to ensure that client-facing staff follow regulations and manage data effectively to prevent fraudulent financial activity.

So for each ABA certification, have you developed a skill and competency model that bankers can follow throughout their careers?

Absolutely, yes. Excellent question.

We tell ourselves that we’re by bankers for bankers. So all of our training is based on ongoing input from practitioners. Not just our certifications – but all of the training that leads to it.


We’ve established bank advisory boards for each specialty and we meet with them regularly. We talk to people in each role, asking them to tell us what they do when they perform specific functions. And then we map this to competency models, listing knowledge areas by tier. In other words, we walk through what you need to do most often, second-most often and least often.

Over the last few years, many of our certifications have been upgraded to focus on this kind of real-life application. So it’s not just about knowing all of the content, but what you actually do with that knowledge.

Bankers need a number of years to encounter all the appropriate use cases. They need time to put all of the knowledge they’ve accumulated into action, so they’ll have enough experience to be successful when they earn a certification.

Interesting. So for professionals involved with multiple specialties, how do skill and competency standards apply?

We generally try to personalize. For example, we just revised our curriculum for wealth advisors. And because the industry is changing, many areas that weren’t even on the radar 10 years ago are now very much in focus.

In the past, our training materials didn’t include relationship management skills like emotional intelligence, generational awareness, cross-cultural communication and sustainable investment.

But now those skills are integral – not just for wealth advisors, but for bankers in every role. So we’ve added them to other programs, as well.

And beyond certifications and certificates, do you offer smaller, more specific training? For example, topical on-demand videos?

Yes. It runs the gamut. We have small microlearning courses. A lot of our communication skills courses are available in that format. For example, one of our recent initiatives is to produce what we call “training shorts.” That’s our term for what many of your listeners may know as performance support.


And because the online platform is so accessible, it’s an excellent distribution channel for quick 10 or 15-minute “how to” videos. We’re building this content because it tends to be very popular and relevant today.

For instance, say you need to fill out a loan application for a client, but can’t recall instructions for completing several data fields. A quick training short can refresh your memory.

Or what if you’re a wealth advisor whose client is wondering how to adjust financially after a life event? A training short can help you prepare for that client interview.

Makes sense. What kind of media do you use for these videos?

All different kinds, depending on the audience and the need. For example, we have a library for bank directors. Usually, they need only a brief overview rather than deep details. They aren’t going to sit through an e-learning course. Instead, a brief video is likely to be most appropriate.

But our content is all over the board. I’m even a big fan of printable resources. Most of our courses include downloadable resources, for those who find them helpful. Some people don’t want to log-in online to prepare for a client interview or coach an employee. Instead, they can keep a printed version of the key points on hand, and put it to work whenever they wish.

Do you work with subject matter experts to continuously develop these resources?

One of the benefits of ABA membership is access to authoritative regulatory interpretation and guidance. We work hand-in-glove with legislators as laws are being written, so we’re able to interpret those laws for the industry.

We have a staff of attorneys and they are our primary subject matter experts for compliance training. We also rely on experienced bankers who volunteer, as well as faculty from our schools and representatives from our advisory groups. It’s a massive undertaking, with different people contributing in different areas.

So you have many moving pieces – certifications, e-learning, virtual events, short videos and more. You use one LMS for core training. Do you rely on various point solutions for other purposes, as part of a broader ecosystem…?



About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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