Supercharging the Banking Industry, Fulfilling the Dreams of Underserved Youth

Supercharging the Banking Industry, Fulfilling the Dreams of Underserved Youth

Mark Dederer, Executive Director, The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation

Editor’s Note: Last Month, the BankWork$ program was featured in The Seattle Times. The program was established in 2006 in Los Angeles, and brought to Seattle in 2011. It is the brainchild of former banking executive Les Biller, who continues to fund and sponsor the program in partnership with his wife through the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation. Mark Dederer is Executive Director of the foundation and a board member of Philanthropy Northwest.

Many industries struggle with bringing in diverse and young talent into their pipeline, and there is no magic bullet. With more than a decade helping young job-seekers develop banking and financial careers at BankWork$, we have been able to create a solid curriculum and training program -- and build a sustainable road for young people to enter the banking world.   

As we continue to grow BankWork$, I wanted to share some of our best learning gems on workforce development.

1. Identify a need and fill it

When the Biller Family Foundation began thinking about BankWork$ as a program to launch careers, Les Biller saw there were several workforce development programs and financial literacy classes, but nothing that specifically focused on banking practices and the opportunities  for individuals to access careers in the industry. We set out to talk to banks about their barriers to hiring people from underserved communities, leading to the BankWork$  program as a tangible solution.

2. Make it win-win for everyone

Banks want individuals who come from different backgrounds and are able to bring their diverse experiences to the table, including an understanding of the community they serve. Diversity in our sector brings untold value. All those who are just starting out or have had breaks in job history need access to meaningful career paths, and BankWork$ is able to provide that entry point and training for them. By making these connections, in turn, everybody wins.

3. Establish strategic partnerships

We partner with both large and small banks and non-profit organizations in cities across the country. One example is YWCA in Seattle, an organization that serves to empower women and provide equal access to opportunities. Our missions were aligned and we were able to partner with them in order to launch the BankWork$ program into  a thriving partnership. We also continue to leverage financial instituations as funders to support BankWorks$ that will allow them access to very qualified candidates for long term careers in banking. BankWork$ is currently in 11 cities across the country with 2-3 more planned launches in 2018.

4. Be a creator

Our foundation has been very active in the conception, funding, and evolution of the program. As we’ve expanded the program to different cities, we’ve helped build the capacity of anchor nonprofit organizations to take the lead on this training and this movement. We’re serious about transforming the industry and their respective communities at local and regional level too.

5. Build on existing systems to change the lives of individuals, families, and communities

If you see success, build off of that. We recently began CareerWork$ Medical. Similar to BankWork$, this initiative trains individuals in the healthcare industry. There are endless opportunities for these students that in turn benefit their families and their communities. The numbers continue to illustrate the success of those who complete the program.

In the end, it is about giving young people access to the American dream. After successfully completing the program and obtaining a job, one graduate said, “ children and I are finally safe, free and happy.” To give young banking leaders and their families safety, freedom, and happiness is what fuels me and what fuels others in this movement. 

In August 2017, the Philanthropy Northwest blog highlighted Gonzalo Aquilar's experiences and triumphs in the BankWork$ Program. To learn more, please visit or contact Mark Dederer directly.