Security Pacific Shuts Program to Train Officers : A Potential Trauma for 30,000 Employees as Bank Revamps Its Operations

Times Staff Writer

Security Pacific National Bank has temporarily shut down its officer training program in a move that signals a speedup of the bank's restructuring plan under recently appointed President Robert H. Smith.

The suspension of the program also is an indication of the potential trauma that Security Pacific's 30,000 employees face as the Los Angeles banking giant revamps its operations. "We are accelerating the rate of change," Smith said in an interview Wednesday. "It calls for (different) roles and expectations. People could become uneasy."

In meetings held around the state Tuesday, about 200 people in Security Pacific's Officer Candidate Program--in which the bank grooms its future branch managers and executives--were told that the program was being shut down. The candidates were given the option of taking clerical or teller jobs at the same $18,000-a-year salary or leaving the bank.

"It's absolutely devastating to our bunch," said one Los Angeles trainee of the 25 other people in her class. "They told us we were the future of the bank. . . . We were excited to be part of this new breed of bankers."

Reputation as the Best

The 9-month-long training program--open to current employees and college graduates--had a reputation as being the best of such bank training academies on the West Coast. One Los Angeles candidate said 175 people applied for the 25 openings in her class, which included 10-year Security Pacific veterans and a recent Princeton graduate.

A San Francisco trainee, one of 90 in Northern California, said: "There are people who have wives and kids and who moved from different states to be out here. They thought they would be moving up."

Smith explained that the training program will be revamped to reflect the bank's new emphasis on marketing and customer service. "The type of management that we will need in the future is different," he said. "There will be less need for credit officers and more need for sales."

Smith said he expects a new version of the training program to get under way by the end of the year. Current trainees will be offered the first shot at re-entering the program, he said.

Trainees, however, will not be the only employees affected by Security Pacific's new emphasis on service. Some branch managers and executives have been asked if they can adapt to the new strategy. Those who can't will be offered other jobs or leave the company.

The bank is centralizing much of the branches' back-office operations--such as processing loan applications and maintaining credit files--to "free the people in the branches to provide a higher level of service," Smith said.

Security Pacific also plans to add more automatic teller machines to its branches and simplify the range of banking products that it offers.

Plans to Change Image

Smith also wants to change the image of bank employees to conform to the company's new strategy. "I want all our tellers to be neat and professional. . . . There will be no more fooling around," he said, alluding to an instance when he walked into a branch on Halloween and saw an employee dressed in a bumble-bee outfit. "It always stuck in my mind."

Describing the new emphasis on service, the May issue of Security Pacific's employee newsletter said Smith and top management "are taking cues from" the tony, service-oriented Nordstrom deparment store chain and from McDonald's, "which drives volume through friendly, fast, consistent service," the newsletter said.

Smith denied rumors that the restructuring will result in mass layoffs or branch closings.

But, said one trainee, "if you're not into sales, then you better get yourself another job."

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