When Colton Downing walked into his first day as a universal banker at the TS Bank on Madison Avenue in Council Bluffs, he saw a familiar face: former Thomas Jefferson High School classmate Steve Ruby.
Along with spending three years of high school together, the pair are both alums of the TS Bank Jacket in-school branch at T.J.
Started in 2011, the branch offers a chance for a group of high schoolers to work in the banking industry, while their classmates get used to making deposits and withdrawals as clients.
Over those seven school years 35 students have served as student bankers. Four of them currently work full-time for TS Bank.
“I was intimidated by banking at first,” TS Bank West Broadway Branch Manager Riley Lemke said, remembering his freshman year. “But they were so welcoming, and having students as workers made you feel more invited. What they did is help students realize banking is not intimidating, scary. That made me interested to be a part of it.”
High school seniors must be enrolled in the career-focused DECA program to work at the branch.
To participate, students go through a series of interviews with TS Bank Learning and Development Manager Jackie Raymond, TS Institute Director Kyle Osborne and others. Once hired, they participate in orientation onboarding and are trained on various branch functions, while also setting team and individual goals. There’s a daily financial literacy curriculum as well that includes budgeting, understanding credit and lending, post-high school plans and more.
The bank is one of many in-school banks with student bankers, part of TS Bank’s financial literacy commitment through its nonprofit arm TS Institute.
“Here is a bank being placed in a school that not only gives students an opportunity to get a full introduction to the banking industry on their terms in their territory by their peers, but it also opens a new path for the students who work there – students who sometimes had no idea what would come next for them,” Raymond said. “There’s so much opportunity to shape and inspire a life right inside those four walls.”
The branch obtained a banking charter in 2012, moving from a bank that could only take deposits to one where high school students can conduct other transactions. It’s the only chartered location in TS Bank’s group of in-school banks.
At least five former Jacket branch bankers are working in banking, one at U.S. Bank and the four with TS Bank - including a pair that started just days after graduation.
Lemke works at West Broadway with Universal Banker Wayne Wakehouse, while Downing and Ruby work together at the Madison Avenue Hy-Vee location. Wakehouse, Lemke and Downing graduated in 2015 after working at the Jacket Branch during the 2014-15 school year. Ruby worked the Jacket Branch the year before and graduated in 2014.
Wakehouse said he knew the Jacket Branch student employees, and also knew the manager of the West Broadway branch.
“Knowing everyone here made me feel welcome,” he said. “I didn’t hesitate when Mrs. (Deb) Goodman said I should do it senior year.”
“We knew quite a few people working in the school branch,” Lemke added. “They all said great things about it. They made it something you want to be a part of.”
“It’s what all the cool kids were doing” Wakehouse joked.
The former Jacket Branch students credited Goodman, longtime DECA teacher at T.J., for her guidance.
“She really helped students figure out what they do,” Lemke said of the now-retired teacher.
Downing said he joined the Jacket Branch to learn more about finances.
“I also saw it as an opportunity as a chance for advancement, to get more professional experience to set myself up for later in life,” he said. “And I like helping people. If I could do that all in one swing, the better.”
Ruby said he wanted to get something more out of DECA “than just going to class every day.”
“At the time I was looking at this career field. In banking there are so many opportunities to branch out in,” Ruby said. “The Jacket Branch was a chance for a head start, get some experience and see if it’s something I wanted to do long-term.”
The former Jacket Branch members talked about learning about banking regulations, how the financial industry works and the importance of planning for retirement, among many topics. They learned there is more to banking than checkings and savings accounts – investments, loans, trusts and more.
“You learned that you can help get people on the right path, get their money squared away for the long-term,” Ruby said.
“I learned a lot about how to work in a professional environment. How to be attentive, accountable,” Downing said. “A lot about finance and personal growth.”
With graduation nearing in 2015, Lemke and Wakehouse interviewed for open universal banker positions at the West Broadway branch. Both were hired.
“We graduated on a Saturday and started working full-time that Monday,” Lemke said
After high school Downing went to Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Missouri. He applied for one job upon his return home to Council Bluffs – a universal banker position with TS Bank.
“I wanted a place where I was comfortable and could be successful,” Downing said.
After some college Ruby joined the Air Force Reserves. He was deployed to Afghanistan for eight months after completing boot camp and technical training. He worked in surveillance and cyber security upon his return home, but burned out on the work.
“I was interested in banking before I joined the Air Force. I saw an opening online for TS Bank and applied,” Ruby said. “It spring-boarded from there.”
When Ruby and Downing walked into their first day of training on June 3, 2019, they spotted each other.
“What role did you take?
“Universal banker. You?”
“Universal banker. Where at?”
“Madison Avenue. You?
“It was kinda cool,” Ruby said.
How did the Jacket Branch prepare them for full-time work?
“It was a more of a refresher than something brand new thrown at you,” Ruby said of starting full-time at the Madison Avenue branch. “Basic daily transactions, various procedures – it was a refresher. We were definitely able to catch on and get in the rhythm of things sooner."
Raymond said the bank and institute have worked to restructure some aspects of the Jacket Branch. Starting this school year the branch will work with students to focus on themselves, banking and the community through three pillars – “Who are we?” “Who am I?” and “Where do I want to go?”
The first will focus on procedural training and learning about the banking industry, while the second pillar will focus on each branch student employee understanding their strengths and weaknesses and focus on communication, team building, trust and accountability.
Finally, “Where do I want to go?” will identify the many options that come after graduation including college, trade school and workforce paths, financing post-high school education, reviewing resumes, meeting with a recruiter to identify what employers are really looking for in prospects, and the importance of failure to help a person grow.
Branch employees will complete a project each school semester, with the first based on financial goals, the other community-based. Osborne with the TS Institute said the program plans to offer scholarships from a pool of $2,000 to the student bankers if they meet criteria – including working the school year, their performance review and a scholarship application.
“Our goal is to motivate the students at the TJ branch and encourage them to pursue schooling after high school,” Osborne said.
Raymond said she’s thankful to have been part of the Jacket branch since its opening.
“Where does my passion come from? The student bankers, of course,” she said. “From the time I only filled in occasionally, all the way to the time I managed it, I became really invested in these kids. Some came from stable homes with great school-life balance, and looked to us to know more about what opportunities existed outside of secondary education. ‘What’s the next step?’ ‘How can I do these things?’ ‘What do I do if?’ I found great opportunity in sharing the woes of young adulthood with them, because I had really only just finished experiencing it myself, as well as speaking the language of finance in one that they could understand.
“And some of the kids came from less stable homes. I bonded with my share of students who moved from couch to couch, house to house, or struggled to make any sort of plan for the future because of the lack of surety of the current day. It was there I found how much this meant to me, because, well I was one of those kids growing up. If I could walk away knowing I had any sort of impact—helped any of these students figure out that path and force them to see an opportunity, then it was a job well done.”
About TS Bank: TS Bank’s mission is to Ignite Prosperity® in the communities it serves. Leading the resurgence of community banking, TS Bank reinvests 10 percent of their net income locally; hosting educational events and partners with local organizations and non-profits. Treynor State Bank was chartered in 1923 and branded to TS Bank in 2005. TS Bank has $375 million in assets, along with the largest Iowa state-chartered C-Corp trust department west of Des Moines at nearly $245 million in assets named TS Prosperity Group. Branch locations include Treynor, Macedonia, Atlantic, Corning and Council Bluffs, Iowa. For more information visit tsbank.com.