By Bob Andelman
Financial & Insurance Meetings
Sep 1, 2007 12:00 PM

At some companies, nonmandatory training is the first thing to be cut when budgets are tight. Not at Commerce Bank. Here, training is a top priority for all employees — 15,000 and growing. In 2006, the year the new Commerce University training center opened in Mount Laurel, N.J., near the bank’s corporate headquarters, it filled 46,000 seats with instructor-led classes, and had 110,000 clicks for online courses, meaning each employee took an average of 10 classes per year.

This fits with a business model uncommon in the banking sector. Commerce’s 450 branches, from Connecticut to Washington, D.C., and in Southeast Florida, open early, typically 8 a.m., and don’t close their doors until late, usually 8 p.m. — seven days a week. Some of its stores do more than 100,000 transactions a month.

The $48 billion bank invests 5 percent of its payroll budget in Commerce U. In 2005, that was roughly double what other financial institutions spent on training, on average, according to the American Society for Training and Development.

“We are a growth company,” says Rhonda S. Costello, dean of Commerce University, “and we add about 50 stores a year. But it’s not only store personnel that we train, it’s everyone throughout the organization, because infrastructure grows along with our stores. We believe in investing in our team members because the company really is only as good as its employees… and we want our new folks to grow with the company.” New Commerce tellers and customer service representatives start with nine days of training. In addition to that, everyone joining the organization spends their first day at a cultural indoctrination program called “Traditions,” which runs every Monday.

Rather than training, Commerce calls what happens in Mount Laurel — and at 17 satellite facilities — “Get S.M.A.R.T.”, representing the five customer-service principles that drive its corporate culture: Say yes; Make every customer feel special; Always keep your promises; Recovery is divine, to err is human; and Think like your customer.

The building, dressed out in Commerce Bank colors of red and grey, has nearly 64,000 square feet of space, including five technical rooms, eight spacious conference rooms, and a 7,500-square-foot presentation area. Commerce U was designed to resemble the signature Commerce Bank look: It is filled with natural light, bright colors, and dramatic glass, marble, and granite architectural elements. The atrium lobby features a cascading wall of water that soars 28 feet and a curving, chrome staircase that leads to a bridge walkway over the lobby. “We believe in surrounding our folks with an environment of excellence, because it will raise their performance and behaviors,” notes Costello.

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