DC, struggling to adapt to an increasingly tech-savvy workforce, is acting like a startup

But as the region’s big banks have gotten increasingly serious about tapping the technology, other opportunities are making their way into the picture. A handful of startups are taking advantage of the region’s location, and proximity to talent, to build out a culture that targets growth in the digital economy and a talent pool dedicated to the industry. That focus has expanded banks to high-profile corporate and startup additions.

“These firms want to engage with us in the tech world, with the startups, with the millennials and their families,” says Kristen Silva, chief information officer for Banc of California, one of the most active additions to the region’s tech ecosystem over the past couple of years. “We wanted to meet them where they are and be relevant.”

Silva oversees 40 technology and data centers in California, Oregon and Utah. The tech leadership added more than a dozen employees over the past two years and she says the new hires are increasing the technology’s reach across the organization. She says that operating as a mom-and-pop operation is a great way to jumpstart innovation.

Though the expansion has increased the importance of a decent technological brain trust in the region, Georgetown’s Rory Sutton says that up to now, many of the more tech-focused schools haven’t been a challenge for banks to recruit. He said the sector is more competitive at Georgetown University and at schools like NYU.

“Our main focus has always been filling engineering programs,” Sutton says. “The challenge we run into most often is attracting the right types of students and getting them to stay.”

Some schools have made it easier for banks to recruit students, Sutton said, by recognizing that big industries need the technical workers they need. He notes that because technology is a part of a bank’s day-to-day operations, students can apply for a student loan without concern that it would negatively impact their career path.

Banking is one of the biggest industries in the country. With regulators and politicians regulating the industry tightly, banks are struggling to get more involved in customer service, making it harder to hear why a customer doesn’t feel well or why they’re struggling with another part of their life.

“The banks have to do more today to cultivate relationships that have been broken for quite some time now,” Sutton says. “They have to listen, and they have to care about the customers.”

The industry desperately needs an employee base that is extremely tech-savvy, willing to adapt quickly to a changing climate and eager to prove the value of their skills. And that culture is starting to catch on, joining the growing ranks of startups that have moved into the financial sector.

Washington, D.C., has become a magnet for businesses looking to take advantage of its highly educated millennial population. Angel investors and venture capitalists have flooded D.C., where they see an ideal environment for creating high-performing startups with the resources they need to scale quickly. Financial institutions are looking to build out talent pools that could eventually fill openings in their cloud providers or building solutions that could turn a $150 billion financial industry around and pull it out of the dark ages.

“We’ve gone from being techie nerds to more of a company where they’re open to innovation,” says Keren Tischfield, general partner at Spark Capital and a board member for Fintech Crescent, one of the accelerator’s members. “I think that’s been an enormous change.”

Alexandria native Jennifer Spencer was chosen as a Spotlight Executive at Insider.

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