Is Bendigo really the "first alternative"?

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Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is putting on a brave face in its battle for talent with the Big Four.

Despite a recently announced 58 per cent fall in net profits for the past financial year, the firm still views itself as the "first alternative" to the large banks, according to chief executive Mike Hirst.

And Bendigo doesn't only want the Big Four's customers. The regional bank - which expects to increase headcount in its retail and community branch networks - also thinks it can offer candidates a viable and distinct employment alternative, says Julian Carne, general manager of human resources.

He believes that part of Bendigo's allure lies in providing flexible opportunities, such as working from home and the option to buy additional leave.

In a move to cut costs, employees were recently given the option of taking two weeks' unpaid leave.

"Offering unpaid leave, instead of more drastic alternative options, is further testament to the way we like to operate, and what makes us distinct from the major banks," explains Carne.

But is joining Bendigo really a good career move? Chris Karagounis, executive director of search firm Alex Kaar, says working at a smaller firm can provide bankers with greater portfolio breadth and more visibility to senior management.

However, he warns that bankers with significant career ambitions still need to build up experience at larger institutions. "It can also be difficult to move from a small to a larger bank, but not impossible."

Ryan Webster, senior consultant, banking and financial services, Robert Walters, agrees that job seekers from regional banks often struggle to make the shift to the top tier.

"However, quality candidates at smaller institutions are still targets if they have good training, expansive product knowledge and hands-on customer services skills," he adds.