How a mentoring program fuels PNC’s wealth ambitions


One of the biggest names in American banking is virtually unheard-of in financial advisor circles, but it’s quietly working to change that. 

Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group, the sixth-largest bank in the U.S. by assets according to the latest FDIC ranking, made a number of moves in 2023 to bolster its wealth management game. PNC is eyeing 2024 as a year to recruit for its growing private bank across the country, even as it’s shuttered around 10% of its branches this year and laid off many workers in other areas of the bank in the fall. It’s also invested steadily in talent development to retain private bank workers. 

Don Heberle at PNC Private Bank.jpg
Don Heberle, the head of PNC Private Bank.

PNC Bank

“We’ve grown over the last five years and we think it can continue to grow,” said Don Heberle, head of PNC Private Bank, in an interview with Financial Planning. “We’re in a lot of markets now that we weren’t in even two or three years ago, in the Southwest and the West.” 

Heberle, an industry veteran who was formerly CEO of BNY Mellon Wealth Management, was hired to run PNC Private Bank in 2018. Around that same time, the private bank launched an internal mentorship program that Heberle believes can help set it apart in the highly competitive wealth management talent marketplace and sell its story to young advisors. 

“It really provides these individuals with a very wide lens in their career, of what PNC and what PNC Private Bank is about, and the opportunities that they might have,” Heberle said of the program, which pairs a mentee (typically early career in the private bank) with a more experienced volunteer mentor. The mentor, who could be from a different part of the country or another department, guides the mentee to grow in their current position and may also show them other potential paths at the bank. 

“Creating that view for individuals is one aspect of how we help them to feel more connected and [see a] future with PNC,” Heberle said.

Pushing to serve the next generation in new markets 
Despite its size, when it comes to recruiting top advisors PNC has traditionally been seen as a non-entity in the wealth management world (not unlike how peer regional bank Citizens Financial Group has been seen). 

“Honestly, I never hear [PNC’s] name come up in the wealth management space at all,” Louis Diamond, the president of advisor recruiting firm Diamond Consultants in Morristown, New Jersey, said in an interview. “They’re a very well-known regional bank, but I think have a lot of unexplored terrain within the wealth management space.” 

Yet PNC has made aggressive attempts to gain ground in wealth management recently. Having weathered the spring banking crisis better than several other regional banks, it made bids for two peers that went under: Silicon Valley Bank, which ultimately sold to First Citizens Bank, and First Republic Bank, which it lost to JPMorgan Chase. Both SVB and First Republic had well-respected wealth units — especially First Republic, which had developed a reputation for attracting advisors from elite firms and wirehouses. 

In 2020, PNC freed up cash for acquisitions or reserves by selling off a long-held large minority stake in BlackRock as the pandemic hit businesses hard. Later that year it purchased Spanish bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA’s U.S. business, BBVA USA — formerly Compass Bancshares, before BBVA acquired it in 2007 — which positioned PNC for its current nationwide campaign of expansion into some of the hottest markets for targeting rich clients. 

PNC then announced in 2021 that it had rebranded its personal wealth businesses, including clients under the former BBVA USA, as PNC Private Bank. It said in a press release at the time that it planned to form “teams of advisors with specialized expertise” in each new market that it entered on the back of its BBVA USA purchase. It also planned to expand teams of advisors in its existing markets, and to focus on ultrarich families through PNC Private Bank Hawthorn, the bank said at the time. 

READ MORE: Advisors increasingly dump expensive New York and California for no-tax Florida

American Banker, FP’s sister magazine, reported at the time of the sale that BBVA had offices in several states where PNC had little or no footprint: Texas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida and New Mexico. In particular, around half of BBVA USA’s 637 branches had been in Texas, which along with Florida gained the most rich young high earners during the pandemic, according to an August SmartAsset report based on 2021 tax data. PNC Bank earlier this fall appointed four market leaders just to handle North Florida. It also named firm veteran Jim Schmelter to lead its San Antonio-based team for the private bank, with a focus on high net worth clients and ultrahigh net worth families, and services like succession planning, intergenerational wealth transfer and philanthropic activity. 

As of Sept. 30, PNC Private Bank reported $109 billion in discretionary client assets under management, a firm spokesperson said in an email. The firm declined to share how many financial advisors it had. “We have advisors in our markets from coast-to-coast in the U.S., as well as a team that provides support at the national level,” the spokesperson said, adding that growth in new markets would be focused “particularly in Texas, the Southwest and West.”  

Mentoring that lays a foundation for the future
Given the importance of appealing to the next generation of clients as the “great wealth transfer” plays out over the next roughly two decades, PNC Private Bank’s relatively young mentoring program appears to be betting on a critical piece of that engagement: cultivating the next generation of advisors and support staff who can better relate to heirs of wealthy clients, and young entrepreneurs flocking to tax-free innovation hubs like Texas. A study published earlier this year by Financial Planning’s parent company Arizent found that only 13% of small wealth management firms and 50% of larger ones had invested in hiring young talent to meet the planning needs of next-gen clients. 

“They’ve built out a decent client segmentation ability,” Chayce Horton, senior analyst in wealth management at Cerulli Associates, said of PNC’s wealth business. 

Heberle said the mentoring program at PNC Private Bank was created in response to internal employee feedback, which revealed “some themes around engagement and early career development that popped.” 

The PNC Private Bank Mentorship Program has been “incredibly successful” since it launched in 2018, he said. In each of the past five years, around 60 mentees have gone through the program. “The most recent cohort … was actually a little bit bigger. It’s about 80 folks going through at this time.” The firm has “‘graduated”‘ over 300 mentees, Heberle said. 

PNC allows employees from any part of the private bank to be considered for the program, Heberle said. Employees typically talk to their managers and go through a short selection process where they explain why they want to participate. Mentees can be early career advisors or on the advisor track, or in support roles. To qualify, they must have at least one year of experience working at PNC. 

READ MORE: 10 secrets for mentoring success, from 3 top women bankers

The program starts in July each year and runs through July of the following year. In addition to direct, one-on-one mentoring, mentees also do group work together. “We give them books to read during the course of the year,” Heberle said. “They could be around leadership, they could be industry-specific content, they could be around organizational things. And then they get together and discuss the books,” he said. One book the program has featured is “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. 

Each September, after the program has ended, mentees present projects intended to improve the private bank’s business. Many of these ideas have been adopted and used in various forms by the bank over the years, Heberle said. For example, as the firm emerged from COVID, a mentee suggested bringing together next-generation clients in dedicated events with messaging targeted to them. “That was one idea that we’ve incorporated in a couple of our markets.” 

Although the program does not formally count as a career track, designation-focused training or means for formal advancement, Heberle said many mentees “have gone on to be promoted,” whether as advisors or in other roles. Outside of the mentoring program, PNC also helps employees obtain their CFP certification through a partnership with Guild. 

The bank declined to share retention rates for graduates of the program, but Heberle said it was higher for those who participated compared to those who hadn’t.

The power of connections 
PNC’s mentoring program also aims to build bonds among colleagues outside the siloes of their individual teams that could help them feel supported by the resources of the larger private bank. 

Former mentees do often keep in touch with their mentors, Heberle said, and some go on to become mentors themselves. 

Matt Hashimoto
Matt Hashimoto, senior investment advisor at PNC Private Bank.

PNC Bank

Matt Hashimoto, a senior investment advisor based in Baltimore for the private bank, joined the program’s 2021-2022 cohort as a mentee; today he is a volunteer mentor for an investment advisor in the Philadelphia market. Hashimoto was mentored by a Greater Maryland market leader who is now a regional investment director. 

“I was fortunate in that my mentor was local to me,” he said. 

During the spring of 2022, when he was still in the program, Hashimoto was promoted into his current role. “Beyond helping me hone my day-to-day responsibilities for my job, I think participating in the program showed my commitment to the firm and my own development.” 

He still keeps in touch with his former mentor, who is now his boss’s boss, and maintains their monthly meeting. 

“There is so much of this business that cannot be learned in a book,” Hashimoto said. “I have been in the industry for almost 20 years and still feel I have much to learn and improve on.” 



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