by Liz O’Donnell (Boston)
U.S. Banker magazine recently released its annual 25 most powerful women in banking edition. The list is actually several lists: The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking; The 25 Women to Watch; the Top 25 Nonbank Women in Finance and the Top 3 Banking Teams. This year the magazine aptly titled its accompanying story “Taking Charge in Turbulent Times.” Amid the stress and turmoil of the industry overall, women both triumphed and tripped.
Bank of America hired former Citgroup exec Sallie Krawcheck to head the Global Wealth and Investment Management unit and promoted Cathy Bessant to head of Global Corporate Banking. Because Krawacheck was not in her current job for more than one year, she was not eligible for the list of most powerful women. Instead, she tops the list of women to watch. Also the year, the California Public Employees Retirement System appointed its first ever woman CEO, Anne Stausboll. And Heidi Miller, CEO of JPMorgan Treasury and Securities Services, was in the number one spot for the third year in a row.
On the flip side, former Lehman Brother’s CFO Erin Callan is missing from the list this year. And she’s not alone. According to one survey done by Catalyst, 19 percent of senior women executives said they’d lost their jobs in the past two years.
Kay Hoveland, President and CEO of Kaiser Federal Bank and number 24 on the list, blames some of the turbulence on deceptive financing. “The current economic situation, especially the unemployment rate, is a result of the false wealth that was generated by the deceptive financing that pushed real estate values to completely unrealistic highs. Values that, in the real world of home ownership, are not affordable for middle class America. This false wealth also expanded consumer spending beyond what was ‘real.’ No matter how conservative Kaiser Federal Bank was in our lending we are in the same current economic recession; as those borrowers who have lost their jobs. No matter how much equity (if any with the declining values) they cannot make their mortgage payment.”
Anne Arvia, President of Nationwide Bank has been named to the list four times. In the article, she says that turbulent times call for steady leadership. “The turbulence necessitates calm from a leader and requires them to maintain a clear head and a clear vision, not reacting to this volatility with a strategy that is responsive to the environment and loses focus on the core of their strategy is a potential pit to fall down. It also requires short term actions with long term vision, taking charge of what can be controlled in an environment with little control. Taking charge means staying informed of what is happening in the economic, industry and legislative environments and looking for the opportunities presented by the volatility,” she continues.
“Also, staying true to the existing strategy but constantly managing in the change environment to understand what adjustments might be necessary to that strategy given the industry, regulatory, consumer shifts. Taking charge means constantly communicating a clear vision, leveraging expertise from across the whole enterprise, creating excitement about what the bank is doing and where it is headed… communicating complex situations into simple language for all to understand what it means to them and how they can react to engage effectively.”
Arvia’s remarks underscore what many say are key advantages to having women in leadership positions: a focus on long term strategy versus short term gains, a measured approach to risk management and over-communicating. LeeAnne Linderman, Executive Vice President Retail Banking, for Zions Bank and number 25 on the list, says leaders need to be “hyper-vigilant” in communicating to employees and clients.
“As soon as tough issues have come up in the past tumultuous year plus, I have ensured that everyone along the retail delivery channel has access to detailed and timely information to share with clients,” says Linderman. “It’s important for my employees to feel empowered with clear and concise talking points so that they can feel comfortable sharing information with clients related to strength, stability and earnings. Dealing with challenges is always easier when everyone knows the score. It also enhances the front-line bankers’ credibility with their clients and community when they can provide this kind of information.”
As far as the future for women, Arvia and Linderman both agree there is opportunity.”Hard-working women have great opportunities in the banking industry, just as promising young men do. The key is for us to implement effective mentoring and professional development programs so that we can support the next generation of leaders in the industry along their career paths. In addition, it is important for young women in banking to see more experienced women bankers succeed as they lead – modeling the way, while also balancing the same things younger women face daily…family, community, health, and personal growth, says Linderman.