Few women in banking have a bigger job than Barbara Desoer.
She has led all major merger activities at Bank of America Corp. over the last three years, including deals for MBNA and U.S. Trust in 2006, LaSalle Bank in 2007 and Countrywide Financial in 2008. And in her first year as president of Bank of America Home Loans, Desoer is not only managing the integration of Countrywide, she is also ramping up BofA's servicing business by modifying loans of troubled borrowers and expanding its sales force to accommodate record-breaking origination volume.
"Clearly it's been a very different year than any of us had forecast," says Desoer, also a former chief technology and operations officer at Bank of America, where she has worked for 32 years. "I thrive in challenging situations and this was just another."
Overseeing more than 49,000 employees at a unit responsible for originating one in five mortgages in the U.S. is all about "being fact-based and non-emotional about decisions," she says.
Desoer moved quickly to build BofA's sales force, now at 8,000, to capture the surge in refinancing volume this year. She launched the new Bank of America Home Loans brand and was instrumental in developing a much-admired one-page summary that clearly states the terms of each borrower's mortgage. BofA doubled its staff focused on loan modification efforts to 7,500. In the first six months of this year, it modified 150,000 loans and has another 90,000 being reworked via the Obama administration's loan modification plan.
But bad loans will continue to be a drag on BofA's earnings. The $2.32 trillion-asset company earned $2.56 billion on $74 billion in revenue last year, compared with profits of $14.9 billion on $66 billion of revenue in 2007. While second-quarter net income of $3.2 billion was off just slightly from the year-earlier period, BofA set aside $13.4 billion for credit losses. Nonperforming assets in the second quarter more than doubled from a year earlier, to $31 billion.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, Desoer says, is keeping pace with a phenomenal amount of change. Desoer described a mortgage committee meeting earlier this year where executives were weighing the future size of the mortgage market. "Somebody looked at their Blackberry and saw an action the Fed had committed to and decided the whole environment had changed," she says. "We all laughed...you go with it. You take your business and vision and objectives seriously. You can't overreact to the positive or the negative side."
Desoer won't touch the speculation that she is in line to succeed Ken Lewis, BofA's embattled president and chief executive. All she will say is that her goal "is to improve BofA's performance no matter what way, shape or form."
That's not to say she doesn't think big. Desoer says she "hopes to shape the future of financial services," by creating new loan products, particularly in the jumbo market.