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What if More Women Ran Banks?

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Beyond comparison. That may be the best way to describe last September.

Never before — and hopefully never again — will we see major financial firms be taken over by the government (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), be allowed to fail (Lehman Brothers), be forced to merge (Merrill Lynch) or be propped up by the government (American International Group) in such rapid succession.

That month was followed by a series of Sunday-night surprises that resulted in unprecedented government involvement in the business. The industry was stress-tested and special-assessed. It was propped up with countless liquidity programs developed by bureaucrats desperate to keep the industry from going up in flames.

While the collapse of Bear Stearns in March of 2008 was the tinder, the fire really started last September when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae - true market and political heavyweights - were taken over. Lehman and AIG came next, and, within a little more than three months, two of the largest banks, Citigroup and Bank of America, had returned to the Treasury Department for a second helping of government capital.

Today policymakers are consumed with how best to change the rules and tighten oversight of financial services companies, as well as better protect their customers.

As policymakers debate the future, the fingers of blame point to greed and/or incompetence on the part of everyone, from borrowers to lenders to supervisors.

But would things have been different if Citi were run by Vicky Pandit or if Jen Lewis had been at the helm of BofA? In other words, what if more women ran more banks?

I put the question to many of the women being honored in this issue and most argued convincingly that the crisis could have been averted, or least would have been much less severe, if more women ran more banks.

They say female CEOs would have had more diverse management teams that would have reined in the institution long before losses began piling up like leaves in the woods on a windy fall day.

With smaller egos, they also argued, women would have had an easier time making the decision to change course and steer away from risky products.

Finally, the honorees say women would have recognized that lax lending and subsequent loan losses would damage not only profits but the industry's image as well.

In an online survey, we asked all the honorees to name the most serious issue facing financial services today and how that should be addressed.

Using shorthand, one honoree summed this all up nicely: "integrity & passion; put more women in charge."

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