Financial institutions are rethinking how they meet consumer needs and compete with new market entrants intent on disrupting the status quo. So innovation and professional development are in high demand.

From better understanding consumer priorities to expertly managing career advancement, here's a look at key success strategies that female financial services executives shared at the Most Powerful Women in Banking LEAD Conference in New York.
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Career paths aren't always vertical
Career advancement is often "more like a rock climb than a career ladder," said Kathie Andrade, the chief executive of retail financial services at TIAA. So a traditional career path is not the only way to go.

Rather than holding a series of sequentially higher positions in the same area, Andrade advanced by taking challenging work that others shied away from in a variety of positions spanning operations, marketing and sales.
Achieving work-life balance requires flexibility
Andrade said she didn't always value work-life balance. But when it became a priority, she worked part time, used flex time or telecommuted to achieve it.

While some people warned her that the part-time work was something that could hinder her advancement, it didn't stop her. She does regret, though, that at one point she traded compensation for flexibility, and advises against that.
Let others point the way professionally
While career advancement is often thought of as something that needs to be self-directed, Ann Marie Wright, chief operating officer for BMO Financial Group's North American commercial bank, said others guided her on some of her career moves.

Wright didn't always want positions she was offered, but she said being willing to listen and consider them anyway helped her get where she is today.
Don't make assumptions about consumers
Many financial institutions believe "women don't care about money," Amanda Steinberg, CEO of DailyWorth.com, told attendees. Women do care about money, but not necessarily in the way that financial institutions anticipate, she said.

One example that's especially prominent among the millennial generation is the subset of consumers who prefer to spend money on experiences rather than possessions. They might be better served by a small home as opposed to the large homes builders and lenders assume borrowers prefer.
Restoring the fragile trust with consumers takes time
Consumers are still very skeptical of banks and other financial institutions, but studies show that trust is slowly being regained, according to Nancy McGaw, deputy director at the Aspen Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

That means consumers may be more receptive to marketing from financial institutions than they were in the past, despite some ongoing, high-profile regulatory actions. Companies should realize that trust remains fragile, though.
Embrace market fluctuations to achieve career satisfaction
Top women in banking tend to have high job satisfaction rates, said McGaw.

Economic cycles create volatility in business, and the fluctuations in demand and capacity can increase the risk of downsizing. But even when women lose their jobs, they tend to stay in the banking industry or go on to work in related areas.
Make social media work for you
Informal communication and networking via technology like Twitter or Skype can create efficiencies and business opportunities, according to Erica Dhawan, a former Wall Street professional who is now the CEO of consulting firm Cotential.

For example, a law firm greatly improved efficiency between its offices by using Skype, and videoconferencing has given poor children access to a group of volunteer tutors in several countries.