Detra Miller, M&T Bank | Most Powerful Women: Next
Regional manager, business banking
When Detra Miller worked in retail banking, she gave herself the unofficial title of “clean-up lady.”
The Maryland native spent a decade managing M&T Bank retail branches in her home state, putting teams of bankers in place and cleaning up operations at each site. She was a regional retail manager in 2018 when an opportunity came up to lead a team of small-business bankers.
Miller, who was intrigued by the idea of helping businesses and thus affecting the lives of both owners and employees, said yes.
“For me, that had so much power, being able to really impact lives in a bigger way,” she said.
These days, Miller is more of a startup lady. A year into her job as business banking team leader, as she was trying to establish a network of contacts, she had an idea. What if she created a team of bankers solely dedicated to helping entrepreneurial women and minorities gain access to the resources they need — education, connections and, most importantly, capital — to grow their businesses? What if she could tap into communities that often don’t have strong relationships with bankers, but nonetheless account for a growing percentage of business owners in the United States?
So Miller crafted a proposal that included statistics on minority- and women-owned businesses and a strategy that outlined how the bank could create a sustainable program that could be replicated in other markets. She followed that up with a business case that she presented in April 2019 to the business banking Mid-Atlantic market manager and the head of business banking sales for M&T.
Two months later, Miller had launched the minority and women-owned business team, the first of its kind for the Buffalo, N.Y., bank. The four-person team serves the greater Baltimore metropolitan area and includes a fifth banker who’s stationed in the Washington, D.C., market but does not report to Miller. The team works from the bank’s suburban Baltimore office and collaborates with area branch managers to deepen relationships with customers.
A year and a pandemic later, Miller’s team has acquired 59 new customers, 49 of them minority- or women-owned businesses. Of the 49, 34 are currently accessing credit through the bank, she said.
The initiative, which M&T plans to expand to other markets, has earned Miller a spot on our second annual Next list, an extension of our Most Powerful Women in Banking program that highlights high-achieving women in leadership age 40 or younger.
A Towson University graduate who initially wanted to be a financial adviser, Miller joined Provident Bancshares’ management development program in 2008. The next year, M&T bought Baltimore-based Provident.
Miller’s team has been intentional in reaching out to prospects, some of whom don’t have existing relationships with financial institutions. That means connecting to resource groups, small-business development centers and even the Mayor’s Office.
It also means helping minorities and women network and find mentors, pursue government contracts they may not have known about and get access to capital that historically may have been denied to them.
“Our goal really was, if we know they aren’t coming to us, how can we create a team to be proactive and intentional in our outreach, so we’re meeting them where they are?” Miller said.
What makes Detra special is that she is always pursuing new ways to connect with clients and help them achieve their financial goals.
Even with the COVID-19 crisis interfering with the ability to meet in person, Miller said the team has nonetheless managed to stay close to small-business owners as they navigate the Paycheck Protection Program and other funding options to alleviate the financial pain of the pandemic. Of their 59 customers, 51 applied for and received PPP loans, which totaled $4.6 million for the group, Miller said.
“We have truly created an ecosystem for them, not just during the good times but during a really difficult time that none of us could have predicted would happen,” said Miller, a mother of two who has been working from home through the pandemic. (She has a 7-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.)
“As soon as states started shutting down, we started communicating to our clients in an effort to be proactive in protecting them as best as we can from severe economic impact,” she said.
The goal is to have minority- and women-owned business teams in all of M&T’s markets, but there is no set timeframe to do that, Miller said. However, she and her teammates have been encouraging their colleagues across M&T to “look up and look around” when it comes to engaging with prospects and be aware of their own biases, conscious and unconscious.
“We’re trying to bring some awareness across the footprint so that people can feel empowered to do the same without having to have a specific team,” Miller said. “That’s part of the strategy we have: How do we create a domino effect for everyone to be involved in this? And then too we are focusing on, how do we implement this in different markets and expand the team?”
Group vice president and market manager, business and professional banking
What she says:
“What makes Detra special is that she is always pursuing new ways to connect with clients and help them achieve their financial goals.”