When U.S. Banker began working on “The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” last October—the ranking’s debut year—early reaction from candidates was met with a good dose of optimism, yet some privately worried about its intent, how the market would react and whether it would help—or hurt—their reputations.

Those concerns were put to rest when the magazine started hitting desks. The message is clear: Women across financial services are steadily climbing the ranks, and their influence is growing along with their professional responsibilities, public exposure and steadfast commitment to community. Looking at the achievements of these women, it is apparent that power coupled with influence was their ticket to effecting lasting change.

Now in its second year, the ranking has come to represent how influence among these powerful women is making a difference—not only within their organizations, but in the lives of others aspiring to follow in their footsteps. Their influence is also strongly felt within communities, where charitable organizations, local causes and unforeseen adversity need a champion. Case in point: When the Sunshine state took a battering from consecutive hurricanes in September, Fifth Third Bank’s Colleen Kvetko, CEO of its Florida division, picked up the phone and called the bank’s home base, asking for relief dollars. Kvetko doesn’t take no for an answer. She won the money, and is ever more resolute that the rebuilding and the healing processes can now begin.

In interviewing this year’s honorees, it was also obvious that professional achievement and character are powerful weapons used to not only further their careers, but also to get things going at the grassroots level. Generally speaking, women have a greater tendency to be team builders, focusing more on the effectiveness and success of the whole unit or team rather than on how it affects their individual performances or compensation. These women are big on building consensus, learning from their mistakes and taking risks—even if conventional wisdom runs counter to their choices.

Isn’t that the point? There is nothing conventional about these women. They are doing things their way, without missing a corporate beat, to fulfill personal aspirations extending beyond corporate walls. Twenty years ago, women in corporate America—banking included—believed they had to work twice as hard as men to be considered half as good. Today, influential women are living by their own rules. Keenly aware of the importance of balancing their careers with their personal lives, women are passing that message on to those who work for them. Children are this country’s greatest hope for a better tomorrow. Spending time with them and extended families gives these women the conviction to lay the groundwork now.

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