Most Powerful Women in Banking: No. 14, PNC's Karen Larrimer

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Head of Retail Banking and Chief Customer Officer, PNC Financial Services Group

After being named head of retail banking at PNC Financial Services Group, Karen Larrimer determined that its 2,500 branches were having trouble recruiting and retaining employees. Turnover was too high, especially among recent hires.

One major cause of the problem was obvious. Among the 10 largest U.S. banks, PNC was paying the lowest salaries to its tellers, according to data from PayScale.

Larrimer asked for an analysis of the effects of a potential minimum wage hike. After reviewing the data, she concluded that the benefits from attracting and retaining employees would far outweigh the extra expense.

Her strategy appears to be paying off. After PNC raised the minimum wage last year, turnover fell, and the company reported that it was seeing a return of $1.45 on every dollar invested. (PNC declined to disclose the size of the pay increase.)

The wage hike is one example of how Larrimer has shaken up the status quo in PNC’s retail banking division. Shortly after she took over, the mortgage sales force became part of her unit, an organizational change that the company says has yielded results. In the first quarter, PNC posted its largest-ever growth in home equity loans by mortgage lending officers.

Larrimer also decided to eliminate one specific branch-based job, which was designed to generate conversations between PNC’s customers and its financial advisers. She determined that the same results could be achieved without that particular role. By the end of 2016, roughly 450 jobs were cut, with 40% of the affected employees finding other opportunities at the company.

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Larrimer, who sits on PNC’s 12-member executive committee, has held a wide range of positions over her 37 years in the industry, including roles in marketing, sales, operations and business finance.

“As I look back, I would not change the path that I took,” Larrimer said. “It has made me understand most every aspect of what it takes to run a business and gives me the ability to relate to employees at all levels in the company.”

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