Most Powerful Women in Finance: Emily Portney, BNY Mellon

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Chief Financial Officer

In the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic, sales of custody and associated services at Bank of New York Mellon exceeded plans that Emily Portney and her team had established at the start of the year.

It helped that with travel at a standstill, the team had doubled the number of presentations to clients compared with a year earlier. "From early March through May, we conducted more than 140 sales presentations and more than 50 due diligence sessions virtually," said Portney, who, until recently, led BNY's largest business. Her teams were responsible for handling sales and service for institutional clients such as hedge funds and pension plans.

As part of the effort, Portney hosted semiweekly calls that at their peak drew as many as 500 clients at a time. She also set up what she calls a "command center" to centralize her team's efforts to address clients' questions. "This proactive, honest dialogue differentiated us in the market and built trust with clients and employees," she said.

Portney reminded her team that change is a constant, as when Portney herself was named BNY's chief financial officer in July, and that change creates opportunities. "The pandemic became the great equalizer," she said. "It was no longer about where you sit in order to have meaningful face time with company leaders and each other."

To help enliven the long days, Portney hosted monthly chats over coffee or cocktails (the choice depends on local time). Each gathering featured an Ask Me Anything forum hosted by Portney and themes that encouraged her team to share such things as photos from their workspace or recommendations for bingeworthy TV.

Portney has received unsolicited emails from team members who tell her how much they value the interactions. "We are all navigating the pandemic together, for the first time, and learning to be more patient and understanding of each other," she said.

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