Most Powerful Women to Watch: Julieann Thurlow, Reading Cooperative Bank

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President and CEO

Julieann Thurlow has learned a few things about fintech innovation over the last few years at Reading Cooperative Bank, where she has been president and chief executive since 2006.

A few years ago, the Massachusetts bank tried to go it alone by building a commercial lending platform that originated loans from end to end. After that proved problematic, the $600 million-asset Reading Cooperative brought in a consulting firm for guidance, which was helpful, but expensive.

So, in 2018, the bank became a founding member of the Alloy Labs Alliance, a consortium of community banks collaborating on new products. That was followed by an invitation for Thurlow to join a Massachusetts group working to retain fintech talent in the state.

Thurlow has applied lessons learned to another challenge she has taken on: devising innovative products for the largely immigrant population of Lawrence, one of Massachusetts’ poorest cities and the site of her bank’s newest branch, scheduled to open next year.

The first new product will be a $1,000 credit-building loan. The bank will hold on to the loan proceeds while borrowers make monthly payments of $100 to demonstrate creditworthiness. Once the loan is paid the proceeds are released. In pilot tests with college-age children of bank employees, credit scores rose an average of 43 points.

Thurlow expects the loan and other products in development to gain traction in the bank’s other markets.

The branch itself got a pre-opening boost this spring from the Paycheck Protection Program. During the program’s second round, the bank worked with a community development financial institution to process loans for small businesses that had trouble accessing the first round. “We now have customer relationships with a lot of those small businesses,” Thurlow said.

For the first time, American Banker's Most Powerful Women in Banking celebration is open to the whole financial community. Join us virtually October 6-8 to hear our 2020 honorees' stories and experiences. Register here.

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