No Hard Feelings

It's rarely a positive thing for a bank when its lawyers are in the news. Here's an exception.

Citigroup Inc. on Monday will become the first recipient of the "Public Interest Award in Law" at the annual Burton Awards for Legal Achievement. The company is being recognized for its pro bono work, which has included advising local nonprofits on corporate governance and employment issues, advocating on behalf of small-business owners after Hurricane Katrina, and working with individuals ranging from artists and micro-entrepreneurs to the homeless and victims of domestic violence.

The pro bono initiative was started in 2006 by Citi General Counsel Michael Helfer, who also is a founding member of the board of directors at Lawyers for Children America and a member of the advisory board for the Legal Aid Society of New York.

In an interesting twist, this year's Burton Awards will be chaired by H. Rodgin Cohen, the Sullivan & Cromwell LLP heavyweight who advised Wachovia Corp. in 2008 as it called off a planned merger with Citi and struck a deal with Wells Fargo & Co. instead. But we expect things to stay perfectly civil at the awards program, which will take place at the Library of Congress and feature speakers including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Silver Lining Dept.

Like most discussions about banks these days, an online banking seminar sponsored by Nasdaq OMX and Highline Financial and streamed live Thursday focused mainly on the headwinds in the industry. But when prompted by a moderator from American Banker, each panelist offered up something positive about the industry.

Ex-Lehman Brothers banking analyst Andrea Jao, now an economics lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, said she's gratified that the financial sector will no longer be taken for granted. When the economy was flush, she said, "We thought that the banking sector would be healthy forever; we forgot that like everything, the banking sector goes through cycles." Robert Davis, executive vice president at the American Bankers Association, likes that bankers have become more engaged in the political arena as a result of regulatory reform.

Rudy Schupp, chief executive of 1st United Bank in Boca Raton, Fla., said that if the details of reform are handled right, banks might become "more responsive in the end to shareholders and customers." And Peter Wirth, head of investment banking at KBW Inc., sees opportunity for banks arising from the shrinking of the shadow markets, and the rationalization that came as the most irresponsible players got bounced out of the sector.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled doom-and-gloom discussions. …

A Diverse Regions

Regions Financial Corp. has become the latest banking company to create a diversity council.

The move comes a month after the Birmingham, Ala., company named Lajuana Bradford head of corporate diversity and public affairs.

"We are fortunate to operate in some of the most culturally diverse markets in the United States," Grayson Hall, Regions' president and chief executive, said in a press release. "To create value for customers we must continue to engage all of the communities we serve."

The council will include George French Jr., the president of Miles College; John Hudson, a vice president at Alabama Power Co.; Bernice King, a prominent civil rights activist and a daughter of the late Martin Luther King Jr.; Lemell McMorris, the CEO of Perennial Strategy Group; and Isabel Rubio, the executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama. (Hudson preceded Bradford as the head of diversity efforts at Regions before joining Alabama Power.)

Other banking companies have similar groups, including Bank of America Corp., which has a diversity and inclusion council chaired by its president and CEO, Brian Moynihan.

New Face at B of A

Speaking of Bank of America: It has snagged a Morgan Stanley veteran for a key technological post.

George Sherman will join the Charlotte company in September as the chief technology officer for two businesses: global banking and markets and global commercial banking.

Sherman had been a managing director and chief technology officer of the Americas enterprise infrastructure organization at Morgan Stanley, where he had worked for 10 years.

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