Last year, the No. 1 Most Powerful Woman in Banking, JP Morgan Chase's Heidi Miller (also No. 1 this year), warned attendees at the celebration dinner, "No matter what financial crisis, men, you have historically landed on your feet. But given what we're up against today as women we'd be foolhardy if we didn't think about how we should land on our feet."

(To jump to the full listing of The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking, click here.)

The past year has forced all bank executives — men and women — to prove their mettle, and not everyone has landed on their feet. An unprecedented number of senior executives have taken a hit for their bank's, and the industry's, failings, including a number of high-profile women. Globally, 19 percent of senior women executives surveyed by Catalyst said they'd lost their jobs in the past two years, compared with just six percent of men.

In all of this, BNY Mellon CEO Bob Kelly makes no bones about his commitment to increasing gender equity in his bank's senior ranks. "Half the population is women, but the reality is that half of our senior management is not yet women," says Kelly, noting research that indicates companies "that have done a better job at getting women into the executive ranks and developing women more effectively" generate higher revenue growth and deliver "better client service and, ultimately, greater shareholder value over time."

Kelly's grasp of two undeniable truths — that having more women executives leads to stronger financial performance, and that the financial industry has a long way to go when it comes to gender equity — is the foundation of US Banker's 7th annual ranking of the Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance.

And though it was rough overall, the year did produce some advances for senior women executives with proven abilities to perform. Former Citigroup executive Sallie Krawcheck was named head of Bank of America's Global Wealth and Investment Management unit in August; when the news broke BofA's shares shot up nearly 7 percent. BofA also promoted Cathy Bessant, formerly the head of Global Product Solutions, to head of Global Corporate Banking. Late last year, the California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation's largest public pension fund, promoted its former Chief Investment Officer, Anne Stausboll, to CEO. She is the first female CEO in CalPERS' 77-year-history. Finally, just as this issue was going to press, UCBH Holdings Inc. promoted Doreen Woo Ho, its head of commercial and retail banking and a former Wells Fargo executive, to acting president and CEO.

But the stress on the industry has taken its toll on some senior female executives who have, in essence, opted out. Of note are Lisa Binder, president and CEO of Associated Bank and a Top 25 honoree in years past, who resigned her post in May. Erin Callan, Lehman Brothers' CFO who briefly took a position at Credit Suisse, is also reportedly on hiatus.

This phenomenon isn't new. Many of the industry's most talented women make a lifestyle choice not to reach for the next rung if it means even longer hours, more travel, and less time with their families, says Diane Offereins, executive vice president of payment services at Discover Financial Services. "I am actually concerned that more women are stepping out and saying, 'I don't want to do this,'" she says.

In their recent book "Womenomics," television journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman note that up to one-third of professional women take a breather from their careers at some point, and that MBAs are more likely than doctors or lawyers to choose to stay home with their children. The problem with this is crystallized in something Jack Welch said recently at a Society of Human Resources Management conference: that women who choose to get off the executive track are more likely to get passed over for top jobs when they are ready to return. "There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences," Welch says.

This is damaging for the individual women, and could have a ripple effect on younger executives, Offereins fears. "I think it's important to have women in the senior ranks because they think about hiring and promoting women," she says.

It's a legitimate concern, but at least at mega-banks like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup and BNY Mellon there are well-established mentoring and networking programs to help mid-level executives get to that next level and still achieve that work-life balance. And it's good to know that programs like these have not been casualties of the financial crisis.

The 2009 Rankings
Ranking who is most powerful is not an exact science — and it's not easy, especially in a year like this past one. Performance counts, to be sure, but editors also recognize that a bank's numbers could be skewed by an event like re-paying TARP money or selling a business unit to raise capital. That's why other factors, like a nominee's job responsibility, management style, crisis-management skills, influence within the industry, and charitable endeavors are given strong consideration. Once again, there are four categories: The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking; The 25 Women to Watch; The Top 25 Nonbank Women in Finance and The Top 3 Banking Teams.

Fifty-two women are repeat winners from last year — though not necessarily in the same categories — and several others return to the rankings after an absence. For the third straight year, Heidi Miller, the CEO of JPMorgan Treasury and Securities Services, ranks as the No. 1 Most Powerful Woman in Banking. Right on her heels is BNY Mellon's Karen Peetz, who moves up from No. 6 in 2008. Large banks, not surprisingly, are once again well represented. JPMorgan Chase and Citi lead the way, with five honorees each among The 25 Most Powerful and The 25 Women to Watch.

Eight women who were among the The 25 Women to Watch last year have moved up to The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking. That group includes Lynn Pike, the president of Capital One Bank, who was the driving force behind Capital One's acquisition of Chevy Chase Bank of Maryland, and finally gave McLean, Va.-based Capital One a retail presence in its own backyard. It also includes MetLife Bank CEO Donna DeMaio, who engineered the acquisition of First Horizon National Corp.'s mortgage business that led to record profits for the bank.

Three women who ranked among The 25 Most Powerful last year — including Krawcheck, who was No. 5 — wind up either on The 25 Women to Watch or The Top 25 Nonbank Women in Finance after switching jobs. (The rules of the rankings require women to be in their current positions for at least year to be considered for The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking.) Krawcheck's ranking as the No. 1 "Woman to Watch" seems especially appropriate. The ink was barely dry on the news release announcing her hiring when she was already being mentioned as a possible successor to BofA CEO Ken Lewis.

One interesting newcomer to the rankings is BBVA Compass retail chief Shelaghmichael Brown. Brown was honored for smoothly integrating a string of acquisitions in the Southeast and Southwest. What we didn't know until we interviewed her was that, after years of moving up the executive ladder, Brown left banking for four years earlier this decade to help her then-teenage sons with their studies. CEOs, boards and Jack Welch take note: Brown is proof that even after an extended hiatus, women can maintain their drive and passion, and pick up where they left off.

The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking 2009
1) Heidi Miller, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
2) Karen Peetz, BNY Mellon
3) Pamela Joseph, U.S. Bancorp
4) Barbara Desoer, Bank of America
5) Carrie Tolstedt, Wells Fargo
6) Peyton Patterson, NewAlliance Bancshares
7) Deanna Oppenheimer, Barclays PLC
8) Mary Callahan Erdoes, JPMorgan Chase
9) Diane Thormodsgard, U.S. Bancorp
10) Julie Monaco, Citigroup
11) Lynn Pike, Capital One Bank
12) Cara Heiden, Wells Fargo
13) Avid Modjtabai, Wells Fargo
14) Donna Demaio, MetLife Bank
15) Mollie Hale Carter, Sunflower Bank
16) Diane D'Erasmo, HSBC USA
17) Ellen Alemany, Citizens Financial Group and RBS Americas
18) Anne Arvia, Nationwide Bank
19) Anne Finucane, Bank of America
20) Ellen Costello, Harris Bankcorp
21) Colleen Johnston, TD Bank Financial Group
22) Shelaghmichael Brown, BBVA Compass
23) Diane Reyes, Citigroup
24) Kay Hoveland, K-Fed Bancorp & Kaiser Federal Bank
25) Leeanne Linderman, Zions First National Bank

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