Arizona President, Head of Corporate Real Estate and Resource Location Strategy, MUFG Union Bank

At first glance, Wendy Breuder’s transition from a senior wholesale banking role at MUFG Union Bank to a newly created post overseeing its corporate real estate needs would seem like a lateral move.

In her previous role as head of Midwest general industries, Breuder ran a business that last year generated revenue of nearly $300 million; in her new role managing the bank’s roughly 12 million square feet of office space nationwide, Breuder has no P&L responsibilities.

Still, in a business as competitive and low-margin as banking, real estate costs can make the difference between respectable returns and below-average ones. And at MUFG Union, which is based in San Francisco and has a significant presence in other high-cost markets like New York and Los Angeles, real estate expenses have far exceed initial projections and have been a huge drag on the bottom line.

That is why senior leaders are counting on Breuder — a proven revenue generator — to use her considerable analytical skills to find meaningful cost savings through the consolidation and relocation of office space.

Breuder is challenging her team to reduce real estate expenses by at least 15% through the termination of leases and other structural changes. For example, roughly 90% of the bank’s 12,000 U.S. employees are based in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and New York and one of Breuder’s key tasks will be determining how many back- and middle-office jobs could be shifted to lower-cost markets such as Arizona, where Breuder is based.

As part of an overall mission to lower overhead, Breuder and her team also are studying how to optimize MUFG Union’s branch network and examining how the bank could better use mobile and remote technologies to reduce corporate travel and encourage teleworking.

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This is not the first time the company has turned to Breuder to help improve efficiency. In 2015, she was asked to conduct a review of six business lines in eight countries as part of a broader continuous improvement effort and her recommendations ultimately generated 20% cost savings for those business lines.

The stakes are far higher this time around because the results of Breuder’s efforts could have a significant bearing on MUFG Union’s profits for years to come. Breuder, though, hardly seems intimidated.

“I’ve been on the line for the last 20 years and always running a P&L, whether it was capital markets or corporate banking…and I loved it, but I was really ready to do something different,” she said. “This is an opportunity for me to bring to the table all of my financial skills and all of those skills I had learned from the Fortune 500 companies that we had banked.”

Alan Kline

Alan Kline

Alan Kline is a senior editor at American Banker overseeing its consumer finance and national/regional banking coverage. He also helps direct coverage of the annual Most Powerful Women in Banking rankings.