The Women to Watch: No. 8, MUFG's Bita Ardalan

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Managing Director, Head of Commercial Banking, MUFG Union Bank

Tepid loan demand, falling interest rates and heightened competition from nonbank lenders are just some of the headwinds facing commercial lenders these days. Revenue growth could be particularly challenging for an institution such as MUFG Union Bank, which has conservative credit culture to begin with and is not one to loosen loan terms in order to win deals.

But Bita Ardalan, MUFG Union Bank's head of commercial banking, believes that the San Francisco bank can expand its credit appetite a bit without compromising safety and soundness.

So, armed with data from multiple sources, as well as their deep insight on the markets the bank serves, Ardalan and her team last year put forth a proposal to the bank's top management and board of directors that made the case for taking on a little more risk. Senior leaders and directors ultimately supported the move and Ardalan and her team have since been identifying new niches, tweaking underwriting guidelines and addressing biases in loan processes and policies.

"These changes will significantly increase our growth potential while maintaining our culture of strong risk management," said Ardalan, who joined MUFG Union Bank in 1986 and climbed steadily up the leadership ranks before becoming head of commercial banking in 2015.

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That MUFG Union is going outside of its comfort zone to pursue new opportunities is a testament to Ardalan's track record of success. More than a dozen years ago she established a business line providing financing to private equity firms and it's now one the bank's largest and most profitable niches. Under Ardalan, the commercial bank has since established successful niches serving the health care, technology, agriculture, environment, nonprofit, wine and other industries, and last year expanded its services to two new markets, Arizona and Nevada.

Ardalan is a self-described workaholic, but she said she is learning to slow down a bit and advises younger associates to do the same.

When her children were young, Ardalan felt that as a woman in the male-dominated profession she had to work "twice as hard" to prove herself, and that often meant working long after putting her kids to bed.

Now she is finding more balance, thanks to her now-adult son, who has a successful career in his own right, but made a decision early on "to not allow work to rob him of his personal life," Ardalan said.

"I still work very hard at my job, but I also make time for all the people and things I love," Ardalan said. "And when I speak with young colleagues who ask for advice, I always encourage them to be more like my son: Work hard, but nurture your relationships, stay active, enjoy nature and feed your soul."

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