The quest for diversity in the senior ranks sometimes means competing for talent. Bank of the West has been winning its share of those competitions.
In November, the bank tapped Leslie Paladin, formerly with Citigroup, to head up a new wealth management unit targeting the "mass affluent." Earlier in 2013 it lured Beth Hale away from M&T Bank to oversee and revamp its retail branch network and brought in ex-Charles Schwab executive Ann von Germeten as its chief marketing officer. Other key hires in recent years include chief information officer Kirsten Garen, who joined Bank of the West from Visa, and Jeri Good-O'Connor, a former private banker at Bank of America who now oversees wealth management in central California and northern Nevada.
Hale says her move to Bank of the West has yielded benefits beyond the opportunity to pursue new challenges. She says that, since the day she joined the bank last year, her boss, Executive Vice President Gina Wolley, has provided mentoring and guidance. "Often women get accused of not helping one another," she says. "Here at Bank of the West, there's a strong connection among and advocacy for women, and it truly makes a difference."
Additional support comes from the bank's Women's Connection initiative. Its mission is to "facilitate an environment supportive of the personal and professional growth of all employees" and it does this largely through educational, networking and formal coaching programs. At any given time the initiative could be facilitating dozens of mentoring partnerships throughout the bank's markets.
Apart from recruiting talented women, Bank of the West, a unit of French banking giant BNP Paribas, has also been very successful at nurturing and retaining its female employees. Maria Lazzarini started out as a teller three decades ago and now oversees the bank's largest retail division, a territory that covers northern California, northern Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Wolley, who is now a top executive in the retail banking group, has held positions in finance, accounting, operations and training, among others, during her 17-year career at the bank.
Women have important strategic roles overseeing technology initiatives as well. Wolley and Garen, the chief information officer, worked closely with mobile banking head Matt Krogstad to develop a mobile banking app last year that Bank of the West touts as the first in the United States to let customers see their balances before logging in. Also, digital banking executive Lauren Golden was one of the key contributors in the development of a new online account opening feature that went live earlier this year and immediately led to a 15% surge in account openings.
2013 Financial Highlights:
Assets: $66 billion
Female representation among corporate officers: 35%
Female representation on operating committee: 20%
The Team: Michelle Di Gangi, Kirsten Garen, Lauren Golden, Jeri Good-O'Connor, Beth Hale, Maria Lazzarini, Leslie Paladin, Ann von Germeten, Vanessa Washington, Gina Wolley