Ask any Beltway insider what oils the innards of the capital city and the answer won't have a thing to do with the greenback. Of course, money helps oil the wheels of progress more efficiently, but it can never surpass the premier power of the relationship, this town's only true currency.
For the women of financial services who operate in this high-profile fish bowl, negotiating tank space requires equal parts diplomacy, financial acumen and emotional intelligence. For bankers, more used to seeing the world in dollars and cents, these alliances can take time to nurture, since they're more about political-and personal-capital than financial.
Two decades ago, the number of women effecting change in this epicenter of power could be counted on the fingers of two hands. Today, there are hundreds of women making a difference in Congress, in the White House and on Capitol Hill, and hundreds more in the financial services regulatory agencies, lobbying firms, international economic agencies, and think tanks. And their voices are only growing louder.
In Congress, the number of legislators influential in banking remains limited, but certainly these have made a difference: Sen. Elizabeth Dole, the North Carolina Republican who is a member of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, on July 28 pushed through legislation that aims to improve oversight of government-sponsored enterprises, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The bill, which goes to the Senate for a vote this fall, would create an independent regulator for the entities; Fannie Mae, for example was so mismanaged that it had to restate earnings for the last four years. "The Dole bill is very important and will go a long way in regulating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," says Peter J. Wallison, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
Also important is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat, who has been a pit bull on the ID-theft front, and who is now pressing for consumers to be able to choose to keep their records out of databases. She also "has done some very good work in bringing some sense of sanity back to the derivatives market," notes Randall Dodd, director of the Financial Policy Forum, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Her 2002 bill, passed in the wake of the Enron debacle, provides the Commodity Futures Trading Commission with regulatory oversight of derivative transactions of energy commodities, and had to be introduced three times before it passed.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is the minority leader in the House of Representatives, has served on the Banking and House Committee on Financial Services, and has been one of the most vocal opponents of the privatization of Social Security. "The potentially most influential on this list is Nancy Pelosi because she's the leader in the House and can presumably whip her party into shape," Wallison says. "And that would mean bad news for the banking industry." Pelosi hasn't tapped her full potential, however. Also high-profile are Rep. Deborah Pryce, the Ohio Republican who is the fourth-ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, and chairs both the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy and the House Republican Conference. She has been a loud proponent of financial literacy.
Among regulators, none is so highly regarded as Julie Williams, the chief counsel of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, who twice served as acting comptroller. "She has taken a very courageous stand, which has not been popular with state bank supervisors on the [consumer affairs] preemption issue, but has been very popular with national banks," points out Ricki Tigert Helfer, chairman and CEO of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from 1994-1997, and who now heads a New York City consultancy, Financial Regulation and Reform International. "She's a strong lawyer and does her homework. For those who plan to challenge her convictions, beware."
Observes Wallison: "Julie Williams is a very powerful person. And she's very modest, a wonderful person. Given the amount of authority she has acquired, she doesn't throw her weight around. She's smart, diligent and hard-working, one of the most highly respected officials in the financial services industry, ever." He points to her decision to take on [New York state attorney general Eliot] Spitzer on consumer affairs, calling it "a very gutsy move for someone in government. ...But unless you're making enemies, you're not doing anything."
Susan Schmidt Bies, a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve since 2001, also draws high praise. "Susan Schmidt has a long r?sum? of being involved in a lot issues and she's a big-picture person," notes Denise Greenlaw Ramonas, who has worked for more than 20 years as a Senate staff member. "She thinks globally." Notes Helfer: "Susan is a very conscientious Fed board member who has given a lot of thought and attention to matters she comments on. She brings a terrific breadth and depth to the board."
Another influential regulator is Securities and Exchange Commissioner Cynthia Glassman, "who brings toughness and determination" as one of two dissenters-including Paul Atkins-on the SEC, says Wallison. "And that's a very tough thing to do." Known as an economist's economist, Glassman was formerly at Ernst & Young and spent 12 years at the Federal Reserve and one year at the Treasury Department. Dodd credits her for "standing her ground on mutual fund regulation to stamp out abuse in the industry. She's had some tough fights."
Henrietta H. Fore, the outgoing director of the U.S. Mint at the Treasury Department, "has brought her great skills as a manager and attacked the agency as if it were a business," says one observer. She was recently named under secretary for management at the State Department. Anne O. Krueger, the Stanford University professor who became the first female deputy managing director at the International Monetary Fund, has also won high marks for her stewardship since 2001. The vice president of the World Bank in the 1980s, Krueger is no stranger to Washington, where she has long pushed for trade liberalization, accompanied by sound macroeconomic policies, including an appropriate exchange rate and tariff reduction. All, she says, are vital to spur to economic growth in developing countries.
But behind the scenes, the most influential women help set banking policy. One mover and shaker is Candida Wolff, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House and President Bush's top legislative strategist. She worked at both the Senate and for Vice President Dick Cheney, before becoming a private-sector lobbyist. Bush tapped her to return to the White House after his reelection. "She's the president's top lobbyist, so her sphere of influence is everything," says Ramonas. "That's her domain. She's very knowledgeable on the issues, good at counting votes and counting coalitions." One of her key initiatives was trying to sell Social Security private accounts to the masses, enacting tax-code reform and pushing through the divisive trade pact with nations of the Caribbean and Central America.
Lawranne Stewart, senior counsel at the House Financial Services Committee, has been instrumental in helping the financial markets run more smoothly. "She really understands how they're regulated," says Dodd. "Some people say the markets always work perfectly, but that's not true. Anyone who's smart knows that they work better if they're properly policed. Chaos is not a good thing. She understands where you need regulation and where you don't. She's got good legal skills and economic understanding. That's rare."
Kathy Casey, staff director of the Senate Banking Committee, is on many people's list of skilled power brokers. "There's nobody smarter than Kathy Casey," says Ramonas. "She works really hard. She knows the issues and drills down deep. She has a very keen intellect and is able to collect all the data and the arguments and analyze the law-and then put it together into a cogent and effective policy."
Lisa S. McGreevy, evp of external affairs and president of the Government Affairs Council at the Financial Services Roundtable, has drawn praise from Democrats and Republicans alike as a successful lobbyist with a good understanding of the opposition. "McGreevy is a really smart accomplished woman," says Dodd. "McGreevy is knowledgeable of the many pitfalls in the industry," adds Helfer, while Ramonas says, "She has been very effective."
Diane Casey Landry, president and CEO of America's Community Bankers also is well-known for her effective lobbying for the issues of smaller banks. "Diane is very savvy, very thoughtful," muses Helfer. "She's very good at reading the tea leaves." On the front burner for the group is support of the H.R. 3206, the Credit Union Charter Choice Act of 2005, which would make it easier for credit unions to convert to mutual savings banks or associations, pay taxes, and comply with the Community Reinvestment Act.
Elizabeth Duke, the outgoing chairman of the board of the American Bankers Association, has been instrumental in getting Washington to understand the way banks work. Her lobbying acumen recently helped push through the Check Clearing For the 21st Century Act, which established a substitute-check provision to facilitate electronic check processing. In testimony this April before the House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, she noted that her own bank, Wachovia, where she is an evp, would process only two percent to three percent of all checks via image exchange by the end of 2005. However, what processing the bank has done to date has been an unqualified success: Of the two million substitute checks processed, the bank has received not one expedited recredit request.
Duke, who became the first female to head the board since the ABA was founded in 1875, is like her Washington comrades when it comes to thanking those who have come before her. "I owe a debt of gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of women in this industry," Duke said when she was elected in 2004. "There never could have been a first woman chairman if there hadn't been so many talented, hard-working women challenging barriers every day." (c) 2005 U.S. Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.us-banker.com http://www.sourcemedia.com