PHOENIX — Banks have never been very welcoming to the women or people of color looking to climb their professional ranks. Beverly Anderson is hoping to help change that.

The veteran credit card executive has taken on a big job at the nation's fourth-largest bank, shepherding Wells Fargo's (WFC) new efforts to get more revenue from its long-neglected credit card business. It's one of the most prominent executive roles held in the industry by an African-American women.

Anderson, 50, is a lifelong credit executive who joined Wells Fargo from American Express (AXP) in 2012. Before that she had worked at Fleet and First USA, now, respectively, parts of Bank of America (BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM), as well as the consulting firm Novantas. She's also a Harvard Business School grad — and yet she says that all that experience alone would likely not have gotten her to her current executive vice president perch, without the help of several mentors and sponsors along the way.

Now she's calling for more bankers, no matter their background, to fill similar roles and "pull people through."

"Mentors and sponsors don't have to be diverse. My best sponsors are non-diverse," Anderson said in an interview last week, adding that she has "many mentees at Wells and outside of Wells, and it's my huge pleasure to help make people as successful as they want to be in this industry."

Banking is a traditionally conservative and risk-averse profession, but Anderson argues that some more open-mindedness would do wonders for the industry's diversity — and its ability to recruit and retain new talent.

"There has to be a spirit of allowing people to have opportunities and take risks. People have to get tapped for roles that perhaps they'll grow into," Anderson says. "Maybe I wouldn't be someone's first choice. But if we're deliberate about our desire to have a work force that looks like our customer base, then you'll have to make deliberate decisions about talent strategies and performance strategies. And so I think those are the kinds of things that large institutions in this industry and in other industries have to do better."

Banks have systematically failed to promote anyone who is not straight, white and male to their most senior leadership roles. People from minority backgrounds held 19% of all management jobs in financial services in 2011, but only 11% of all senior management jobs, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year.

The industry's diversity is a topic that also will be front and center later this week at the annual Out on the Street conference, a New York gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender investment bankers and the executives who support them.

Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf has saidthat he would like to create more "diversity at the more senior levels" of his bank. Three of his 11 executive officers are women, including the head of Anderson's division, consumer lending chief Avid Modjtabai. She's considered to be one potential eventual successor to Stumpf, though the current front-runner appears to be Chief Financial Officer Tim Sloan, who's getting moved over to run Wells Fargo's wholesale banking unit.

That transfer was one of Wells' periodic rotations of its top executives, to give them experience running several businesses and to groom them for potential leadership. But if Anderson has any such eventual ambitions, she's keeping them under wraps for now.

"I love what I do today," Anderson says. "It is a business with a great growth trajectory [and] I've been in the credit business for a very long time."

Anderson, who grew up in small-town Kentucky before going to college at Florida A&M, credits an undergrad commercial banking professor and an internship at the Bank of Boston for getting her interested in the business. She still has that enthusiasm, even though her industry is struggling to pass it along to a new generation. Many potential new bankers are instead going to work for startups and other technology firms, which offer more creative work environments and fewer regulatory restrictions.

In the credit corner of banking, "the exciting thing about this industry is that there's no better learning ground," Anderson argues.

"Whether you've got consumer customers or [business-to-business] customers, you actually understand what they believe, how they behave, what they need. And once you do that, then you have an entire space in which to create and innovate," she adds. "So that would be my pitch to young, shiny folks wanting to do something fun and interesting."

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