Recruiting female athletes boosts BMO Financial's talent pipeline in commercial banking

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When BMO Financial Group thinks about the next generation of women's leadership in its commercial bank, it's increasingly turning to a new well of potential talent: the athletic rosters of Big Ten colleges.

Its Chicago banking unit, BMO Harris Bank, was already partnering with the business schools at some of those colleges as part of its recruitment efforts, but in the summer of 2016 it began actively recruiting female business majors who are enrolled in athletic programs, said Katie Kelley, vice chair of commercial banking.

"We consider that caliber of female business major of very high value," Kelley said.

She credited a colleague of hers, Kristan Kelly, who leads the commercial analyst development program, for coming up with the idea of seeking out female athletes.

In addition to the technical training of a business major, student athletes have experience managing their time and working on a team, and they can accept coaching and criticism gracefully, Kelley said.

"All those soft skills were beautifully profiled in looking at this niche," she said.

To pull in more student athletes, the BMO team had to approach sports departments the way bankers would approach clients, Kelley said. So BMO asked questions about what student athletes needed to make critical resume-building internships appealing.

Time constraints can be a significant hurdle for student athletes. After accounting for a full course load, practice times and traveling to and from competitions, many student athletes have a hard time carving out a solid eight weeks to devote to internships.

Therefore, BMO committed to working around their schedules, Kelley said. One student, as an example, didn't want to give up a rare opportunity to visit her family in Southern California, so BMO contacted its loan office in that area and arranged for her to take a two-and-a-half-week internship there.

More 2017 Top Teams:

Since last summer BMO has recruited seven student athletes into internships, and it has hired one of those interns to work in a commercial development program. The focus on athletic programs may be new, but it's part of the BMO's broader efforts to develop women's leadership within the organization.

In 2016 the Toronto-based parent company met a five-year goal to have 40% of its senior leaders be women, and it has increased the proportion of women of color and visible minorities from 4.4% to 6.5%.

Additionally, 39% of the finalists for top positions are women.

Kelley said all those things were purposeful. "We reached very deep into the organization, we had dynamic discussions, and we have really started to challenge each other on what high performance and high potential look like," she said.

Headquarters: Chicago

2016 Financial highlights:
Assets: $106.2 billion
ROE: 4.16%
ROA: 0.61%

Female representation among corporate officers: 48%

Female representation on operating committee: 28%

The Team: Leslie Anderson, Carolyn Booth, Lily Capriotti, Larissa Chaikowsky, Alex Dousmanis-Curtis, Justine Fedak, Sharon Haward-Laird, Sandra Henderson, Summer Hinton, Kara Kaiser, Katie Kelley, Erin Keyser Norton, Erica Kuhlmann, Margie Lawless, Cecily Mistarz, Sue Oleari, Daniela O'Leary-Gill, Gail Palac, Pam Piarowski, Debbie Rechter-Lawson, Lois Robinson, Joanna Rotenberg, Deepa Soni, Connie Stefankiewicz, Maria Tedesco, Caroline Tsai, Cynthia Ullrich, Cheryle Wittert, Susan Wolford, Ann Marie Wright

BMO also had Top Team wins in 2016 and 2015.

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National banks Commercial banking Recruiting Diversity and equality Women in Banking