How banks can get results on gender equality: A lot of companies talk about gender equality without making much tangible progress toward it, but Bank of Montreal has achieved results. So what is it doing that the others aren't? Setting goals and creating action plans to achieve those goals, among other things. In practice, this sometimes means influencing the career steps individual women take. In this interview, Chief Executive Bill Downe talks about prompting a "superb deputy general counsel" to move to investor relations. She had been expecting to become general counsel, so did not initiate the change herself. "We asked her the age of the general counsel, and if he is doing his job well. The answers were he is not old and he is doing his job well," Downe said. "The investor relations job was another way" for her to advance. Women make up 40% of senior management at BMO — a goal the company set for itself five years ago and achieved in 2016.

Nothing to hide?: Arjuna Capital, which is trying to get six big banks and credit card companies to be more transparent about the gender pay gap, says the financial services sector is far more opposed to the idea than the tech companies it targeted last year. Arjuna says five of the six companies — Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and American Express — are asking investors to vote against its proxy proposal, the exception being Mastercard. In contrast, seven of nine tech companies targeted last year took action to improve gender disparities in the workplace. "The banks are sticking their heads in the sand," said Natasha Lamb, Arjuna's director of equity research and shareholder engagement, "which makes you wonder: What do they have to hide?" Several of the banks responded by saying they are committed to promoting diversity and inclusion, and B of A argued in its proxy statement that a report would be "unnecessary," given the disclosures it already makes about diversity.

Out with the old, in with the new: Financial institutions of all sizes are overhauling benefits policies and promoting work-life balance to better compete for millennial recruits with the hipper tech sector. Over the past year, the mega banks have strengthened their parental leave policies, and now the regionals are beginning to follow suit. PNC upgraded its policy in January and Fifth Third plans to do so later this year. Help with paying off student loans is another trend. Weighing in on the changes afoot are: Fifth Third's chief administrative officer, Teresa Tanner; Citi's global head of benefits, Lori Szerencsy, and head of employee relations and human resources policies, Jill Rorschach; and First Horizon's manager of employee relations, Linda Bacon.

Generational shift: Recruiting and training is also on the mind of KeyCorp's chief information officer, Amy Brady, who shared this overview of what the company is up to on the digital front. She has new hires rotate through different sections of the technology group to learn a wider range of skills from the more senior staff. "Their energy is so cool to see," she said of the younger employees. "They're not trained in the mainframe in college anymore, so working on mainframes is a new technology for them. … It's an interesting generational shift happening." Key's focus is on modernizing collections and loan servicing, both of which run on legacy systems. Brady's group also is adopting the technology industry's agile development approach.

Amy Brady, KeyCorp's chief information officer.
Amy Brady, KeyCorp's chief information officer.

Support for small-dollar loans: A former community bank CEO and Small Business Administration executive, Ann Marie Mehlum, has just joined the board of SmartBiz Loans, which is an online marketplace that links borrowers and SBA lenders. One of her goals is to help bring back small-dollar business loans. "Our banking system can't do $50,000 or $100,000 loans the way I learned how to do them 25 or 30 years ago," Mehlum said. "It's just not feasible anymore. You just can't sit down and spend three days talking to a small business about a $25,000 loan. The bank can't afford that." Through the use of technology, online lenders like SmartBiz can fill the gap, she said.

If you can't beat 'em: Reading Cooperative Bank CEO Julieann Thurlow saw online lender SoFi's Super Bowl commercial last year and immediately applied. In minutes she had a loan — and a new realization about how dangerous fintech challengers are for community banks like hers. "It hit me," Thurlow said. "There's nothing they can't take away from us." Her $513 million-asset bank has been amping up its mobile investment ever since. "Everything needs to be mobile," she said. If you can't apply for your mortgage on your mobile phone, then we're dead in the water."

Bank of England's 'woman challenge': Meet six of the most qualified women to fill Charlotte Hogg's seat at the Bank of England and help governor Mark Carney with its "woman challenge." Elizabeth Corley, former chief executive of Allianz Global Investors; Vicky Saporta, the BOE's executive director for prudential policy; Sarah Breeden, executive director for international banks supervision at the Prudential Regulation Authority; Victoria Cleland, the BOE's chief cashier; Helene Rey, a London Business School professor; and Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry. Hogg's recent resignation left the BOE with a significant shortage of women at the top.

Role call

Mary Navarro, retail banking chief at Huntington Bancshares, is retiring in June after 42 years in the industry. She is a repeat honoree on our Most Powerful Women in Banking list.

Zurich Insurance Group has elected Cathy Bessant, Bank of America's chief operations and technology officer, to its board of directors. Bessant is also a veteran of the Most Powerful list.

AIG has named Donna Demaio as its chief auditor, reporting directly to the board and administratively to the CEO. She will succeed Martha Gallo, who was recently named chief information officer.

Goldman Sachs named Joanne Hannaford head of technology for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Hannaford joined Goldman in 1997 and has been a partner since 2014.

The Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland appointed Kristine Braden, Citigroup's country officer for Switzerland, vice president. She also has been selected as its board representative for the Swiss Bankers Association.

In case you missed it

Connecting the dots: Citizens Bank of Edmond CEO Jill Castilla wrote a reflective essay on the trajectory of her career, talking about how her military experience "absolutely shaped" the person and leader she is now and about how she came to takeover a troubled bank and turn it around. "Some of the best situations in life come out of the darkest, hardest times," she writes. "Looking back, it's easier to see how all the dots connect. Seemingly random situations led to choices that resulted in where I am today."

Beyond banking

Identity crisis: Hawaii's Republican State Rep. Beth Fukumoto is looking to switch to the Democratic party. When Fukumoto was removed from her role as House Minority leader after speaking at her state's Women's March about tolerance and kindness in America, she gave up hope of bringing change to her own party as a moderate voice. The best way for political parties to address sexism is to get more women in political leadership, she said. "If nothing else, it changes how men interact with women."

Women's 'equality' problem: If "feminism" is just another word for "equality," then what is equality? It's become perhaps too fashionable to define feminism that way (thanks partly to Emma Watson and Taylor Swift). Feminism is on track, if it's not there already, to become as hollow as the word "empowerment". "Nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all — as if focusing a movement, or policy, or activism on women alone is taboo. Or too risky," argues Marcie Bianco, managing editor at the Clayman Institute at Stanford University. "The knee-jerk, 'all lives matter' refusal to center women in this latest iteration of feminism is, I believe, a significant cause of the stalled gender revolution. We cannot address or end the systemic oppression of women if we refuse to center women in that fight. And that means reconsidering what we mean when we talk about equality and power."

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