New competition, old playbook: When Ally Bank launched in 2008 there were few things like it — a digital-only bank that could deliver the same financial products as banks with branches. Fast forward to today and Ally-like banking services are more common. In order to compete with companies like Chase, Wells Fargo, PayPal and the many fintech startups, Ally is banking on its commitment to customer centricity that’s been so deeply ingrained in its culture from the very beginning. “Financial services is a difficult category in which to create new products,” said Diane Morais, president of consumer and commercial banking products at Ally Bank. “There’s not a lot of innovation that happens in the product, the experience, the application.” However, marketing has changed more in the last year than it has in decades, said chief marketing and public relations officer Andrea Riley. Consumers’ demand for more personalized and quicker experience is a pace that seems impossible to keep up with. “That’s where we focus in on,” Riley said. “How we can affect most people at the best time with right messages, instead of chasing.”

Diane Morais, president of consumer and commercial banking products at Ally Bank.
Diane Morais, president of consumer and commercial banking products at Ally Bank.

Avoiding business as usual: When Heather Cox joined USAA last year, its organization chart looked like almost any other bank’s, with a great divide between technology and business expertise. In hiring Cox, now its chief technology and digital officer, the bank effectively agreed to restructure the entire company. She has plans to “levelize” the business and technology teams and morph them into “business technologists,” who are empathetic and understand that technology is the enabling function of their entire business — not the checking account or the insurance policy. In the last six months, her army of 10,000 has begun carrying out her vision. Her biggest challenge now is helping her company resist “the gravitational pull of business as usual.” “The concepts, capabilities and the way we actually get work done all have to be shifting at the same time,” Cox said. “When you create a lot of change in an organization and you’re facing ambiguity because of that change, you revert back to what you know how to do… As much as people moan about how slow and cumbersome things are, they will go back to doing business as usual because they’ll know what’s coming, what they can manage and control.”

CFPB wars: A group of 10 consumer advocacy groups has filed an amicus brief on behalf of former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Deputy Director Leandra English in her suit to claim interim control of the agency. The brief argues that the court should consider the legal underpinnings of English’s claim to the CFPB directorship as well as the effect on consumer protection that would result from leaving Mick Mulvaney, acting director and White House Office of Management and Budget director, in charge. This week more than 30 current and former Democratic lawmakers also filed an amicus brief supporting her reinstatement as acting director of the agency. "The President’s purported appointment of Mulvaney is unlawful, and Deputy Director English is the lawful acting director of the bureau," the amicus brief stated. "Dodd-Frank’s mandatory and unqualified successor provision displaces the FVRA as the means by which a vacancy in the position of bureau director may be filled temporarily.” Arguments in the case of English’s previous restraining order request to halt Mulvaney's appointment are scheduled to be heard Dec. 22.

Rock star status: Add Janet Yellen, the first female chair of the Federal Reserve, to a list of powerful women who make Americans happy and have achieved rock star status for doing a good job rather than seeking one. Others on the list are Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state. Yellen never meant to insert herself into the gender wars — she doesn’t even like the term “chairwoman” — but has found herself there inadvertently. That’s perhaps why she has gained such favor among the American public, some say; by contrast, Clinton made being a woman a central theme of her career. “Janet should’ve been renominated, as every past Fed chair has been renominated for nearly the last 40 years,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pointing out that it isn’t the first or last time a qualified woman would be passed over for a job she deserves. Instead, Donald Trump nominated Jerome Powell, who has studied closely under Yellen and is expected to continue the economic path she has laid.

Forced arbitration: A new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that women have made no progress increasing their ranks in management in the financial industry since 2007. Women in New York fare worst in the country. “Wall Street has really perfected blackballing women,” said Nancy Erika Smith, the New Jersey employment lawyer who represented former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson in her sexual harassment lawsuit against chair Roger Ailes. Women in finance make up 29% of senior jobs at banks, trusts, insurance, and securities firms, according to the GAO study. Among white women, the senior ranks were down nearly a percentage point; minority women saw a 0.3 percentage point increase in the time period studied, 2007 to 2015. The GAO report looked at three tiers of managers; women in management positions from the the low- and mid-levels to senior levels of management declined between 2007 and 2015. Addressing the possibility that women might not be getting ahead because of gaps in education, the report pointed out that between 2011 and 2015, women earned 58% of bachelor’s degrees, 60% of master’s degrees, and 45% of MBAs. “The problem with these industries is that the prize is so big at the top,” said Vanderbilt Law School professor Joni Hersch. “If you successfully compete and advance, the payoff is huge, and that keeps people motivated to keep putting out effort and not complain about the working conditions.”

Who runs the world? Male economists: Worldwide, central banks are dominated by male leadership. In 2015, 16 out of 115 central bank governors, chairs or presidents were women — and usually in developing countries, according to Michigan State University researchers who have collected data on central bank leadership for 115 countries for the years 1998-2014 using Central Bank Directories. They looked at central bank governors, presidents and chairs, central bank boards and senior core-business managerial jobs for the boards of the Fed and ECB. Women in central bank boards are making progress, growing from 39 in leadership positions in 1998 to 116 in 2014 — that year, 35 countries appointed at least two women. Between the Fed and the European Central Bank, the Fed’s board and senior managerial positions consistently have more women — although they’re far from equal with men. The Fed’s Board of Governors includes seven members; Nancy Teeters was the first woman to join the board in 1978 and since then the board has included at least one woman (except for three years during the early 2000s).

Role call

JPMorgan Chase has named Pamela Codispoti its new head of branch banking and wealth management. Codispoti, who was previously JPMorgan's head of branded cards, joined Chase in 2014 from American Express.

Rondout Savings Bank in Kingston, New York, has promoted Cheryl Bowers to president and chief executive officer. She was previously chief operating officer.

Beyond banking

Silence and secrets: A bipartisan group of members of Congress introduced legislation this week that would stop employers from forcing employees to sign away their right to sue for sexual harassment. Mandatory arbitration is a huge problem across industries but has been getting more attention over the past year: companies force their employees into silence with non-disparagement agreements, agreements not to participate in class actions and strict gag orders in settlements; they fire complainers and seal damaging documents that could end up in a public court file. Look at the Sterling Jewelers and Boom Boom Room cases for how daunting the challenges can be. In her speech introducing the legislation, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) called out another jewelry company — Signet Jewelers, which owns Zales, Jared's Galleria and Kay Jewelers — by name. She said she was inspired to write the legislation when she read about the massive sexual harassment related class-action case against the company. Signet was "a rigged system that allowed those in senior leadership to prey on women in the workforce,” Bustos said.

This is where it hurts: Being a doctor is not easy – but the job appears to be more taxing on female physicians than it is on male physicians. A study conducted by Constance Guille showed that, after the first six months of residency, female physicians experienced a sharper rise in depression scores than male physicians. Why? Female physicians continue to do the lion’s share of household duties: among physicians with children, women spend nine more hours per week on domestic activities than their male counterparts. There are also the various forms of gender bias that female doctors experience as well. “I wear a white coat; I introduce myself as doctor, but patients still assume I’m a nurse or medical assistant or pharmacist,” said Dr. Theresa Williamson. “If there’s a man in the room – even if he’s a medical student and I’m the doctor – he’s the one they make eye contact with, tell their story to, ask questions of.”

Tina Snieder contributed to this report.

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