No gender, but lots of personality: The chatbot, Eno, that Capital One launched in mid-October is purposely gender-neutral. “I felt strongly that we should challenge the industry trend of choosing female characters in voice and name for their bots,” said Audra Koklys Plummer, head of AI design at Capital One, who leads a team of 12 people. She spent six years helping create fictional characters at Walt Disney Co.’s Pixar Animation Studios, and drew on that experience as she tried to imbue Eno with character traits like empathy and humor. The digital assistant, which interacts via text, not voice, helps customers track account balances, get bill due dates, pay credit cards and check recent transactions. It has some fun responses to questions like “where do you live” and is not ok with being treated disrespectfully by humans.
Lots of hush money: Fidelity is facing allegations of having a “men’s club mentality” in parts of the company, after two prominent money managers were dismissed over sexual harassment allegations in recent weeks and at least six cases of alleged discrimination against female employees over the past decade have come to light. Half of the six complaints were settled; they involved allegations of a double standard for women who have relationships with co-workers and retaliation against a female employee for reporting harassment. This Bloomberg story recounts how Erika Wesson, a former Fidelity analyst, was the target of emailed threats by an anonymous sender whose address was “a crude comment on her anatomy.” Fidelity paid her $500,000 in 2011 and promised to provide good job references — but Wesson, who has yet to find another job in finance six years later, says that she has been blackballed in the industry and that Fidelity is to blame. In rare public remarks, Fidelity’s chief executive, Abigail Johnson, a repeat honoree in American Banker’s Most Powerful Women rankings, has vowed to root out the mistreatment of women at the company.
Speak up and get punished: A bank’s first line of defense against fraud and other violations should be its staff. But for eight years leading up to September 2016, when Wells Fargo’s phony-accounts scandal became public, senior executives were “setting high targets, then driving staff to do whatever they could to hit them,” even if it meant breaking the law, according to Ruth Landaverde, an ex-Wells employee. She was one of several women and men who shared accounts of getting punished for refusing to participate in the bad conduct that went on at Wells, as detailed in this longread about the whistleblowers. Claudia Ponce de Leon, a former manager, was fired in September 2011 for “drinking excessively and engaging in other inappropriate behavior,” three weeks after she had called the ethics line to report “inaccurate portrayals of goals due to team members falsifying profiles and opening accounts to create the illusion that the numbers were greater than what they are.” Rasheeda Kamar narrowly missed her target of eight accounts per day one December; she was then accidentally copied into an email with her draft letter of dismissal attached. “The accounts have to make sense for the customer,” Kamar once wrote in an email to former CEO John Stumpf. “We may never get the chance to meet, but know that there are employees who really care and then they get beaten down.”
A woman’s sport too: Many in finance are still misjudging what makes a strong team, gravitating, without realizing it, to those they feel most comfortable with. For Barbara Byrne, vice chairman of investment banking at Barclays, a commitment to fostering relationships made a big difference in helping her overcome a common bias: that a woman with a strong opinion is difficult. “Team victories were more important than personal ones. Then and now I believed while getting a hit every three at-bats earns you a spot in the Hall of Fame, it is teams that win. Defining a series of wins — small and achievable — builds confidence and team achievement. Time and time again, my singular focus on clients and developing teams showed me that banking is not just a man’s sport.” Byrne is also a repeat honoree in our Most Powerful Women rankings.
Smarter security: Bank of America wants to ditch passwords, according to digital banking head Michelle Moore. “If you think about all the breaches and everything going on in the world, passwords need to go away. No. 1, people forget them. No. 2, they’re not safe.” B of A recently announced plans to roll out fingerprint verification on certain personal computers; it’s also been testing iris-scanning technology with Samsung since this summer and Apple’s new facial-recognition technology on the iPhone X. “For me, this is safer, but we can always make it more safe,” Moore said. “And that’s why we’re moving towards biometrics, away from an online ID and a password that a lot of consumers use in other places.” The bank has been exploring voice recognition technology but that process is still “too clunky.” Moore is American Banker’s Digital Banker of the Year for 2017.
Goldman Sachs Group has named Stephanie Cohen as chief strategy officer. Cohen has run mergers-and-acquisitions banking for financial sponsors since 2015. She joined Goldman as an analyst in 1999 and became a partner in 2014.
Comerica’s Muneera Carr has been promoted to chief financial officer. She was previously chief accounting officer and controller.
Performance review: Female tennis players perform better under pressure than their male counterparts, according to a study from the University of St. Gallen. The researchers analyzed the performance of male and female servers in more than 8,200 games from Grand Slam tennis matches. The results showed men’s performance deteriorated more than the women’s when the game was at a critical juncture. Researcher Alex Krumer suggests the findings could apply to men and women in other high-pressure situations. “Think about other roles in which you’d want people to stay calm under pressure — CEO positions at large companies, for example. You don’t generally see average Joes or Janes filling them. You see a different type of elite, experienced performer. And still only about 4% of Fortune 500 chief executives are women.”
Power dressing: Reformation, the popular women’s clothing brand, has a new marketing campaign featuring female leaders in male-dominated fields. Instead of photographing models, it brought in a venture capitalist, a banker, an engineer and an entertainment and fashion lawyer to show off its luxe maxis and jumpsuits. "Our customers are already modern women who are on the way to accomplish great things in life, if they haven’t already," Reformation founder Yael Aflalo said. "Maybe campaigns like this can make them feel inspired to make an impact in this world, and remind them … the pretty dress is just a cherry on top.” Check it out.
#OutYourPig: Much like the United States, France is having a #MeToo moment. Ever since three French actresses joined the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, stories of abuse and harassment are pouring out from nearly every sector — medical, law enforcement, finance and media. But instead of #MeToo, French women are using the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc to expose their aggressors. Sociologist Laetitia Cesar-Franquet said a lot of changes are happening because women are speaking out – for example, companies are creating programs to sensitize workers to the problem of sexual harassment. “Men are starting to really ask themselves, what is harassment? They are putting themselves in the equation as well.”
Want to sign up for this weekly newsletter? Go to our women in banking homepage, scroll down to where it says “join our mailing list,” and type in your email address.
Tina Snieder and Bonnie McGeer contributed to this report.