Best Women to Work For: American Banker’s fifth annual ranking of the 75 Best Banks to Work For includes the banks of four female leaders: Debra Hanses Novakoski, president and CEO of HomeBanc in Tampa, Fla.; Susan Still, president and CEO of HomeTown Bank in Roanoke, Va.; April Perry, chairman and CEO of Kentucky Farmers Bank in Ashland, Ky., and Janet Garufis, chairman and CEO of Montecito Bank & Trust in Santa Barbara, California. (Garufis also happens to have been on our list of Women to Watch in 2015.)

Debra Hanses Novakoski, president and CEO of HomeBanc in Tampa, Fla.
Debra Hanses Novakoski, president and CEO of HomeBanc in Tampa, Fla.

Microfinance then and now: As technology has made lending in small rural villages more efficient and profitable, microfinance institutions are becoming more bank-like with varied products and services. Microfinance used to focus on women starting small businesses like tailoring and fruit vending. Microfinance 2.0, according to Laura Hemrika, global head of corporate citizenship and foundations at Credit Suisse, takes advantage of technology to provide individual loans, savings products and micro-insurance, not just for small businesses, but for farms, schools and individuals paying for education, health care or a home. “We wouldn’t use small-business loans to pay a mortgage, so why would we expect people at the base of the pyramid to use their group small-business loan to add a toilet to their house?” Hemrika said. In the last 15 years, Credit Suisse has built a business letting its private banking and private equity fund clients invest in microfinance loans, and the returns are competitive. The bank’s philanthropic arm gives financial aid to microfinance institutions and Credit Suisse employees help them solve management and technology problems.

Becoming a techie: JPMorgan Chase executive Amber Baldet traces her enthusiasm for technology back to when she was 13 years old, she recounted in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. She persuaded her parents to let her use a 9600-baud modem left behind by a deceased relative, which allowed her to connect to university message boards. Student members “got me into playing MUDs [multiplayer real-time virtual worlds], the first choose-your-own-adventure-style computer games, and reading books like Gödel, Escher, Bach,” she said. They also taught her to see the world as “a fascinating puzzle worth unraveling,” Baldet said. She helped organize the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, a consortium of 30 technology and financial services partners including JPMorgan and Intel. The alliance plans to build a blockchain based on Ethereum. Baldet is also leading the development of Quorum, the bank’s smart contract platform.

Amber Baldet
JPMorgan Chase executive Amber Baldet

Turnaround tactics: Mary Mack, the head of community banking at Wells Fargo, is launching a turnaround plan in September aimed at moving the bank beyond the phony-accounts scandal. The announcement of the plan, which is called “Change for the Better,” came shortly before the $1.9 trillion-asset bank revealed that employees had opened 3.5 million potentially unauthorized consumer accounts, not the 2.1 million originally estimated. Key elements of the plan are implementing consistent account opening processes at all branches and putting an emphasis on treating customers well, rather than selling products.

Branch to table: For the past three years the staff at an Independence Bank branch in Hopkins County, Ky., has been tending an acre of farmland before and after work and donating their harvested crops to food banks in the community, an initiative spearheaded by Terry Douglass, a loan officer at the bank. Though the initiative isn't in any employee’s job description, they all sweat it out together at harvest time. The work has built camaraderie among the employees, some of whom are in the field by 5:30 a.m., and others of whom rotate in after work until 8:00 p.m. "We've gained accounts because of it," said Kent Mills, the branch’s president, adding that the bank will keep the project running for as long as employees want it. "People are appreciative that we give back to our community.” Independence Bank is in our annual ranking of the Best Banks to Work For again this year, which is its fourth time.

Ellevest gears up: Ellevest, the female-focused digital investment platform run by former Bank of America and Citigroup executive Sallie Krawcheck, has raised $32.5 million in funding, according to a regulatory filing dated Aug. 23. The following day Ellevest announced it has hired its first chief marketing officer, Lisa Stone, the cofounder and former CEO of BlogHer.

Role call

New Resource Bank in San Francisco has hired Winter Williams as regional development manager to expand the bank's East Bay presence. She previously managed the Bay Area Green Fund for Community Bank of the Bay.

In case you missed it
A word of advice: JPMorgan Chase Private Bank investment specialist Leah Taylor offered advice to the STEM community in a recent interview. She recommended taking courses in finance, accounting, and economics. She also advised first-time job seekers to choose a company that will invest time in training them. “As a young person, that training will really help you to get started on the right foot,” she said.

Beyond banking

If all else fails…: Witchsy cofounders Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer faced a lot of sexism and condescension when they launched their online marketplace for weird art. One web developer tried to delete everything he had helped them build after Gazin declined to go on a date with him. Other offenses were more subtle: male collaborators were slow to respond and disrespectful in correspondence. Eventually, the women felt compelled to bring another co-founder to the venture, a made-up character named Keith. By deploying him when interacting with outsiders, they found the perceived involvement of a man affected others’ assumptions about Witchsy and how they interacted with the business. “I think we could have gotten pretty bent out of shape about that,” Dwyer said. “Wow, are people really going to talk to this imaginary man with more respect than us? But we were like, you know what, this is clearly just part of this world that we’re in right now. We want this and want to make this happen.”

Gender bias exists even among STEM faculty: Scientists are not as objective as they think they are. In a recent study, several groups of participants were asked to read either an actual journal abstract reporting gender bias in a STEM context or an altered abstract that reported no gender bias. Men evaluated the real gender-bias research less favorably than women, and this gender difference was especially prominent among STEM faculty. The results suggest a relative reluctance among men, especially faculty men within STEM, to accept evidence of gender biases in STEM. “What this extensive literature shows is, in fact, scientists are people, subject to the same cultural norms and beliefs as the rest of society,” wrote Wired opinion columnist Alison Coil of the study. “The systemic sexism and racism on display every day in this country also exist within the confines of science.”

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