It's On to the Hall of Fame for Beth Mooney

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The discussions between KeyCorp and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition in Washington came to an abrupt halt.

"In the middle of the meeting, a gentleman who was attending said, 'I have to stop, because I've never had this experience sitting here talking to a bank. We are talking about this groundbreaking agreement and there's not one white male among you,' " recounted Beth Mooney, Key's chairman and chief executive. "And we all stopped and looked up and down the table at each other."

No one on the Key team had realized it before that moment. And it wasn't done intentionally, Mooney said. "It had nothing to do with anything other than, who are the right people on our behalf to bring to the meeting."

Mooney and a team she handpicked were in D.C. to discuss the bank's landmark commitment of $16.5 billion in lending to low- and moderate-income communities across several states in the Northeast, Midwest and West beginning next year.

The observation made about the team at that meeting speaks to just how well Key has diversified under Mooney. Many of its senior executives are women and its board of directors is among the industry's most diverse.

That meeting also highlighted Key's commitment to communities in the wake of its $4.1 billion purchase of First Niagara, which Mooney points out is the second-largest bank acquisition by deal value since the financial crisis. The agreement Key signed with the coalition essentially doubles its lending to low- and middle-income borrowers and expands its community development lending by $4.5 billion, among other benefits. "We are people who are committed to fair and responsible banking and not just trying to do the minimum required to get through the process," Mooney said.

The company is already seeing some positive side effects from initiatives like these, including a 9-point increase — the largest of any bank — in its rating by customers and noncustomers in the Reputation Institute's most recent survey of bank reputations, placing it fourth overall among large U.S. banks.

The Reputation Institute credits Key's corporate social responsibility initiatives with helping drive its improvement in the rankings, along with its strong community presence and exceptional customer service.

But Key also scored very high in leadership. On that front, Mooney points to a couple of specific things.

"When we announced our transaction last fall, I spent the first couple of weeks and went to every market and met all our new employees with the then-CEO of First Niagara and welcomed them to Key and gave them the underlying pitch as to why we felt we were the right unique partner for First Niagara and why our companies were going to be better together," she said.

Separately, Mooney also laid the groundwork for giving more leaders within her company greater visibility, long before First Niagara was ever on the radar.

Several years ago, Mooney made the decision to "flatten" the organizational chart, as she put it, removing layers of management in order to bring more diversity of opinion to the table when making key business decisions across the organization. "When I first took the job, I inherited approximately five direct reports and I think right now I have north of 10," she said.

Each of them is highly visible within the company, just as Mooney herself makes a point to be. "This week alone, since we just closed on our transaction with First Niagara, I was in Buffalo last night. I'm going to be in New Haven, Conn., tonight, Pittsburgh tomorrow. So we're out meeting our teams, getting in front of folks," she said in late July.

This kind of dedication and decision-making has put Mooney at the top of our Most Powerful Women in Banking list three consecutive times. This year, to honor this remarkable achievement, we have created a Hall of Fame, to which Mooney and all others going forward who are three-peat winners of the Most Powerful Woman In Banking award will be inducted.

While Mooney likes the idea of the Hall of Fame because it meshes with her philosophy of helping to make way for and elevate future female leaders, she does not see her days of trailblazing coming to an end just yet. "American Banker names a most powerful banker every year, so in my mind, I'm not out of your game yet, because I've never received that," she said. "And I'm not trying to lobby for myself, but I'm saying you should not think of me just as a woman banker. I'm a CEO in our industry whose bank is doing lots of interesting things."

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