Women in Banking

Mom's not-so-little helper; 'values' in hiring

Register now

Helping hands: New mothers were leaving Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati at twice the rate of other female employees, so it decided to offer a maternity concierge service to help lighten their workload at home. Ultimately Fifth Third’s hope is to increase the share of female senior managers and executives from the current 23%. “We’ve had all these programs around for decades now, but we’re not getting results,” said Teresa Tanner, Fifth Third’s chief administrative officer. “We’ve got to step back and say, what are we missing?” The maternity concierge service is akin to a personal assistant who can handle any task a new mom might find overwhelming, from finding a pediatrician to planning a child’s birthday party. Since its January launch, more than 170 women with a child under the age of 1 have used the service. “If we want diversity at the most senior level of the company — and we do — we have to figure out how to keep women and allow them to grow their careers,” said Tanner, who is one of our Women to Watch.

Character is collateral: Even at age 86, Nebraska banking veteran Alice Dittman isn’t done making loans. She put up $1 million of her own money to create a microlending program that emphasizes the character of applicants and doesn't require collateral. Since the inception of Alice's Integrity Loan Fund, 83 loans have been made, 48 of them to women or minorities, for enterprises like salons, a T-shirt printing shop, cleaning businesses and a grocery store. "I spent over 60 years working in banking and I am never tired of it," said Dittman. "This is probably the riskiest type of credit you can do. It is hard to make the overhead and hard to make a profit at 5.5% interest.” Her one disappointment with the initiative? IRS rules prevent her from getting directly involved in the loans and giving the entrepreneurs advice.

Bitcoin believer: Who knew Fidelity CEO Abby Johnson would emerge as a bitcoin evangelist? On Tuesday she delivered a keynote at the Consensus conference in New York in which she talked about Fidelity’s own initiatives with the digital currency, including implementing bitcoin payments in its cafeteria and allowing clients to make charity donations in bitcoin through a Coinbase partnership. This year it will begin showing clients their bitcoin wallet balances when they log into their Fidelity account online. “If you only look at this technology through the lens of the problems that exist today you won’t find a lot of compelling use cases, at least not that can be implemented at scale,” she said. “If you’re looking for bitcoin to beat Visa at the point of sale today you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking at this technology as just a faster settlement system for financial transactions you’ll also be disappointed. But I’m still a believer.” Johnson she said she sees “a future where bitcoin and blockchain thrive,” and thinks “this scenario has a reasonable chance of coming to pass — despite what the skeptics say.”

Canadian competition: HSBC is getting aggressive in Canada, where it’s offering five-year fixed-term mortgages at 2.39%, undercutting the lowest rates at major players like TD and Royal Bank of Canada. HSBC Canada CEO Sandra Stuart said her overall strategy is to expand in four main businesses: commercial lending, capital markets, retail banking and wealth management. "I want to be more competitive," she said. "I will never be as big as the Big Five, but I certainly want to have our share of market, and I want to be out there with good competitive products.” Stuart became head of the Canadian operations in June 2015.

Change is scary: Diversity initiatives can be great for raising awareness, but tend to do very little to change a company's culture or its bottom line. It can be very scary to be the person that signs off on real change, said Monica Cole, Wells Fargo’s group head of middle-marketing banking for the North region, at the Most Powerful Women in Banking LEAD conference Wednesday in New York. And making changes that matter requires leaders to admit that bias exists, she said. “As hiring managers, we have to have the courage not to hire a rainmaker who does not believe in our values across all people,” she said. “That’s very hard to do when you have numbers to make; when you’ve had your eye on someone in the market that you know is right. It takes a lot of courage to say, ‘[That’s] not the kind of person I want in my organization because he doesn’t reflect the values I believe in.’”

Female-focused fintech: There’s a new personalized financial app for women that’s joining the likes of Alexa von Tobel’s LearnVest, Sallie Krawcheck’s Ellevest and Amanda Steinberg’s WorthFM. It’s an app called Joy – but it comes from an all-male team led by Scott Saunders, chief executive of the online lender Payoff, Joy’s parent company. Through early testing, the team discovered women liked the app so much more than men that it pivoted and redesigned it to better suit female users. “The psychology of the existing financial system is that it’s incredibly male-oriented,” Saunders said. “It’s transactional, power-focused, ruthlessly competitive and based on literal conversation. … Men look at it more as a competition. ‘How am I doing? What’s my performance? Am I beating the index?’” Women have a different mindset about money, according to Alexandra Taussig, a senior vice president at Fidelity. They tend to think about their financial lives in terms of life milestones — marriage, divorce, caring for children and parents. “Most of what we provide as an industry hasn’t really focused on that,” said Kendra Thompson, a managing director of global wealth management at Accenture.

Not leaving, but not moving up: Eight of State Street’s top female executives – also known as its “Leading Women” – talk about its gender parity strategy and why it hasn’t worked better in this feature story. At the senior vice president level and higher, just 27% of State Street employees are women. “Fearless Girl has raised expectations,” said Karen Keenan, the chief administrative officer. “I’m not quite sure 27% is going to cut it.” The group said unconscious bias and the confidence gap between women and men are major factors; they feed into a bigger problem — not that women are leaving, but that they're not moving up. State Street has higher retention rates of women than men at all levels of seniority, but to expand that it’s giving new mothers 14 to 16 weeks of fully paid parental leave this year — a benefit that only 6% of firms offer.

Adjusting to apps: Bank of America is testing a new data-sharing model. The goal is to allow customers to give third-party apps access to their financial information in a way that is safer than providing their actual bank credentials, as apps like Mint currently require. "We value customer choice and want customers to securely access their information when and where they want," said Michelle Moore, head of digital banking at Bank of America. "For customers who use data aggregation services, we are making it more transparent and simpler for them to see who they're sharing data with and to turn it off when they want.”

Beyond banking

Attack on women?: This week both the Atlantic and Time weighed in on the terrorist bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in the U.K., calling it an attack on girlhood. The former Nickelodeon TV star’s main fan base consists of preteen and teenage girls, and the youngest of the 22 people who died was just 8 years old. ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing. “It reminds girls and young women that there will always be people who hate them simply because they were born female,” Sophie Gilbert wrote in the Atlantic essay. “These were precocious girls on their way to becoming Dangerous Women,” Charlotte Adler wrote in Time, referring to the title of Grande’s latest album. “Exactly the kind of women ISIS hates.”

Then and now: It was 45 years ago that New York Magazine ran a cover story titled, “The Suburban Housewife Who Bought the Promises of Women’s Lib and Came to the City to Live Them,” the personal account of Jennifer Skolnik, a 31-year-old divorced mother of four young children. The chronicle of her attempt at work-life balance in the city — the job hunt, the babysitter troubles, the dates both bad and good – received a lot of criticism in 1972. To mark the anniversary, Skolnik, now Jennifer Rogers, has written another story about what happened next. Read today’s here and the original here.

Hurry! Don’t miss the deadline to submit an application for the Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance ranking. Click here to find the application on our Women in Banking page and click here to subscribe to American Banker Magazine.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.