RIP: Melanie Dressel, the longtime president and chief executive of Columbia Banking System, died Sunday, at age 64. Dressel, who ranked among our Most Powerful Women in Banking, grew a small bank in Tacoma, Washington, into a regional powerhouse in the Pacific Northwest. She will be remembered as a trailblazer for women in the banking industry, said Laurie Stewart, the president and CEO of Sound Community Bank in Seattle, who recalled that Dressel often underscored how far women still have to go with “a little story.” Dressel once shared some of those stories in a BankThink piece about opportunities in disguise. Here’s the detailed article the Tacoma newspaper wrote about Dressel, in which one of the bank’s founders, when asked about the obstacles Dressel faced as a woman in a male-dominated field, said: “I guess I’m different, but I recognized a long time ago that women are good at certain things. I think they’re good at managing people and running things. I’ve always respected them for that. I had no qualms about asking her to run Columbia.” Ahem.
Get (women) on board: U.S. banks have more female directors than any other U.S. industry, but risk falling behind because the growth rate in the number of female directors is slower than in the rest of corporate America, according to a PwC report. Women made up 26% of directors at 21 of the largest banking and capital markets companies last year, but only 13% of new board additions were female. The report didn't identify specific companies, but among the six biggest banks by revenue, Wells Fargo has the highest proportion of female board members at 35% (including the addition of Karen Peetz this week, but more on that below), followed by Citigroup (35%), Bank of America (31%), Goldman Sachs (23%), JPMorgan Chase (17%) and Morgan Stanley (13%). We did our own story on Wells Fargo’s leading percentage of female board members a while back.
Stay woke: Although much of banking is cautiously optimistic about the Trump presidency, those that serve the unbanked and underbanked see the election as a mixed bag so far. Ramona Ortega, CEO of a PFM app called My Money My Future, said that the political climate creates an opportunity to offer resources to its users — mostly college-educated professional millennials who aren't necessarily unbanked, but are definitely underserved. At the same time, navigating the financial system as a startup while trying to build trust with “woke” users is a challenge, Ortega said. “There is more scrutiny on what we do, because millennials of color generally don’t trust financial institutions.”
Mobile takes the lead: Bank of America head of digital Michelle Moore wrote in the Financial Brand this week that the majority of its customers are now using a mobile banking app. The bank has been building out that offering while also improving its branch experience. B of A announced new employee-less branches earlier this month, but in many other branches it’s rethinking the balance between digital and human interactions. “There is still no substitute for face-to face contact with the people we serve,” Moore said. “We’re investing heavily in our financial centers — opening new centers and refurbishing and renovating hundreds more — making them destinations for our customers to come.”
#BBHMM: The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has launched an investigation into allegations that it owes more than 7,000 part-time staff millions of dollars in unpaid pension entitlements. The Sydney Morning Herald said the “vast majority” of part-time staff are women; HC Magazine, a publication for Australia’s senior human resources professionals, said “89% of the underpaid Commonwealth Bank workers were women who did additional hours to manage staff shortages and peak periods.”
Saudi women rising: Three top jobs in banking and financial markets in Saudi Arabia were filled by women this week, and the country got its first female bank CEO, Rania Mahmoud Nashar of Samba Financial Group. Currently, the female unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia is more than 34%. Women aren't allowed to drive and religious authorities limit their public role. However, the number of working women grew 50% between 2010 and 2015. More women are now working in male-dominated fields like banking and at least two government initiatives aim to increase women’s participation in the workforce to 30% from 22% by 2030.
Wells Fargo named longtime BNY Mellon executive Karen Peetz to its board of directors. She will serve on the board’s finance and human resources committees. Peetz retired on Dec. 31 after 18 years at BNY, where she served in a number of high-ranking positions and became the first female president in its history. She also was American Banker’s Most Powerful Woman in Banking for 2011 and 2016. When she accepted her award in 2011, she gave a speech with a lot of great advice for women in the industry.
Is it a boy or a girl?: The voice assistants in phones, speakers and computers — Alexa, Siri, Cortana, even Google “Assistant” — are overwhelmingly female. Among banking bots, that extends to Bank of America's Erica, Google's Penny, Swedbank's Nina, and the AI financial assistant Cleo. Given the bro culture of male-dominated Silicon Valley, the charge has been that this is yet another mechanism reinforcing sexist stereotypes (read Stessa Cohen’s thoughts on this, as well as this take from Jacqueline Feldman, one of the designers on Kasisto’s chatbot Kai). Studies show, however, that it has more to do with natural preferences and the kinds of voices people warm up to more easily. Could there be a way to create an inviting voice and still avoid gender stereotypes?
Inked: Tattoos with the words “Nevertheless, she persisted” are now a thing. On Tuesday, more than 100 women (and a guy or two) lined up at a Minneapolis shop for their turn to get a tattoo of the now infamous quote from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when trying to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “Did I ever think I would get a Mitch McConnell quote tattooed on my body? No, I did not,” said Nora McInerny, who got the tattoo while holding her 3-month-old son. “But those are three words that any woman would be able to see themselves in, regardless of politics.” That seemed to be the sentiment of most of the women who participated in the event, including some who were getting a tattoo for the very first time. “It’s not about politics,” said Noël Anderson. “It’s about a man saying something like that to me for 15 years, and I won’t listen to it anymore.”
Wake-up call: Uber sounded an alarm across the rest of Silicon Valley this week, though it didn't mean to. A blog post by one of its former female engineers, Susan Fowler, went viral over the weekend. In it, she made serious sexual harassment and discrimination allegations against the ride-sharing company, saying Uber’s human resources department repeatedly shrugged her off when she was solicited for sex by a male superior. She argued that Uber has created a toxic work culture for women, noting that from the time she joined, in November 2015, to the time she left, in December 2016, the ratio of female employees dropped from more than 25% to less than 6%.
Bonnie McGeer contributed to this report.