Our 15th annual rankings are out! Check out this year's lists of the Most Powerful Women in Banking, the Women to Watch and the Most Powerful Women in Finance.

Bank of America’s Cathy Bessant was named the Most Powerful Woman in Banking for 2017.

JPMorgan Chase's Mary Callahan Erdoes tops the finance list once again, and Wells Fargo’s Mary Mack leads the Women to Watch list. Mack became head of community banking in July 2016, just weeks before regulators revealed details of the phony-accounts scandal, and it is her job to convince employees, customers and regulators that Wells is a changed company.

There are seven newcomers to the banking list: It’s the first year in any of the rankings for chief marketing officers Hannah Grove of State Street and Beth Johnson of Citizens Financial Group. Five others are familiar faces who appeared on the 2016 watch list, including CIT Group’s Ellen Alemany, Bank of the West’s Nandita Bakhshi , Fifth Third Bancorp’s Teresa Tanner, Bank of America’s Andrea Smith and U.S. Bancorp’s Leslie Godridge.

The watch list has six first-timers: Two of them are tech leaders – Yolanda Piazza, the newly appointed chief executive at Citi FinTech, and Jennifer Smith, Zions Bancorp’s chief information officer who is leading a core conversion. The others are BMO’s Alex Dousmanis-Curtis, TD Bank’s Jane Russell, and BNY Mellon's Monique Herena and Paulette Mullings Bradnock. There are also three community bank CEOs who have been honorees in the past and rejoin the watch list this year – Janet Garufis, Julieann Thurlow and Laura Lee “Laurie” Stewart.

Three new names are on the finance list: The additions are Yie-Hsin Hung, New York Life Investment Management; Cary Grace, Aon, and Michelle Neal, BNY Mellon.

Top Teams 2017

Bank of America - Climbing the ladder at a large company can be daunting. At Bank of America, the most promising female and minority employees are paired early on with an executive sponsor to help them find opportunities to connect with other leaders, expand and refine skill sets and advance their careers. The program, called the Diverse Leader Sponsorship Program, “is one of many ways we invest in the development of our talent and help them advance their careers,” while building diversity in the talent pipeline, said Sheri Bronstein, B of A’s global human resources executive. Internal research by the bank indicates that participants in this program are twice as likely to be promoted compared with other employees.

Bank of the West - Branch employees’ job descriptions have changed so substantially that chief administrative officer Beth Hale provides them with a “passport,” which gets “stamped” with the new skills learned throughout their “journey.” Hale is on the team that redesigned how the bank’s 560 branches are staffed, implemented a universal banker model on the retail level and provided the customized training to fill gaps in each person’s professional experience. The passport is a tangible symbol of their journey that shows “both our journey to improve the customer experience and to show the paths each employee took,” Hale said.

BMO Financial - In recruiting for its commercial bank, BMO Financial is increasingly looking at the athletic rosters of Big Ten colleges, recruiting female business majors who are enrolled in athletic programs. In addition to the technical training of a business major, student athletes have experience managing their time and working on a team, and they can accept coaching and criticism gracefully, said Katie Kelley, vice chair of commercial banking. BMO also had Top Team wins in 2016 and 2015.

Centric Financial - After she saw statistics showing that over the last 10 years the number of women on Fortune 1000 boards has not changed significantly, Centric President and CEO Patricia “Patti” Husic decided to take action. She decided to try to increase the visibility of female leaders in her area by encouraging her team to pursue board positions at local organizations. It is the second consecutive Top Team win for Centric.

Zions Bancorp. - When Zions decided to consolidate its seven bank charters into one, chief human resources officer Dianne James knew they would have to work hard to retain their most talented employees amid all the disruption. She played a key role in moving more than 1,000 employees from affiliates to corporate roles and ensuring minimal turnover in the process — even as the company cut base salaries by $8 million. That required transparency every step of the way, she said. "If you turn a blind eye to turnover, you're not able to retain top performers, and you don't really have a business. You have to have people who are invested in the company, and you have to invest in them.” Zions Bank also was named a Top Team in 2016 and 2015.

And don't miss...

Long, winding, happy roads: Check out the stories of five women who stand out for how quickly they’ve made an impact in their roles. One of them, Nicole Perkins, managing executive of Hawthorn, a family wealth business at PNC Financial, talks about how a career path does not need to look like a straight line to result in success. She has worked at an ad agency ("I hated it"), ran a restaurant and had a solo law practice. "I have made many unconventional career moves and highly recommend it," she said. "I am a believer that you should not stay in a job, environment or relationship if you are not happy. As the daughter of small-business owners, I learned that you have to make your own success, and it takes hard work and failures to get it right.” The other impressive women you’ll read about in this article are: Rebecca Robinson, director of enterprise wealth management at Zions Bancorp.; Celeste Guth, co-head of the global financial institutions group at Deutsche Bank; Karen Fang, head of fixed income, currencies and commodities sales for the Americas at Bank of America; and Kristi Mitchem, chief executive at Wells Fargo Asset Management.

Nicole Perkins, managing executive of Hawthorn, a family wealth business at PNC Financial.
Nicole Perkins, managing executive of Hawthorn, a family wealth business at PNC Financial.

The Ellen Project: In October 2015, Ellen Alemany, American Banker's No. 3 Most Powerful Woman in Banking this year, came out of retirement to head CIT Group, after Wall Street icon John Thain stepped down. She is embracing a major challenge in molding a commercial finance company with a spotty history into a profitable, middle-market bank. “This is an Ellen project,'" she recalled saying when she was deciding whether to sign on to the opportunity. In her first 18 months, she’s been met with a constant string of battles and investors who doubted her ability to handle the job. But so far she has silenced her skeptics, overcoming what analysts say might have been insurmountable challenges for many other CEOs. Alemany spoke to American Banker about her skeptics, her upbringing and her career. She recalled how she resigned from Chase at one point early in her career because she needed more family time. "At that time, companies didn't really talk about work-life balance,” she said. In hindsight, Alemany said Chase might have given her a more relaxed schedule, if she would have asked. "I was too afraid to talk about it," she said.

Call to arms: The Fearless Girl statue has passionate fans and harsh critics. But State Street CMO Hannah Grove, could not be happier about the impact it’s had: fueling conversation about getting more women on boards, just as State Street intended. “Fearless Girl is really a representation of that platform and a call to arms for greater gender diversity on boards,” she said in this video.

Speaking of impact: Maria Vullo, superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, argues that the Fearless Girl statue is more than just public art. It has become meaningful in a personal way to many women, and for Vullo, it is a reminder of herself as a girl finding her voice and as an adult using her voice to fight for what she believes is right. “The canny, and hopefully enduring, brilliance of Fearless Girl as a piece of public art is that she carries a personal, unique meaning to each one of us who has, all too often, experienced the reality of the male-dominated business world,” she wrote in BankThink. “What do you see when you look at the Fearless Girl? I hope you, like me and my mother before me, see a vision of the world as you want it to be. I hope she inspires you to use your voice to work toward that vision every day and in every way.”

In other news...

Where are the women?: Fidelity’s female clients often ask to work with female advisers, according to CEO Abby Johnson. The problem is: Fidelity doesn’t have enough of them. "We have a real need in our business right now to recruit more women," said Johnson, who is one of our Most Powerful Women in Finance. When women come into Fidelity branches, "very often, the first thing they say when we're trying to get them paired up with a rep is, 'I'd like to work with a woman.’” That could be for a number of reasons. Johnson offered one on “The David Rubenstein Show:” women don't feel that confident in their ability to manage their finances. In studying the differences between male and female customers, Fidelity found that women describe themselves as "beginners, even though they actually really know more than they give themselves credit for," she said. (Someone who is probably male left a comment on this article. Here’s to hoping a woman will respond.)

Forces for relief — and demise: A new book by Mehrsa Baradaran argues that the same forces of poverty that African-American-owned banks were supposed to alleviate are now holding them back. White U.S. families overall have an average of 68 times more wealth than African-American families, that gap is growing, according to a recent study. “The very circumstances that created the need for these banks — discrimination and segregation — permanently limited their effectiveness and would ultimately cause their demise,” she writes. Baradaran cited Bank of America, which began as Bank of Italy in California, as an example. When Italians became able to get mortgages after the New Deal, Bank of Italy became Bank of America. “As the people have been able to grow wealth and not be segregated, their banks have done likewise,” she said. “As far as segregation goes, no one has been segregated quite like blacks.”

The emotional toll of being female: This article in Harper's Bazaar on the emotional labor that accrues to women is so good. It’s about the impact on home life, but here’s an excerpt that, in my experience, also applies to a few of the men at work: “When I brush my daughter’s hair and elaborately braid it round the side of her scalp, I am doing the thing that is expected of me. When my husband brushes out tangles before bedtime, he needs his efforts noticed and congratulated—saying aloud in front of both me and her that it took him a whole 15 minutes. There are many small examples of where the work I normally do must be lauded when transferred to my husband. It seems like a small annoyance, but its significance looms larger.”

RIP: Hugh Hefner, who died Wednesday at the age of 91 at his home, the Playboy Mansion, leaves a complicated legacy as far as women are concerned.

Our awards event for the Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance is on Oct. 5 in New York City. Please see our Women in Banking page for more information and join our LinkedIn group.

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