On the glass cliff: The New York Stock Exchange has announced that Stacey Cunningham, its chief operating officer, will soon become its president — the first female to be in that role in its 226-year history. Cunningham, 43, has worked at the exchange for almost her entire career, beginning as a college intern. Now, her promotion is coming at a particularly daunting time for the NYSE: Its share of U.S. stock-trading volume has fallen to 22% from 40% a decade ago; historically the NYSE and Nasdaq had a duopoly on equities trading, but regulations and electronic trading have changed that. At the same time, the IPO market has become increasingly lackluster as tech unicorns choose to stay private, to avoid the regulatory and financial costs of an IPO and added stress of appeasing public shareholders. Given all that, the timing of the NYSE appointing its first female president in 226 years is hardly a surprise: Women tend to be picked for top roles when a company is experiencing some turmoil. If a female leader can’t reverse the downhill slide, observers can quickly forget the circumstances under which she accepted the job. There are plenty of instances to suggest that the glass cliff exists in this industry (just look at Lehman Brothers’ Erin Callan or Nasdaq’s Adena Friedman) as well as across the business world more broadly (see GM’s Mary Barra and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer).

Dirty little secret: One way to get more women into top jobs is to commit to helping each other get there. “Some women are harder on other women,” said Barclays’ retiring vice chair Barbara Byrne at the Women in Banking LEAD conference Tuesday. It’s a “dirty little secret in banking. It’s as if they think there’s one seat and they need to compete for it.” Byrne also spoke about the importance of ensuring high-performing women are put in revenue-producing roles so they will be viewed as candidates to become CEOs. Other speakers at the event included Bank of America’s Andrea Smith, Goldman Sachs’ Elizabeth Overbay and MUFG Union Bank’s Ranjana Clark, who all touched on the need to seize unexpected (and sometimes scary) opportunities. “If you’re like me, you’ll work hard every day, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it. Then, one day, someone is going to call you … and you’ll be given the chance to do something completely unexpected,” said Overbay, chief operating officer in the consumer and commercial banking division at Goldman. Say yes, Overbay and the others urged.

MUFG Union Bank's Ranjana Clark.
MUFG Union Bank's Ranjana Clark.


Hats off: Coutts & Co., the bank of the British royals for the last three centuries, has been conducting an investigation into sexist behavior toward women. This was sparked by a “wholly inappropriate and insensitive” incident — as a spokeswoman phrased it — in which a male employee who is on the company cricket team wore a penis hat on a Coutts-sponsored charity trip to Rwanda. Separately, a female employee informed a top executive about how a male colleague on that cricket team insulted her with racial and sexual slurs at a work event last year. The offensive hat came to public attention because an American woman who had been dining in the same restaurant in Rwanda with the hat-wearing employee shared a photo of it on Twitter, adding the hashtag #MeToo. Colleagues of hers replied that it was “repugnant” and a “disgusting action” in a country that had experienced “rape as a weapon of war.” Alan Higgins, Coutts’ chief investment officer and president of the cricket team at the time, contacted them with apologies, a request to remove their posts and an attempt to play up the pencils and sharpeners that company employees had distributed to local children. This year, Higgins was replaced as the cricket team president, by Irene Wolstenholme, who is trying to encourage more women to join the team.

Not so fast: Don’t dismantle the core reforms that have made U.S. banks better able to withstand a financial crisis, warns Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland President Loretta Mester. "It would be a mistake to unwind the steps taken since the financial crisis that have led to a more resilient financial system," Mester says in prepared remarks for a speech she was to deliver Friday at a European Central Bank conference in Frankfurt. "I would like to see how the new settings perform throughout the cycle before making major changes.” The best way to contain the next financial crisis is to make sure financial institutions are strong, which regulators do by raising capital and liquidity requirements, conducting stress tests and requiring banks to write their own living wills, Mester says.

A stockpile of stickers: Recognition is a great motivator. At Capital One, there is a Girl Scout patch-like incentive program — in the form of coveted laptop stickers — to recognize employees for showing leadership at work or participating in community service projects. Melissa McDevitt, vice president of human resources at Capital One, said the stickers are just one way the company tries to make employees feel valued. Other recognition programs include its Circle of Excellence, which highlights teams’ quarterly achievements; the Everyday Heroes program, which highlights excellent service based on customer feedback and sometimes rewards employees with a superhero cape; and an honor roll that recognizes workers who volunteer. “We also encourage and empower each associate to recognize their peers and colleagues through in-person and digital interactions. We remember when someone stops us in the hall or sends us a quick ‘high-five’ email with words of recognition and motivation, and that feeling makes a positive impact on our associates,” McDevitt said.

Fueled by feedback: By mixing personal financial management with positive reinforcement, Wells Fargo expects to attract younger consumers to its new mobile banking app, called Greenhouse. The money management tools for the app were built based on feedback, said Peggy Mangot, senior vice president of innovation at Wells and head of Greenhouse development. "Many tools manage money with a rearview-mirror approach," she said, adding that customers wanted to be more proactive in how and where they spent money. So one feature of Greenhouse is that users who want to earmark money for certain recurring bills can create “envelopes” within the app to set aside those payments. "The envelope technology and bill identification resonated with people,” Mangot said.

Role call


Wells Fargo has hired Lisa Frazier, who is an adviser to banks and startups, to replace Steve Ellis as head of its innovation group when he steps down in September. Frazier previously served as chief digital officer at Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Earlier in her career, she spent nine years as a partner at the consulting giant McKinsey. She’ll join Wells Fargo next week.

Steve Ellis, head of the innovation group at Wells Fargo.
Steve Ellis, head of the innovation group at Wells Fargo.


Cate Luzio, a former HSBC executive who has been in our Most Powerful Women rankings for several years, has left the bank to start her own company. She’s calling it Luminary, and her plan is to create a co-working space in New York City that will serve a community of professional women with a wide variety of services. The space, which is expected to open later this year, will offer Luminary members access to networking, career coaching and leadership development, among other things.

Ready to be a CEO? Farmers & Merchants Bancorp in Archbold, Ohio, is looking for a new one and plans to consider internal and external candidates. The $1.1 billion-asset company has hired Kaplan Partners, a recruiting firm, to help find a successor for a retiring Paul Siebenmorgan, who has been the CEO for 15 years.

In case you missed it


Blame and shame: The chairman of the Australian financial services giant AMP, Catherine Brenner, resigned last month under pressure. AMP reportedly misled regulators on 20 occasions after it deliberately charged customers for financial advice they never received. The events prompted some to speculate that a push for diversity on corporate boards was to blame for the mess. But similar situations with men seem to elicit no widespread gender blame. Note the resignation of AMP’s male CEO two weeks earlier was not tied to any failure caused by his gender. “Brenner’s demise is, apparently, proof that any notion of women being as competent as men to sit on boards is a folly,” writes Georgina Dent from Women’s Agenda. “Her age, 46, explains her ‘inexperience’ and her situation is evidence that diversity is a ‘recipe for disaster.’ Never mind the fact that the overwhelming majority of executives in the finance sector are male, one female missteps and the push for women on boards is the scapegoat.” Shortly after Brenner resigned, Holly Kramer and Vanessa Wallace withdrew their bids for board re-election due to shareholder anger and Patty Akopiantz, AMP's longest-serving board member, also stepped down, but will stay on until the end of the year.

Beyond banking


Balancing the books: Book collectors — the term used is bookmen — help determine which writers are remembered and which are forgotten. And the dynamics of the market work against women. But arts journalist, writer and rare book dealer AN Devers is fighting to keep great female writers on bookshelves with her new venture. The Second Shelf is a business focused on rare books, first editions, manuscripts and other work by and about women. “Women buy and read more books than men,” Devers said. “Women buy and read books by men and women. Men buy and read fewer books – and they don’t buy or read women.” Though this is a generalization that is not wholly true, “it informs how women’s writing is marketed and sold,” she said. “It is part of the reason why so many women have gendered covers, books that aren’t viewed as ‘chick lit' by their authors being sold as such, and it keeps women’s work from being read by men — and bookmen.” Devers also has a Kickstarter campaign underway to fund a literary journal.

Lessons in self-awareness: The New York Times interviewed most of the cast of “Arrested Development” this week to discuss, among many things, working with Jeffery Tambor given allegations that he sexually harassed two women and his “difficult” and “mean” on-set temper. Though he has denied any sexual harassment, Tambor admitted to angry outbursts in an interview earlier this month with the Hollywood Reporter, in which he revealed that he blew up at castmate Jessica Walter. The men in the interview (five out of seven) did not do a great job talking about it. For half a day the internet lashed out at the male cast members, Jason Bateman in particular, for fervently supporting Tambor while minimizing his bad behavior on set (saying, for example, “We’ve all had moments” and “It is incredibly common to have people who are, in quotes, ‘difficult’”). While they backed him up, Alia Shawkat said, “That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. And the point is that things are changing, and people need to respect each other differently.” And Walter said, through tears (there’s an audio file), “It’s hard because honestly — Jason says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set. And it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now. I just let it go right here, for The New York Times.” Bateman has since apologized for his comments over several tweets.

If you aren’t getting a copy of the monthly American Banker Magazine, which publishes the annual rankings, please send an email to sign up for a digital or print subscription.

BankThink submission guidelines

BankThink is American Banker's platform for informed opinion about the ideas, trends and events reshaping financial services. View our detailed submission criteria and instructions.