Designing Women: Women contend with a likability paradox at work, and in a way so do female bots. Lately "the method for insuring that a technology speaks without giving offense has been to make it a woman," says Jacqueline Feldman, in writing about her experience designing the personality of Kai, the chatbot for Kasisto. However, "by creating interactions that encourage consumers to understand the objects that serve them as women, technologists abet the prejudice by which women are considered objects." Siri and Alexa aside, many bots in banking have female personalities — Bank of America's Erica, Google's Penny, Swedbank's Nina, and the AI financial assistant Cleo, among them. Feldman's comments call to mind Stessa Cohen's November BankThink piece in which she argues that bots are carrying old female stereotypes into the digital era. (Kasisto, which has an AI platform for mobile apps that provides assistance with banking tasks, is one of the 20 Companies to Watch in our 2016 Fintech Forward rankings.)
How to Humanize Your Data: Even in a digital era, human connections still matter. That is one big disadvantage for fintech startups and increasingly for banks as customers stop making regular branch visits. So it is instructive to hear SoFi's thinking on how to overcome this challenge. It is trying some unorthodox tactics to better understand the people behind the data and to create meaningful connections with them. "We throw happy hours every week in New York and all across the country," said Shaunda Brown, senior director of business development for SoFi. "We've taken people singles skydiving over Valentine's Day." The company, which started with a focus on student loans, but now offers other financial products, has organized 400 events in the past year. At least three couples have met at the events, and one is now engaged. SoFi intends to pay for the wedding. One tactic in particular that banks should make note of is SoFi's efforts to help borrowers who lose their jobs find new ones.
I Did, You Can Too: In a recent interview, Cathy Engelbert, chief executive of Deloitte, offers some advice on balancing responsibilities at work and home — just choose which balls to juggle. Engelbert, who joined the consulting giant after graduating from college and has been there for 30 years, recalled an earlier point in her career when she was deciding whether to remain at the company or leave it to devote more time to her family. "I didn't think I could have it all," she said, "but when I defined what 'doing it all' is, I said, 'I can do this, I can juggle it.'" Engelbert has coached her teenage daughter's basketball team and attends most of her lacrosse games. She also talked about Deloitte's new family leave plan, which allows all employees (not just women and not just new parents) to take off up to 16 weeks fully paid to care for a family member, whether that is a child or an ailing parent, as you might recall from a previous Women in Banking newsletter.
A New Strategy: Fidelity Investments executives are pushing to be more competitive in the popular but low-margin exchange-traded funds arena. Though Fidelity long resisted ETFs in favor of the company's more profitable mutual funds, CEO Abigail Johnson is overseeing a shift in its strategy. Fidelity launched six ETFs in 2016 (a 40% increase in its lineup of ETFs) and slashed fees, as clients pulled more money out of its traditional mutual funds than in any year since 2011. Johnson is ranked at No. 3 in our Most Powerful Women in Finance ranking.
From the Front Line to the Front Office: Could a teller become the CEO at your bank one day? Think about how to develop the skills of tellers so they can move into bigger roles as banking evolves, urges Mia Mistina, who has worked as a teller at two New York community banks. "If the banks I worked for had realized my potential and encouraged me to move up within the bank ... I may very well still be at one of them," she says. "Now that I am finishing up a double master's degree, will I soon be working for a competitor?"
Regulatory Roadmap: Both banks and fintech companies have a lot of questions about the new charter being proposed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. In trying to reassure those who are worried about banks' ability to remain competitive, the OCC said any fintechs that apply for a limited-purpose bank charter would have to adhere to high standards. "We will require capital, liquidity, sound governance, and a robust business plan as a foundation for any company we charter, as set out in our chartering handbook," says Amy Friend, the OCC's chief counsel. "The OCC is particularly focused on consumer protection and financial inclusion. Where the laws in these areas do not apply, the OCC will determine how to fashion appropriate conditions to hold these banks to our high standards and expectations of fair treatment and fair access — a critical component of our mission." The OCC is accepting comments on its proposal now.
Wells Fargo has appointed Peggy Mangot to a newly created position in its innovation group. Mangot is the senior vice president of its design and delivery leadership team. She previously served as CEO of the microinvesting platform SparkGift. She also has worked in payments roles at Google and Visa.
In Case You Missed It
National Mentorship Month: This newsletter devotes a lot of attention to the importance of having a mentor. As January is National Mentorship Month, it is a good time to go back and listen to what Rosilyn Houston, chief talent and culture executive at BBVA Compass, has to say in this video. One of the greatest things she's learned from her mentor: "The importance of understanding what I bring to the table," she says. "Self-doubt is the biggest thief. It really robs us of fulfilling our full potential. ... You are where you are today because you are equipped, you are competent, you have the skills and abilities to succeed." Houston highly recommends seeking mentorship — instead of waiting to be noticed — and nurturing that relationship.
Thelma and Louise: California senator Barbara Boxer has retired, bringing her 24-year working relationship with the state's other senator, Dianne Feinstein, to an end. In 1992 the two convinced voters to elect them as the first female duo representing a single state in the U.S. Senate — and since women must be in competition with each other at all times, the public eye naturally looked for signs of ... cattiness. "It was ridiculous," Boxer said. "We knew there were people who were ready to say two women can't get along. We knew we had that responsibility." It's worth reading this ode to their working relationship and unwavering support of each other despite their differences. "Just as Cagney had Lacey and Thelma had Louise, Dianne has Barbara and Barbara has Dianne," Feinstein said at an October 1992 rally. "She stood by my side, even though it could have cost her votes. And I will never, ever forget that," Boxer said in her farewell speech on the Senate floor. Kamala Harris was sworn in on Tuesday as the first Indian American senator and California's first black senator.
Megyn Kelly, Fox and Family: Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly announced this is her last week on the job before moving to a bigger daytime role at rival NBC News. The network reportedly won her over by initiating talks about what kind of role she was seeking, instead of offering specific possibilities, then making a pitch tailored to her specifications: a daytime show that would give her more quality time with her family before school and at dinner time (a rare approach, though it should be the norm). Sources say Fox was prepared to offer her more than $20 million a year and that other rivals who pursued Kelly had indicated they couldn't match that salary. Media outlets have speculated about Kelly's replacement, with the presumption that it would be a woman so as to avoid an all-male anchor lineup during weeknight primetime. On Thursday morning it was revealed Tucker Carlson, the veteran cable television host and conservative writer, will take her place.
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Bonnie McGeer contributed to this report.