Women in Banking: Fintech Funding and the Rise of Female Regulators

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Thinking Outside the (Sand) Box: Does your bank speak the language of fintech entrepreneurs? Bank of America chief operations and technology officer Cathy Bessant is confident her company can and that it will reap its benefits of doing so before its peers, she said at the company's annual technology innovation summit in Menlo Park, Calif. Getting an innovation right is more important than doing it first, and that comes from investing in deep relationships not just with customers, but also fintech startups, whose technology the bank can help scale. Bessant doesn't want B of A to go the way of the major banks experimenting through innovation labs or sandboxes. Their implied isolation misses the reality that "innovation occurs right next to the customer," she said (not for the first time). She also highlighted the uneven playing field of the two sectors; fintech startups are in a less and differently regulated environment than banking institutions.

Mind on the Money: Digital Asset Holdings, the blockchain startup headed by former Wall Street executive Blythe Masters, is riding a bumpy road. Her alma mater, JPMorgan Chase, has promised to lead the current funding round with $7.5 million (she's looking to raise $35 million to $45 million) but The New York Times reports she's having trouble closing with other investors. By contrast, R3 CEV, one of her competitors, has now signed on more than 40 banks as partners in the last few months, including all the heavyweights Masters is trying to court. Digital Asset has said any assertions of fundraising troubles are inaccurate but has not provided further details.

Same Difference: Ellevest may sound like an idea all women can get behind, but Sallie Krawcheck has yet to prove how her all-female investment website will service its members better than Wall Street advisers, according to a Dallas Morning News columnist. With the ex-Bank of America and Citigroup star as its CEO and an impressive array of financial backers (who invested $10 million last year) the startup is riding a good pre-launch wave, but while it's nice to acknowledge women's realities — the gender pay gap, longer life spans, caretaking responsibilities — financial advice won't fix them. Social change can, though, the columnist argues. "Simply hanging out a shingle and saying your business is here to serve women's financial needs isn't enough," she writes, "any more than it would be enough to attract male clients."

If Women Ruled the Financial World…: If there were more women in senior leadership positions on Wall Street in 2008, would there have been a financial meltdown? An excerpt from the new book Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works illustrates the kind of difficulty that Sheila Bair, former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chair, had controlling the Citibank bailout; analyzes the old argument that women are inherently more risk-averse than men (a big theme of the post-financial crisis blame game); and explores the new class of female financial regulators (think: Elizabeth Warren, Mary Schapiro, Mary Jo White, Loretta Lynch) who came in to clean up.

Role Call

U.S. Bancorp has promoted Leslie Godridge to co-lead the wholesale banking division as a vice chair, with Jim Kelligrew. They succeed Richard Payne, who will retire this spring. Goodridge and Payne have also joined the bank's 15-member management committee. Godridge is a repeat honoree in American Banker's Most Powerful Women rankings.

First Republic Bank has appointed Katherine August-deWilde to the newly created position of vice chair. She will also be a senior adviser and will work on strategic initiatives with major clients.

Four Oaks Fincorp appointed Lisa Herring to chief operating officer of the company and its Four Oaks Bank & Trust subsidiary. She will also retain her role as chief risk officer, a position she has held since 2009.

First United Corp. has given Carissa Rodeheaver the additional titles of chairman and chief executive. She has retained her role as president of both the company and its First United Bank & Trust.

MainSource Financial Group has hired Karen Woods to beits chief risk officer and corporate counsel. She was previously a partner at the law firm Krieg DeVault in Indianapolis and has represented MainSource as outside corporate counsel for more than 11 years.

Kathleen Jones, chief financial officer of Prime Meridian Bank and its holding company, has retired. She is succeeded by Randy Guemple.

In Case You Missed It

Babies and Barriers: Maternity policy in the U.S. is awful, says Claire Lee, head of startup banking at Silicon Valley Bank, and it's a huge barrier for tons of women working toward professional goals. "Women are faced with an economic dilemma that can't be solved," she said. "They are not opting out. They are being forced out of the workforce." Many corporate women climb their way to midlevel leadership positions, but few continue to the top of the ladder (although those statistics are changing favorably, even if slowly). Lee argues that maternity is a significant cause of that trend and that more mothers would return to the workplace if their companies offered more flexibility and greater assistance — she even proposed a pay package that includes childcare costs.

Work and Play: The mid-level dropoff is an issue in India too. Sandhya Vasudevan, chief operating officer at Deutsche Bank India (where women hold 40% of management positions) says establishing a professional network and keeping it active is "critical" for women returning to work after a break. The importance of professional identity and success is pretty much established in men's DNA, she says. In women, not so much; they don't tend to identify primarily with their work life. As such, they have strong social networks. Men have stronger professional networks. Vasudevan also talks about how the "safe environment" of a banking career is attractive to Indian women in a complex society filled with conscious and unconscious biases.

Beyond Banking

A Long Road Ahead: It's said all too often that there aren't enough women on boards, but the U.S. Government Accountability Office is now saying that even if the number doubled, women still wouldn't achieve boardroom parity until roughly 2055. The GAO did not make recommendations in its report. Actually, unlike Sweden, France and the U.K., for example, all of which have introduced quotas and public commitments by corporate chairmen to accelerate board diversity, the U.S. has resisted such regulatory nudges. The Securities and Exchange Commission, however, has been examining if and how company disclosure of board and leadership diversity could help solve the issue more quickly.

#WheresRey: Hasbro has agreed to add Rey to its "Star Wars"-themed Monopoly game in response to the #WheresRey campaign that fans are leading across the Internet. The lead character in the latest "Star Wars" movie, "The Force Awakens," was absent from the game, which came out in September. That absence became noticeable after the movie was released in December. One eight-year-old girl's letter has been rocking the boat for Hasbro. "Boys and girls need to see women can be as strong as men!" she wrote. "Girls matter! Boy or girl, who cares? We are equal, all of us!" (You can read it here.) Hasbro subsequently agreed to include the heroine in a new version of the game, to be released this year. Commendable — but it's not the first time the company has produced movie-inspired merchandise that focused on male characters and omitted female characters.

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