Slideshow The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking

  • September 22 2015, 1:00am EDT

1. Beth Mooney

Chairman and CEO, KeyCorp

It seems hard to believe now, but there was a time early in Beth Mooney's tenure as KeyCorp's chairman and chief executive when colleagues questioned her commitment to hiring and promoting women and minorities.

The setting was a luncheon of senior leaders at which Mooney was fielding questions about the Cleveland company's strategic priorities. Eventually the discussion shifted to workplace diversity and, to Mooney's surprise, the sentiment in the room was that Key — which had made history by hiring a female CEO less than a year before — seemed indifferent about continuing to improve the statistics.

"These leaders in the company came to me and said that I really hadn't done anything [to encourage diversity] and that they expected more from me," Mooney recalls. "It took my breath away."

Key soon had a chief diversity officer and a diversity council — chaired by Mooney herself — to oversee efforts to attract, retain and develop diverse talent. The company started producing recruitment videos featuring Mooney that celebrated the stories of its female, minority, gay and disabled employees. And Mooney made clear to corporate recruiters hired to help fill senior posts that she would not consider any lists of candidates devoid of women and minorities. (The company's chief technology officer, Amy Brady, only wound up on Key's radar because Mooney, upset that the first list of candidates had no women on it, told the recruiters to start the search again.)

"It's like anything else that's important," says Mooney of the diversity push. "It needed more structure, more commitment, more tone from the top."

Mooney is American Banker's Most Powerful Woman in Banking for the third straight year for reasons beyond her commitment to diversity. She is one of just two female CEOs at a large U.S. banking company and, on her watch, Key has emerged as one of the industry's best-performing regionals. Mooney also has significant influence inside the banking industry and in the broader business community. She is on the boards of the Financial Services Roundtable and the Clearing House and chairs the Greater Cleveland Partnership, one of the nation's largest chambers of commerce.

But her desire to make sure Key better reflects the communities it serves stands out.

This year, 25% of recent college graduates Key hired were minorities and 36% were women, up from 17% and 24%, respectively, just two years ago. Of the managers two levels below Mooney, 35% are women and 40% are minorities, and Key's board is now one of the most diverse in the industry, with five women among its 14 directors. The company has been named as one of DiversityInc's "Top 50 Companies for Diversity" for three years running, after having fallen off the list for several years.

Female bankers across the industry praise Mooney's persistence, her confidence and her commitment to advancing the careers of other women.

"She's been purposeful and intentional about providing opportunities for women," says Patti Husic, the CEO at Centric Bank in Harrisburg, Pa., and the founder of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association's Women in Banking initiative. "It's very significant what she's doing." (Husic is No. 19 in this year's ranking of the Most Powerful Women in Banking.)

Mooney, for her part, says she has always believed in giving women opportunities; one of her first acts as CEO was creating a C-suite role for Katrina Evans, a woman she had worked with for several years prior. Today, Evans runs the company's corporate center, overseeing communications, philanthropy, corporate responsibility and other functions.

Still, Mooney says she erred early on by not implementing a formal diversity program. "I assumed diversity was a priority because I was diverse," she says, "but that wasn't good enough."

Three years later, that's no longer an issue.

2. Marianne Lake

Chief Financial Officer, JPMorgan Chase

Marianne Lake rendered Jamie Dimon, in his own words, "unnecessary" this summer. The comment came at the close of the conference call about second-quarter earnings, when Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, acknowledged a shift that seemed to be happening over several quarters.

Lake had become more prominent, emerging as the voice in discussing the company's performance and defending its size.

"Marianne has started to do such a good job that I've become unnecessary" on earnings calls, Dimon said. "Don't be surprised if one of these days I don't show up."

It is perhaps fitting that the spotlight is on her now: investors, analysts and regulators are demanding much more information, and she is able to go deep into the financials on command, in her signature rapid-fire cadence. In addition to leading the quarterly calls, she spoke at four major investor conferences last year and had 30 speaking engagements with investors across the globe in 2014.

Perhaps her crowning moment came at the annual investor day in February when she delivered her rationale against breaking up the $2.45 trillion-asset company. Her remarks were rooted in the numbers: she used data to build her thesis and had concrete examples of what two separate companies might look like from an expense standpoint. While the call for dismantling JPMorgan Chase never completely goes away, the momentum it had at the time dissipated significantly after that.

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3. Karen Peetz

President, BNY Mellon

Karen Peetz volunteered for a mentoring program this year, working with a younger employee at Bank of New York Mellon. Peetz, president of the world's leading custody institution, is the mentee.

Long an active promoter of women and minorities at the bank, she is seeking a better understanding of younger employees, male and female, from the "reverse" mentoring program.

"Even as the parent of two millennials, I gained a lot of insight from learning how this young woman viewed my work and my accomplishments and from discovering how much more collaborative this younger generation is in the workplace," Peetz says.

Initiatives like reverse mentoring — a project of the Women's Initiative Network, a group Peetz founded eight years ago — are important for long-term worker retention, she says. "You have to know how these junior people view the company and their career path if you want to keep them. They are the future."

As president since 2013, Peetz is responsible for overseeing the global client and regional management teams and treasury services business.

For the more immediate future, she is making sure the entire organization can anticipate and prepare for regulatory changes, rather than have to scramble whenever issues arise. To that end, last year she initiated a weekly "regulatory coordination" meeting of C-level executives and managers from the various bank units.

"In the past we were all more reactive," she says. "Now we're no longer just acting because there is a stick over our heads."

These discussions also cover bank culture. "Whether you're in Hong Kong or Rio, we want to make sure we have the appropriate culture of compliance," Peetz says.

A second group of executives she convenes weekly focuses on implementing such things as the Volcker Rule and rewriting procedures, "so we're not just fighting these things but are leading the way in meeting them."

4. Carrie Tolstedt

Senior EVP, Community Banking, Wells Fargo

As Wells Fargo's head of community banking, Carrie Tolstedt has had to grapple with an ever-changing retail landscape, new technology and the growing influence of social media on customer interactions.

To make service consistent for those who communicate with the company in multiple ways, last year she merged Wells Fargo's digital channels group with its contact centers. The combined team of more than 12,000 employees now works to integrate customer experiences across phone, online, mobile, email and social channels.

Beyond streamlining, Tolstedt also has played a key role in taking Wells Fargo into the mobile era. Since 2014, her digital team has delivered dozens of new mobile features, such as push notifications and the introduction of Apple Pay.

Boosting the company's mobile presence has helped to simplify in-store operations — for instance, Wells Fargo customers can now set up branch appointments in advance or receive new account information on their smartphones. All together, the company now boasts 14.9 million active mobile customers and 25.7 million active online customers.

Still, Tolstedt personally values face-to-face interactions — she says she has the most fun when she's spending time with her team. And she is willing to travel far to do so. Tolstedt frequently crisscrosses the country to meet with local leaders. She conducts town hall meetings, where she learns about customer needs and local best practices, looking to see what she can apply to Wells Fargo's 39-state footprint.

5. Avid Modjtabai

Senior EVP, Head of Consumer Lending, Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo's consumer lending division continues to thrive under Avid Modjtabai's leadership. Since she took over the business in 2011, the loan portfolio has more than doubled, including $6.2 billion of growth in 2014 alone.

But she is still looking for ways to improve. Modjtabai encourages employees to figure out ways they can serve customers better — and the innovations they think up continue to flow through the pipeline.

The home-lending business has been rolling out a new digital platform, which should be processing all the company's mortgage applications by the end of this year. Modjtabai's team also plans to launch a new FICO Open Access program in 2015, giving customers real-time access to their credit scores.

Modjtabai never loses sight of risk — yet another area where she works to innovate. In 2014, Wells Fargo stopped originating interest-only home equity lines of credit. Now HELOCs are amortized over the term of the loan. Chargeoffs also continued to decline.

Her disciplined approach to risk management carries over to staffing decisions. To better monitor risk while allowing the business to grow, she chose to create two separate roles for a group risk officer and group credit officer. Doing this gave Modjtabai more insight into compliance and credit.

Outside of the office, Modjtabai doesn't shy away from her own challenges. This past year she joined the board at Avnet, an electronic parts distributor based in Phoenix. While this new role pushed her beyond her comfort zone, Modjtabai says she has learned a lot from the experience. It has shown her how other companies build teams and create work cultures.

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6. Cathy Bessant

Chief Operations and Technology Officer, Bank of America

One Brisk evening in March, Bank of America's top technology executive walked onto a stage in Charlotte, N.C., under highly unusual circumstances.

Rather than her typical business attire, Cathy Bessant wore jeans and a blue sweatshirt. Kenny Loggins' 1980s hit "Footloose" jangled from the loudspeakers. As the spotlight shone down on her before an audience of over 900, Bessant tapped her toes, swung her arms above her head, and began to dance.

The occasion for Bessant's rousing performance was a local "Dancing with the Stars" fundraising gala. She brought in more than $255,000 for the Charlotte Ballet and her charity of choice, the Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center. For Bessant, a breast cancer survivor, it was also a refresher in confronting her fears.

"I felt not just fear but abject terror," Bessant says of her dancing adventure. "But there's an incredible sense of empowerment and quiet confidence when you take something that scares you more than anything else and just do it."

That attitude certainly seems to be paying off for Bessant, who ranks as No. 6 on our 2015 Most Powerful Women in Banking list.

She recently received a C-suite title — chief operations and technology officer — in recognition of her responsibility for a division with more than 110,000 employees and a $17 billion annual budget.

She's equally self-assured whether discussing her approach to simplifying the Charlotte, N.C., company's sprawling technological infrastructure or holding forth on how her work relates to big-picture issues like gender equality.

At the heart of Bessant's approach to her job is the principle that "simpler really is better," she says. Under a plan she put in motion in 2010, B of A has retired more than 18,000 software applications. This year alone, her team is consolidating five Merrill Lynch financial adviser platforms, eight teller systems and 22 collateral management systems into just one of each.

Meanwhile, Bessant is also working to bolster cybersecurity. "My boss is fond of saying that I'm completely unconstrained by dollars and people in cyberdefense," she says, referring to B of A's Chairman and Chief Executive Brian Moynihan. "That's code for, 'your butt is on the line.'"

But while Bessant may champion technological decluttering, her personal calendar tends to be maxed out. Her extracurricular activities include serving as the lead independent director at health insurer Florida Blue and as a member of the board of trustees at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. And at the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Bessant and her colleague Anne Finucane, B of A's global chief strategy and marketing officer, led a discussion on the challenges faced by women in business.

The persistent problem of the banking industry's gender gap is evident in its dearth of female chief executives, according to Bessant. She suggests that part of the issue may lie in the overwhelming demands of the CEO role.

"This whole notion of being the CEO 24/7 and not being entitled to a single personal misstep or misstatement is very hard to sell to anyone," she says. "It may be that the role was crafted incorrectly."

Nonetheless, Bessant is a staunch defender of banking, which she calls a noble but misunderstood profession. "We exist to make businesses grow, to make payroll, to employ people, to help capital to expand."

7. Heather Cox

Chief Client Experience, Digital and Marketing Officer, Global Consumer Bank, Citigroup

Heather Cox has been very busy since leaving Capital One for a newly created role at Citigroup in April 2014. The series of digital firsts she has rolled out include: launching an app for a wearable device that her team built in 120 days; creating innovation events for developers around the world to pitch their tech ideas; and earning the bragging rights for Citi as one of the first U.S. banking companies to let customers check their account balances and transactions on a mobile app without having to type in user names and passwords on tiny smartphone screens.

These are all part of her effort to develop Citi into more of a digitally driven company. Cox, who is accountable for customer satisfaction and the digital experience for 60 million consumer accounts globally, believes redefining what a bank does requires the voices of many. So she is among those championing a culture change that embraces new ideas from anyone and anywhere, as Citi works to be viewed, in Chief Executive Mike Corbat's words, as a "technology company with a banking license."

Citi Mobile Challenge, an initiative to crowdsource digital ideas from developers all over the world, perhaps best illustrates her approach. The series of events, which Cox expanded to two more regions after the success of one held in Latin America, supplied developers with application program interfaces, or APIs, so they could build working prototypes of their ideas. Participants ranged from high school students to established tech execs. Dozens of their ideas are in development and several are in beta testing.

Even while reimagining banking, Cox still finds the time to participate in industry and nonprofit activities. Among other things, she is a member of the Chief Marketing Officer Advisory Council, organized by IBM, and serves on the board of LIFT, a nonprofit whose mission is to combat poverty.

8. Jana Schreuder

COO, Northern Trust

Even after more than three decades at Northern Trust, Jana Schreuder hasn't let herself get complacent. "Constantly learning, constantly developing" is her career motto.

She's ping-ponged across business lines, from client services to risk, tech to wealth management. Last year she was named chief operating officer, a post that draws on what she's learned at every stop. "I know how things work, and I know how they impact clients and partners," says Schreuder, who is No. 8 on our 2015 Most Powerful Women in Banking list.

Though she's now in the C-suite — and among the potential successors to Chief Executive Rick Waddell — Schreuder took an unusual path into banking. As an undergraduate at Southern Methodist University in Texas, she started off studying theater. "I wanted to be a famous actress," she says. "I learned my sophomore year that I would starve to death. At least I caught it early."

She found a more practical subject to major in — business — while working through college as a cocktail waitress. She married soon after graduating and moved to Chicago, where her husband, Eric, had a job in the hotel industry. There, she happened to hear about Northern Trust from a group of Tennessee bankers passing through town. She says they recommended the company "because of its values."

Getting through the door took persistence. She sent in four applications and got four rejections. The fifth try worked. Schreuder was hired as an accountant for the institutional business — a brand new initiative then, now accounting for about half the company's revenue. She moved into management as the company grew and picked up a graduate degree from Northwestern University along the way.

Schreuder's willingness to take on risky assignments hastened her rise. In the late 1990s, right as the Internet was taking off, she took a job leading e-commerce strategy, which "was huge in terms of skill-building, but frightening in terms of doing something outside my comfort zone," she says.

She also cites the decision to sell Northern Trust's recordkeeping business shortly after she moved to Atlanta to run it. After six months in charge, she realized it would never earn the returns it needed to. She convinced other leaders, and they sold the company to Hewitt Associates in 2003.

Deciding that a business she had just relocated to lead wasn't viable, and then breaking the news to all its employees, was "tough from an emotional perspective," she says. "But it was the right thing to do."

The experience proved pivotal. "It gave me confidence in doing the right thing even when it was hard."

Now, as the $106 billion-asset company's chief operating officer — and the first woman to hold that job in its 125-year history — Schreuder leads a staff of 6,500 worldwide. Her overarching goal is "to make it easier to do business with Northern Trust."

One of her initiatives is using sophisticated customer data to figure out where to invest. She also established Northern Trust's first innovation lab, to apply feedback from clients and partners to product design.

Schreuder is a board member for several Chicago education and arts organizations, as well as for the tech firm Entrust Datacard, but outside of work, family is her main obligation. Her daughter, Allison, is studying at Occidental College in California, and last month Schreuder and her husband celebrated their 36th anniversary - which, she points out, is just one year more than she's been with her company.

"My relationship with my husband is the only one longer than my relationship with Northern," Schreuder says.

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9. Barbara Desoer

CEO, Citibank

Barbara Desoer had an epiphany last year about the way women hold themselves back from career opportunities and spurred the human resources department at Citibank to make some adjustments in light of this.

The idea came to her on a visit to the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, where she earned her MBA and is now an advisory board member. A professor told Desoer she'd noticed that whenever she asked a question in class, many male students immediately raised their hands, while few if any female students did.

"As an experiment, she said she instituted a 10-second rule during which no one could raise hands," Desoer says, "and then women raised their hands too. Her conclusion was that women wait until they're sure about something before they ask."

Desoer realized that same abundance of caution was at play in the workplace. "We'd been posting job openings and describing the requirements," she says, "but we'd find that men would apply if they met 40% of those requirements while women would only apply if they thought they met 80% or 90% — and in that case they are probably overqualified."

The solution, she says, has been to encourage women to apply if they meet 40% of a position's requirements, and also to ensure that any panel interviewing job candidates includes men and women.

Desoer joined the banking unit of Citigroup as chief operating officer in 2013 after more than 30 years with Bank of America. Since becoming CEO in April 2014, she has been overseeing a major consolidation of its retail footprint. The process entails quitting 11 of the 30 countries where Citi has had retail operations, and refocusing on the remaining 19 where it has the strongest competitive position. At the same time, Desoer says the bank will continue to serve commercial clients in 100 countries.

10. Diane Reyes

Group General Manager, Global Head of Payments and Cash Management, HSBC

Convincing top management to boost resources is challenging for an executive, and it's a skill that Diane Reyes has mastered.

"There is a time for these requests," says Reyes, who in the past year successfully lobbied HSBC to add technology investments and talent to the cash management and payments division. "If I was at the bank for six months, it may have been harder because I was learning the company's culture and values."

Reyes gets that the managers reviewing her requests are all looking to poke holes in the strategy to test its soundness and to ensure every detail has been considered. So Reyes has embraced a "toll gate" approach, in which there are regular check-ins, management input and adjustments to ensure the progress of a particular strategy. "I had to build credibility, to show we were making budget commitments each year," Reyes says.

The boost in resources was well earned. Her group's revenue grew 7% year over year, driven by new customer mandates, higher transaction volumes and growth in liability balances.

"That growth is hard to find these days," Reyes said. "Many financial services organizations are going through streamlining and efficiencies. What I like is that we are growing at the same time as we are improving our operational costs."

A former Citigroup executive, Reyes was promoted to group general manager earlier this year, and since 2011 has been HSBC's global head of payments and cash management. The division manages $7.3 billion in annual revenue and more than 1 million clients.

11. Sandie O'Connor

Chief Regulatory Affairs Officer, JPMorgan Chase

Wherever there's trouble at JPMorgan Chase, Sandie O'Connor is likely to follow.

She led the Prime Services unit as it absorbed the failed Bear Stearns. Her appointment as treasurer in March 2012 came in the wake of the "London Whale" trading loss, and she became the chief regulatory affairs officer in April 2014 amid a Justice Department investigation into the suspected rigging of the $500 billion-a-day foreign exchange market. In the end, JPMorgan and five other banking companies pled guilty to felony conspiracy, paying a total of $2.5 billion in fines. JPMorgan's penalty was $500 million.

These days O'Connor is working to prevent future calamities. She warned during a spring forum at the Brookings Institution that some collateral standards are needed to avoid trouble with central counterparty clearinghouses. "We haven't closed down what could be the beginning of building systemic risk," she said at the forum.

She was the lead author of a paper on that topic from JPMorgan Chase last fall. It argued that more has to be done to prepare for the potential failure of such counterparties — "the most systemically important of any systemically important financial institution," the paper says.

O'Connor also is on the board and executive committee at two major trade groups: the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and the Global Financial Markets Association.

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12. Anne Finucane

Vice Chairman and Global Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Bank of America

Anne Finucane's primary duties at Bank of America — setting strategy and overseeing marketing and advertising — are evident in her title. But she actually does a whole lot more.

Finucane is in charge of B of A's lobbying efforts and counsels the board on issues related to reputation and public policy. Corporate social responsibility — an area that has long been under Finucane's purview — has emerged as a larger priority for her with the company seeking to rebuild its credibility following the financial crisis. And as chair of the company's charitable foundation, Finucane is overseeing an ambitious plan to give away $2 billion over 10 years.

Her team also manages a $1.2 billion portfolio that invests in community development financial institutions and Finucane herself spearheaded a financial literacy initiative in which B of A teamed up with the Khan Academy to create the website The site has had roughly 8 million visits in the two years since it launched.

Given her experience, it's no wonder that Finucane is often asked to serve on nonprofit and corporate boards. She is doing so for a handful of nonprofits, including the Special Olympics, and for the pharmacy chain CVS, where she was part of its momentous decision to stop selling tobacco products last year.

Though board service can be a major commitment, Finucane says it has made her better at her own job. "You witness another management team and operation and see how they deal with change, crisis, opportunity," she says. "It's enlightening and certainly energizing."

13. Dorothy Savarese

President and CEO, The Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank

Only two women have ever been named chairman of the American Bankers Association. Dorothy Savarese is one of them.

The role of pioneering female leader is already familiar to her, as she is the first woman to serve as chief executive at her Massachusetts-based thrift in its more than 150 years.

She is looking forward to adding the distinction of becoming only the second woman to lead the country's largest banking trade group in more than 140 years — after Elizabeth Duke in 2004. "It's very exciting," she says of her steadily growing role in the ABA.

In July, Savarese was nominated as chairman-elect, a post she'll officially accept at the ABA's annual convention in November. She takes over as chairman next year.

No doubt she'll prove just as effective as she has been at Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank. The thrift, which has $2.7 billion of assets and just over 450 employees, has made a name for itself by outperforming larger rivals in its region. Its assets have more than doubled in Savarese's decade of leadership, and in the past year it has opened two branches and two loan production offices.

Savarese has been a longtime advocate for women in banking. Savarese told the Connecticut Women in Banking conference in April that the industry needs "women's creativity and collaborative approach and innovation and insights. We have got to develop our human talent, and if we ignore half of that, we're not going to be competitive."

14. Rilla Delorier

EVP, Consumer Channels, SunTrust Banks

SunTrust Banks is out to improve the experience of both its customers and employees in what it calls "the largest transformational effort" in its history. So naturally Rilla Delorier — who Chief Executive Bill Rogers describes as "an innovative and inspirational leader" — is the one spearheading this massive effort.

It's been a little more than a year since Delorier shifted from her previous role as chief marketing officer to overseeing consumer banking channels. She now has oversight of SunTrust's 1,470-branch retail network, which brings in a third of the company's revenue. She is overhauling the branches to add technology such as video tellers and recently introduced a self-service safe deposit box, which she says is a first among U.S. banks.

The Atlanta company also is spending $100 million on mobile and online banking projects as part of a new omnichannel strategy that is Delorier's responsibility. Her work to implement more seamless automated service across channels already has resulted in tens of millions of savings in operating expenses.

But Delorier says the most rewarding — and by far the most fun — experience she has had in her career is her effort over the past year to infuse the workplace with more lightheartedness. "Fun and professionalism aren't mutually exclusive," even if banking is a serious business, she says. "But you can't just walk into an office and tell people 'have fun.' You have to build a culture that encourages people to enjoy themselves."

Her tactics, which have gradually won over the office cynics, include setting aside 15 minutes every Monday for a different team member to lead a fun activity (dance party, anyone?) and initiating Thank You Thursdays to encourage leaders to send out appreciative notes recognizing teammates for their work.

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15. Mary Walworth Navarro

Senior EVP, Retail and Business Banking Director, Huntington Bancshares

Mary Walworth Navarro's dedication to her job shows — literally.

She's easily identifiable as a Huntington executive wherever she goes, because she always wears a Huntington hat, scarf or button, even outside of work, says Tanny Crane, one of the company's board members.

But it is how Navarro actually does her job that Stephen Steinour, the chairman, president and chief executive, most appreciates. "Her insightful ability to judge and track customer needs keeps Huntington well ahead of its competitors," Steinour says.

In her role as leader of retail and business banking, Huntington's largest business unit, Navarro has spearheaded the introduction of popular features — like a 24-hour grace period to avoid overdraft fees — that have helped spur enviable growth in recent years. Just in 2014, consumer checking account household revenue rose 7% from the year earlier and the proportion of consumer households that pay for at least six Huntington products rose to 49.4% from 47.6%. In addition, the overall number of households doing business with Huntington climbed 10%, to about 1.5 million.

Navarro also is pushing Huntington to gain a better understanding of millennials, a consumer segment many traditional banks have struggled to reach. Millennials are "more hardworking and passionate" than some might think, says Navarro, who is the mother of two members of that demographic.

As part of the effort to appeal to this generation, she is advocating for more technology-oriented products. One of Huntington's newest services, Quick Balance, is a mobile app that allows customers to check their balance with one tap on a smartphone.

16. Eileen Serra

CEO, Chase Card Services, JPMorgan Chase

Eileen Serra spends a lot of her time trying to make JPMorgan Chase's 63 million credit card accounts as secure as possible.

Over the last two years, the banking industry has been hit by a series of data breaches, including a major attack on Chase in 2014. Its credit card division, led by Serra since August 2012, has emerged as an industry leader in efforts to better protect customers' personal information.

Serra, a former executive at Merrill Lynch and American Express, is of the opinion that there isn't one overarching solution to fraud prevention. So under her leadership, Chase Card Services has rolled out an overlapping set of initiatives designed to keep customer information safe, both in retail stores and online.

Chase was one of the inaugural card issuers participating in Apple Pay, which launched in October 2014 and marked a key step forward in payment security. Apple Pay uses tokenization technology to protect the 16-digit credit card number during the checkout process.

Separately, Chase Card Services has invested in tokenization technology for online and mobile payments. And it has issued more than 20 million chip-enabled cards over the last year; those cards should help reduce fraud at brick-and-mortar retailers.

Serra is the only female chief executive at any of the six largest credit card issuers. Her extracurricular activities include several focused on helping women. She is heavily involved in a Chase program for female employees who want to build their leadership skills. She also recently joined the board of the Women's Refugee Commission, which is dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls who have been forced to flee their homes.

17. Leslie Godridge

EVP, National Corporate Specialized Industries and Global Treasury Management, U.S. Bancorp

In the eight years that Leslie Godridge has led the National Corporate and Institutional Banking unit at U.S. Bancorp, she has broadened its scope from regional to national and grown its loan portfolio significantly.

Now she is having similar success with the Global Treasury Management unit that she took on in February 2014. Under her leadership, the unit is profitable after previously posting eight straight years of losses. "I can't take all the credit," Godridge says, calling the turnaround a team effort. But "I can take credit for pointing out the areas that we needed to focus on to get that growth," she adds.

One tactic that helped is transferring some functions not core to the business line — like marketing and technology operations — to their respective groups elsewhere in the company. Free of distractions, the team concentrated on activities such as refining pitches for new business to improve its success rate.

Another priority for Godridge is trying to promote a culture of caring and volunteerism among her staff of 800 people, and raising U.S. Bancorp's profile in New York City, where she is based. She talks proudly of the Corporate Responsibility Award she won this year from Hunter College recognizing the company's charitable efforts.

Godridge personally does a lot of counseling of parents with children who have developmental disabilities. "I've had two experiences with children with disabilities in my immediate family," she says, "so I know what people are going through."

Godridge helps explain to parents the pros and cons of putting their children in schools that focus exclusively on those with special needs, rather than mainstreaming them. "It's not a matter of putting in a certain number of hours a week or anything," she says, "but when a parent is referred to me and calls, I can end up spending hours and hours on the phone with them."

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18. Karen Larrimer

Chief Customer Officer, PNC Financial Services Group

When Karen Larrimer was named PNC's chief customer officer, she had one nagging question about the role: What, precisely, does a chief customer officer do?

She didn't know of any chief customer officers in banking, and certainly none at a company PNC's size, whom she could look to for guidance. So she studied companies outside the industry known for stellar customer experiences — Disney, Amazon, Apple — to figure out what might work.

In the end, that's probably just as well, if not better.

"Our competitors, in my mind, are not just the other banks," Larrimer says. The competition is any company setting the standards for customer experience, and "those standards are way higher than they were years ago."

Since taking the post 18 months ago, Larrimer launched programs to help PNC meet those expectations, and to help employees understand how their interactions affect individual customers. She's gotten the company to establish customer-specific goals for each of its 54,000 employees, and to assess them in annual performance reviews.

"What's really important to me is that every employee, even if they're in the back office and handling the same piece of paper every day, understands how their job connects to the customer," she says.

She's also started an initiative called "Just Fix It" to let employees know that they need to "raise their hand and let us know" when they see something that's not working.

Customer data can help point to areas that need improvement as well. Larrimer's placing much more emphasis on such data, particularly the net promoter score, which measures how likely a customer is to recommend a brand to others. PNC now asks that question on every customer survey in every line of business, and Larrimer wants to move toward using that as the primary measure of how the company is doing on creating a positive experience.

The new responsibilities add to an already heavy workload for Larrimer, who also manages PNC's marketing, public relations and innovation groups. But she wanted to keep overseeing all those too.

"The customer experience is driven by the voice we have externally, which is marketing and corporate communications," she says.

Larrimer also has a busy schedule at home. She and her husband, Jim, have four children, ranging in age from five to 27. "I was handling diapers and college decisions all at the same time," she says.

As if she doesn't have enough to do, Larrimer sits on the boards of many charities in her hometown of Pittsburgh, including the United Way, Goodwill and PNC's own foundation. She likes the responsibility.

"When you do what you love, you find the time to make it work," she says. "And I do."

19. Patricia "Patti" Husic

President and CEO, Centric Bank

Patti Husic was skeptical of Twitter at first. Husic, who is in her eighth year as president and chief executive of the $329 million-asset Centric Bank in Harrisburg, Pa., wondered whether social media was worth her time. Once she concluded it was, though, Husic went all in. She has been tweeting for roughly two years and as of late summer had 500 followers.

Husic also makes sure Centric itself is active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, for recruiting, LinkedIn. She encourages employees to use their own accounts to show their support for local nonprofits and businesses as well. "We use hyperlocal hashtags to build our influence in our own backyard," she says.

Husic's first leadership role in the industry came in July 2005, when she was named president of Vartan National Bank in Harrisburg. She had joined Vartan less than a year earlier as chief operating officer. The promotion was gratifying but it came with a side of trouble: delinquent loans ballooned to more than 3% of the portfolio less than two years after she moved into the corner office.

Husic's turnaround blueprint was simple and bold. Over a 113-day span in 2007, she put together an investment group that bought and rebranded Vartan. After struggling during the depths of the financial crisis, the bank now known as Centric has posted five consecutive annual profits and is well on its way to a sixth. About 75% of its executive team is female.

As immediate past chair of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association, Husic made advocating for female bankers a priority. Under Husic's leadership, the PBA organized its first Women in Banking conference. The second annual conference, held this past spring, drew 285 attendees and, especially pleasing to Husic, led to more than 350 tweets from participants. Husic, who still chairs the PBA's Women in Banking advisory board, is now busy helping organize the event again for next year.

20. Andrea Smith

Chief Administrative Officer, Bank of America

Andrea Smith has tackled so many disparate assignments as global head of human resources at Bank of America that Chairman and Chief Executive Brian Moynihan finally had to create an entirely new job title for her: chief administrative officer.

Since joining the company in 1988, Smith has held a wide range of human resources posts, including senior human resources executive for the Bank of America Merrill Lynch unit. But in recent years her role has expanded far beyond the oversight of BofA's more than 220,000 employees.

Last year, Smith — already responsible for a personnel budget of $34 billion — added global corporate services to her duties. That gave her oversight of its nearly $5 billion of corporate expenses and nearly 100 million square feet of real estate in 46 countries. She also oversees thousands of vendor relationships — a new area of regulatory scrutiny — on top of employee services such as expense reimbursement and travel. Corporate security, executive protection and corporate aviation all fall under Smith's purview as well.

In her new role, Smith will be taking control of the megabank's stress tests, a job normally reserved for a chief risk officer or chief financial officer.

Outside of B of A, Smith is on the boards of numerous nonprofits: Cookies for Kids' Cancer, which raises funds for cancer research; Thompson Child & Family Focus, serving at-risk children; and Discovery Place, the interactive science and technology museum. She recently became second vice chair of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, putting her in line to chair the organization in 2017. And as a Charlotte Ballet board member, she chaired, and competed in, its "Dancing with the Stars" fundraising event, in which prominent executives are paired with professional dancers from the ballet. The competition raised a record $775,000 for the ballet and six other area nonprofits last year.

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21. Janice Fukakusa

Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Royal Bank of Canada

Chief financial officers are known for their facility with numbers, but the people factor is what sold Royal Bank of Canada's Janice Fukakusa on the biggest bank M&A deal of the year.

"While we viewed City National as a strong fit in terms of their strategic goals and ability to complement and enhance our abilities," Fukakusa says, "feeling out whether there would be a fit on the 'softer' elements of culture and values would be equally critical and required that we really got to know their leadership and the feel of their organization."

As chair of RBC's group operating committee, one of Fukakusa's responsibilities is acquisitions.

Her signoff cleared the way for a $5.4 billion deal to buy the Los Angeles-based company, and she is leading the preparations to absorb its operations into RBC. The transaction, expected to close by the end of the year, would mark RBC's return to the U.S. retail banking market after a three-year absence.

When she isn't overseeing the finances of the fifth-largest bank in North America, Fukakusa serves on multiple charitable boards. These include the advisory board of Ashinaga, a Japan-based nonprofit that provides educational support to orphaned children globally, and the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, which raised $88 million for cancer research in 2014. Fukakusa also serves on the board of governors for Ryerson University in RBC's headquarters city of Toronto, and chairs the selection committee charged with finding the next president of the university.

"I feel every executive should consider board service," Fukakusa says. "The experiences, knowledge and strong networks can help you further your career, while extending your reach and impact into new areas."

22. Anne Clarke Wolff

Head of Global Corporate Banking and Global Leasing, Bank of America

Anne Clarke Wolff knows how to get results. As head of global corporate banking at Bank of America since 2011, she's led a successful push abroad into capital raising, global transaction services and risk management while deepening relationships with multinational clients in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This spring, she was given the additional responsibility of leading the global leasing unit, which serves 64,000 clients worldwide across industries such as aviation, health care and energy services.

The arts and nonprofit worlds are also major beneficiaries of Wolff's financial acumen. She serves on the board of the Brooklyn Historical Society and was recently appointed co-chair of the finance committee for The Public Theater's board of trustees. The New York City nonprofit is behind the wildly successful free summer theater series "Shakespeare in the Park" and the much-buzzed-about musical "Hamilton."

Wolff describes board service as "critical" to her personal and professional development. "Perhaps the most rewarding aspect for me is the intersection of my financial background with my passion for the arts."

She says while many financial institutions discourage executives from serving on public boards for fear of encountering compliance issues, the industry should work to overcome such obstacles because it stands to get a reputational boost when its executives help other organizations thrive. As a B of A ambassador in her board activities, Wolff says, she hopes "to influence how different constituents view our company and the financial industry in general."

23. Karen Parkhill

Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer, Comerica

Karen Parkhill is prompting some uncomfortable conversations at Comerica.

Under her direction, Comerica has changed the way it approaches its annual reviews with an eye toward giving Comerica's employees real feedback. Managers now discuss three strengths and three weaknesses with their direct reports — skills that employees need to "develop," as the company describes it.

The process that was in place before Parkhill arrived in 2011 focused on an employee's goals, performance, competencies and potential, but paid little attention to what needed to improve.

While it may have been awkward at first, the Dallas company wants discussions about how to improve to be part of its culture. It has rolled out the new talent management system — which affects mostly those who are vice presidents or higher — to 2,500 of its 9,000 full-time employees so far.

Parkhill's focus on improvement starts with herself, particularly when it comes to self-confidence. She says building self-confidence entails trying to always be prepared, visualizing success and not bottling up self-doubt. But the most important thing is to seek supporters.

"Make sure you surround yourself with people who lift you up and treat you with the respect you deserve," Parkhill says. "Nothing can erode our confidence more than being around negative people who don't recognize the unique talent we each bring to the table."

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24. Sandy Pierce

Vice Chairman, FirstMerit Corp.; Chairman and CEO, FirstMerit Michigan

When Sandy Pierce broke into banking as a commercial lender in the early 1980s, she had a huge advantage over the other young loan officers — only she didn't know it.

Pierce grew up poor in Detroit's Poletown neighborhood. Her parents, Nick and Helen Tokarczyk, ran the Chene-Adele tavern on Chene Street, and the family — Pierce was the youngest of 10 children — lived in an apartment above. Pierce was the only child to go to college, graduating from Wayne State University with a degree in marketing in 1980.

During college, Pierce worked as a part-time teller at the old National Bank of Detroit, which offered her a marketing job after graduation. She asked to go into commercial lending instead because it seemed more lucrative.

Pierce says she was a good loan officer, but sensitive about her background. In those days, she would still help when the Chene-Adele got busy. When she looked around at her banking colleagues, she saw few women, and she didn't see anyone at all who had grown up over a bar.

"As I progressed through the lending ranks, I was confident on the exterior, but on the inside I was terrified," Pierce says. "I was scared that if given the choice between me and someone with a more privileged upbringing I wouldn't advance."

It wasn't until years later Pierce realized that rather than holding her back, her background had made her who she was. "Growing up poor in Detroit, being street smart, and really knowing the region made me different from most of my peers and that was an advantage," she says.

Pierce has worked her entire career in Michigan, first for NBD and its successors and then Charter One. Her most meaningful work has come in the past three years. She served as chairman of the Financial Advisory Board that guided Detroit through its historic bankruptcy. And at FirstMerit, which she joined in February 2013, she was deeply involved in the integration of the $9.6 billion-asset Citizens Republic Bancorp. Not bad for a kid from Poletown.

25. Ranjana Clark

Head of Transaction Banking Americas, MUFG Union Bank

Ranjana Clark is not afraid to take on what she describes as the "invisible cultural barriers" of a Japanese-owned bank.

When Clark joined MUFG Union Bank, she soon realized that its historically conservative approach to accepting deposits was limiting growth.

Clark saw an opportunity to expand deposits aggressively — but safely — by carving out a niche holding deposits from other financial institutions. She recognized that there are businesses in this category, such as insurance companies, that do not behave like stereotypical large financial firms. The money is likelier to stay put during a crisis, and less likely to draw a skeptical eye from regulators.

Clark had her head of risk management and several top finance executives analyze the market opportunity and assess the downside. Then Clark presented a report on the findings that convinced the senior leadership team she could bank these businesses at a substantial profit without spooking the examiners.

As a result of her initiative, her group recently obtained clearance to raise more than $1 billion of deposits from select businesses in the financial institutions category, even as others like JPMorgan Chase and GE Capital have quit the business line.

Building on these efforts, Clark now has a team pursuing hotly contested segments, such as cash-rich technology companies.

Clark also has helped her lending colleagues overcome similar rigidity at the San Francisco unit of Tokyo's Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.

Commercial bankers were previously constrained in lending to middle-market firms. But when they teamed up with Clark's group to court such clients for loans and deposits, executives gave their approval to extend more credit, seeing that the overall relationships would be more profitable.

In an industry content with low single-digit growth, her group posted double-digit increases in deposits last year. Moreover, it beat core earnings projections by well over $50 million.