A Woman’s Place is in the C-Suite

As a young girl in Arkansas, Natalie Bartholomew always knew she wanted to be a banker. She collected credit card applications at department stores and deposit tickets from her grandfather, a banker, so she could “play bank” at home. She joined a junior bank board in high school and was employed as a teller by her senior year.

Today, Bartholomew is the chief administrative officer at Grand Savings Bank, a $455 million asset community bank based in Grove, Oklahoma. But as she was promoted through the ranks at a succession of Arkansas-based community banks, and began attending industry networking groups and conventions, she noticed something. “It was just a boys’ club,” she says. This isn’t an anecdote from banking’s yesteryears: Bartholomew is in her 30s. “Oh my gosh: This is the industry I’m in,” she thought at the time. “There are no other young females, and no wonder they don’t want to be here, because this is the road you have to go down, this is the hill to climb … these guys have ruled the roost for so long, then why would a young woman want to even attempt to conquer this industry?”

Women are ready, willing and able to lead in today’s C-suites and boardrooms: Forty-five percent of working women aspire to hold an executive role, according to Gallup’s research on women and the workplace. Yet, corporate America remains dominated by men. Fewer than 5 percent of S&P 500 companies are led by a female chief executive officer, including two financial services companies—Beth Mooney of KeyCorp and Margaret Keane of Synchrony Financial. Women hold just 21 percent of senior leadership roles, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on promoting gender inclusion. In fact, the nonprofit claims there are fewer female leaders in the U.S. than there are men named John.

Too frequently, executives and boards assume women aren’t willing to work as hard or put in the long hours that can be required to advance through the ranks. That’s a misconception, says Teresa Tschida, a senior practice expert at Gallup. “Our research would say that, for women [who] want to move up to those senior roles, they are just as willing to work long hours.”

A gender-diverse leadership team can also strengthen strategic decisions. While individual strengths vary widely, women are generally better at relationship building, according to Gallup’s research, along with structure, routine and planning. “They do work smarter—they’re more efficient,” says Tschida.

A study examining the effect of gender diversity on profitability, published in 2016 by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, found “the correlation between women at the C-suite level and firm profitability is demonstrated repeatedly.” And the proportion of female executives and female board members is instrumental, which “underscores the importance of creating a pipeline of female managers and not getting lone women to the top.”

“Diverse teams bring different life experiences and different perspectives and function better,” says Deborah Streeter, a Cornell University professor who leads the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, most companies have a “leaky pipeline” when it comes to female talent. “The pool of women, by the time you get to the C-suite level, is too small,” she says.

The gender-diverse executive team at $1.3 billion asset First United Corp., based in Oakland, Maryland, generates a positive reaction among its employees and community. Four executives on the seven-member senior management team are women, including the chief executive and chief financial officer. People “will comment to me how inspiring it is for them to see that the company provides opportunity equally,” says CEO Carissa Rodeheaver. “It’s really representative of the fact that you can do whatever you set your mind to, and it doesn’t matter what your gender is in moving through a company. It’s all about your ambition, it’s all about your skill sets, it’s all about your desire, it’s all about your passion to continue to move forward, whether you’re a man or a woman. We will recognize that—we’ll foster that, and we’ll help you to grow.”

In most cases, a leaky talent pipeline isn’t the result of outright discrimination, but rather relying on outdated approaches to leadership development and corporate culture.

Building diversity on leadership teams—in the C-suite and on the board—doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of intentional practices and strategies that reward women as well as men, and programs that help banks better identify and promote their best employees—regardless of gender.

“We’re not specifically aiming to have more women in our workplace. We’re aiming to be inclusive and have top talent, and we recognize that that talent comes in all shapes and sizes,” says Kim Manigault, the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Cleveland, Ohio-based KeyCorp, with $140 billion in assets. “That doesn’t happen by accident. That happens when you have a very direct and deliberate and committed focus on diversity and inclusion across all the programs and policies within your organization.”

Diversity can’t be achieved overnight. “It’s a long-term process of cultivating candidates inside the company,” says John Daniel, chief human resources officer at $41 billion asset First Horizon National Corp., based in Memphis, Tennessee.
A number of banks, including First Horizon and KeyCorp, have leadership development programs in place. “Women who get development—of any kind—actually show a greater confidence than the men who go through the same program in their ability to apply their skills, because they felt supported, and they got that development, and they worked on leadership skills,” says Stephanie Neal, a senior research consultant at the talent management firm Development Dimensions International, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Focusing on developing female leaders is paying off at Fifth Third Bancorp, says Chief Administrative Officer Teresa Tanner. Female employees at the $146 billion asset Cincinnati, Ohio-based bank were working hard but staying under the radar. So, the bank created a program—tailored to women—to address development gaps. “We really felt that doing a gender-specific program that could really talk about those skills that women need at an executive level, creating a safe space with other women to stretch and grow, would be a great investment,” she says. One-third of the program’s graduates have already received promotions or taken on new responsibilities. “It has far exceeded my expectations,” she says.

Personalized development plans can enhance development, especially for female employees. “It helps [leaders] to target where they put their energy and then, of course, they see greater results,” says Neal. Women, in general, tend to have specific development needs, including “building confidence, knowing how to build stronger networks, and knowing how to create greater influence in an organization, especially when the status quo works against them,” she says.

Fifth Third’s program works on building soft skills that may not be as readily developed among female talent—confidence in promoting oneself, for example, and learning how to network. “Things that we haven’t historically been so overt about teaching women how to do, and I’ve seen it pay off,” says Tanner.

Personalized development appeals to men and women—particularly to millennials. “We find this desire for the culture of coaching, and about growth and development, is coming from some of the younger generation in the workplace today,” says Tschida.

Individual development plans play a key role in developing executives at First United. “Every person in the company has an individual development plan, and it talks about areas where they feel that they are strong and want to continue to grow in, or areas where they have an opportunity to improve,” says Rodeheaver. The bank introduced a “skip-a-level” approach this year that has Rodeheaver reviewing all development plans for employees who report to her direct reports, so she can better understand where coaching is needed, which she sees as vital to succession planning.

“Succession doesn’t just happen at the executive level—it really needs to happen throughout the company,” Rodeheaver says. “This gives me the opportunity to look one layer below my direct staff to see, who do we need to continue to develop for succession in the future.”

Women are less likely to receive feedback on their performance, according to a study conducted in 2016 by McKinsey and LeanIn.org—underscoring the important role mentorship programs can play in developing female leaders.

Rodeheaver says she benefited personally when former CEO Bill Grant took her under his wing. “He opened doors for me, he introduced me to people in the industry,” she says. “If you look at our organization, we have a lot of women in leadership positions, so he was an excellent mentor for all of us and, I think, he really was a champion for women in the bank, not because he set women apart—because he didn’t set women apart.”

Unfortunately, women often don’t receive the same mentorship opportunities as men. There are a few reasons for this. First, few banks have a formal mentorship program in place. Just 15 percent of executives and directors said their bank offered a mentorship program in Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey. Men hold the majority of executive positions, so informal programs tend to exclude women.

It can be difficult to naturally develop cross-gender relationships, so formalizing the process helps level the playing field between men and women to ensure the bank is developing the best employees, regardless of gender. “Leaving things to be more chance, more informal really puts those powerful mentorships for women at risk,” says Neal.

At KeyCorp, 450 employees participated in mentoring last year, says Manigault. Seventy percent of those mentor/mentee matches included a woman. “We had a significant component of those groups that were multicultural as well, meaning you can get guidance, coaching, development from somebody who doesn’t look like you, or who isn’t in the line of business you’re in or who hasn’t had the experiences you’ve had. It’s all about where you are going to get the guidance, coaching and development that’s the best for you.”

Employee resource groups, deployed at organizations like KeyCorp and First Horizon, also play an important role. “We have a population of women in our organization [who] want to come together, rise and grow through the ranks together, from junior level to executive level,” says Manigault.

Managers are particularly hesitant to provide constructive feedback to their female reports. Streeter refers to this lack of feedback as “ruinous empathy,” and despite the best intentions on the part of managers, it does more harm than good.

“Nobody can grow without feedback,” she says. Ruinous empathy cheats employees—particularly women—out of opportunities to improve and grow.

And rather than indirectly punishing talented female employees by declining to mentor them, male executives who feel nervous about interacting with women in the #MeToo era should rethink their approach. “Male leaders now say, ‘Look, I am worried, I don’t want to take a young woman to lunch at a restaurant, because I’m worried that I’ll be a target,’” she says. “If that’s true, don’t take either men or women for lunch at a restaurant, use a different method for interacting with them.” 
Reconsider other practices too, like networking on the golf course. That could be another practice that more frequently rewards men over women.

“Provide a safe structure, so people can become sponsors—it’s one of the major things that women lack in many environments is access to mentors and sponsors,” says Streeter. And executives should be responsible for developing potential successors. “Mentoring and sponsoring both women and men has to be part of the way that leaders are also evaluated by the board.”

Bartholomew found herself looking outside for mentors, and building that support system led her to create her blog, “The Girl Banker.” Women in banking are hungry for these connections—and they want advice, she says. “There [are] always a lot of questions about additional education and resources to help further them in their career,” says Bartholomew. Work/life balance is also a hot topic, and one of her most popular blog posts discusses so-called mom guilt. “Working moms, they love their children, they love their family, and they love their career, and they don’t want to be held back by either one,” she says.

Motherhood plays a big role in delaying or even derailing women’s careers, but banks can provide perks that benefit both men and women in the company, including expanded paternity/maternity leave benefits and flexible schedules.

At First United, flexibility can be as simple as giving employees—no matter their family situation—time to spend on what matters to them, whether that’s attending PTA meetings or coaching their child’s soccer team—or something else entirely, says Rodeheaver. That can mean working some hours from home as well, if the position permits it. “I don’t mind where you work, as long as the work’s getting done,” she says. “It’s very common for me to have my staff send me an email and say, ‘One of the kids is sick, I’m going to be working from home today.’ And it’s having that trust that they’re going to be able to pull that off.”

Some banks are rethinking the benefits they offer employees so they can better retain women or attract them back into the workforce. The “Career Comeback” program at the Swiss financial services company UBS Group offers permanent positions to men and women worldwide who want to reenter the workforce, along with the education and mentorship they need to make the transition.

Fifth Third has focused its efforts on retaining women through its maternity concierge program. “We were seeing women at mid-career leave the workforce at a much higher rate—it was almost double the turnover rate of a typical employee,” says Tanner. Employees who wanted to stay on to build their careers struggled to balance the demands of work and family. The solution? “We basically give someone their own personal assistant,” she says, to run errands, from getting groceries to planning a baby shower to helping buy a car seat. “They give them that extra set of hands that they need so that they can worry about work and continue in their career, but let somebody help them through this huge transitionary change in their life.” It’s had an impact on Fifth Third’s ability to retain these employees: Women who used the program were 25 percent more likely to stay on the job.

Women have access to the maternity concierge program until their child’s first birthday. After that, they can use the bank’s general concierge program, a similar perk offered to both men and women.

Access to expanded maternity perks and flexible scheduling can have a big impact on employees, but companies should also ensure they’ve removed any cultural stigmas around using these benefits, advises Cathleen Clerkin, a senior research faculty member at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership. If applicable, ensure that men and women are using the benefit equitably. For example, she says that women say flexibility is important to them, but research suggests men are more likely to receive this benefit. “Women might not want to ask what the options are, for fear of backlash,” she says.

Setting transparent policies around flexible scheduling and similar benefits can help combat this concern. “When there is fuzziness, that’s where you see implicit bias sneak in,” says Clerkin.

Implicit or unconscious bias—the unconscious stereotypes held by the average person—are perhaps the trickiest issue to tackle when creating an inclusive culture that rewards and advances all, rather than some, employees.

We all hold some form of unconscious bias. Most of us just don’t know it.

“For the most part, people really mean well, and they really want to support women,” says Clerkin. But leaders often make assumptions that don’t align with a talented female employee’s actual goals. It’s a pattern of behavior called protective hesitation, and results in fewer opportunities for women to grow as leaders. They may be passed up for a challenging assignment, for example, or a promotion that requires the employee to relocate. “There’s this protective hesitation around trying to do the right thing, [which] can actually prevent women from getting through the pipeline,” says Clerkin.

She recommends a simple solution. “It sounds so simple, but just asking women, ‘What do you want, how can I advocate for you, what kind of feedback do you need, what kind of positions do you want,’ instead of trying to guess what the best decisions are, I think is something that would really make a difference.”

At Fifth Third, the management committee—comprised of the bank’s top 100 leaders—recently spent two hours with a neuroleadership expert to learn more about bias and diversity. “We have to model it from the top, and we have to continue to educate and challenge the way we think about this,” says Tanner.

Streeter recommends a saying to weigh your own unconscious bias: “Detect, inspect, reject.” Detecting the bias requires being aware of the problem. From there, leaders should inspect whether a decision—who should be promoted to fill a key role, for example—is based on facts or influenced by bias. Based on that, the leader can then accept or reject a decision. 
First Horizon counteracts bias by conducting multiple panel interviews to determine who will be accepted into its leadership development program or fill senior roles. “Bias operates on individual decision making,” says Daniel. “If you’re working in a group, and you have what I would call real factors—competencies that are used as an assessment tool—the group selection process counteracts and helps offset a lot of the bias.”

Relying on personal networks tends to reward the male-dominated status quo, so a diverse slate of candidates must be considered before filling key positions. “Our search guys [are] told, ‘You will present us a diverse slate, and we will pick the best candidate,’” he says. “It’s not an accident that the last two hires that we made were both female.”

Transparency and measurement are crucial elements in a bank’s battle against unconscious bias. Relying on relationship-building over quantitative measures will ensure that a bank maintains the status quo—a primarily white, male C-suite with a couple of token diversity hires sprinkled in.

KeyCorp shares the progress it’s making on its diversity goals to anyone who visits its website. “We are very frank about our numbers,” even when those numbers make some uncomfortable, says Manigault. Monitoring and measuring helps KeyCorp understand what’s working and what’s not, and meet the diverse talent needs of business line leaders.

“Any time you can track who’s applying for positions and who’s getting them, what kind [and] how much resources people are getting—any time you can track metrics, it helps us find out where our blind spots are,” says Clerkin.

Are women advancing and developing at similar rates to men? Is there a wage gap between genders? These are the types of metrics companies can monitor, in addition to the composition of the leadership team and board, says Streeter. And set specific goals—just like you would for a line of business. “Nothing will happen if you don’t set a goal that is measurable, and then track it and work your way toward it,” she says.

And when performances are evaluated based on quantitative measures, rather than gut instinct or personal relationships, women fare better. And focus on the quality of the performance, not face time or hours spent in the office, says Tschida. “If you tell [women] what the outcome is, and you allow their more natural inclination to structure and discipline in their own right, they can be efficient, and they can hit that outcome in different ways,” she says. “Men would like that, too.”

Focusing on the employee’s outcome, rather than gut instinct, means the organization is advancing its best talent. That’s better for the bank.

Women tend to get stuck in organizations just below the C-suite. KeyCorp’s total workforce was 60 percent female in December 2017, compared to 27 percent for its executive and senior officers, and 31 percent for its board. At the end of 2016, FifthThird’s workforce looked roughly the same, with 61 percent women overall compared to 31 percent of its board, and 23 percent of its executive and senior team. At the end of 2018, First Horizon reported that 30 percent of its executive management committee was female, compared to 60 percent overall. And this is among banks that are actively working to create a more diverse workforce, rather than being content with the status quo.

All things equal, Streeter recommends hiring the diverse candidate. “When candidates are really quite equal, people will use some gut instinct—they will say something like, ‘She’s just not as good a fit as he is,’” says Streeter. “If all things are equal when you look at the qualifications of people, you’ve got to start opting in favor of diversity, if you lack diversity. That’s not giving women preferential treatment, it’s just saying, our corporation needs to have more diverse leadership, that’s one of our goals and to meet that goal, we have to start looking at environments and opportunities to diversify the leadership.”

That could also mean making the table a little bigger to include women. This enabled First Horizon to add more women to its executive management committee. “The enlargement of the committee was to make sure that we had the opportunity for lots of people to have a seat at the table when corporate decision making and policy making” occurred, says Daniel.

As for the lack of women ready to lead? Fifth Third’s Tanner calls that a cop out. “There are a lot of executive women out in the workforce … Go find them, and bring them to your company, and if they’re deeper in your organization, then develop and bring them up,” she says. “We have to quit with the excuses. If we really want to develop a workforce of tomorrow that is going to lead us into our future generations, we have to fix this, and we can’t do it at the rate we’ve been doing it.”

The Most Effective Bank Directors Share These Two Qualities


director-6-14-19.pngBanks have a slim margin for error.

They typically borrow $10 for every $1 of equity, which can amplify any missteps or oversight. Robust oversight by a board of directors, and in particular the audit and risk committees, is key to the success of any institution.

“At the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, we have consistently found a strong correlation between overall bank health and the level of director engagement,” wrote Kansas City Fed President Esther George in the agency’s governance manual, “Basics for Bank Directors.” “Generally, we have seen that the institutions that are well run and have fewer problems are under the oversight of an engaged and well-informed board of directors.”

This may sound trite, but the strongest bank boards embrace a collective sense of curiosity and cognitive diversity, according to executives and directors at Bank Director’s 2019 Bank Audit & Risk Committees Conference in Chicago.

Balancing revenue generation against risk management requires a bank’s audit and risk committees to invite skepticism, foster intelligent discussion and create a space for constructive disagreements. Institutions also need to remain abreast of emerging risks and changes that impact operations and strategy.

This is why curiosity, in particular, is so important.

“It’s critical for audit committee members to have curiosity and a critical mind,” says Sal Inserra, a partner at Crowe LLP. “You need to ask the tough questions. The worst thing is a silent audit committee meeting. It’s important to be inquisitive and have a sense of curiosity.”

Board members who are intellectually curious can provide credible challenges to management, agrees John Erickson, a director at Bank of Hawaii Corp.

Focusing on intellectual curiosity, as opposed to a set of concrete skills, can also broaden the pool of individuals that are qualified to sit on a bank’s audit and risk committees. These committees have traditionally been the domain of certified public accountants, but a significant portion of audit committee members in attendance at the conference were not CPAs.

Robert Glaser, the audit committee chair at Five Star Bank, sees that diversity of experience as an advantage for banks. He and several others say a diversity of experiences, or cognitive diversity, invites and cultivates diversity of thought. These members should be unafraid to bring their questions and perspectives to meetings.

Having non-CPAs on the audit committee of Pacific Premier Bancorp has helped the firm manage the variety of risks it faces, says Derrick Hong, chief audit executive at Pacific Premier. The audit committee chair is a CPA, but the bank has found it “very helpful” to have non-CPAs on the committee as well, he says.

Audit and risk committee members with diverse experiences can also balance the traditional perspective of the CPA-types.

It’s important [for audit committee members] to have balance. Bean counters don’t know everything,” says Paul Ward, chief risk officer at Community Bank System, who self-identifies as a “bean counter.”

“Some of the best questions I’ve seen [from audit committee members] have come from non-CPAs,” Ward says.

However, banks interested in cultivating intellectual curiosity and cognitive diversity in their audit and risk committees still need to identify board members with an appreciation for financial statements, and the work that goes into crafting them. After all, the audit committee helps protect the financial integrity of a bank through internal controls and reporting, not just reviewing financial statements before they are released.

Executives and board chairs also say that audit and risk committee members need to be dynamic and focus on how changes inside and outside the bank can alter its risk profile. Intellectual curiosity can help banks remain focused on these changes and resist the urge to become complicit.

I’ll be the first to admit that qualities like curiosity and cognitive diversity sound cliché. But just because something sounds cliché, doesn’t mean it isn’t also true.

Are These the Best of Times for Bank Directors?


strategy-5-13-19.pngFor someone who has covered the banking industry as long as I have (hint: I wrote my first banking story in 1986), these are among the best days to be a banker—or director of a bank—that I can remember. Profitability is high, as is capitalization, and the industry is gliding on the updraft of a strong economy and lower taxes.

The current health of the industry was apparent from what we did not talk about at Bank Director’s Bank Board Training Forum, which took place on May 9-10 in Nashville. There were no sessions about deteriorating loan quality, or the best way to structure a loan workout program, or the need to raise capital. Indeed, our managing editor, Kiah Lau Haslett, wrote a story that published Friday on this website warning against the perils of complacency.

When your biggest challenge is guarding against complacency, you’ve definitely found yourself in tall cotton.

It’s worth drilling down a little bit into the industry’s strong fundamentals. In addition to the continuation of a strong U.S. economy, which will be a record expansion if it continues much longer, banks have also benefited—more than any other industry—from last year’s steep cut in corporate tax rates, as well as a modest rollback of regulations in the Dodd-Frank Act.

Joseph Fenech, managing principal and head of research at the investment banking firm Hovde Group, explained during a presentation that thanks to the tax cut, both return on average assets and return on average tangible common equity jumped to levels last seen prior to the Great Recession. And not only has deregulation had a measurably positive impact on the industry’s profitability, according to Fenech, it has also brought new investors into the sector.

“It’s really driving change in how investors think about banks,” he says.

The only bad news Fenech offered was his assessment that bank M&A pricing has peaked. From 2008 to 2016, stocks of the most active acquirers traded at a premium to book value while many distressed targets traded at a discount, which translated to favorable “deal math” for buyers, according to Fenech. Deal pricing began to edge up from 2016 to 2018 as more acquirers came into the market. Many transactions had to be priced at a premium to book value, which began to make the deal math less favorable for the buyer.

Generally, the higher the deal premium, the longer it takes for it to be accretive. Since the beginning of this year, says Fenech, many investors have become wary of deals with high premiums unless they are clearly accretive to earnings in a reasonable period of time. Undisciplined acquirers that overpay for deals will see their stocks shunned by many investors.

This new dynamic in bank M&A also impacts sellers, who now may receive a lower premium for their franchise.

“I think the peak pricing in bank M&A was last year,” says Fenech.

An important theme during the entire conference was the increased attention that board diversity is getting throughout the industry. Bank Director President Mika Moser moderated a general session panel discussion on board diversity, but the topic popped up in various breakout sessions as well. This is not always a comfortable discussion for bank boards since—let’s face it—most bank boards are comprised overwhelming of older white males.

For many proponents, the push for greater board diversity is not simply to accomplish a progressive social policy. Diverse groups usually offer a diversity of thought—and that makes good business sense. Academic research shows that diverse groups or teams make better business decisions than more homogenious groups, where the members are more inclined to affirm each other’s biases and perspectives than challenge them. Larry Fink, the chairman and CEO of Blackrock—the world’s largest asset manager—believes that diverse boards are less likely to succumb to groupthink or miss emerging threats to a company’s business model, and are better able to identify opportunities that promote long-term growth.

The banking industry still has a lot of work to do in terms of embracing diversity in the boardroom and among the senior management team, but I get the sense that directors are more sensitive—and more open to making substantive changes—than just a few years ago.

The Bank Board Training Forum is, at its core, a corporate governance conference. While we cover a variety of issues, it’s always through the perspective of the outside director. James McAlpin, Jr., a partner and leader of the financial services client services group at the law firm Bryan Cave, gave an insightful presentation on corporate governance. But sometimes the simplest truth can be the most galvanizing.

“The responsibilities of directors can be boiled down to one simple goal—the creation of sustainable long-term value for shareholders,” he says. There are many decisions that bank boards must make over the course of a year, but all of them must be made through that prism.

One Strategy to Improve Board Performance


performance-4-19-19.pngDoes greater diversity improve the performance of corporate boards, or is it just an exercise in political correctness?

Cognitive diversity—also called diversity of thought—has particular relevance to bank boards of directors, which are overwhelmingly made up of older white men with general business backgrounds.

This is not an indictment against older white men per se, but rather a recognition that a group of people with similar backgrounds and experiences are more likely to think alike than not. The same could be said about other homogenous social groups. For example, a team of older Latinas or younger black men might also be subject to groupthink.

“We’re only going to get the right outcomes if we have the right people around the table,” says Jayne Juvan, a partner at Tucker Ellis who is vice chair of the American Bar Association’s corporate governance committee and frequently advises corporate boards on governance matters.

It would be a mistake to dismiss board diversity as a political issue pushed by feminists, LGBT advocates and progressive Democrats. Even some of the world’s largest institutional investors think it’s a good idea.

In his annual letter to chief executive officers in 2018, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said the investment company would “continue to emphasize the importance of a diverse board” at companies BlackRock invests in. These companies are “less likely to succumb to groupthink or miss threats to a company’s business model,” he wrote. “And they are better able to identify opportunities that provide long-term growth.”

State Street Global Advisors, another big institutional investor, announced in September of last year that it will update its voting guidelines in 2020 for firms that have no women on their boards and have failed to engage in “successful dialogue on State Street Global Advisor’s board diversity program for three consecutive years.”

As part of the new guidelines, State Street will vote against the entire slate of board members on the nominating committee of any public U.S. company that does not have at least one woman on its board.

There is, in fact, a strong business case for cognitive diversity. Studies show that diverse groups or teams make better decisions than homogenous ones.

Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity of their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile, according to a 2017 study by McKinsey & Co. The study also found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity were 33 percent more likely to outperform companies in the bottom quartile. Both findings were statistically significant.

“On the complex tasks we now carry out in laboratories, boardrooms, courtrooms, and classrooms, we need people who think in different ways,” wrote University of Michigan professor Scott Page in his book “The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy.”

“And not in arbitrarily diverse ways,” he continued. “Effective diverse teams are built with forethought.”

Page differentiates cognitive diversity from “identity” diversity, which is defined by demographic characteristics like race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and national origin. But striving for identity diversity, through characteristics such as race and gender, and the different life experiences and perspectives that result, can help boards and organizations cultivate cognitive diversity.

Yet, Juvan says boards also need to gain insight into how potential directors think and process information, which they can do by appointing them to advisory boards or working with them in other capacities. Banks that have separate boards for their depository subsidiaries, for instance, could use those as a farm system to evaluate candidates for the holding company board.

“I think it’s about creating a pipeline of candidates well in advance of the time that you actually need them, and really getting to know those candidates in a deeper way … as opposed to thinking a year out that we’re going to have an opening and … [working] with a recruiting firm,” she says. “I don’t think it’s something that, even if you work with a recruiting firm, you should fully outsource to somebody else.”

Solving the Puzzle of Compensation Plans and Diversity


compensation-11-6-18.pngThere are some tasks that seem innocuous and administrative, but are nevertheless incredibly important. Assembling the puzzle pieces of effective executive and employee compensation plans is one such task.

This is why hundreds of bank executives and directors have assembled at Bank Director’s 2018 Bank Compensation and Talent Conference in Dallas, Texas, this week.

A number of themes began to emerge on the first day of the annual event, hosted at the Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas, the first of which is that many banks and their boards are still fully figuring out exactly how to structure executive and employee pay.

The starting point, according to a panel of experts from Compensation Advisory Partners and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP during a morning workshop, is the interagency guidance issued in 2009 by the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

There are three overarching principles:

  • Provide employees incentives that appropriately balance risk and reward.
  • Be compatible with effective controls and risk-management.
  • Be supported by strong corporate governance, including active and effective oversight by the organization’s board of directors.

These may seem simple in theory, but the challenges for banks are real and complicated, which explains why compensation plans at so many banks are still a work in process.

On one hand, banks face one of the most competitive labor markets in decades, with the lowest unemployment rate in half a century. To attract talented workers, banks have to pay accordingly, which is why so many bankers raised their hands during a Monday morning workshop when asked if their banks boosted their minimum wages after tax reform passed Congress late last year.

On the other hand, as Steve Hovde, chairman and CEO of Hovde Group LLC, pointed out in his analysis of the industry, banks are facing well-seasoned business and credit cycles. This creates a quandary about how aggressive a bank should be in incenting rapid growth, as loans made at the top of an up cycle tend to be the first to go sour at the bottom of the next down cycle.

Moreover, while this may seem counterintuitive, there was wide agreement among attendees at the workshop that regulators aren’t currently focused on the design of compensation plans. The sole exception, according to at least one attendee, concerns how mortgage originators are being compensated, likely a reaction to the issues that surfaced two years ago at Wells Fargo & Co.

Another theme to emerge during the workshop involved diversity and inclusion initiatives, which all banks seem focused on addressing.

It’s important to distinguish between those two initiatives, observed one of the workshop’s panelists.

“Diversity is about inviting people to the party,” she noted. “Inclusion is about giving everyone an opportunity to dance.”

The challenge in banking, as in other industries, is tackling unconscious bias—social stereotypes people form outside their own conscious awareness.

No rational banker today would admit being biased against hiring or promoting women or minorities. Yet the demographic statistics in the industry speak clearly to a lack of diversity, especially at the upper levels of management.

One way to address this is simply through awareness. This was a point that Kate Quinn, the chief administrative officer of U.S. Bancorp, echoed two months ago at Bank Director’s Bank Board Training Forum in Chicago.

“Everyone has prejudices,” said Quinn at the time. “To address them, you first have to be aware they are there.”
And this isn’t just about hiring a diverse workforce; all employees must also be given an equal opportunity to excel. This is the distinction between diversity and inclusion in the corporate world.

An interesting point brought up during the workshop was that entry-level jobs throughout the financial industry tend to be fairly representative of the broader population. But as you look up the organizational chart, that diversity dissipates.

The lack of diversity at the top sends a strong signal, noted one attendee. Her point was, if, as a woman or minority, there isn’t someone like you on the board or who serves as an executive, then you are left with the impression you don’t have the same opportunity to advance.

Ultimately, though, if you listen to bankers, it’s clear that diversity and inclusion have become priorities at many institutions.
After all, to compete for talent, it’s not only how much you pay, it’s also the culture of your institution that will serve as a magnet for the next generation of employees.

Talent and Customer Experience Can Be Evaluated Three Different Ways


incentive-10-31-18.pngTo maintain a competitive advantage over peers, two areas of strategic focus we have seen increase include enhancing the customer experience and attracting and retaining the right talent. Specifically, many banks are focused on digital transformation and technological efficiencies as well as human capital management to attract the right talent, including diverse talent, to be able to achieve the strategic priorities.

Companies are clearly emphasizing the importance of these two strategic priorities, but how you measure success is challenging. And, do you incentivize management based on progress? The goal for boards is to have executives focus on objectives that will ultimately drive performance and long-term shareholder value.

Some organizations are beginning to align incentive-based compensation with these strategic priorities; however, objective measurement of progress or success may often require a subjective judgement.

Customer experience and engagement: The banking industry runs on relationships and maintaining these connections, which is shifting as customer demand for new and faster technology evolves. While ensuring customer security is still important, the focus once on customer service has now shifted to the customer experience. To measure this, we often see a portion of the total incentive tied to customer engagement, typically measured through surveys, customer retention, or strategic technological or digital initiatives.

Two examples of companies that utilize customer-centric metrics include American Express and Unum Group. Both weight customer experience and satisfaction as standalone metrics in the annual incentive plan. Citigroup uses a scorecard to assess top management performance and compensation, 30 percent of which is tied to non-financial objectives.

Digital Transformation: The changes in the banking industry have increased the demand for tech talent to implement digital strategies, particularly those involved in improving the customer experience. Banks need to decide whether they will rely on internal talent and resources to develop proprietary new technologies, or if they will go outside the industry to find talent. In recruiting this talent, financial services firms find themselves in competition with tech companies that can provide significant equity opportunities and may have less-traditional work arrangements.

Financial services companies must be creative in attracting this talent with perks like open offices, flexible work arrangements and separate pay structures for niche talent. Goldman Sachs’ dress code, and JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s relocation of its tech team to a more modern, open-floor office are examples.

Diversity and Inclusion: Driving some of these strategic priorities are talent issues that have been a hot topic in the boardroom. Studies have shown a diverse workforce provides for more diverse thinking, and a better performing organization. We are seeing some organizations incorporate improvements in diversity and inclusion in their incentive plan metrics:

  • Prudential Financial: Performance shares include a diversity and inclusion modifier (+/- 10 pp). Executives at the senior vice president level and above will be subject to a performance objective to improve the representation of diverse persons among senior management through 2020.
  • Citigroup: 18-member operating committee will be measured on the progress of raising the percentages of women and African Americans in management positions by 2021.
  • American Express: Has had talent retention and diversity representation goals as part of the annual incentive plan since 2013.
  • Old National Bancorp: Has included diversity and inclusion targets in the annual incentive plan as a negative modifier since 2016.

The use of a modifier for Prudential Financial and Old National Bancorp may be due to the amount of influence an executive may have over the goal. Regardless of the weighting, inclusion of these metrics is a signal about the importance of the issue.

When boards are considering which strategic metrics to incentivize executives, the focus should be on management’s priorities, such as innovation, security, employee satisfaction or employee diversity. The key is attracting, hiring and retaining the right people who will align with the company’s strategic priorities. That is what differentiates one company from the next and those with a competitive edge.

Traits That All Strong Bank Boards Share


governance-9-7-18.pngFor years, I’ve shared one of my favorite proverbs when talking about the value of high-performing teams: to go fast, go alone; to go far, go together. Now, as we prepare to welcome nearly 200 people to the Four Seasons Chicago for our annual Bank Board Training Forum, this mindset once again comes front and center.

In many ways, banks may appear to be on solid footing. Unfortunately, evolving cyber risks, the battle for deposits and pressures to effectively leverage technology make clear that banking leaders have challenges aplenty. Given the industry’s rapid pace of change, one would be forgiven to think the best course of action would be to go fast at certain challenges. However, at the board level, navigating an industry marked by both consolidation and emerging threats demands coordinated, strategic planning.

Our efforts in the days ahead aim to provide finely tailored insight to help a bank’s board go further, together.

This annual forum caters to an exclusive audience of bank CEOs, chairmen and members of the board. It is a delight to have Katherine Quinn, vice chairman and chief administrative officer, from U.S. Bancorp, as our keynote speaker. U.S. Bancorp has the highest debt rating among all banks and consistently leads its peer group in terms of profitability, efficiency and innovation. Bank Director Executive Editor John Maxfield will have a one-on-one conversation with Quinn and cover everything from the qualities of good leadership to diversity to the Super Bowl.

Following her remarks, we explore strategic issues like building franchise value, creating a vibrant culture and preparing for the unexpected. Against the backdrop of this year’s agenda, there are five elements that characterize the boards at many high-performing banks today. Some are specific to the individual director; others, to the team as a whole.

#1: The Board Sees Tomorrow’s Challenges as Today’s Opportunities
Despite offering similar products and services, a small number of banks consistently outperform others in the industry. One reason: their boards realize we’re in a period of significant change, where the basic premise of “what is a bank” is under considerable scrutiny. Rather than cower, they’ve set a clear vision for what they want to be and hold their team accountable to concepts such as efficiency, discipline and the smart allocation of capital.

#2: Each Board Member Embraces a Learner’s Mindset
Great leaders aren’t afraid to get up from their desks and explore the unknown. Brian Moynihan, the chairman and CEO of Bank of America, recently told Maxfield that “reading is a bit of a shorthand for a broader type of curiosity. The reason I attend conferences is to listen to other people, to pick up what they’re talking and thinking about… it’s about being willing to listen to people, think about what they say. It’s about being curious and trying to learn… The minute you quit being educated formally your brain power starts to shrink unless you educate yourself informally.”

You can read more from Bank Director’s exclusive conversation with Moynihan in the upcoming 4th quarter issue of Bank Director magazine.

#3: The Board Prizes Efficiency
In simplest terms, an efficiently run bank earns more money. This allows it to write better loans, to suffer less during downturns in a credit cycle, to position it to buy less-prudent peers at a discount all while gaining economies of scale.

#4: Each Board Member Stays Disciplined
While discipline applies to many issues, those with a laser focus on building franchise value truly understand what their bank is worth now — and might be in the future. Each independent director prizes a culture of prudence, one that applies to everything from underwriting loans to third-party relationships.

#5: The Board Adheres to a People-Products-Performance Approach
Smart boards don’t pay lip service to this mindset. Collectively, they understand their institution needs to (a) have the right people, (b) strategically set expectations around core concepts of how the bank makes money, approaches credit, structures loans, attracts deposits and prices its products in order to (c) perform on an appropriate and repeatable level.

Looking ahead, a sixth pillar could emerge for leading institutions; namely, diversity of talent. Now, I’m not talking diversity for the sake of diversity. I’m looking at getting the best people with different backgrounds, experiences and talents into the bank’s leadership ranks. Unfortunately, while many talk the talk on diversity, far fewer walk the walk. For instance, a recent New York Times piece that revealed female executives generally still lack the same opportunities to move up the ranks and there are still simply fewer women in the upper management pipeline at most companies.

At Bank Director, we believe ambitious bank boards see the call for greater diversity as a true opportunity to create a competitive advantage. This aligns with Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey, where 87 percent of bank CEOs, executives and directors surveyed believe a diverse board has a positive impact on the performance of the bank. Yet, just 5 percent of CEOs above $1 billion in assets are female, 77 percent don’t have a single diverse member on their board and only 20 percent have a woman on the board.

So as we prepare to explore the strong board, strong bank concept in Chicago, keep in mind one last adage from Henry Ford: if all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you’ve ever got.

Gender Pay Equity and Board Gender Diversity – Is Your Board Prepared?


governance-8-1-18.pngGender pay equity and board gender diversity are two areas of focus for both the media and investors. Lately, many large institutional investors have turned their attention to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, where board diversity has taken center stage and questions around gender pay equity are increasing. Boards and management should proactively gain an understanding of their current position and any concerns on these fronts to avoid adverse reactions from employees and/or shareholders.

Slow progress on gender diversity in the boardroom has led many large investors to push for an increase in the number of women on boards. Several influential institutional investors such as Blackrock, State Street Global Advisors and Vanguard have added diversity stipulations to their engagement and voting policies, citing studies that link increased female representation on boards with improved shareholder returns. More specifically, these institutions may vote against, and proxy advisory firms such as Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis may recommend voting against, the nominating and governance committee members if there are not a least one or two women on the board. These voting policies have been very impactful, and we have seen a dramatic increase in women serving in board roles at the largest organizations.

Compensation Advisory Partners (CAP) researched the 15 largest public diversified financial services companies in the Fortune 100 and found that approximately 50 of companies had at least three women on their board and an additional 20 percent had at least two. As a comparison, CAP researched the board composition of 90 smaller financial services companies with assets between $5 billion and $20 billion and found approximately 15 have at least three females on their board and an additional 15 have at least two. Similar to other compensation and governance trends, we expect smaller financial organizations to catch up with the increased external pressure.

In addition, initiatives such as the NYC Comptroller’s Boardroom Accountability Project 2.0, focus on enhancing disclosure of board composition through a skills matrix. California is now the first state considering a bill to require a minimum number of women on all boards of the state’s more than 400 companies. These initiatives are driving heightened attention to the diversity and competencies of the board as a whole.

While information on director composition and profiles is public, this is not the case with gender pay equity across an organization. In the U.K. there is a requirement to disclose gender pay statistics for organizations with at least 250 employees, but that does not currently exist in the U.S. Even so, we have observed some institutional investors use shareholder proposals to pressure large organizations to provide public reports on gender pay.

Several financial institutions have been under scrutiny for a lack of female representation in senior roles despite a majority of their employees being female. Unlike the U.K., where all employees must be included in the sample, shareholder proposals in the U.S. focus on a comparison of “like-for-like jobs.” Over the last three years, companies recommended shareholders vote against the proposal, and support averaged around 15 percent. Only 5 proposals (compared to 14 in 2017) have gone to a vote in 2018, none at financial services companies (compared to 7 in 2017), since several large financial organizations such as Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Wells Fargo & Co. were able to have these requests withdrawn from their annual proxy statement and in exchange agreed to publish their gender pay. In all cases, the reports have shown almost no gap, but the approach by company can vary.

These two movements have put a spotlight on the underlying issue of equal representation in the boardroom and pay equality across organizations. The push for board equality has already resulted in progress especially at larger organizations. Boards are reviewing nominating and governance committee charters and adopting policies to promote diversity in the board recruitment process. On the gender pay equity front, even though disclosure is not required in the U.S., momentum and pressure are building from institutional investors for companies to disclose gender pay gaps.

We expect boards of all companies to start asking management if a gender pay gap exists, and what they should be doing to address any gaps that do exist. Conversations on both these topics should be an agenda item in all boardrooms today.

Creating Next Generation Cultures to Attract Next Generation Talent


recruitment-5-12-17.pngMany directors believe it’s important for their institutions to address the shortage of younger financial services talent, yet there’s often a lack of urgency around working on this future problem. Consider this: About 40 percent of the community banking workforce will consist of millennials within the next five years. In order to stay relevant, community banks not only need to ensure they are attracting and retaining millennials as customers, but also as employees. It’s no secret that for millennials, banking isn’t exactly the sexiest industry for employment opportunities. The good news is that as a service industry, banking has ample opportunity to exercise some creativity in its culture. There are five key areas to address now that will help attract and retain millennials to the community banking world.

Embrace cognitive diversity in the workplace. The bottom line is that millennials embrace diversity; not only in the traditional sense, but they also seek cognitive diversity within the workplace. This means that they want to be included and accepted for their thoughts and opinions. This group seeks a collaborative environment where they can impact work, bring value to the organization, and be recognized—through compensation and other means—for their efforts and ideas. Consider ways to bring employees into the decision-making fold at all levels. This approach actually has a secondary benefit: by allowing the broad workforce to feel empowered to create and implement ideas, banks can also begin to address the need for innovation and the need to develop competitive differentiation in order to remain successful.

Focus on social responsibility. It’s well known that millennials focus on a company’s social responsibility when evaluating them as an employer. It is also known that ethics and integrity are important criteria, and that millennials are skeptical of the financial services industry in the wake of the mortgage crisis and the Wells Fargo scandal. Community banks in particular have ample opportunity to take meaningful action in the communities they serve and allow millennials to participate in socially beneficial causes they believe in. Allowing for input and ideas in determining what the organization will focus on and offering non-cash benefits like time off to volunteer can make this generation feel good about the work they’re doing and may help change the perception of banking as a career choice.

Invest in career development. Millennials want to take control and actively lead their career development. Banks can provide a multitude of opportunities to strengthen skills and allow millennials to develop as leaders. Millennials are looking for a coach, rather than a “boss,” which they define as someone who is invested in their success. Establishing mentorships and leadership programs, provide on-the-job training and reinforce the company’s commitment to individual growth.

Increase Transparency. Transparency is vital to establishing trust and loyalty with this generation and it’s a key to longer job tenure. An employer can provide transparency by ensuring millennials understand how their role contributes to the bank’s success and how success is rewarded. It is important to collaborate to establish short- and long-term goals and detail the path to reach these goals, including training and opportunities for development. Millennials thrive on feedback and consistent dialog. Providing an avenue for two-way communication will help ensure success in this area and keep everyone engaged.

Align total rewards and performance management programs. As with most employees, effective compensation plans and performance management programs can help attract, retain and motivate millennials. Providing a competitive base salary may not be at the top of their priority list, but certainly being rewarded for performance is important. In conjunction with regular feedback, recognition and incentive awards should also be a part of the compensation framework. Instead of annual performance reviews, it may be more prudent to provide frequent check-ins and real-time feedback. In addition, millennials welcome the opportunity to receive input on performance from peers and others in the organization.

The bottom line is that banks must create an engaging workplace culture where millennials feel welcomed, valued and rewarded. Many banks have taken the lead on creating advisory boards consisting of millennials (both employees and people from the community) to ensure that they’re doing the right things to attract and retain this generation as customers and as employees. Any bank that can be successful in achieving this will have created a competitive advantage in the marketplace.