3 Women Seize Opportunities for Executive-level and Leadership Positions in Banking and Finance Industry
Their business cards may read, “CEO” or “Vice President,” but in reality, they are relationship builders. The sentiment is echoed again and again in nearly the same language and definitely the same passionate tone: “We do everything to help our clients, because at the end of the day, they are people just like we are,” says Rose Ann Lambert, president/CEO at Freedom Federal Credit Union.
“At the end of the day, people aren’t choosing a bank, they’re choosing a person. Every single client of mine has become a friend,” says Meggin M’Gonigle-Reeder, vice president, Small Business Banker at Bank of America.
“My proudest moments are when I see customers prosper and succeed in their businesses because we’ve been able to help them. I have customers for life – in business and in friendship,” says Lorrie Schenning, senior vice president at PeoplesBank.
Confronted with an extremely competitive market in Harford County, these three successful women say the differentiating factor is service. Whether that comes from a credit union, a national chain bank or a community bank, each has a strong story to tell. At the end of the day, each woman has purposely or coincidentally created the personality of her organization.
Curiously, none of them set out to be in banking. They had other careers and aspirations, but when they tried banking, they never looked back. They have proven that locally, women can seize opportunities for executive-level positions in the banking and finance industry.
Catalyst Research, a non-profit research center, contends that there is no single number to represent women in financial services, because there is no single definition of “financial services.” Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women make up 61 percent of the workforce in banking and related activities and 74.8 percent in savings institutions, including credit unions. In the 4,133 companies Catalyst categorized as “commercial banking,” 57.6 percent of all employees are women, and 30.9 percent of executive/senior-level officials and managers are women.
Having risen to the executive level in her field, Lambert says she originally wanted to be a veterinarian. “I wanted to go to Texas A&M, but I was so used to following what my parents wanted me to do,” she confides. “When my mother suggested I capitalize on my love of numbers and study finance, I obliged.”
Lambert began her career at a bank near her hometown of Wheeling, W.Va. Her then-husband was in the military, so she spent time overseas and on military bases in the United States. “I took matters into my own hands when the military base was on the BRAC list, and I started looking for something new,” says Lambert. She landed at a credit union in upstate New York, where she “moved from the front lines to the back office.” The credit union afforded her many new skills – from loss prevention to risk management. “A credit union has so many opportunities to take everything you learn in banking and apply it,” she explains.
It was at this job that she discovered the possibilities that lie ahead. “The CEO there became my mentor. He saw the risk management market as a necessity when the rest of the industry hadn’t even thought of it. He was ahead of the curve, and he put me ahead of it, too,” Lambert recalls.
In 2002, she moved to Maryland and joined Freedom Federal. “The state of banking at that time was very challenging,” she notes. Named interim CEO, then permanent CEO in a matter of six months, Lambert met the challenge of leading the credit union out of difficult times. She hired a whole new senior management team with expertise in marketing, finance, HR, IT, lending/collections and branch operations, and she began correcting what wasn’t working in the organization. Today, Freedom Federal is a community-chartered credit union for Harford County, welcoming over 30,000 members and employing 80 people at five locations.
“Information technology really drives the industry, so we have to stay current and contemporary,” Lambert says. She refers to the succinct theme of their annual report: High Tech, High Touch. “We need to maintain personalization,” she notes.
Lambert relates the story of a couple with whom she worked in New York who had come upon hard times. “They said to me, ‘You treated us like people. You didn’t judge us.’ When you get an opportunity to work with people and listen to them, their needs, and their dreams, you do everything to help them.”
M’Gonigle-Reeder of Bank of America demonstrates that same nurturing and caring disposition. “My goal is to treat my clients like family,” she says. If you treat them like a friend or family they will take it personally and you can help them succeed.”
Clients won’t catch M’Gonigle-Reeder in her bank office very often, though. She says she does business by being in her clients’ offices. “I’m not doing my job if I’m in my own office all day. I want to learn about my clients’ businesses, their cash flow cycle and their work habits so that I can make effective recommendations that will keep them in business, not just working on their business.” She will go so far as to work with clients who have not met the bank’s requirements for loans to help them become more “lendable.” Whether it’s referring them to another bank that she thinks may help them immediately, or providing insight on things that will make them more desirable loan candidates, she guides them toward the credentials that will get them accepted the next time.
Despite all her planning for her banking clients, M’Gonigle-Reeder didn’t plan to become a banker. After being a stay-at-home mom – a position for which she smoothly enumerates clear job responsibilities – she says she became a single mom and needed a career that would support both her and her son. “I was good with numbers, so I thought about banking,” she says. She found herself with several job offers and started at BB&T, where she quickly earned several promotions. She moved to Bank of America in 2011.
M’Gonigle-Reeder is inspired by her grandmother, who she says helped raise her while her parents were out running their own businesses. “She was a small businesswoman with her own cross-country trucking company. In addition, she had the daily responsibilities of a household, children and grandchildren and more,” M’Gonigle-Reeder says. “She is an all-star to me.”
At Bank of America, M’Gonigle-Reeder has become a star of sorts. She recently achieved five-star banking status by completing all of her annual goals at 100 percent or more. She has also been invited to attend a nine-month banking school called, “Small Business Certification,” sponsored by Bank of America. M’Gonigle-Reeder acknowledges that while Bank of America may be huge, the company recognizes its employees and encourages community relationships. “They have afforded me so many opportunities for growth and career development,” she says.
Blending the community banking experience and the wealth of resources is a niche filled by PeoplesBank, according to Schenning. The banker with a financial background, Schenning didn’t purposely pursue banking either. “I got my first job out of college in the credit department at Mercantile Bank – I never intended to be in banking, but I ended up staying in it,” she says.
Loyola University Maryland basketball fans may recognize her name as the second all-time leading point scorer for the women’s basketball team and a Hall of Fame inductee. Schenning earned her finance degree at Loyola, and she attended graduate school at night to receive her master’s in finance while working at Mercantile.
When York, Pa.-based PeoplesBank came to Maryland six years ago, Schenning saw the opportunity to combine autonomy and flexibility with stability. She joined the company to run the Bel Air office, and she now directs the Maryland banking operations, which includes seven locations, four of them opening within the last month. “This is a position I always wanted. I am fortunate that I have been successful. My goal now is to make PeoplesBank the No. 1 bank in Maryland.”
Acknowledging the competitive marketplace, Schenning is confident that providing outstanding service and products that people need will help her to reach her goal. “PeoplesBank has the feel of a community bank, but it’s backed by a higher level of resources,” she explains. It’s why she moved to that particular bank and hired some of her former employees to work with her. Together, they provide outstanding service to their clients and give back to the community.
With over $1 billion in accounts, Schenning prides herself on the growth she has attained and the work environment she has fostered. Schenning admits she continues to be challenged by the amount of multi-tasking required by her job -– from meeting with customers to being “plugged in” to technology. “It’s hard not to be responsive with today’s technology. You can never really shut it off,” she says.
As part of the community banking role, Schenning says all the leaders at PeoplesBank are active on various boards of directors. She sits on the board of Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding Association and on the board of the Harford Day School, where her 11-year-old daughter is a student.
Each of these impressive women has achieved her own version of success through non-traditional channels. They encourage young women interested in math and finance to consider and pursue banking with a balance. Schenning advises maintaining balance and loyalty. “Show dedication and loyalty to your employer. If you are loyal, the employer will be loyal to you,” she notes.
M’Gonigle-Reeder says, “Be true to yourself. Many young women put on a game face because that’s what they think they should do. But in the end, people just really want to know the real you.”
Finally, Lambert recommends taking advantage of all math classes as early as high school. “Education is important for banking or any business career,” she says. “Look for opportunities like summer internships or jobs.” In fact, Freedom Federal sponsors the Finance Academy, a program for high school students to begin the basics of financial literacy.
These women find balance through a variety of hobbies and activities when not working. Lambert enjoys traveling, photography and landscaping. M’Gonigle-Reeder loves painting artwork and playing with her two dogs and four cats. Schenning enjoys running and golfing. Building relationships with family and friends?
All three are banking on it. I95