Dalrymple column: The concrete ceiling of banking | PostIndependent.com

Dalrymple column: The concrete ceiling of banking

Pat Dalrymple

In banking the glass ceiling sometimes looks more like a concrete roof, as in fallout shelter.

There are probably more American women that are combat aircraft pilots than are bank CEOs.

It would be simplistic to blame reactionary sexism, but it’s puzzling nonetheless. And the situation is endemic to the entire industry, from top to bottom. It’s the same at the TBTFs (Too Big to Fail) as at the Third State Bank in Downriver, Montana, pop. 765. Maybe for different reasons, or maybe not.

As a keen, and constant, observer of banking for a long time, I’d have to say that the business isn’t much more sexist than others; maybe a tad, but not by much. It has been slow to catch up, though. In some 30 years as an banking exec I attended a lot of meetings and conferences, regional and national, and I remember meeting maybe three female CEOs.

Two fairly recent instances of non-male presidents in Colorado are instructive; it often takes special circumstances for a woman to claim the corner office.

In one case, the majority stockholder of a community bank was also the president. She owned it, so she could hire anyone she wanted. However, I’ve known other situations in which women with a controlling interest wouldn’t consider a female president.

In another example, the major stockholder of a small bank owned a chain of title insurance offices with escrow operations that held funds pending settlement of various transactions. His bank was a convenient place to park the escrow money, to the advantage of both businesses. It’s relevant that a lot of marketing wasn’t required to generate deposits. Which tells us something.

Image is paramount in banking, and the leading marketer in a bank is the CEO. Part of the job is akin to the head of state, as opposed to the head of government in certain democracies. I’ve no data to support this, but empirical observation over many years makes me believe that the banking industry’s perception is that the public simply expects the top banker to be a guy, and has more confidence in him than a gal.

Occasionally, there’s a clear business reason for a male CEO. An ag bank is one that caters to farmers and ranchers, who are both depositors and borrowers. The customers are entrepreneurs who are, if you will, CEOs of their own operations and they’re almost exclusively male. They relate better to their own gender.

The Colorado Bankers Association has 78 member institutions. Don Childears, the executive director of the trade association, told me that “maybe four members” have women presidents. He wasn’t specific about who they might be, and it should be noted that the designation, “president” is currently rather loosely used. It’s common for banks to give the title of “regional president” to someone managing a branch in a certain geographical location. Often, an out of state bank will come into Colorado and do business under a name that fits the region, maybe with the word “mountain” in it. The manager of the operation, possibly female, will be tabbed “president” when the actual CEO of the whole shebang, based in Kansas or Minnesota, is the opposite.

Childears did say that a woman oversees all of U.S. Bank’s Colorado locations, which is certainly a high level position. But the CEO of U.S. Bank is a man, as are the top people in Wells-Fargo, J.P. Morgan-Chase, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citicorp. Go down the list of banks smaller than these mega institutions and, with few exceptions, it looks like the roster of a boy’s club.

The other bank trade association in Colorado, the Independent Bankers of Colorado, has 65 members. According to Executive Director Michael Van Norstrand, there are two women CEOs in that group. In this instance, both are the top management person. One is a front range metro institution, the other a small town bank.

Women, however, are a force in banking. Many positions just below CEO, Chief Financial Officer for example, are held by women. In middle management, the ladies proliferate, and are outstanding performers. Lawyers representing banks are often women, including the job of in-house counsel.

Recently I was talking to a banker friend (male) and this issue came up. He gave me a quizzical look and asked:

“Did it ever occur to you that women may be too smart to want to be a bank president? They may have better things to do.”

He may be on to something.

Pat Dalrymple is a western Colorado native and has spent more than 50 years in mortgage lending and banking in the Roaring Fork Valley. He’ll be happy to answer your questions or hear your comments. His e-mail is pdalrymple59@gmail.com.

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