Beth Mooney began her business career 35 years ago, fresh out of the University of Texas, as a bank secretary. She’s earned her MBA and has moved nine times as she worked her way up the banking ranks. Now, at 57, Mooney is chief executive at the nation’s 14th largest bank, Cleveland-based Key Bank.
Part of Mooney’s advancement, she says, has been fueled by her continuing concern with grassroots banking. That’s why she came to the Pacific Northwest and Tacoma this week to talk with the bank’s employees and its clients.
She talked Wednesday with The News Tribune about the importance of keeping in touch.
Why do these tours?
I’m genuinely not here to tell people what to do. I’m here to learn and to be supportive.
I think it is incredibly important and energizing to me as well. The importance comes from two things: I think it’s always important for the CEO or the head of an organization to come out and share perspective of the industry, the view from the top of the organization, and share themes that we want our employees to carry out. I think those are more impactful and resonate more coming from me.
And I always learn something. That’s the piece that’s always energizing. We talk with our employees. We do town halls. We do client lunches. In that process, I always learn something that we can be doing more, or better or less. That’s when you see things through the eyes of other people.
Tell me about something you learned out on the road about projects that were struggling.
When I first joined Key in 2006, we had just launched a new system which we called the Client Experience Desktop, which was our attempt to create a customer information system that was going to give our bankers more information about our clients. It had been launched as a much-heralded opportunity to improve our service and our performance. We were in the throes of having meetings with our high performers. We talked with great pride about what we called our CE Desktop. The best of the best proceeded to tell me how poorly it worked. That was a significant newsflash that we had launched something that was causing our people significant issues and problems. When I got back to Cleveland, the first thing I did was hire somebody to figure out why this thing didn’t work and fix it.
Key is a big bank. How are you and your team trying to make Key different from the megabanks that have had such sour publicity in recent years?
We’re the 14th-largest bank in the United States, so we have the ability to do the things that our clients need and want, but we’re trying to differentiate ourselves as being your local bank. National capabilities, but local relationships. We give people like Steve (Maxwell, South Puget Sound District president) and his team the ability to deliver what our clients want locally.
How has Key changed nationwide and in the South Sound in recent years?
When I made my 2006 summer tour, our branches were a mishmash. Some of them had all the appeal of the Department of Motor Vehicles and some of them had very elaborate, fancy furniture. But it wasn’t an identifiable brand. Many of them were tired. In many cases, we were running Dairy Queens in an era of Starbucks. We created a distinctive look and feel. Red is our color. We’ve got red awnings and red countertops. We brought it forward a few decades and gave it an identifiable looks and feel.
We’ve modernized our branches in Tacoma. We’ve opened new locations. We’ve moved branches for better access.
Did Key buy up failed banks during and after the recession to increase its reach?
We did not. When a bank fails, you’ve got to really like the branch network, because that’s all you really get. Those failed banks come with such levels of problems. Many of the good clients have already moved on. And you’re saddled with high-priced CDs because that’s how they were funding the bank. Those just did not turn out to be strategically of interest to us.
Congress has imposed new restrictions on some banking practices that were big income producers. How have you coped?
We think we have staked out some unique market positions. Last year during the implementation of Durbin card swipe fee reduction, there was a grassroots furor over the proposed introduction by some banks of debit card fees. We made a conscious choice then not to impose those fees. But for our bank it was $60 million in revenue.
How did you make up for that loss in income?
I use the term “mitigate.” We have restructured some of our payment agreements with MasterCard and so forth. And August 1 we announced that we’re going back into the credit card business. We’ve had a credit card portfolio for years that was serviced elsewhere. We have bought it back. We are going to control our credit card offerings and put rewards on it. And we’ve made some changes in our processing to make it more email@example.com 253-597-8663 blog.thenewstribune.com/business