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Shaping the Future of Banking: Women Leaders Share Their Insights and Career Journeys

Emily Fagan, Content Manager

Alkami

Many of the below amazing female leaders will be featured in sessions and events at this year’s Alkami Co:lab.

Drawing inspiration from the vibrant stories and insights shared by a sampling of the women leaders in the financial services industry, we have crafted this special blog post. This piece aims to celebrate their achievements, share their wisdom, and encourage the next generation of women considering careers in banking, leadership, and technology.

 

Samantha Pause | Chief Innovation and Brand Officer | Mascoma Bank

Emily: As a leader in a regional bank, what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in your focus area?

Samantha: To young women embarking on a career in banking and aspiring to expand their professional horizons, I urge them to sieve every opportunity that comes their way. Embrace challenging assignments with enthusiasm, take initiative, and demonstrate their dedication through hard work. Don’t hesitate to volunteer for new projects or responsibilities – raise their hand and say yes. Embrace discomfort as a pathway to growth and development. By stepping outside of their comfort zone, they’ll gain valuable experience, learn new skills, and broaden their capabilities. The more they are willing to push their boundaries, the more they’ll learn, grown and ultimately thrive in their career journey. Embrace every opportunity to learn, and never underestimate the power of your own potential.

Mandi Hanson, CCXP | AVP of Digital Experiences | Gate City Bank

Emily: As a leader in regional banking, what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in your focus area?

Mandi: My best advice to young women entering banking is really no different than it would be for most other career paths – be curious and ask a lot of questions. You’re almost certainly not the only person in the room with the question, and someone will probably be grateful that you asked. The more you ask about things that are even outside of your scope of focus, the more you can broaden your thinking and make critical connections across areas of a business or between your industry and the broader market. Also, take note of the things you enjoy and the things you don’t, and try to consider these when crafting your career path.

Emily: What do you enjoy most about working in banking?

Mandi: Working at a Mutual Bank, I really enjoy the culture, and the fact that the first focus is always on the customer and team member experience.  I get to be a part of a really sharp team of people who come to work every day excited and empowered to make decisions that create a Better Way of Life for other team members and our customers. When we’re able to solve for customer needs, we know we are making a real difference and impact on peoples’ lives in a tangible way.

Emily: Everyone I speak to has had a unique path to get to where they are today career wise. What led you to yours?

Mandi: My path is definitely non-traditional!   I started doing orders, customer service, and user acceptance testing for a larger tech company. After a few years of learning, I moved to a testing role in health insurance and later migrated to a business analyst role in an internal opening. From there, I took an exciting chance to go help grow a local start-up as a strategist, helping clients ideate and design over 100 custom mobile apps and software platforms over the course of five years.  All of this experience helped lead me to being well prepared to take on a role leading the Digital Experience team at the bank, even though I didn’t have any formal banking background.

Emily: I think this is something younger generations will particularly care about when seeking career advice…How do you remain authentic to yourself and your values?

Mandi: As someone who considers myself a lifelong learner, it’s important to me to carve time out for personal growth and development, and to also encourage my team to do the same. This time includes making time for self-reflection and looking at how my values and priorities shift over time. There’s a lot of leadership material out there about not leaving team members in one box or category because priorities shift over time, and I think it’s important to make sure we’re doing the same for ourselves. 

Emily: What excites you about the future of the banking industry?

Mandi: As a personal finance enthusiast, I’m super excited to see the banking industry’s future growth in providing tools and resources around financial wellness and planning for customers at all stages of the financial journey, including the evolving trends in financial education for the youth demographic. I’m also intrigued to see what future technology enhancements hold and how they can be brought to banking – whether this means how augmented reality could enhance a physical branch experience, how carefully deployed automation can free up team members’ time for tasks of more strategic importance, or even how the eventual possibilities of quantum computing might impact the speed and ease of everything from money movement to the processing of complex core systems.

 

Amy Krasikov | VP of Digital Experience Executive | raiz Federal Credit Union

Emily: As a leader in your field, what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in your focus area?

Amy: Digital is an ever-changing space and that’s part of what makes it exciting and keeps it interesting. There is always room to grow and to challenge yourself and others when it comes to digital services. In starting your career, find an area of emphasis that truly energizes you. When work is fun, it isn’t work. 

Be open to trying new things, as life is not as linear as we expect it to be. When opportunities present themselves, take them. They may never come around again.

Ask for your job description, and the rest of the descriptions in your department. While mastering your current role, start doing work that leads to or is in the next role. Why? Because, this illustrates to management that you have initiative, builds experience, and prepares you for the next job opening or promotion.

Interview. Being comfortable in the interview process, knowing what to expect and how to answer questions, knowing how to present yourself – takes practice. If you only interview once in a blue moon, you aren’t honing the skills needed to get the dream job you want. In today’s market, it is surprising to find people who are in a position or with the same company for more than five years. If you plan to have a long career with an organization, consider different functional roles in order to build out your experience and expand your resume.

Lastly, enjoy the journey!

Emily: What role has mentorship played in your career?

Amy: The amazing mentors in my life opened doors and created opportunities. They helped me to grow, and to challenge myself professionally and personally. They helped me to see outside the professional box I was in and to navigate the sometimes political waters of corporate life. They were guides who empowered me to make choices by showing me possibilities, questioning my path, encouraging me to set goals, and holding me accountable.

Emily: I think this is something younger generations will particularly care about when seeking career advice…How do you remain authentic to yourself and your values?

Amy: I remain authentic to myself and my values by knowing what my priorities are, who I am, what I want, and competing each day and each year with myself. I respect the values and authenticity of others, as I want them to respect mine. We are all human, and by putting human-dignity at the core of what we do, we welcome all, to bring the unique creations they are, to the table. I encourage myself, like I encourage others. I forgive myself, like I forgive others. And, I refuse to let fear stop me.

 

Mariah Martz | Senior Digital Marketing Strategist | Arkansas Federal Credit Union

Emily: As a leader in your field, what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in your focus area?

Mariah: My advice to young women considering a career in finance marketing, or even just marketing in general, is to take a chance and try it. Be open to learning and growing, be willing to take risks, and take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, seek advice and feedback from others, and take on new challenges. A positive attitude and a willingness to learn can get you far. Remember that no one is perfect, and mistakes are human and a part of the process.

Emily: What led you to this particular career?

Mariah: I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to study when I went to college. I waited until the last minute to choose a major and even then, I wasn’t very confident in my decision. After graduation, I worked in several marketing-related positions, including Account Manager at an ad tech company, freelance marketer for small businesses, and digital marketing manager for an ad agency. While managing digital marketing for a couple of local credit unions, I discovered my passion for personal finance and educating my community on money management. This led me to my current role at Arkansas Federal Credit Union, where I get to combine my interests in digital marketing and automation, personal finance, and community outreach.

Emily: What role has mentorship played in your career?

Mariah: I have had the privilege to work under the leadership of multiple strong women in my career so far. Their mentorship and guidance have taught me the importance of pursuing passions, learning to be confident in yourself and your skills, and never being afraid to try new things. Having strong mentors who are invested in your growth is everything!

 

Jessica Ebeling | EVP of Innovation, Digital Solutions and Payments | Gate City Bank

Emily: What do you enjoy most about working in banking?

Jessica: What I enjoy most about working in banking is interacting with customers and understanding how to reimagine our solutions to help make their dreams and achievements a reality. It’s immensely rewarding to be part of their journey.

Emily: What led you to this particular career (everyone’s path is different!)

Jessica: I’ve dabbled in many industries and career paths by staying curious, from building energy wind blades to creating Subway restaurant menu signage. I was initially drawn to Gate City Bank because of the people and their passion, and I stay because I can help create an ongoing impact on the community I love. I go to work every day, not knowing what challenge or success lies ahead, and that excites me.

Emily: What role has mentorship played in your career?

Jessica: I believe in having a mentor and being a mentor simultaneously. I also have formal long-term and situational mentors encouraging me to be curious about new topics or situations. The idea is to have someone who keeps me accountable with constructive feedback while other mentors give me wisdom as I grow a skill or tackle a project. Learning is a beautiful gift to receive; remember to share it.

Emily: How do you remain authentic to yourself and your values?

Jessica: A habit of daily gratitude and self-reflection keeps what is important to me top of mind. I do this by journalling today’s three small wins and planning tomorrow’s three small wins each night before bed. I focus on a blend of personal and professional micro-goals to keep me motivated and in line with my passions. I can always count on my kids to bring me joy, keep me grounded, and reaffirm I’m spending time where it counts.

 

Char Sears | VP, MX & Product Manager | Unitus Community Credit Union

Emily: As a leader in your field, what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in your focus area?

Char: Develop strong communication and negotiation skills. These will help you advocate for yourself, your fantastic ideas, and to navigate tough challenges along the way. Seek out opportunities for professional development, which could include taking on a new project or exercising new skills, lean into discomfort! The most invaluable advice I could give is finding mentors and developing a strong professional network.

Emily: What do you enjoy most about being a leader in your organization?

Char: Being in this dynamic industry for 20 years, I have become a role model for other women that success is always within reach. They have seen me do it, and they can visualize their success too. I use my voice and actively bring value to the table while being conscientious to allow space for others and tap into the diversity and creativity of the group. I enjoy championing others’ and authentically celebrating accomplishments. This makes me an approachable and strong leader in my organization.

 

Desiree Wolfe | SVP, Chief Experience Officer | Hudson Valley Credit Union

Emily: As a leader in the credit union industry, what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in your focus area?

Desiree: Stay curious and earn the continuous investment in your development and growth by delivering results.

I offer up a quote from “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucile Clifton, to convey my ‘all-in-one’ commentary on mentorship, being authentic, and the banking industry:

 
come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed

Emily: What do you enjoy most about being a leader in your organization?

Desiree: Being in the room where it happens while unlocking the door of opportunities for others.

 

Michele Willard | SVP Director of Cash Management | Minnwest Bank

Emily: Michele, describe the path that led you to where you are currently in your banking career?

Michele: I’ve been in banking well over 30 years.  I started as a teller and always showed an interest in what others were doing and why.  When job openings became available I put my name in the hat and continued down that path in the retail side until about 10 years ago when the need for Cash Management services started picking up.  I’ve always liked to learn about technology and its role in making life more efficient.  I started out as Cash Management Sales  and have since transitioned to Director of a Cash Management department and love the ability it affords me to continue to grow my knowledge of products in the market and then implement them for the benefit of our customers.

 

Kate Drew | Partner, Director of Research | CCG Catalyst Consulting

Emily: Kate, as a leader in the field of financial industry research and consulting, what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in your focus area?

Kate: Get comfortable with the idea of pivoting. No matter where you start, doors will open and opportunities will come to you that you may not expect or that aren’t what you envisioned. You will also change, and what you want will evolve. Be ready to adjust and carve a path for yourself that makes sense as you go, even if it looks very different from the path you set out on.

Emily: What do you enjoy most about advising your firm’s customers on the financial sector?

Kate: I most enjoy the educational aspect of what I do. Even now, in many cases, I am still decades younger than those I work with. But my expertise is in an area very different from theirs. Helping these executives understand the opportunities that innovation and technology offers them, in a way that makes it feel manageable and less scary, is very rewarding for me.

Emily: From your research, what excites and/or surprises you the most for its impact in financial services?

Kate: I suppose I am most excited when something I am predicting or tracking for a while comes true, especially if it is a positive development. I also love seeing my research turn into strategy with our clients.

Emily: What do you enjoy most about working in the technology side of the industry?

Kate: There is always a new area or trend to dig into. Researchers are essentially people who turned learning into a career. Technology is a great place for that because you’ll never have any shortage of things to make sense of.

 

Christine Barry | Leader of Strategic Initiatives, Research | Datos Insights 

Emily: As a leader in the field of financial industry research and consulting what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in your focus area?

Christine: The wonderful thing about a job in the research and advisory field is that the job is what you make it. Be sure to select coverage areas and topics you are interested in. You will be spending a lot of time analyzing and speaking with people about those topics, and there is nothing worse than spending time in an area you don’t care about. In the beginning, do more listening than speaking. There is so much to learn, especially from industry veterans, and if you are talking too much, you will miss the insights they have to share. Writing is a big part of the job but it should never dominate your day. Spend the majority of your time meeting people, asking questions, and building relationships. If you do that effectively, the reports will write themselves. Finally, never underestimate the value you can offer. Most of your clients will be familiar primarily with the trends they are seeing within their organizations, and will benefit from the broader perspective you can share.   

Emily: How would you advise those starting out when it comes to developing a voice and approach to research and industry insights?

Christine: Start building up your network as early as possible. Attend conferences, go to networking receptions, and take advantage of casual activities during events, to get to know people.  The more people you know and can rely on for insights and ad hoc data points, the more successful you will be. Be inquisitive and try to walk away from every conversation having learned at least one new thing. Finally, submit event speaking proposals whenever possible early on to start to build your brand.

 

Jessica Pinkston | Director, Consultant | Cornerstone Advisors

Emily: What role has mentorship played in your career?
Jessica: Throughout my career, I have sought out mentors to help me identify how to succeed where I currently am, to inspire me and guide me to where I want to go, and to challenge me in overcoming obstacles, even when, especially when, the obstacle is myself. My mentors have changed as my career progressed, my life stage changed, and my work situation evolved. Some of my mentors have been women and some have been men, the consistent factors have been a shared understanding of who I am and where I want to be in my career, the experience to guide me, and being willing to put in the time and effort to be a mentor, whether that means being available to talk through a specific situation, discuss next steps and plan out a career strategy, coach me on how to address an obstacle, and the belief in my abilities to champion me to others.

Emily: Everyone’s story is so unique! What led you to this particular career?

Jessica: I accidentally started in banking because I needed a job in a new town and a local bank needed a drive-thru teller. I worked with people who had infinite patience for all my questions, and I learned as much as possible as my career progressed. I then had an opportunity to start a bank when they were in an organization and needed people to come in and build out the bank. Starting a bank is often described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience because no one is crazy to do it twice. I continued to work at that bank for the next twelve years until I wanted to move to something new. I wanted to take my knowledge and experience and help others with it but wasn’t sure what that meant or how to do it. Then my husband read a Forbes article written by Ron Shevlin about digital banking and payment trends. My husband showed me the article, asked me thoughts, and encouraged me to look at the company where the author worked since it was obvious that I “liked talking about all of this stuff so much.”

 

Lauren Culp | President & CEO | CUInsight

Emily: As a leader in your field of media and the finance industry, what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in this focus area?

Lauren: For women just entering their careers, my biggest piece of advice is to build a strong network. It’s all about people. Every role I’ve gotten in my career has been because I knew someone who advocated for me, supported me, recommended me, or mentored me into it. It’s also so fulfilling to know that we can give back to our network of people in the same way they pour into us. For me, everything comes back to those people around us who lift us up, and who we can lift up in return.

Emily: What do you enjoy most about being a President & CEO?

Lauren: For me, being a CEO is really fulfilling because I get to see the big picture of the work we’re doing and the vision of where we can and should go as an organization. I love the strategy element to the CEO role. It really lights me up to get to live in that big picture space, asking how we can best position ourselves in the market and best fulfill our mission. And then of course, there’s no better feeling than being part of bringing that vision to life.

I also really enjoy getting to build a team and a culture where people are free to be themselves and really enjoy the environment and the work we do. It’s one of the greatest honors of my career to be able to play a role in someone’s growth and development.

Emily: For those aspiring to someday be a President & CEO as well, in what ways did becoming the face of a corporation change your perspectives? In what ways does the learnings of being a CEO show up in your life, and what ways do life experiences make you a better CEO?

Lauren: Simply being an employee has given me a lot of experiences that have informed how I’ve shown up as a CEO. The leaders I’ve had throughout my career have really helped me understand how to build a wonderful and engaging work environment, and conversely, what environments and behaviors I don’t want to perpetuate.

The CEO role is weighty and can be lonelier than folks expect. Though many people think of the CEO as “the” boss, reporting to a board of directors means you have a lot more bosses than ever. CEOs are at the central point of an hourglass: the liaison between the board of directors and the entire team of staff. Having a strong network is crucial for the support and mentorship conversations that you may no longer have at a peer level in your own company.

Being a CEO is exciting because it’s a role with so much opportunity, but it also comes with really heavy responsibilities. At the end of the day, the buck stops with you, and every CEO has to own that. For me, the constant growth and learning and evolution that I bring to our organization also shows up in my personal life.

 

Penny Lee | President and CEO | Financial Technology Association

Emily: As a leader in your field, what advice would you give young women considering entering or just starting their careers in your focus area?

Penny: In addition to being smart and intuitive, I appreciate those that are also reliable and authentic. The fintech industry is both entrepreneurial and highly regulated, so it’s fast-paced but also requires attention to detail. Being dependable with quality work, asking questions to improve your work product, and staying resilient are qualities that are highly transferable and pathways to success in any field. Emily: What do you enjoy most about being a President & CEO?

Penny: One of the most fulfilling aspects of being a President and CEO has been the opportunity to build an organization from the ground up—to define the organization’s vision, mission, and culture from day one. I find great satisfaction in setting strategic goals, finding the right talent, designing the growth strategy, and executing with passion to provide our members with invaluable resources. I’m lucky to work in an industry that thrives on innovation and seeks to always have a positive impact on consumers and small businesses.

Emily: For those aspiring to someday be a President & CEO as well, in what ways did becoming the face of a corporation change your perspectives? Or…in what ways does the learnings of being a CEO show up in your life, and what ways do life experiences make you a better CEO?

Penny: As the President and CEO of an organization, I believe my various life experiences have contributed to my leadership style, but also feel like I am on a continuous learning journey. I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of different bosses, each with their own unique styles and effectiveness. The ones that I try to emulate had a couple of similar traits: always had an expanded perspective on the field of play, took risks but made highly informed decisions, were adaptable and resilient, had integrity and empathy, strong communication skills, and were self-aware.

 

As we celebrate these remarkable women in banking and tech, their stories serve as beacons of inspiration for young women aspiring to make their mark in the industry. 

Their journeys remind us that with time and through curiosity, mentorship, involvement, and authenticity, we can not only navigate the challenges of the financial services and community banking industry but also shape its future. Let their wisdom guide you as you embark on your own tech journey, and remember, the possibilities are limitless!

Learn more about these and other tremendous women leaders at Alkami Co:lab’s Women in Banking session and in this blog where Alkamist leaders discuss their career journeys, or this blog featuring a collection of female leaders answering the question “what excites you about the future of banking and tech?

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Alkami Technology Digital Banking Solutions
Alkami Technology, Inc. is a leading cloud-based digital banking solutions provider for financial institutions in the United States that enables clients to grow confidently, adapt quickly and build thriving digital communities.
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