‘From secretary to the corner office’: KeyCorp CEO Beth Mooney committed to community bankingWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
When Cleveland-based KeyCorp made Beth Mooney its new CEO in 2011, the Michigan native became the first — and so far only — female CEO of a Top 20 American bank.
“When I got that job it was clearly a headline because I was the first female in an industry that has been dominated by men, so it was a big deal,” Mooney, 57, told Toledo Free Press during a recent visit to the Toledo area, where KeyCorp operates 22 KeyBank branches. “It would be a great statement if, when I retire, the fact that I was the first female is a footnote, not the headline.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity, but also, in the best sense of the word, a tremendous obligation to be the first female CEO,” Mooney said. “I take that very seriously. I want to do this well because it reflects on women in our industry and it will make it easier for the next woman to have this opportunity. I think about that every day. And perhaps if I work a little harder, it’s not to prove myself [to men], but to make sure it’s a good example for others to follow.”
Secretary to CEO
While in Toledo, Mooney met with a group of female KeyBank employees, sharing with them her personal journey “from secretary to the corner office” and reflecting on how much the workplace has changed in only one generation.
“I graduated from the University of Texas — Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude — and as I went looking for jobs, people asked me if I could type,” Mooney said. “I would like to believe that doesn’t happen anymore. While there are always still challenges for people as they build their careers, it has become a totally different world and, I believe, a fundamentally fair world within 30 years.”
After college, Mooney worked as bank secretary until she was able to persuade a reluctant Dallas bank manager to place her in his management training program.
“Actually I refused to leave his office until he hired me,” Mooney said. “Most places wouldn’t even let me pass go. In that day, at least in Texas, there weren’t a lot of women in the training programs. I was in his office for three hours. I begged, I bullied, I just wasn’t going to go home without a job.”
When he finally agreed, Mooney looked him in the eye and said, “You will never regret it.” She entered the training program, enrolling in night school at Southern Methodist University to earn her MBA.
“I’ve been told I’m relentless from time to time,” Mooney added. “I guess that three hours was the beginning.”
Years later, Mooney looked him up and thanked him.
“We reminisced. He said he indeed remembers me,” Mooney said, laughing. He told her he thought he would “send her packing” within five minutes, but her persistence eventually convinced him to give her a chance.
“Your story in life is always shaped by the people who give you opportunities and then the other half of the story is what you do with them,” Mooney said. “I’ve always been grateful I got a chance to tell him what an opportunity he gave me.”
Mooney was recently ranked No. 49 on Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful women in business, one spot in front of Oprah Winfrey. Last year, she was ranked No. 96 on Forbes’ list of the 100 most powerful women.
Jim Hoffman, president of KeyBank’s Michigan/Northwest Ohio district and a University of Toledo graduate, said Mooney is a natural leader.
“Beth can analyze situations and see solutions clearly and quickly,” Hoffman said. “She’s got a great staying power around things that need to get done.”
Mooney’s leadership at the helm helped KeyCorp weather the economic recession.
“I’m very proud of the decisions our company made and how we are positioned at this point in time,” Mooney said. “Our future is bright.”
KeyBank has been profitable for nine quarters, Mooney said, and was one of five large U.S. banks and the only large bank operating in Northwest Ohio to earn a five-star rating from BauerFinancial, which rates the financial strength and stability of financial institutions each quarter.
“Our lending this year is up 75 percent over last year — and it’s in consumer lending, small business lending, commercial banking — so it’s very broad,” Hoffman said. “We think that’s the role of a bank, to recycle dollars and help this economy get on its feet, which leads to jobs, which leads to prosperity for everyone.”
KeyBank is committed to community banking, Hoffman said.
“Key is one of the few large banks that decentralizes and pushes the decision-making for hiring, staffing, loan decision-making and anything to do with the customer down to the local level,” Hoffman said. “It allows us to better understand the customers’ needs and make the decisions that serve those needs best. Very few large banks do that. Key is very different and we think that difference is so noticeable.”
The company is also committed to supporting the communities it serves. KeyBank Foundation recently donated $1 million to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The grant trained volunteer community health advisers to help minority and medically underserved women gain access to breast screenings and cancer treatment.
“It’s already helped six women discover they have cancer and they are getting help,” Mooney said. “That’s in the first month. It’s a wonderful program.”
On Oct. 1, the company debuted its KeyBank Plus program in 34 Northwest Ohio branches. The program allows people without bank accounts to cash checks, offering a low-cost alternative to payday lenders, Hoffman said. Free financial literacy classes are also available.
“One part of the community that has always found it difficult to access financial services is the low- to moderate-income population in the community, sometimes referred to as the unbanked or the underbanked,” Hoffman said.
The program was launched in Cleveland in 2004 and has since been introduced in nine other markets, including Akron-Canton. The program has served nearly 55,000 clients, educated more than 22,000 people through financial education and cashed more than 300,000 checks totaling $200 million, according to a news release.
The check-cashing fee is 1.5 percent of the value of the check, lower than the 3 to 7 percent most Toledo check-cashing businesses charge, according to the release. Clients can also use up to five fee-free money orders each time a check is cashed.
“It really hits the tone of the times,” Mooney said. “It says, ‘We will meet you where your need is. We will help teach you how to use the financial system and then as you either grow in your comfort level or your capacity, we will introduce you to more traditional products.’ It really is bridging a whole population. It’s something I think we’re doing that’s very distinctive.”
Hard work ahead
Although she sees a bright future, Mooney acknowledged there is still hard work ahead.
“Part of what I think is great about being a banker is we’re in a position to really influence the strength of the economy, the ability for people to expand and grow, to hire people, to buy homes, to educate their children,” Mooney said. “I believe in this country and I believe we will get through it. We are still in a slow period, but that’s a whole lot better than being in a recession. Slow and steady will get us there.
“There will never be a stable and sustained recovery in this country without a strong banking system, so that’s part of why I think it was so important for banks like Key to return to such a position of strength. This is the part of the cycle where we will help the economy recover and start growing again.”