When you think about leaders in the banking industry, a few powerful women come to mind.
There’s Carla Harris, vice chairman of wealth management and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley. Another notable figure is Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments. Stacey Cunningham made history in 2018 as the first female president of the New York Stock Exchange. Adena Friedman has been president and CEO of Nasdaq since 2017. Anne Finucane is vice chair of Bank of America, and Thasunda Brown Duckett is the CEO of Chase Consumer Banking at JPMorgan Chase. JPMorgan Chase, by the way, also employs Mary Callahan Erdoes as CEO of its asset and wealth management line and Marianne Lake as its CEO of consumer lending.
In Arkansas, we’re slowly starting to see more women rise up to make their mark in the banking world. We have Cathy Hastings Owen, chairman of Eagle Bank & Trust, and Marnie Oldner, CEO of Stone Bank. Lorrie Trogden is the CEO of the Arkansas Bankers Association, and Karla Payne is the CFO at Arvest Bank. These leadership positions are impressive, but the women who hold them are even more remarkable. They have managed to accomplish great feats in an industry that is still primarily a male-dominated club. With more than 100 local and national banks offering services in Arkansas, the number of women in top leadership positions is merely a small handful. Why?
As Stone Bank’s Oldner points out, part of the reason most bank CEOs are men is because, historically, most lenders have been men. While the position of lender provides a natural progression to higher leadership roles, women have primarily taken on the jobs of tellers, new account representatives, operations and administrative personnel — roles that don’t have direct routes toward career advancement. “To some degree, that accounts for the fact that most bank CEOs are men, but it doesn’t account for all that disparity,” Oldner noted.
Oldner, herself, is a business force to be reckoned with. She started off in Newport Beach, California, with a top bank, Coopers & Lybrand (now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers), and today is not only the CEO and director of Stone Bank, she’s also the EVP and a director of its parent company, Stone Bancshares, Inc. Under her leadership, the bank has grown to become the 25th largest in the state, a huge jump from its 81st ranking only five years ago.
Beginning her career with a prestigious bank on the west coast soon after graduation was a feat Oldner might have taken for granted at the time. “When I graduated college in 1980, I was naive,” she admitted. “I didn’t know that only a few women were CPAs and even fewer were CFOs or CEOs in the banking industry.”
When she moved to Arkansas in 1988, she worked her way up through the ranks until finding her home at Stone Bank (formerly Ozark Heritage Bank) while it was under a cease-and-desist order and struggling through the recession. Oldner helped grow the bank from $488 million to $561 million in assets.
With a long history of experience like no other, Owen grew up with banking in her blood. Her father started First State Bank of Sherwood — which is now Eagle Bank & Trust Company — and would often take her to work with him when she was a child. She continued to work for the family’s bank throughout high school and college, taking on a full-time management position shortly after graduation. Though she was relatively young, Owen had already garnered years of valuable experience and was able to gradually help the bank expand to 13 branches in 11 different cities. She knew from the beginning of her career she wanted to rise to higher levels in banking, but she wasn’t sure it would be possible.
“As I looked out there, I didn’t know any other women who were at the top tier of a bank,” she said. “I had the confidence, and I had the goals, but I wasn’t sure the public would be accepting of a female broker.” It turns out, it was possible. Owen is well-respected in her field, and Eagle Bank & Trust continues to grow under her care with a newly expanded secondary mortgage department that is currently in five states, soon to be six.
As the president and CEO of the Arkansas Bankers Association, Trogden has tremendous responsibility. She’s the first woman to lead the association, proving that diversity is an asset when facing challenges. With the recent struggles brought on by the pandemic, she’s been working harder than ever to ensure the association is actively helping banks navigate new procedures. This includes helping with the Paycheck Protection Loan Program (PPP) — which has been fraught with hurdles — and working continuously with the governor’s office and the health department to coordinate bank safety measures during the pandemic. Trogden recently accompanied Gov. Asa Hutchinson on a trip to the White House to talk with the president about Arkansas’ small businesses.
With a background in business and government — two predominantly male fields — Trogden is used to being the only woman in the room and has sound advice for others who might find themselves in the same situation.
“You cannot allow that to intimidate you,” she said. “You have to get into the mindset that what you have to say is equally important. You have to find your voice and your confidence. To do that, I do my homework, I make sure that I understand the subject that I’m speaking about and that my facts are correct. I try to be transparent, and if I’ve made a mistake, I own it. I give credit and appreciation when it’s due. People respect that, and it builds trust to form good relationships. Relationships are a key part of success.”
Though there’s still a long way to go before we have a significantly more balanced representation of male and female bank heads in Arkansas, it’s encouraging to see strong role models for the upcoming generation of bankers. We see impressive women advancing to higher levels such as Karla Payne, CFO of the largest bank in the state — Arvest — and Kim Cullum, CFO at First Arkansas Bank & Trust. FAB&T has several female employees in leadership roles and says the company is “proud of the diversity and roles women play in the success of the bank.” According to FAB&T Chief Brand Officer Roger Sundermeir, he recognizes that for a long time, banking was labeled a male-dominated industry. However, some of the bank’s most critical projects would not have been as successful had it not been for the “great women leading those efforts.”
And at Arkansas Federal Credit Union, the state’s largest with 15 locations and more than $1.3 billion in assets, employees answer when opportunity knocks. As senior vice president of information technology and strategic initiatives, Nicole Matsoukas has been instrumental in the organization’s growth.
But 33 years ago, Matsoukas started her banking career as a drive-through teller for the credit union, which hopes to accommodate its growth by opening a new corporate headquarters in west Little Rock next year. She said her ride to the executive level at Arkansas Federal was simple: she seized opportunity.
“Arkansas Federal has given me so many opportunities to grow myself professionally,” she said. “This comes from its willingness to give me the chance to jump into new roles that I didn’t have prior experience in and prove myself. In an industry that tends to be male-dominated, Arkansas Federal encourages employees to ‘lean-in.’ As Sheryl Sandberg has stated in her book, Lean In – ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on!’”