Money Matters: Women bring personal skills to banking

Women have come a long way in the banking industry. No longer relegated to being tellers, women hold high-powered roles, managing millions of dollars and the futures of companies on a daily basis.

As the following women prove, success in the field comes from more than just crunching numbers — especially when times are tough. It comes from personal relationships with clients and the ability to remain calm during the storm.

Connie Gutierrez
Senior vice president of
commercial lending
Plains Capital Bank

After spending nearly 25 years with the same company, most people don’t suddenly decide that it is time for a change. But that is exactly what Connie Gutierrez did when she left her role in commercial lending with Frost Bank to assume her current position as senior vice president of commercial lending with Plains Capital Bank. “It was a personal growth opportunity,” explains Gutierrez. “My kids were grown, I had empty nest syndrome, so I decided to test the waters.”
Gutierrez, who specializes in medical lending, was enthusiastic about the opportunity to open the Stone Oak branch of Plains Capital Bank from the ground up, and ready to bring her 20-plus years of medical lending expertise to San Antonio’s new medical center. As the name suggests, medical lending is a completely different entity from conventional commercial lending. Gutierrez explains that in the medical lending field, the lender must understand the intricacies of what is primarily a cash-flow-based business and look at the potential of the individual rather than the amount of equity. Add to that the fact that most physicians want 100-percent financing at a competitive rate, and it becomes easy to see why medical lending is a highly specialized field. “There are only a handful of us here in San Antonio that do this,” she says. “We all know each other well.”

Gutierrez, a Houston native, found herself in this elite group of lenders almost entirely by default. Her reputation for exceptional customer service skills at Frost Bank landed her a position with that institution’s medical lending department. “So much of this job is just listening to the customers,” she explains. “You get to know the clients and their families very well.” She adds that the philosophy in medical lending is one-stop shopping, and, with her many years of experience, she is able to offer her clients solutions for all of their banking needs. “I am the face of the bank to them,” she says. “I must have a broad knowledge of the many different areas of the bank and take the client from inception to implementation of the solution.”

Having worked her way up from late-shift motor bank teller to loan secretary to loan operations, Gutierrez is able to see the big picture of transactions. “I was unable to get into a management training program,” she confesses. “All they wanted to know was ‘How well do you type?’” Since I didn’t type well, I ended up in the motor bank.” Today, Gutierrez is a long way from the motor bank. She is on call for her clients 24/7, serves on a variety of boards and is active in her church. Her newest love is mentoring, both internally at the bank and to medical school residents. “I enjoy making presentations and telling the medical students what they need to do to get started,” she says happily. “I give them a reality check.” Out of all the people she serves, there is one who holds a special place in her heart — her 3-year-old granddaughter, the child of one of her three grown daughters. Gutierrez is raising the little girl while her mother serves in the Army. “It really is so much fun,” she says enthusiastically. For someone who worked her way up and backed into her career, Gutierrez seems to have the world by a string. “I think things happen for a reason,” says the optimistic grandmother. “I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.”

Dana Carter
Vice president of wealth
management group division
Wells Fargo Bank

In the current economic climate, managing your own financial affairs can be a challenge. So imagine managing the finances of some of the city’s wealthiest individuals. That is what Wells Fargo wealth management vice president Dana Carter does on a daily basis. “I love banking, so it is not hard to weather the tough times,” she declares positively. “I don’t believe that work should be work.” That is not to say that she doesn’t take her job seriously. On the contrary, Carter understands that her clients have many options, and she doesn’t take any of them for granted. “My job is all about the client, not the bank,” she says. “We are simply a means to an end.” Her sunny outlook is what took this University of Missouri graduate from commercial lending for Fortune 500 companies to middle market accounts to private banking over the course of the past 28 years. “I just went after clients,” she explains. “When the market fell out, I was so young I just kept at it.” Her perseverance and her ability to survive during uncertain economic times have garnered her the faith of some of San Antonio’s most prestigious clientele. But to Carter, they are more than clients; they are friends. “I get to know my clients very well,” she says. “They are people from all walks of life who achieve wealth by many different means. I admire and respect them all.”

Carter, who describes herself as the “quarterback” of her team, assists her clients in all aspects of wealth management, from investments to banking and estate planning. It is a highly competitive field and a very personal service. “People are much more sophisticated about their wealth today, and they understand that they need help to manage it,” she explains. “We have a very experienced team here that does a phenomenal job.” Part of providing that exceptional service is understanding that managing personal wealth is about more than numbers; it is about relationships. Managing those relationships is what Carter enjoys most about her job, but it is also what she considers the most challenging aspect. “Our clients are very interesting, and they do amazing things,” she says admiringly. “But sometimes the family dynamics can be challenging, and it can be hard to understand the personalities and who you are dealing with,” she explains.

Over the years, Carter and her team have dealt with what she calls some “very unusual requests,” and it is their job to make sure that they are pulling in all of the resources that the bank has to offer. It can be extremely stressful, but she says she has learned “not to sweat the small stuff.” “Since I have had a family, I have learned not to get hung up on the little things,” says the mom of 7-year-old twins. “You can’t take things too personally. Just do what’s right for the client, and ultimately you will come out OK.”

Jennifer Wilkinson
Senior vice president
commercial banking
JP Morgan Chase Bank

Jennifer Wilkinson is a math whiz. The daughter of two finance industry employees, she has always had numbers in her blood. But when she was faced with college calculus, this TCU grad met her Waterloo. “I need to know ‘why,’ and calculus is a divine subject,” she explains. “But my professor told me to quit trying to solve it all and just do it. I got an A.” Calculus aside, Wilkinson still likes to know the “why” and “what makes things tick.” She credits that curiosity with making her a good banker. Well, that and coming into the industry at what she calls “a good time.” “What differentiates me is that I got a Dallas start,” explains the 32-year-old, who began her career with Guaranty Bank. “They promoted faster, and I was exposed to things faster than if I had started with a bank like Chase.” As the only woman in commercial lending at Guaranty, Wilkinson found herself being groomed by men who served as mentors rather than competitors. “I never felt like I was a minority or that being a woman would prevent me from advancing,” she recalls. Today, she handles both the local and international subsidiaries of 30 clients. She spends approximately 40 percent of her time developing new clients and the other 60 percent handling her existing portfolio. Because JP Morgan Chase is a global firm, Wilkinson is responsible for bringing her clients whatever service they need — regardless of where they need it.

“I am like an air traffic controller,” she jokes. “I bring the local delivery of a global firm.” It is a job that requires Wilkinson to know conversion rates, international tax laws and more as she helps her clients grow. “I’m a generalist,” she explains. “I know a little bit about everything, but I can bring in experts from our international branches when necessary.” She handles loans ranging from $1 million to $100 million, and the goals set by JPMorgan Chase are high. But the biggest challenge Wilkinson faces is the regulation of the industry. “In the face of a financial meltdown that can be difficult,” she says. “It is never fun to go through the administrative stuff because it stumps creativity.” Fortunately, Wilkinson finds time to exercise her creativity at home doing arts and crafts and traveling with her 4-year-old daughter. They make a point to go somewhere new once a year, and this single mom hopes to show her daughter that women can indeed have it all.

“My hope for my daughter is that she is exposed to the world enough,” says Wilkinson. “I want to give her the foundation she needs to be confident enough to live her dreams.”

Pam Parish
Group executive vice president,
wealth management division
Broadway Bank

If you ever meet Pam Parish riding horseback on a trail ride, you might not believe that this “weekend cowgirl” is responsible for managing $1.3 billion in assets for her Broadway Bank clientele. But that is exactly what Parrish has been doing with Broadway since 2003, and, as of nearly two years ago, she added director of strategic planning to her already impressive title. “Banking has been good for women in general and great for me,” says the Abilene native, who began her career in Beaumont after graduating from Lamar University. “My earliest mentor in the banking business was a woman.” Parish, who has held positions with JPMorgan Chase and Texas Commerce Bank, found her fit with Broadway and admires the company’s core values. “What we say we are is what we do,” she explains. “Honesty, integrity, commitment to community — how we serve our client is authentic.” Obviously, the clients agree, as is evidenced by the number of them that have remained with Parish and Broadway Bank during the current economic downturn. “I am so proud because our clients are growing, not declining,” she says. “The hallmark of a good job is the clients you keep in tough times.” Not that it is an easy task. Parish says that communication is key in making clients feel confident in the worst of times. “We have to help people see beyond the crises and avoid knee-jerk reactions,” she explains. “They have to know that we have a good, solid plan in place.” Part of keeping the clients feeling secure is having the best possible team in place. That is where Parish’s role as strategic planner comes into play. By acting as the champion for the organization, she brings cohesiveness to the strategic plan to broaden and extend the commitment across the company. By finding the talent within the company and grooming the next group of leaders, she helps the employees feel more empowered.

“We are unveiling a three-year plan in January that includes every employee,” says Parish, who works closely with Broadway’s outside strategic planning company. “We make a difference in the lives of the employees we manage by seeing what they can be and helping them get there.” She may have a plan for Broadway Bank for the next three years, but what do the next 10 years hold for this multitasking dynamo? “I will never leave Broadway until I retire,” she says firmly. “As long as I am able to contribute in a meaningful way to the company, that’s what I am going to do.”

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