Called one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” by Forbes and one of the Top 50 “Most Powerful Women in Business” by Fortune magazine, Beth Mooney has been making waves at KeyCorp since she was named CEO and President in 2011. The first female CEO of a top 20 bank, Mooney led KeyCorp’s $4 billion acquisition of First Niagara bank last August, thrusting her company deeper into Westchester’s banking market. With first-quarter profit rising 62.6% over the previous year, her tactics certainly seem to be working. At the Business Council of Westchester in Rye Brook, Mooney sat down to discuss her company’s recent expansion.
914INC: How did the concept for the merger first come about?
Mooney: We knew [First Niagara Bank] as competitors, neighbors, and community-minded people. I always thought and believed that if for any reason they were going to be interested in a merger, Key was always going to be the right partner for them. I believed that for years, but never necessarily thought that it was going to happen. In 2015, we got word that they were potentially looking for a partner. I knew their CEO, we knew many of their people. They had a similar company culture in terms of values as well as being good neighbors and civic citizens. And so we began talking to them and we indeed were the right bank. I always told our employees from day one that this was not about getting bigger; it was about becoming a better bank, and how were we going to build this new Key together.
Why do you feel this region is a particularly ripe place for KeyCorp’s expansion south from its concentration in Upstate New York?
New York is now our single largest market in which we do business and 35% of our entire company is now in [the state]. So if you think about it, it was an investment in New York. Westchester clearly is a competitive market, and there are banks everywhere. And it relates to the fact it’s and incredibly attractive market due to the fact that there are so many businesses here, the median household income, the average education, age, and mix of businesses. So, I look at it as there always being room for a good bank. What First Niagara brought to us in this market was more scale; we got more locations and we added to our employee base. This means more people and more locations with which to serve individuals and businesses. We are a good bank with a lot of good services for consumers, and particularly, for our business customers. I think we’ve got some real differentiated capabilities and can always meet and make good relationships. As with all things, I’m willing to be a good competitor and a good citizen.
Please tell me about the actual purchase of the bank and process of the merge over the last 10 months.
It was important to be purposeful [and] rigorous putting the two companies together. Converting and bringing in over a million clients and 5,000 new employees has a lot of complexity and work to it. We set our sights on Columbus Day weekend of October of last fall. We said we were going to do a “Big Bang Theory” and put them together and work though the issues that you inevitably create when you try and bring two companies together. As we’ve done it, we kept virtually all of the First Niagara employees. We got real cost saves, but we got them in ways that were different than [losing] people. We did it through vendors and technology systems. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that we are still working through, but substantially we are back to business as usual. I’ve been out in some of our markets and the teams are looking at me and saying, “we’re back on offence”. So we’re certainly back on our toes.
The Business Council of Westchester meeting
What about the rebranding?
Over 300 branches were rebranded in one weekend. There were so many places where the banks overlapped that the day of the merger I got emails from employees saying that they came to work with doughnuts and then walked across the parking lot to welcome their First Niagara associates. It was the weekend of all weekends.
Your last few quarters have been impressive given the company’s recent changes. Do you have any comment as to why this might be?
[One aspect] of how investors and analysts look at it is: Can you get the cost out? They do merger math on cost and, like I said, we were able to do a lot of things that created that synergy value without having to axe employees. … The value we are creating is a million new clients and 5,000 new associates. When we bring that in and we do this right, we’re going to create relationships and grow revenue. To me, the win is the business that we are going to generate together, not the fact that we can check some box and say, “400 million. Check, we did it.” We need to do that —that is fundamental to the value proposition — but the real win and the real value over time is what we are going to build.
What does it mean to you to be the first female CEO of a top-20 US bank?
It came with, in the best sense of the word, an incredible obligation. While there are many that went ahead of me, and I learned and benefited from them, being the first female CEO of a top 20 US bank I felt I had to do it well. Lots of people are counting on you for their livelihood. But there is also a whole group of diverse populations — young women, women of all ages — who are looking at you and who you can lift. It’s like getting a torch, and what do you do if you get a torch? You light the way so others can follow…It will be part of that legacy of having built not just a diverse and inclusive company, but maybe having helped in some small way through the shadow I cast. The real measure of success is that someday when they write the bio of me, the fact that I was the first female CEO hits the footnotes, not the headlines.