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Wendy McGrane and Ashley Mears took time out of their busy schedules to share about their responsibilities working at Central Oregon banks and what it means to be a woman in banking.
Their insights provide both inspiration and insight into how their careers are more than making sure numbers add up. They are both passionate about the relationship side of banking by making sure they meet their clients’ goals so their clients’ can achieve their dreams.
Both McGrane and Mears understand the importance of a bank serving and meeting the needs of its community.
Banking is more than numbers. For McGrane and Mears it’s about building strong and lasting partnerships with their clients.
Wendy McGrane is the vice president and Business Banking manager at U.S. Bank in Bend. She celebrated her 20th anniversary at U.S. Bank, starting on August 26, 2002.
She leads a team of bankers who serve businesses by providing working capital, equipment and real estate financing, as well as many other solutions that improve the entire business operating cycle.
“As the primary point of contact for clients, our business bankers are responsible for deepening existing relationships as well as establishing new ones,” McGrane said. “In my role, I ensure our team understands our clients’ needs and goals, and that we’re continually supporting the evolving needs of each unique business that we serve. I also chair the local U.S. Bank advisory board, composed of business and community leaders who collaborate to ensure the bank is best positioned to serve the needs of Central Oregon.”
Ashley Mears is the vice president and Commercial Banking Relationship manager at Washington Trust Bank. She has worked in banking for 16 years. As a relationship manager at Washington Trust Bank, she said she has the privilege of partnering with local businesses to establish tailored financial plans to meet their goals and help them grow. She is responsible for building and maintaining strong relationships within the Bend community and with clients of Washington Trust Bank.
“As their financial partner, I am focused on analyzing my clients’ cash, capital and investment priorities and monitoring the performance of their existing accounts while keeping in mind their business and financial goals,” Mears said.
What made you decide to pursue a career in banking:
McGrane: “I have always enjoyed working with numbers and started a career in accounting after finishing college. While working for a large company as an accountant, I realized that I craved more social interaction in my day-to-day responsibilities — I am at my best when connecting with others. I began to pursue a career that would allow me to spend more time with business owners, learning about their businesses and using my financial knowledge to help them achieve their goals. While much has changed in my 20 years as a banker, I still love getting to know people and their businesses, and I am equally thrilled when our team provides a solution to a business to help solve a problem and/or accomplish a goal.”
Mears: “I grew up in the banking industry. My mom was a banker and an amazing role model for me. So, I became passionate about banking from a young age. My mom worked for a large bank for over 20 years and growing up it was not uncommon for me to accompany her on client visits and work endeavors. Those impactful early experiences motivated me to begin my career with my first ‘real job’ as a teller, and I have been a part of the banking industry ever since. I’ve always excelled at working with numbers and money, so aside from my family ties to the industry, there was a point when my mom, two brothers and I, all worked for the same financial institution, becoming a banker was a natural fit. What really made me fall in love with this career path is the creativity involved in creating financial plans. Most people might not think of banking as having a creative component but when I am establishing financial plans for my clients, and I have the opportunity to support individuals and businesses in our community with their financial needs, I get to tap into my passion and creativity.”
How would you mentor a young woman pursuing a career in banking?
Mears: “It’s challenging to be a woman in a typically male dominated industry. My best advice for women wanting to get into the banking industry is to believe in yourself and to be confident in the fact that you’ve earned your place at the table. If something makes you feel less-than, know that your skills and expertise have led you to this moment and you deserve to be there.”
What advice would you give to women who are striving for a work-life balance?
Mears: “Juggling a professional career, motherhood and being a wife can be difficult. Find your balance. It’s attainable. Lean on your family and colleagues and let them lean on you. It takes a village and we’re all here for each other. Equally as important, find a company to work for that promotes a culture conducive to your personal goals and values. Washington Trust Bank and my team at the Bend Financial Center find extreme value in hard work and providing world class customer service, but also in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. And that’s what’s most important in life. Remain invested in your work, but don’t miss out on the opportunities in your personal life.”
Over the last 50 years, things have changed for women regarding their personal finances. What changes have you seen during your career that have helped women with their professional and personal lives?
McGrane: “When I began my banking career, most banks had dress codes which required women to wear nylons. I will never forget wearing nylons while pregnant in the heat of the summer. Thankfully, they are now optional. Earlier in my career as a business banker, I was often the only female amongst a large group of male colleagues. I struggled to see myself progressing into leadership roles, because so few women were in higher levels of leadership. Fortunately, I have had many supportive leaders, sponsors and advocates that encouraged me. Today, I have many more female colleagues, peers and leaders in business banking, and I look forward to seeing how this continues to evolve to better reflect the composition of the communities that we serve. I’m proud of our work t U.S. Bank too. We’re nationally recognized as one of America’s top corporate supporters of diversity, equity and inclusion. We are committed to creating access, development programs and mentorship opportunities that help increase the number of women who hold executive and senior executive leadership positions at U.S. Bank. Through our U.S. Bank Women Business Resource Group (BRG), we create a culture, with allies, where women thrive and are empowered across all seasons of life. To learn more about our diversity, equity and inclusion progress, see usbank.com/diversity.
What’s the best advice you have received in regard to creating a strong financial portfolio and what do you share with your clients?
Mears: Be straightforward and honest. It sounds simple, but there are times when the truth is very hard for clients to hear — and can also be difficult to communicate. When all is said and done, it’s always the right thing to do and I pride myself in being as transparent and honest as possible with my clients because facilitating those open conversations is what ultimately sets them up for success.
What challenges do women who own small businesses or who want to start a business face and how do you help address them?
McGrane: “Much has been written about the disparity of access to investment capital for women owned businesses. At U.S. Bank, we strive to bring equal access and resources to all our clients. Our business bankers work with many women-owned businesses, and we have several tools and resources available to support them. Every business has unique challenges and opportunities, and we empower our bankers to learn about each business to truly understand their needs and goals. A few examples of what women-owned businesses experience at U.S. Bank are where our bankers can meet whenever and wherever is most convenient for the business, including virtually; and our bankers are engaged community members, and often introduce business owners to other networks, programs and resources outside of the bank as appropriate. In addition to meeting with a local banker to discuss the unique needs of their business, we recommend that all business owners explore U.S. Bank’s Financial IQ platform at usbank.com/financialiq.
Can you share a few ways your bank supports women-owned businesses?
McGrane: “Our local U.S. Bank team has been a long-time supporter of organizations and events which support and elevate women. U.S. Bank was the founding title sponsor of the Bend Chamber Women of the Year Awards, and U.S. Bank continues to support organizations which provide resources to women-owned businesses both here in Central Oregon and beyond including leanin.org and catalyst.org).
Many people are nervous about what’s happening with inflation and the talk of another recession. What advice would you give both businesses and individuals regarding safeguarding their financial portfolio?
Mears: “Utilize your bank as a financial partner. A financial institution’s team of professionals is there to help you navigate any uncertainty you may experience. The current state of the economy is a good reminder to consider what banking products and services you’re taking advantage of and if there are any adjustments you can make to bolster your strengths and eliminate weak spots. One of my favorite messages on this topic that I have adopted from Washington Trust Bank’s chief investment officer and economist is: ‘Hope is an emotion, not a strategy.’ I take that sentiment to heart and am dedicated to advocating for my clients during this uncertain time and working to make them feel prepared for whatever may come.”