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Women in Finance: An interview with Karen Peetz of BNY Mellon

  • By Elizabeth Johns
  • Published: 2010-10-07

AFP: Tell us a little about what you do for BNY Mellon.

Peetz: I run a sector called Financial Markets and Treasury Services, which consists of six businesses: corporate trust, which primarily focuses on issuers in the debt markets; depositary receipts and shareowner services, which service issuers in the equity markets; treasury services, which offers cash management and payment services; broker dealer services, where we do clearing and collateral management for broker dealers; and alternative investment services, where we provide administrative services for hedge funds and private equity funds. These businesses fall under the umbrella of securities servicing and represents about 40 percent of the revenue of the company. We have 10,000 people in the sector in 70 locations, 34 of which are outside the U.S.

AFP: That's quite a global footprint. Outside the U.S., what is your biggest region?

Peetz: Definitely Europe.

AFP: You have quite a portfolio. How did you get to that position?

Peetz: I spent 16 years at Chase (now JPMorgan Chase) moving through many different assignments. One fun fact is that I started in cash management sales, which was a great place to learn how banks operate. This turned out to be great bedrock as a first job. At Chase, in addition to sales, I was corporate-trained as a lending officer. Then I began to get into management of larger and larger groups—first sales, then running a line of business in the domestic U.S., then running an international business in London. Over 16 years, I moved into a new role about every two years. After a wonderful run at Chase, I was returning as an expat from London when The Bank of New York called. I moved over to run corporate trust. At the time, we called this domestic corporate trust, but, in fact, it was most of the business. Then I ran treasury services. Corporate trust and treasury services are the largest two businesses within my sector now. About a year and a half ago, I was asked to take a larger role running all six businesses.

AFP: How long were you in London?

Peetz: Two years.

AFP: To what extent do you think today's financial professional needs international experience?

Peetz: If you work for a global company, you should have international experience if you want to go to the most senior levels. It is best to actually go and live in a different country. So much of the benefit is osmosis. You cannot necessarily step back and pinpoint the exact impact that it has on you, but it is huge. Just as importantly, you get a perspective on what it is like to work outside the headquarters. Of my 10,000 employees, at least 8,500 of them are outside our New York headquarters. Add to that the need to understand cultural and economic differences—in our case 34 countries—and that understanding increases your effectiveness. If you are in an international company, then you had better figure out a way to understand the cultural and economic differences, even if it is just through travel.

AFP: What really contributed to your success?

Peetz: In my view, there are five things that contributed to my success:

  • Ambition. If you don't have that fire in the belly, you are not going to get to the top.
  • Setting goals and being hard on yourself that you are actually achieving them. For example, in our family, every New Years, we think about what are our personal, professional and family goals.

AFP: I have a business plan for my life, so I guess I am on the right track.

Peetz: That's huge. Many people drift. Few say, "I am in control." It is important to set goals and evaluate where you are. A few others:

  • Focus on self -improvement. That means getting feedback about what you are good at and relying on those strengths but also being realistic about the things you need to improve on and filling those gaps.
  • Great mentors. I have been fortunate to have had a string of influential mentors, many of whom had the power to help me. It is great to have mentors, but if they cannot put you in a position that helps you advance, they are not that helpful.
  • Luck. You need to be in the right place at the right time, make the right decisions, and choose the right alternatives.

AFP: Is there anyone that you pattern yourself after, someone who really motivates you?

Peetz: Because I have had so much exposure to different people, there is really no one person. I believe you can learn from everybody—whether they are good or bad. Everyone has an occasional bad boss. From bad bosses, you learn what you don't want to do. I am particularly keen to observe people whom I respect and learn from them.

AFP: What is one of the challenges that you have overcome successfully?

Peetz: About four years ago, we completed a transformational deal. We swapped our retail banking network for JPMorgan's corporate trust business. They were two times larger than we were, so you had a situation where the little guy was integrating the big guy. There were tons of people issues, as you might imagine. Being sold is very emotional to begin with, and being sold to your key competitor can be particularly concerning. One of the great things that came out of it, one of the first things we did as a management team, was to articulate our four values. The professional challenge ended with those four values: teamwork, client focus (you cannot do an integration without worrying about retention of clients or you completely diminish the deal value), trust (this may have been the hardest to implement because of the people issues) and outperformance. Without question, we outperformed expectations on the deal.

AFP: Were you able to integrate the two cultures?

Peetz: Yes. After several mergers, my big learning is that you do have to put a stake in the ground about what the new organization is going to be and what is expected. Not everybody stays. If you are really clear, they at least choose.

AFP: In terms of challenges, AFP members certainly see the year ahead as being full of challenges, what do you see as one of the greatest challenges for financial professionals?

Peetz: Two things. First, the image of bankers has suffered as a result of the economic crisis. We did some dumb stuff. As a profession, we need to work on that, even with family and friends who can be a little jaded about bankers. Some of that is an education about our role in the economy and, as importantly, in the community. We are part of the solution, and the onus is on us to make amends, if you will. The second challenge is innovation. The economic situation is a challenge to revenue growth. So we are getting our population engaged in innovation. This can be as simple as a website where you register an idea and receive feedback, or win cash for innovative ideas.

AFP: Does this mean game changing technology or processes?

Peetz: Those are great, and people do get paid for them, but what we are really looking for is game changing revenue ideas, and we have come up with a few. Now we are trying to work on our culture to encourage innovation at all levels.

AFP: Interesting. Do you have a Chief Innovation Officer?

Peetz: I do. There is a woman on our senior team who works for me and who does strategy as well as investment management, and another part of her job is driving innovation. Of course, you cannot do it all centrally. We have innovation representatives in every one of our businesses as well.

AFP: With all that going on in the profession, what would your advice be to someone who is starting out in their career?

Peetz: Go for it. Banking, treasury and finance are still very attractive. There is a tremendous diversity of opportunity. You can go in many directions.

AFP: The AFP Global Network now comprises about 150,000 professionals around the world, including the main AFP professional society, and the financial networks of gtnews and bobsguide in London. Is there anything you would like to say to those professionals?

Peetz: My early career in cash management sales was a very valuable experience. If you are an AFP member, and you look at the broad array of opportunities in finance, you can build a fascinating career.

Copyright © 2014 Association for Financial Professionals, Inc.
All rights reserved.

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