By Karen Kroll
How do you go from the management training program at a department store to being one of American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking? It helps if you’re a virtuoso when it comes to learning from consumers and managing corporate adaptation.
That’s why we sought out LeeAnne Linderman, executive vice president for enterprise retail banking with Zions Bancorporation. In an industry that increasingly hinges on the ability to absorb new information and change accordingly, she sets an important example of how it’s done.
Before moving to financial services, Linderman spent about 14 years in retailing. Despite the obvious differences between the two industries, one commonality drew her to banking. “The aspect I loved most about department stores was managing large groups of employees, and serving large groups of customers,” she said. “You have that in retail banking.” Zions Bancorporation has assets of approximately $60 billion, and operates under local management and unique brands in eleven western and southwestern states.
After graduating from Auburn University with a degree in marketing and management, Linderman joined the management training program with retailer JCPenney. She’s also held management positions with Broadway Stores and Rich’s, both of which now are part of Macy’s.
While Linderman enjoyed the work, she grew tired of spending holidays on the job, rather than with her family. “In retail, even when you move up ranks, it’s all hands on deck” during the holidays, Linderman said.
Finding meaning in the work.
To prepare for a change, Linderman completed several career tests. The results helped her identify a half-dozen industries that likely would fit her interests and skills. She quickly homed in on banking. In addition to working with a range of customers and employees, the impact banks can have on their local economies held appeal, she said. “It created great meaning in the work.”
Linderman started as a banking officer with Bank of America, and after two years, moved to Zions First National Bank as an executive vice president. She also completed the Pacific Coast Banking School, held at the University of Washington.
Staying close to a broad base of customers.
In June 2015, Zions Bancorporation reorganized and consolidated charters in multiple states to one. It was at that point that Linderman took on her current role. Her group helps all the banks grow their consumer and small business relationships, and is responsible for product development and management, channel strategies, client segmentation, and other functions.
Many bank customers today may have strong relationships with their banks—yet interact face-to-face only occasionally, with most of their connection coming via ATMs, online platforms, and contact centers. “The whole definition of customer relationships is changing, and we can’t be bound by long-held beliefs,” Linderman said. “We need to be responsive to what customers are telling us.”
To that end, Linderman spearheaded an advisory council through which branch managers can share ideas. “No matter how high in an organization someone gets, they have to stay close to those closest to clients,” she said.
Each year, two branch managers represent their peers in quarterly meetings. They’ll identify pain points in bank operations, compliance, and other areas. Linderman shares the feedback with the appropriate people in the organization to pinpoint the reasons a process falls short of ideal. “We question everything the managers bring forward,” she said.
“LeeAnne is really good at understanding where people are coming from,” said Melisse Grey, executive vice president, retail delivery, with Zions Bancorporation. “At the same time, she helps them get from where they are to where they need to go.”
Using engagement to clear bottlenecks.
As Zions consolidates its charters, many bottlenecks should be alleviated. For instance, because deposit products have varied between each bank brand, the customer service center was trying to support more than 500 variations of similar products—a nearly impossible task. Zions is standardizing the product set, Linderman said.
Another challenge followed Zions Bank’s launch of EMV debit and credit cards. Frustrated customers complained to branch managers when merchants couldn’t accept them. Although this wasn’t strictly a bank problem, Linderman asked the managers to survey local merchants to better gauge their progress converting to the new cards. Her team also developed an information sheet for employees, so they could articulately respond to complaints. “It all came from engaging the branch managers,” she said.
Linderman also initiated a customer experience mapping program in which bank employees looked at a process from the perspective of the customer. In one result, the bank slashed closing times for small, unsecured lines of credit from 48 to 2 hours, largely due to the consolidation of eleven underwriting matrices to one. This allows Zions’ lenders to use the instant-decisioning feature built into many consumer lending platforms, Linderman said.
Linderman is a founding member and past chair of the Zions’ Women’s Business Forum. “We looked around the organization, and said, ‘We’re not as diverse as our clients in terms of gender and ethnicity,’” she explained. At the time, most women employees were in junior positions within the bank. The Forum helps women develop the confidence and skills they can use to pursue their career objectives. It hosts quarterly meetings in which speakers discuss subjects ranging from leadership to effective communication and networking.
The Women’s Business Forum has sparked additional forums for African Americans, Hispanics, and members of the military, among others. As word of the forums has spread outside the bank, Zions has been able to attract a more diverse candidate base. Linderman’s assistant, for instance, is a retired member of the Navy. “It’s helping us retain, grow, and attract new employees,” she said.
Working with employees, whether new college graduates or more experienced workers, remains a passion of Linderman’s. “There are a lot of challenges,” she said, “but it’s so rewarding.”
Karen M. Kroll is a business and financial services writer and content marketer based in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Email: [email protected].