Vault Diversity Q&A: Ann Silverman, M&T Bank

by Derek Loosvelt | March 10, 2009

A 2004 graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Ann Silverman was a project manager and exhibition developer at the Smithsonian Institution in New York prior to business school. She decided to get an MBA in order to have a greater impact on the community in which she lives and ended up choosing to join the Executive Associate program at M&T Bank in the Washington, DC metro area after graduation. She took time out to talk with Vault about her choice of regional banking and about being a woman professional in finance.

Vault: Going into business school, did you know that you wanted to go into finance and commercial banking?
Silverman: I knew that I wanted to go into finance, but I suppose coming from such a different background, I didn't know what individual buckets [in finance] there were. Once I got into business school and understood more, I knew that commercial banking in particular was what I wanted, and that I wanted a regional bank.

Vault: What in particular about regional banks and commercial banking appeals to you?
Silverman: At the Smithsonian, one of the things I loved most was the community impact of the job, but I felt that I wasn't going to have a real impact until I had a profession that hits people's wallets. When I looked at the landscape out there I thought "Wow, commercial banking is really a wonderful area that contributes to the businesses in the community and the community at large."

Vault: Why did you choose M&T?
Silverman: Looking at all of the mergers and acquisitions activity that have gone on in the banking industry, I really wanted to find a place where I would have opportunities for business development and client interaction earlier rather than later and a smaller, regional bank seemed the best place to get this experience and the chance to contribute in meaningful ways. And M&T's mission emphasizes being really involved in the community, and I take that very seriously.

Vault: Can you describe the program that you were hired into? Is it a rotational program?
Silverman: M&T has what's called the Executive Associate program. It's not really a formal rotation program; you're hired into a functional position. I was hired into commercial lending as knew I wanted to be a lender. In my case, my title is Relationship Manager. "Executive Associate" is more of a hiring title.

Vault: How long are you in the Executive Associate program?
Silverman: The first year is the more defined part of the program, though the bank does track us as Executive Associates throughout our career. The first year has really been a mix of both project work, which gives you exposure to people throughout the bank, and learning the skills to being a lender, everything from the financial and industry analysis and the business development skills to integrating yourself into the community.

Vault: Are there training sessions for Executive Associates outside of on-the-job-training?
Silverman: In the first year, we have seminars. Almost once a month, all the MBAs are brought together at the Bank's headquarters in Buffalo. Each time, there's a lunch with one of the members of the executive committee, and bookending that in the morning and afternoon are presentations from departments throughout the Bank. This way, you get a chance to meet the other EAs that you've been hired with and the managers and staff that work across the Bank.

Vault: How many Executive Associates were there in your class?
Silverman: I believe there were 21 that were hired in my class.

Vault: Did you have any concerns about going into finance, which is notoriously male-dominated? And do you find, in comparing notes with your business school classmates, that commercial banking is any better than other areas of finance, such as investment banking or investment management?
Silverman: I would agree that finance is an area where women are underrepresented. I knew that that would be part of the world that I would enter regardless of where I went into finance. I don't feel that there's a difference between investment banking and commercial banking.

With the issue of representation of women in finance, it's only going to change as more of us come into the field. There are a lot of women who have certainly gone before me, and we need to keep that momentum. Taking my peer group at Wharton as an example, many of the women that I was friends with are going into finance, so there's continued progress.

Vault: How many women are there in your Executive Associate class at M&T?
Silverman: There were three of us. I know them quite well -- we speak frequently and try to foster close relationships with each other.One thing that was important to me about M&T is that it has a Diversity Council. It's a bank-wide initiative that's headed up by a gentleman on the senior committee of the bank. Particularly as the bank has grown in the last three years, it has made an effort to takes issues of diversity seriously, as evidenced by the formation of this group. The idea that you've really got to grow and nurture that, it doesn't happen overnight.

Vault: What types of companies and organizations are you working with as a lender?
Silverman: We service middle market companies, which are companies that have revenues above $10 million. The economy in DC is incredibly diverse. There are lots of life sciences and biotechnology companies, there are government related contractors, high technology companies. Just everything under the sun.

Vault: And how do you go about developing business with these organizations?
Silverman: One of the ways that we get a lot of business is through referrals. And one of the ways to do that is to make sure you're really well networked with accountants and lawyers in the region and others that work with businesses. People in the bank are very generous about making sure you get the external introductions you need. There are many business organizations in the county that have breakfasts, lunches, dinners, etc. Let's just say that my evenings are quite full.

Vault: Do you work with professional groups for women with respect to business development initiatives?
Silverman: Oh, yes. In the DC region, there's a group called Women in Bio, there's one called Women in Information Technology -- there are a lot of those groups, and those are definitely resources I tap into.

Filed Under: Finance


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