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Greenville Business Magazine

Women Banking Leaders Stress Community

Nov 01, 2017 01:51PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Rachel Haynie

Women in South Carolina’s top echelons of banking represent multiple business cultures, yet share one vital common view: community must be integral to their work in banking.

These four women share other commonalities. They all were brought up in family structures that encouraged them to spread their wings; they all came up through the ranks and had effective mentors along the way; they each have successfully balanced family and career; and they all believe that giving back is essential to who they are.

Michelle Seaver
United Community Bank
Photograph by Amy Randall Photography

Michelle Seaver, president of the Greenville County branch of United Community Bank, repeats the institution’s motto to explain her leadership style regarding relationship-building, “We are the bank that service built,” and service is founded on relationships. “We treat people the way we want to be treated.” Today’s diversified business environment makes relationships all the more important, as Seaver sees it.

Having community as part of the bank’s name keeps this commitment foremost on the minds of bankers entrenched in their markets, says Seaver, who began working in banking while completing her accounting major at the University of South Carolina.

“My family instilled a strong work ethic, including working over the summers. My first day at a summer bank job, I worked at a teller window. It was an invaluable experience.”

While she has moved on from the teller window, she said that challenging experience helps her understand, plan, and more effectively direct the efforts of tellers doing that job today.

Having good mentors, including Jim Terry during her early days at Carolina First, encourages Seaver to fulfill her obligation to serve as a model for her colleagues. “You are setting examples for anyone you come in contact with. Somebody is looking at you at all times.”

And that includes her daughters. “I would be pleased if my daughters, Kaitlyn and Caroline, decided to pursue careers in banking. It has been a great career and I’m fortunate to work with so many wonderful people.”

Stacy Brandon

Bank of America

Photograph by Amy Randall Photography

Stacy Brandon, senior vice president and Upstate market president of Bank of America, asks herself continually, “How can we find solutions that will make our customers successful?”

The University of South Carolina Honors College economics and finance major “came into banking through a training program that cycled me through every area of banking. I remember doing financial analyses with pencil and paper, and also remember the size of computers in those early years.” Now financial statements on spreadsheets can be shared between customers and their bankers on their phones.

Technology also has provided many more tools that aid bankers in networking – including social media, “allowing us to stay tapped in to customers’ needs, interests, and community involvement.”

The Greenville native also credits technology with many dramatic banking shifts occurring during her three-decade-long career, particularly digital banking. “Its effects on the bank’s international reach mirrors our global platform. One of our key advantages, our scale, allows us to be invested and present world-wide.”

Brandon’s experience in the last 15 years has been that “banking, now accessible 24/7, also requires us as professional bankers to stay abreast 24/7 – in our world community and in our local community.”

Bank of America’s deep commitment to its communities is a good fit for Brandon’s own philosophies and habits regarding giving back and being engaged. “I’m excited to see what the next 10 years will have in store.”

Sharon Bryant

First citizens Bank

Photograph by K Campbell Photography

Sharon Bryant, regional executive vice president of First Citizens Bank in Columbia, says relationships are the key to both internal and external success.

“For more than 100 years, customers have trusted First Citizens with their money. As a family-controlled bank, we’ve always invested in relationships because we know banking is about more than just managing money and transactions. It’s about the people,” she says.

Bryant said the bank, with which she has been in management since 1999, fosters relationships by understanding customer behavior and finding ways to make it easier for customers to handle their banking needs.

“Many retailers and business customers are looking for efficiencies and added convenience when it comes to managing their finances. While advancements in technology can help us enhance customers’ experiences, we feel it is part of our job to help them embrace technology and understand that these advancements can improve their overall experience with us.”

Bryant, a Sewanee University graduate who majored in English with an emphasis in Religious Studies, feels strongly that each customer deserves a relationship, regardless of age or stage in life.

“Adapting and responding so we can honor the Greatest Generation while staying relevant to Millennials is our goal,” she says, noting that some customers prefer to come into the bank, where they know the tellers and managers. Others prefer to do as much as they can online.

According to Bryant, generational preferences and behaviors have caused the role of branches to evolve. “Our associates are our greatest assets – they are the shining points of the bank, representing our relationship-driven approach every day.”

When Bryant is out in the community, it’s not uncommon for her to ask the following in conversation: “Who is your banker?” All too often the answer is the name of their bank. “No,” she repeats. “Who is your banker?” The response she gets reveals whether that customer has a relationship with a banker, or just the bank.

Kim Wilkerson


Photograph ©2017 Brian Dressler /

Kim Wilkerson, South Carolina president of Bank of America in Columbia, was brought into a banking training program right after earning her finance degree at Clemson University. “I changed majors, from chemical engineering, after my freshman year. As my graduation approached, a wise finance professor, Perry Woodside, recognizing something in me, asked if I had considered banking. When I said no, he replied, ‘Well, now you have. I’ve signed you up to be interviewed by two banks.’”

Wilkerson entered banking at a very exciting stage: deregulation had opened the potential of interstate banking. “I was able to participate in one of the most amazing transitions in our industry.” She recalled a North Carolina National Bank (NCNB) meeting called by then-president Hugh McColl. “We walked into a conference room and he had longhorns perched on the podium. ‘We’re going to Texas!’ he told us.

“I’m grateful that at every change of leadership, our company has remained strongly committed to diversity and inclusion. Whether it was one of my first mentors, (the late “Hootie” Johnson), or our current CEO, Brian Moynihan, our leaders have always encouraged the development of a diverse team.”

Wilkerson feels “extremely fortunate to work for a company so committed to community engagement and ‘giving back,’” and she has always drawn upon her parents’ strong faith and modeling to shape her personal and professional commitment to strengthening communities.