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Greenville Business Magazine

United Community Bank’s CFO Jefferson Harralson Sets Direction for Team

Sep 21, 2022 04:23PM ● By David Dykes

Jefferson Harralson is the Chief Financial Officer of United Community Banks, Inc, and plays an integral part in setting the strategic direction of the financial operations.  

With more than 25 years of financial industry experience, he is responsible for fostering the bank’s financial strategies, including mergers and acquisitions, investor relations, and capital planning.

Harralson joined United in 2017 from Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, a New York-based investment bank specializing in financial institutions. A Kentucky native,  Harralson earned his undergraduate degree in business administration from Washington & Lee University, where he was an Honorable Mention Basketball All American. He later earned his MBA in Finance from Georgia State University in 1991 and remains active with the university. 

He has been quoted in newspapers worldwide and in publications such as Forbes, Fortune, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He’s also appeared as a television guest on CNBC and Bloomberg Television.

McKinsey & Company says boards, CEOs, and others on the senior-management team rely on the CFO to be an independent arbiter and guardian against overoptimism – or conservativism – in annual planning and budgeting discussions.

Harralson says his role of setting the strategic direction for the financial operations is to create an environment “where it’s really easy to raise your hand and say, ‘This is not working, this is a risk, or that this could be a problem for us.’

“If I’m doing my job right, I have set the direction, I’ve hired the right people, and they feel really comfortable raising their hand when it’s not going the right way. And my job then is to bring the resources in to help it get to where we want to be.” 

He adds, “Being in a bank is managing a business or various and multiple risks, and so we all have to turn the dial to where we want to be from that perspective.”  

As the bank continues to grow, his mission is to evaluate issues, understand changes, and react relatively quickly to make appropriate changes to United’s risk profile.  

United’s leadership philosophies and influence are brought to the corporate stage at United’s annual Senior Leadership conference where CEO Lynn Harton, Harralson, and the rest of the executive management team recount their views on the subject.  

This year’s event was also the first time UCB extended its conference to include outside participants and included a segment with Tom Barkin, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond as well as Tom Brown, the Founder of Second Curve Capital, an investment firm that focuses on equity investments in financial services companies.  The conference brought together 225 United Leaders from across the bank and included the company’s Together For Good Council (which leads the bank’s Foundation and volunteer efforts) and its Power of U Council (the internal diversity council), and more than doubled the previous year’s attendance.  

Harton opened the conference focusing on how bank employees can each develop as leaders and how the bank can be a legendary bank. He spoke about his own goals as a leader, shared books that have influenced him on his leadership journey – and even polled the audience to find out how they all rated themselves as leaders based on multiple criteria and questions.

At the conference, Harralson also recounted his views on leadership and teamwork. He brings some of his leadership traits from his college basketball experience, with an emphasis on teamwork, communication, and trust.  

Part of the bank’s mission includes the purpose of becoming a legendary bank, built on service, driven by performance.  Says Harralson, “To achieve this mission, we must help customers realize their financial goals, expand their businesses, and plan for their futures, and we all have our role at the bank to help make this happen.”  

Harralson further adds that “financial health leads to happier lives, and we want to use our skills to improve the financial health and wellbeing of their customers and communities.”

Wrapping up on the topic of leadership, Harralson noted its importance in the company’s ultimate success: “For United to continue to grow and be successful and to become a legendary bank, we have to create more and more great leaders to help drive a special culture and that’s what we are all working toward at the bank.”