KeyBank’s Carol K. Nelson. • Image by Anthony Bolante, Business Journal

As part of the partnership between the International Examiner and KeyBank to highlight the ways we can work toward financial empowerment for all communities, we caught up with KeyBank’s Carol K. Nelson, Pacific Region Executive, Market President Seattle, who has been a steward in her work in the community.

Tell us about yourself.

Carol K. Nelson: It is my privilege to be the face and voice of KeyBank, enabling our team to bring the full capabilities of a large bank, delivered with local decision making.

I lead KeyBank’s resources across the Pacific Region, which includes Washington, Oregon and Alaska, while directing KeyBank’s sales efforts to drive revenue and growth within our commercial and private banking businesses.

I am also responsible for creating and sustaining a strong KeyBank community in the Pacific Region—building employee engagement and fulfilling our philanthropic mission by supporting programs and organizations that create real and lasting change. These programs work to ensure safe and sustainable neighborhoods, affordable housing, a strong education and good jobs for the residents of this region.

How did you get started in banking?

Nelson: I joined Seafirst Bank and spent nearly 23 years there. I like to say that Seafirst was a great bank to grow up in. There are many leaders across our industry who cut their teeth at Seafirst, and I met my husband there. That’s where I learned the adage that “Success is a team sport.” Over the years I have found it to be true that there is nothing that will contribute more to your success than building strong teams and partnerships.

How do you differentiate KeyBank from other big banks?

Nelson: KeyBank is among the top 20 largest banks in the country with a local presence in 15 states and a network of more than 1,200 branches. We’ve been in business for 190 years, growing responsibly by delivering great service and building enduring client relationships.

Our purpose is simple: to help clients and communities thrive. Our strategy is to preserve and protect each client’s financial wellness. This benefits clients because our community banking structure allows local bankers decision-making authority to build and manage client relationships. We draw on the experience and the resources of a big national bank to deliver superior service and ensure peace of mind for each client.

We are proud to be the only bank among the 25 largest to hold an “Outstanding” Community Investment Act (CRA) rating for eight consecutive review periods.

As a woman in banking, it’s clear that you value diversity. How does KeyBank encourage a culture of diversity?

Nelson: It starts at the top: Our CEO Beth Mooney places priority status on this core value, and three of the four market presidents in the Pacific region are women. We recognize that diverse individuals bring with them unique backgrounds, experiences, and ideas, which make KeyBank stronger.

In fact, we believe diversity and inclusion is a business imperative. Here in Seattle we have established eight professional groups to engage and attract a diverse workforce, which include Key Executive Women’s Network, Young Professionals, Military Inclusion, African American, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Hispanic/Latino, Jewish Cultural, and LGBTQ.

What do you see as the future of consumer banking?

Nelson: Unquestionably digital banking is where we are seeing incredible advances. The next level of digital banking will include personalized, real-time advice and streamlined, easy-to-use apps and sites. The goal will be to meet customers where they are, rather than expecting them to come to us. To up our game in this space, Keybank recently acquired HelloWallet, a web and mobile-based platform that helps clients link, track and analyze online financial accounts. HelloWallet allows customers to calculate a Financial Wellness Score, which creates recommendations for furthering financial health.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader?

Nelson: Your core values define who you are and should guide your career journey. When your core values match up with your company’s, that’s where the magic happens. For me at Keybank these include the value of diversity and inclusion, the importance of family and the role that health and fitness, both physical and financial, play in keeping you at your best.

Who are two people who have been instrumental in your career advancement? Tell us what it was about them that affected you.

Nelson: David Friedenberg, a mentor at Seafirst who went on to found the Commerce Bank: His legacy included an intense focus on customer relationships and business development that left a lasting impression on my career.

KeyCorp Chairman and CEO, Beth Mooney: We are proud to be the first of the top 20 U.S. banks with a woman CEO. You could not ask for a more genuine and authentic leader.

What advice can you give to our readers?

Nelson: I think it’s important to remember not to let barriers hold you back; you have to know your worth and go for it by believing in yourself. One of the best parts of my job is helping nurture young talent at KeyBank, and to me it’s important to share these messages often with the employees I have the pleasure of working with.

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