Welcome back to one of my favorite blog series, ‘Girl Banker in the Making’! The purpose of this series is to highlight young women just getting their start in the banking industry as a means to motivate other young women to consider banking as a career path. The best part about ‘Girl Banker in the Making’ is that the post is authored by the young woman being highlighted in an effort to journal her own girl banker story.
Alyssa Hermann | Commercial Lender | Presidential Bank
I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. I graduated from Saint Louis University with a BSBA in finance in 2013 and an MBA with an entrepreneurship concentration in 2014. As a Billiken, I had the chance to study abroad in Rome and Hong Kong, work in the Office of Admission and for the Institute of Private Business and serve as a member of Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity.
Throughout high school and undergrad my plan was to get involved with the local construction company that my grandfather started in 1972 and my dad was running at the time. I grew up around this business and worked there for seven summers during 2005 – 2012. I saw it as a great opportunity and was confident I could be successful in the male dominated business.
In the middle of my MBA program, my family decided that my dad would sell his interest in the business and exit the company. I had a front row seat to the challenging dynamics of family businesses while I worked to put “Plan B: Financial Advisor” in place.
After a financial advising internship followed by a year in an internal accounting position at a wealth management firm, I was recruited to fill a commercial credit analyst role at Parkside Financial Bank & Trust. Parkside is a community bank that was founded in 2008 and caters to the privately-held middle market commercial and industrial lending space. It was a privilege to begin my banking career surrounded by top talent and incredible mentors in an engaging culture of collaboration and transparency. I spent three years at Parkside and ultimately advanced into a Commercial Banking Officer position before relocating from St. Louis to Washington, DC in May 2018.
The DC market is heavily focused on real estate, government contracting, and non-profits compared to St. Louis which is more manufacturer, distributor, and service provider centric. My current focus in DC is continuing to learn the nuances of the market in an evolving banking climate while building out my local network.
Commercial lending was never promoted as a career path to me. I was fortunate to stumble into it and very quickly realized that it was the perfect fit for me. It gives me just the right balance of numbers and people, and it allows me the opportunity to work with businesses like the family construction company I grew up in. I love having the chance to look at a wide variety of industries. Even more, I enjoy building relationships with business leaders and working with them to structure financing that will help them achieve their goals. Serving as a strategic banking partner is exceptionally fulfilling, especially when I see the results in my local community.
While the industry is still male dominated, progress is being made toward inclusivity thanks in part to platforms like The Girl Banker. I am highly committed to the professional growth and development of young talent and women in the industry and would like to encourage anyone interested to reach out and connect.
A year ago today, the Girl Banker blog officially launched! This past year has taught me a lot about persistence, resilience, and keeping the main thing, the main thing.
RESILIENCE | Initially the blog was met with a large amount of support from who mattered most: women in banking. However, I had my fair amount of critics (all were non bankers) and I came really close to folding up shop about a month after I launched. Thankfully, I was reminded by my husband that I didn’t need validation from anyone to keep moving forward. He said there would be risk involved with putting myself out there and that naysayers should be expected. However, if the content from the blog made a difference in one person’s life, then it was all worth it. He was so right. Over the last year, I was fortunate enough to travel to Colorado, Maryland, Texas, and Nebraska to represent Grand Savings Bank and/or advocate for women in banking through the Girl Banker platform. While I have a long way to go in terms of reach, the blog has followers from South Dakota to Florida, and even a few in Canada! I’m thankful I didn’t fold up shop and I’m even more thankful to have had the experiences I’ve had this past year that came my way as a direct result of the Girl Banker blog. I still get criticism from time to time, most often pertaining to the name of the blog, but my skin is thicker and I have to remember who I am doing this for and why.
PERSISTENCE | Sometimes keeping this gig going becomes a heavy load. My number one priority (beyond my family of course) is serving as Chief Marketing Officer of Grand Savings Bank. My team, boss included, has been incredibly supportive of this venture and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without their buy in and support. There have been times that I have questioned whether I keep the blog going or worry that it will require too much of me. However, what I have found is that it’s a stress reliever. Some of my best articles have been written during times when I needed to decompress. I also get the most amazing messages from girl bankers all over country, telling me their own stories and showing appreciation for my advocacy. Nevertheless, I have persisted.
KEEP THE MAIN THING, THE MAIN THING | When I first launched, I was fearful that it would be a flop. What if no one takes me seriously? What if I’m made fun of? But what if it affects one career in a positive way? What if it sparks the interest of one young girl to consider banking as a career? From the get go, I have disclosed that I am not an expert on the topic of women in banking, or lack there of, but instead, just wanted to start a conversation and see where it went. I have been blown away by how thirsty women in this industry are for even just a discussion on this topic! There are women breaking ceilings in this industry daily and their stories need to be told. There are women facing adversity, struggling to move up, struggling to negotiate salaries, frustrated with being the only woman in loan committee, and they all want to know they aren’t alone. These women want seats at the table because they are strong, capable, competent, and talented bankers who deserve it. My hope is that this blog and the Girl Banker platform can continue to highlight women all over the country that are paving the way for the rest of us. I hope that topics affecting women in the banking industry can continue to be discussed and that this blog can serve as a network of sorts to connect all of us together. My main thing is advocating women in banking and irregardless of criticism, I’m going to keep making that my main thing.
SIDE BAR | I want to thank a few people in this post because if it wasn’t for them, this blog wouldn’t have ever happened!
Allyson Twiggs Dyer: Allyson, I’m forever grateful for your friendship, coaching, and training over the last several years. You are the one who urged and pushed me to do this blog and then helped me with every step along the way. You taught me everything I know about personal branding and have steered me through the murky waters of criticism and internet trolls and remind me daily of why the future is female! Thank you for everything!
Colt Bartholomew: I’m sure it’s exhausting being married to me, but I am grateful for you keeping me lifted up on the reg. You are my number one cheerleader.
My Girl Banker Tribe: You all know who you are and you are an inspiration. Keep up the good fight!
As women in banking, it is important that we lift each other up and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. The entire purpose of the Girl Banker blog is to do just that! The Girl Banker of the Week series serves as a way to highlight Girl Bankers everywhere by telling their stories and motivating and encouraging other women in banking. It also is a great way for women in banking to connect! Read below about this week’s Girl Banker of the Week!
Eileen Jennings | SVP, Area Loan Manager | Arvest Bank I met Eileen several years ago during my Arvest days. She was a Commercial Banker in the Fayetteville, Arkansas market and I was just getting my start as a consumer, commercial, and mortgage lender in a much more rural part of the county in Prairie Grove, Arkansas. At that time, Arvest Bank Chairman, Jim Walton, (you may have heard of his family’s little business, Walmart) was making a push for diversity within the Arvest system, more specifically in the commercial lending area. I impressed that he was making such an effort as it was rather unheard of in the early 2000’s in the banking industry. Mr. Walton wanted to do an ad of all of the female commercial lenders and I was invited to be a part of it. I was immediately intimidated by all of the other women. They really seemed to have it all figured out and I was super green, right out of Graduate School. Eileen really seemed to have it all figured out.
A few months later, I was in a C and I Lending class with her and she would ask a lot of questions and used a lot of big words only very experienced lenders would understand. I remember thinking, “I hope I can be half as smart as her someday.” Well, here I am several years later and I am confident that I am most definitely not as smart as Eileen Jennings. I’m so excited to feature her on the Girl Banker blog as this week’s Girl Banker of the Week.
Girl Banker Story Eileen was born and raised in rural Madison County, Arkansas. She attended the University of Arkansas and received a B.S.B.A. in International Economics and Business with an emphasis in European studies. During that time, she attended the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi to study French and spent six months in Toulouse, France studying international business at the Ecole Superieur de Commerce. After graduation, Eileen worked for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA in its national product development department and returned to Fayetteville in 2001 to finish her B.S.B.A in finance. She moved to Kansas City, MO and worked for PNC Bank’s subsidiary, Midland Loan Services, as a credit analyst and was recruited and hired by Key Bank Commercial Mortgage Capital Group where she worked as a securitization analyst.
Eileen later returned to Fayetteville and was hired as a commercial credit analyst for Arvest Bank – Bentonville. She has been with Arvest for over fourteen years and is currently Senior Vice President, Area Loan Manager in Fayetteville. As a commercial banker, Eileen works closely with many small business owners to start new businesses and expand current ones. She is consistently one of the top SBA lenders in the area in terms of number of loans closed.
Eileen and her Arvest team dressed up as the Saved By the Bell cast for Halloween! #nailedit
Beyond the Bank Eileen and her husband, Walter have one daughter, Scout Pepper. They reside in in Washington County, south of Fayetteville on their farm, the Lazy “E”. She volunteers her time with the ASBTDC at the Walton College of Business as well as Start Up Junkie in Fayetteville. She is also the past President for the Junior League of Northwest Arkansas, on the Board of Directors for the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, and volunteers with Peace at Home Family Shelter, EOA Children’s House and with the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program. Eileen is a two-time breast cancer survivor and frequently speaks on the subject.
Eileen and her husband, Walter. Fun fact: she made this dress!
She was a graduate of Leadership Fayetteville XXVII, former Board of Directors member for the NWA chapter of RMA, a member of Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 in 2014 and named Commercial Banker of the Year for Arkansas in 2016 and was the Business Advocate of the Year in 2017 for the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.
If you haven’t already, you should follow Eileen on social media and get a look at her favorite hobbies which include sewing, fly-fishing, taekwondo and working around the farm. She makes the most amazing pieces including a pair of shoes! She’s a “Jill” of all trades, no doubt!
Eileen and her daughter, Scout at one of their taekwondo competitions.
MOTIVATION | I am motivated by potential. Having lost my mom when she was in her early forties, I am motivated by making the most of the life we are given and realizing our potential through hard work and joy. Going through cancer treatments twice in the last five years has proven how important it is to live your best life… all the time!
Join me as we celebrate this week’s Girl Banker of the Week, Eileen Jennings!