These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street
A Wall Street street sign is displayed in front of the New York Stock Exchange in U.S. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Wall Street prizes innovators — people who think differently and change how business is done. We’ve identified 10 Black bankers, endorsed by their peers for being leaders who stand out in an industry that’s working to transform itself from one dominated by White men.

Whether these executives are building a global electronic trading desk or managing mortgages in the U.S., they emphasized the need to bring fresh perspectives to banking. Fixing the industry’s problems will require more frank discussions about race and diversity, as well as changes in recruitment and mentoring, the financiers said.

The new presidential administration’s focus on racial equality may spur increased scrutiny of banks. Incoming regulators will find a lack of diversity at U.S. banking giants, with Black professionals accounting for an average 3.4% of executive and senior management despite comprising 13% of the country’s population.

The group of leaders who sit atop the six biggest lenders’ management committees has swelled to more than 120 people in the past year. Among them are nine Black executives — up from just two when George Floyd was killed by police last May.

With the industry boosting its diversity efforts, here are the group of Black bankers who are breaking barriers:

Harold Butler
Managing director in Citigroup Inc.’s public sector group

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Butler, 56, has two jobs at Citigroup.

The first is to manage the lender’s business with the U.S. government, including the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. The second is a passion project: He runs an initiative to help minority-focused banks learn the ropes of underwriting bigger commercial loans, while also putting them on the path to qualify for government contracts.

Butler, a Kansas native who’s been known to wear a cowboy hat to Citigroup’s headquarters in New York, said the secret to getting busy colleagues to volunteer for the initiative is something that’s served him throughout his career: good relationships.

“Everybody needs to get on the bandwagon — it has to be more than just Citi” backing Black-owned banks with equity investments and mentoring, he said. “The reality is, had Citi never been out in front, well before the murder of George Floyd, with our support of the minority banking community, I honestly don’t think some of the things that are happening today would have occurred.”

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Kristy Fercho
Head of home lending at Wells Fargo & Co. 

Fercho was a month into her job as head of home lending at Wells Fargo & Co. last year when she heard that Chief Executive Officer Charlie Scharf had said there’s “a very limited pool of Black talent” in the upper echelons of the banking industry.

The comment triggered a widespread backlash. Fercho called Scharf and asked, “Is there anything you want to talk about? Because I have a problem with it.” The fallout over Scharf’s remarks forced Wells Fargo to own up to its mistakes, and reinforced its efforts to regain trust in the community, she said.

“I feel a tremendous responsibility to perform and be successful and create opportunities — not only for Black homeowners, but also for more Black and Brown people to enter corporate America,” said Fercho, 53, a former college high-jump champion.

In October, Fercho will become the first Black person — and fourth woman — to chair the Mortgage Bankers Association. One of her goals is to increase homeownership as a way to narrow the racial wealth gap. “I want to put more Black people in homes,” she said.

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Keith Canton
Global head of private capital markets at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

JPMorgan hired Canton in 2015 to formally build out the firm’s private capital markets business from scratch. His team has helped companies around the globe, including Peloton Interactive Inc. and Strava Inc., secure private financing, often before going public. Canton’s group raised more than $30 billion for companies last year, up from less than $5 billion in 2016.

A native New Yorker, Canton, 45, credits some of his professional success to time he spent in the Oliver Scholars program, which recruits high-achieving African American and Latino students enrolled in New York City public schools and prepares them to attend top private independent schools and universities. He’s now on the nonprofit’s board.

As one of the most senior Black bankers in JPMorgan’s capital markets group, he sees himself as a role model for other Black professionals seeking not only to find a home in finance but to climb the ranks too. Canton, a managing director, spends a lot of time working with the firm on diversity and mentoring younger bankers.

“Where we on Wall Street collectively have fallen short is in retaining and promoting that talent over time,” he said. “The talent base is there and we need to do a better job of fostering it and giving it the opportunity to develop and grow. Increasing the senior-level representation is just going to take time.”

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Nicole Pullen Ross
Regional head of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s private wealth management arm in New York

Pullen Ross not only leads Goldman’s private wealth management business in the bank’s largest region, she oversees the firm’s sports and entertainment solutions business, which she helped set up in 2018. Last year, the group increased the number of athletes it works with by 81% from 2019.

The highest-ranking Black woman in Goldman’s consumer and wealth division, Pullen Ross, 48, grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, where finance wasn’t an obvious career choice, she said. The industry could solve some of its representation issues by showing people how challenging and rewarding finance roles can be, she said — and that would be good for business too.

“If we hire more people who have diverse interests, perspectives — and a diversity of talent, including all colors and ethnicities — then I think that’s a better outcome for clients, and ultimately for the economy more broadly,” she said.

Last year, Pullen Ross became the first Black partner in Goldman’s private wealth management division, something she sees as a responsibility. “Being able to be someone that others look to as a reminder of what is possible in their own careers is something that I didn’t anticipate,” she said.

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Russ Hutchinson
Chief strategy officer at Goldman Sachs

Hutchinson helps oversee acquisitions, strategic investing and partnerships, working closely with Goldman CEO David Solomon and others in the C-suite. He’s also a partner and member of the firm’s management committee.

Hutchinson has risen through the ranks over a 20-year career at Goldman, much of it as an investment banker. Before becoming chief strategy officer earlier this year, he advised banks, insurance companies, broker-dealers and asset managers, and helped firms including Ally Financial Inc. and GE Capital navigate the financial crisis and then transform their businesses.

For many years, Hutchinson, 47, spent little time thinking about race, he said. “I kind of accepted that I’d have to navigate my way through a predominantly White, male institution,” he said. “I tried to be the most analytical and the hardest-working — tried to get that reputation for being that person who turned the lights on and off.”

That changed about a decade ago, when Hutchinson was asked to restart the bank’s network for Black investment-banking professionals. He helped organize dinners at his apartment and Solomon’s house, where Black bankers and leaders would gather around a table and talk about what was important to them and things the division could be doing better.

“We’re in a different environment today, where people coming out of college and graduate school have much higher expectations,” he said. “And they should.”

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Rashaan Reid
Head of global senior relationship management at Bank of America Corp.

In her role handling sales for top clients in Bank of America’s markets division, Reid digs into their business models and offers advice on services from investments and financing to prime brokerage and treasury management.

In the past year, clients also have called Reid to talk about something seldom discussed previously: race. Floyd’s killing was an inflection point, sparking outrage and the most candid workplace conversations she’s experienced in her 20-year career.

Even before the unrest last summer, Reid, 41, was steering diversity efforts in the bank’s trading and markets division, as co-chair of its women’s leadership council and founding member of a group of African-American leaders. She makes sure the bank is considering diverse slates of candidates for promotion.

“I take it to heart and make sure I’m at the table” to advocate for women and minorities from a variety of backgrounds, said Reid, a New Orleans native who was raised by a single mother. “I’m that person that’s in the room, saying, ‘What about this?’”

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Derek Melvin
Co-head of origination and syndication for fixed-income secured lending at Morgan Stanley

Melvin co-manages a group that structures loans collateralized by aircraft, student debt, corporate credit and real estate, working closely with asset managers, private equity firms and other companies.

Melvin, 37, also has led a push to refresh the way Morgan Stanley recruits Black professionals, focusing on experienced people working in other industries, rather than recent graduates or bankers from rival firms. He believes finance has had a tough time drawing Black professionals partly because many don’t know much about the industry.

“I went to a great school growing up, I had two college-educated professional parents, I went to an Ivy League university,” Melvin said, “and yet I had never really heard about this industry until I was a junior in college.”

Melvin, a managing director, pitched his idea last year and received management approval after the Floyd murder and ensuing protests. The Morgan Stanley Experienced Professional Program took off immediately, with the firm receiving more than 800 applications. A first cohort of 20 people started working in the fixed-income group last month, and the effort is being replicated in other businesses.

“When you solve for representation, it becomes easier to retain people because they have built a sense of community. The best people will advance, get promoted and get bigger jobs,” he said. “Younger people entering our business will no longer look up the corporate ladder and be disappointed by the lack of Black faces.”

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Alice Vilma
Co-head of Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab

Vilma co-manages an in-house startup accelerator that helps women and people of color quickly scale up their businesses and get access to capital from Morgan Stanley and other investors. When the Multicultural Innovation Lab was unveiled in 2017, it was the industry’s first in-house effort focused on such entrepreneurs.

This year, the group is doubling the number of startups it admits to the program from 10 last year. It’s also planning to increase the size of equity stakes it takes in individual companies to $250,000 from $200,000.

While a banking career wasn’t Vilma’s original plan — she thought she would be a corporate attorney — a Morgan Stanley internship in 1998 led her to change course, and she’s risen to managing director. In running the lab, she’s working to solve a systemic funding gap. White entrepreneurs get three times the capital their Black counterparts do in their founding year, according to a Stanford University report.

Vilma, 42, said the finance industry should work to increase Black representation and visibility within its own firms as well.

“There’s an age-old saying, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ I think some of it’s a perception issue. So being able to see representation of not one, not two, not three, but 10 or 15, 20, 200 matters,” she said. The goal should be to reach a point where “promoting someone of color isn’t necessarily seen as an anomaly or an exception, but just par for the course.”

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Chris Munro
Head of global leveraged finance at Bank of America 

Bank of America has been the top bookrunner in U.S. leveraged loans for more than a decade. Munro, 47, wants to take that strength worldwide.

The company’s head of global leveraged finance relocated to New York two years ago after a couple of decades in London, where he’d originally signed up for a six-month rotation.

Deep dives into credit analysis are critical in Munro’s market, but more important is the ability to distill that information and communicate it to clients and colleagues, said the Jamaican-born banker — whose other talents include juggling with his hands and feet simultaneously.

“This is a very complex business, and being able to take a step back — see the big picture — but also have the skills to analyze each transaction, each situation, with a unique perspective is super helpful,” he said.

These 10 Black Bankers Are Reshaping Wall Street

Chi Nzelu
Global head of macro electronic trading at JPMorgan

Nzelu is in charge of helping the biggest U.S. bank transform a corner of finance that’s been slow to modernize. An engineer and computer scientist by background, Nzelu, 38, embodies the type of tech-savvy trader in demand among Wall Street firms trying to digitize trading.

Originally from Nigeria, Nzelu moved to the U.K. in his mid-teens and has been with JPMorgan in London for more than 15 years, and a managing director since 2016. “At the time, I wasn’t aware of any Black managing directors across the trading industry, and the numbers are still quite limited,” he said.

His job involves digitizing the trading of products such as foreign exchange, commodities, emerging markets and interest rates, work that involves electronically making prices for clients more accustomed to their traders picking up their phones or sending instant messages. Nzelu’s group processes more than 200,000 trades, with as much as $200 billion in volume, per day.

Nzelu hopes his visibility as a Black managing director will help younger Black professionals see the opportunity to advance.

“If you look at senior business leaders and nobody looks like you, then perhaps you don’t have a lot of implicit encouragement,” Nzelu said. “But if you find one or two people to anchor to, then maybe you start to believe that you can be an MD.”

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