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Financial Services Executive Search: 2023 Overview

Going into 2023, the global economy is characterized by uncertainty. In the wake of the pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supply chain issues, rising inflation, and tightening monetary policy meant to combat inflation, the global economy is fragile. A recession looms. Against this backdrop, the financial services sector faces various challenges. And with the advent of new technology, the sector will also see new opportunities. How can executives weather this storm? And what should recruiters look for in a leader in these uncertain times?

Executive Search for Investment Banks 

What makes a good investment bank CEO in the 2020s? The impact of Covid-19 and other factors have changed the landscape of the investment banking industry significantly. Market democratization, work from home, advances in technology and changing regulations have necessitated new business models and operational platforms.

Deloitte predicts a realignment of the structure of the investment banking industry. Brokers, they say, will be divided into two different archetypes: “flow players,” who will focus on middle-office functions, and “client capturers,” who will focus on front-office functions. Flow players will focus on highly-liquid, commoditized products, execute trades on behalf of other industry participants, and will have to invest heavily in tech infrastructure to achieve scale. Client capturers will be the client-facing brokers and will rely on others to execute trades. 

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Against this backdrop, investment bank leaders will have to rethink their business model in order to stay competitive. Leadership and vision are integral to navigating the coming decade’s seismic shift in business models, technology and consumer expectations. According to Deloitte, it is necessary to think outside the box and outside of current constraints in order to find a way forward. CEOs should demonstrate adaptability and flexibility as technology and financial regulations evolve. Emerging technologies like AI, blockchain and advanced data analytics offer exciting possibilities. Great CEOs will anticipate trends and stay ahead of the curve.

In addition to envisioning and developing a plan forward, CEOs must be able to effectively enact that plan. The key to executing vision is often managerial skills. CEOs must also build a team around them that has the competence to execute their vision; for this reason, it is vitally important that CEOs have the ability to recognize and attract talent. Leading by example, executives at investment banks should establish a culture of excellence and accountability.

A good executive must obviously have stellar communication skills in order to engage well with not only their employees, customers and investors, but also with regulators. CEOs must be culturally aware and able to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. They should build a diverse team around them – studies show diversity drives innovation, which will be essential to thrive amid industry realignment. Executives must also maintain a constructive partnership with the board. If the board lacks confidence in the CEO, it can be difficult to rebuild that trust.

“For banks today, the intangible aspects of effective leadership are as important as the technical skills and industry expertise,” Alan J. Kaplan, founder and CEO of retained executive search firm Kaplan Partners, wrote in a blog. “While the tangible proficiencies may be more obvious and identifiable on the surface, it is often the attributes, competencies and qualitative elements of leadership that make the difference in the success of truly great CEOs.”

Executive Search for Credit Unions

In 2022, credit union liquidity tightened at the fastest rate in 22 years. Inflation led to the highest credit union loan growth rate since 1985. Credit union new-auto loan balances rose nearly 20 percent, according to the Credit Union National Association. Rising interest rates have left credit unions with a portfolio of low yielding loans, while they feel pressure to raise rates on deposits in order to stay competitive. 

Because credit unions are not-for-profit, an ideal executive will be fiscally responsible (though they do not necessarily need to be a financial whiz and can rely on the CFO). In the wake of the current drop in liquidity, and with the prospect of the Federal Reserve issuing a couple more rate increases before the end of the year, credit union leaders will need to make tough decisions. For example, whether to liquidate investments at a loss, risking their net worth ratio.

According to John Kutchey, the regional director for the National Credit Union Administration, over the next year or two, credit unions will have to decide whether or not to raise dividend rates, which could impact their earnings. Kutchey says the liquidity risk will be a top priority for credit unions in 2023.

Credit unions can only succeed if all employees succeed; therefore, the CEO must empower team members by having clear expectations and recognizing and rewarding excellent work. A great credit union CEO should understand that their role is essentially collaborative – the organization belongs to the community and the stakeholders, and it is the CEO’s job to synthesize input from these various voices.

A great credit CEO will usually be a great listener and have the ability and willingness to amplify the voices of their team members. All members have a say in how the company is run, so the CEO should be able to listen to everyone without being affected by intra-organizational politics. A great CEO will also understand the needs of their members. As with any type of bank, it is important for leadership to evolve, especially when it comes to new technology. CEOs should not be afraid of risk, lest their caution lead to incrementalism. 

Executive Search for Consumer Banks

On the precipice of a recession, retail banks are struggling with inflation, slowed growth and rising rates. In the United States, banks are having issues with the mortgage and auto loan markets, as well as possible action by the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on junk fees. According to Deloitte’s 2023 banking and capital markets outlook, retail banking customers are increasingly looking for a “superior cross-channel experience and hands-on guidance during challenging times.” This will necessitate creating customer experiences that are personalized and driven by data.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns, embedded finance, and digital assets are the way forward for retail banks, Deloitte says. Particularly, racial equity, decarbonization and data security are top priorities for consumers.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 73 percent of Gen Z consumers choose brands based on personal beliefs and values. Young people expect companies to take a stand on environmental and social issues, and retail banks should prioritize efforts to be sustainable and socially responsible, such as Bank of America’s 2018 decision, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, to stop lending to certain gun manufacturers. 

Nearly half of full-time workers are now Gen Z and Millennials. Younger people have dramatically different priorities than previous generations when it comes to the workplace. It is essential for bank CEOs to be aware of their position and the power dynamics at play in society. According to Bank of the West CEO Nandita Bakhshi, empathy and self-awareness are paramount for the modern-day CEO, especially when it comes to bridging the generational gap. Bakhshi argues that employees should feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work, and that organizations should be inclusive. Research shows an inclusive culture is important in recruiting, retaining, and engaging top talent. 

Younger workers have a reputation for craving affirmation and wanting a workplace that makes them happy. In response to this, CEOs have become increasingly visible and available to rank-and-file employees. A good bank CEO in 2022 will take a true interest in their employees and make them feel valued in order to avoid turnover.

financial services executive search

Executive Search for Insurance Companies

Rising interest rates, inflation and loss costs will be challenges for insurance carriers in 2023. A recession, climate change, geopolitical upheaval, and competition from InsurTechs will also require insurance carriers to adapt. According to Deloitte research, insurance carriers should shift their focus from simply adopting new technology like cloud-based applications to fully integrating their systems and data while using the cloud to become more customer-centric. 

AI is increasingly being integrated into the industry. AI helps insurance companies assess risk, reduce human error and detect fraud, and might make human underwriters a thing of the past.

Deloitte says insurance carriers must pick up their ESG and DEI efforts. The executive level of the insurance industry is particularly lacking in diversity. In addition to their workforce, their customer base also must be diversified. Access to insurance products should be extended to underserved communities. Insurance companies should focus on sustainability, Deloitte says, and actively limit the impact of climate change.  

In pursuit of these goals, leadership must be empathetic, bold, innovative, and intentional. Empathy is necessary to understand team members’ and customers’ needs. This is especially true of organizations with a diverse workforce and customer base, because executives will encounter people whose life experience, cognition, and/or learning styles differ from their own. CEOs must be bold when it comes to customer-centric innovation, Bernhard Kotanko said on a McKinsey podcast. This will open them up to new markets. Kotanko also emphasizes the need for insurers to present themselves in talent markets as value creators, and focus on ESG to attract talent, showcasing the CEO as a role model. Insurance executives must be intentional, reimagining the culture to be more actively inclusive. 

Financial Services Executive Search: DEI Considerations

There is plenty of research that shows that diverse leadership is good for business. But in order to be effective, diversity must be accompanied by inclusion. Inclusive leadership treats every team member respectfully and fairly, assures them that they are valued, amplifies their voices and makes them feel inspired.

Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that inclusive leaders are distinguished from others by awareness of their own biases, curiosity about others and their cultural intelligence. These traits are especially important for companies marketing to underbanked groups. It is important to understand marginalized people’s lives and perspectives.

Marketing to women is very important in consumer financial services because women disproportionately handle finances in heteronormative households

Financial Services Executive Search: An Ellig Group Specialty

At Ellig Group, DEI is our DNA, and financial services executive search is our wheelhouse. In 2021, 96 percent of our candidate slates contained women and/or diverse executives. Since its inception, Ellig Group has been authentically committed to diversity and gender parity. In fact, over the past 20 years, 80 percent of our executive appointments and 85 percent of our board appointments were women and/or members of underrepresented communities. 

Studies show that 40 percent of executive searches fail. Without good management, executive searches can easily fail or take too long. As a client-focused, boutique service, Ellig Group can say that every executive search we conduct is managed by our CEO, Janice Ellig. Our level of hands-on attention is unparalleled in the industry.

Ellig Group is based in New York City, the financial center of the world. We have long nurtured deep ties to the NYC business community. We boast a very strong track record in insurance and financial services. What’s more, we tailor our services to meet your industry needs, taking into account both the markets you serve today and your future strategic imperatives. 

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Tonie Leatherberry was at Deloitte for nearly three decades where she was the principal architect of The Board Leadership Forum and the NextGen CEO Academy, each of which has had a meaningful impact, ultimately placing more than 70 Black leaders into executive-level and board roles. As Chair Emeritus of the Executive Leadership Council, she created the Chairman’s Council of Academic Achievement to address achievement gaps for students of color in America’s educational systems, and as President of the Deloitte Foundation, the mission was to drive initiatives to develop future leaders through education. She is a passionate leader who has devoted much of her professional life to creating opportunities for women and people of color. Tonie is Lead director for Direct Digital Holdings, and a Board Director at Zoetis Inc. and American Family Insurance.

Cindie Jamison was elected Chair of the Darden Restaurants Board (NYSE: DRI) in September 2023, having served as a Director since October 2014 as part of a complete Board replacement slate through Starboard Value’s proxy fight. Since 2013, she has also served on the Office Depot Board (NASDAQ: ODP) where she Chairs the Audit Committee and is a member of the Compensation Committee. In May 2015, she joined the Big Lots, Inc (NYSE: BIG) Board, and became Chair in May 2022. In May 2023 Cindie stepped down from the Tractor Supply Company Board (NASDAQ:TSCO), a position she has held since 2002, where she was Chairman of the Board, after serving as Lead Director, and Chair of the Audit, Compensation & Corporate Governance Committees. Cindie joined the Board of Save the Children in February 2024.

David Chun, Founder and CEO, Equilar, Inc., has led Equilar since its inception to become one of the most trusted names in the corporate governance community. David has been recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Players in Corporate Governance” by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), the Disruptor Award by 2020 Women on Boards and Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business. David speaks publicly on corporate governance and board diversity matters, including events hosted by The Conference Board, Deloitte, EY, HR Policy Association, KPMG, NACD, NASDAQ, NYSE, The Society for Corporate Governance and Stanford’s Directors’ College. Prior to founding Equilar, David was a Vice President in the Investment Banking Division of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette, a global investment bank that has since merged with Credit Suisse. Before DLJ, David was a management consultant with Bain & Company and also Kenan Systems, a telecom software developer acquired by Lucent Technologies. David serves on the boards of the Commonwealth Club of California, PGA Reach, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG). He is on Nasdaq’s Center for Board Excellence Advisory Board and Catalyst’s Women on Board Advisory Council. David is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Past Chair of the SF Bay Chapter, a founding member of the Council of Korean Americans (CKA) and a former board member of the Wharton Center for Entrepreneurship and the Asian Pacific Fund Community Foundation of San Francisco.

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Priscilla Sims Brown serves as President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, a full-service bank, lender and investment manager with a century-long commitment to advancing positive social change. Amalgamated Financial Corp., the holding company for the Bank, is the first publicly traded (NASDAQ: AMAL) financial institution to be a public benefit corporation. Priscilla guides Amalgamated Bank in championing social responsibility through values-based banking, customer-centric services, and mission focused lending, serving individuals and organizations, including climate groups, foundations, labor unions, advocacy groups, political campaigns, and other socially responsible businesses, who care that their deposits are put to work for good. Priscilla is also dedicated to addressing environmental and social justice issues at Amalgamated Bank. More than 60% of the Bank’s lending and select balance sheet investments are high-impact through affordable housing, nonprofits, and climate solutions. Named one of the Most Powerful Women in Banking in 2023 by American Banker, Priscilla has been featured in The New York Times, TIME Magazine, PBS, and CNBC Changemakers, among others.

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Myra Biblowit is the President Emeritus of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the nation’s highest-rated breast cancer research organization with a mission focused exclusively on funding the world’s most promising research. Myra took the helm as BCRF President in 2001 and, after 22 years, retired in April 2023. During Myra’s tenure, BCRF funding enabled breakthroughs in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, metastasis, and survivorship. Myra was widely recognized for leading one of the most impactful, financially efficient, and transparent nonprofits in the United States. Prior, Myra was Vice Dean for External Affairs at NYU Medical Center where she headed the Development, Alumni Relations and Public Relations departments. Previously she led the capital campaign as Senior Vice President of the American Museum of Natural History. Earlier, Myra served as Executive Vice President of the Central Park Conservancy. Myra is a member of the Board of Directors of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, the Housewares Charity Foundation and the Historic House Trust of New York City. She is a member of the New York Women’s Forum, the Yellow for Pink National Council, Extraordinary Women on Boards and serves on the Advisory Board of Project Hope for Ovarian Cancer Research & Education.

Truett Tate is Chairman of a number of Boards, including Reference Point, TLC Lions, Thinkably and the recently retired Chairman of QBE, NA. Truett Tate is also Director of the DEVClever board. Truett has a long and esteemed global executive history including most recently as CEO of ANZ USA, Europe, Japan, Korea and the Middle East. Immediately prior, he was Group Executive (and Board member) at Lloyds Banking Group, responsible for Wholesale & International Banking (Including Global Wealth and International Retail) across the United Kingdom, the Americas and worldwide and prior spending 27 years at Citigroup where he held a variety of senior roles including corporate banking business across each of its regional geographies. Truett’s long board history includes Virgin Group, Ten Group, the BITC, BAB Inc along with many other charitable and academic organizations. A speaker, guest lecturer, philanthropist and professional coach/mentor, Truett has seemingly bottomless energy and passionate interest in a safer, more just, more humane and more sustainable world.

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Janice Reals Ellig

Chief Executive Officer

As the head of the Ellig Group, Janice is dedicated to increasing the placement of women and diverse candidates on corporate boards and in C-suites by 2025. Janice joined the legacy firm in 2000 and became Co-Chief Executive Officer in its transition to Chadick Ellig in 2007; she assumed sole ownership of the company as the Ellig Group in 2017 with a new focus on Reimagining Search. Prior to her career in executive search, Janice spent 20 years in corporate America at Pfizer, Citi and Ambac Financial Group, an IPO from Citibank, where she was responsible for Marketing, Human Resources, and Administration.

Heralded by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of “The World’s Most Influential Headhunters,” Janice is often consulted for her expertise and her commitment to gender parity, inclusion, and diversity. She frequently appears at speaking engagements and as a media guest, and she has penned multiple articles for outlets such as Directors & Boards, Directorship, Corporate Director, The Huffington Post, and Forbes.com. Janice also co-authored two books: Driving The Career Highway and What Every Successful Woman Knows, acknowledged by Bloomberg Businessweek as “the best of its genre.”

A tirelessly active member of the industry and champion of her causes, Janice is Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative and its signature event, Breakfast of Corporate Champions. Since 2011, Janice continues to spearhead this event to honor companies committed to board diversity and to encourage CEOs to sponsor board-ready women for the Women’s Forum database. (LINK: www.womensforumny.org).

Janice is personally committed to several NFP organizations: Board Director of the National YMCA and Past Chair of the YMCA Board of Greater New York; Trustee of the Actors Fund and Committee For Economic Development (CED); Incoming Chair, University of Iowa Foundation; Women’s Forum of New York Past President and Chair of the Corporate Board Initiative; member of the Steering Committee, US 30% Club and The Economic Club of New York.

In recognition for her many philanthropic activities, Janice received the University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) Eleanor Raynolds Award for Volunteerism in 2008. Named one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s eNews, she was also a recipient of the Channel 21 Award In Excellence for her contribution to “Excellence in the Economic Development for Women.”

“Listening to our clients’ needs, learning their business and understanding their culture is how we present the best talent and provide  a competitive advantage. We place candidates with the character, competencies, commitment, (intellectual) curiosity and courage to make a difference. Our goal is always to go beyond the expected and deliver valuable advice, measurable results and great talent!”

– Janice Reals Ellig

  • Champion of gender parity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Industry expert, speaker, and author
  • Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative
  • Committed board and committee member and philanthropist

T: (212) 688-8671 ext. 226
E: Janice@ElligGroup.com