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Meet the Female Leaders of Finance: “As companies, invest in the development of individuals while also providing the flexibility they may need to deal with life events” with Cynthia Merkle and Tyler Gallagher

As individuals, invest your time in mentoring someone. As companies, invest in the development of individuals (whether professional certification programs, training programs or licensing) while also providing the flexibility they may need to deal with life events (whether children or parent related). As for society, I think the current movement under way to open board […]

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As individuals, invest your time in mentoring someone. As companies, invest in the development of individuals (whether professional certification programs, training programs or licensing) while also providing the flexibility they may need to deal with life events (whether children or parent related). As for society, I think the current movement under way to open board rooms to qualified women will make a difference.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Cynthia C. Merkle. Cynthia has been President and CEO of Union Savings Bank since 2014. Prior to joining Union Savings Bank as COO in 2013, Cindy served as Executive Vice President at Eastern Bank — the largest independent and mutually owned bank in New England. Currently Cindy serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the United Way of Western Connecticut; Chair of the Board of Trustees of Endicott College; board member of the Connecticut Bankers Association; as well as a board member of the Danbury Chamber of Commerce. Cindy graduated from Bryant College in Smithfield, RI, with a bachelor’s degree in management and holds an Associate of Science degree from Endicott College in Beverly, MA.


Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

I was/am an artist at heart. By way of background, I received an Associate of Science degree in the arts and my concentration was Ceramics, though I realized pretty quickly I was not going to make a living by creating and selling pottery. My Dad suggested I try banking so I went to work for a local bank in Providence, RI as a teller. I thoroughly enjoyed working with customers and on a team and eventually decided to go back to college where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in business/marketing. Shortly, after graduation I started in a management training program at that same bank. That was almost 40 years ago.

As for the art- well today I am living the dream through one of my daughters who is an artist in LA and although it has been years since I have picked up a paint brush I have to admit my creativity and “process oriented” mind has helped me succeed in business.

Can you share the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

Probably not- have had many personnel related stories that would fit this category but saving them for my “Management 101” book that I am going to write when I retire.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am very proud of the work that our USB team has done over the past few years.

We first reorganized the bank in an attempt to breakdown the traditional silos. Today our Technology, Product Management, Marketing and Business Intelligence folks co-habitate in the same space and work for the same senior leader.

We have converted to a new Core Processor which is providing us a more robust platform and as a result we are working on a three year road map on product development. Based upon our size we probably will not be the first out but we need to be a fast follower and therefore we need to be nimble in how we approach things.

Currently, we are working on the development of a data strategy working off a marketing platform to maximize our ability to service our customers at a heightened level. Easier said than done but exciting.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think most leaders would say they are distinguished by their team members and how they are perceived by clients and the communities in which they serve. I am no different, but I do think we have focused in on how to do it well and in an impactful strategic manner. A few years ago, we created a “Community Relations” department that is all about communities and our volunteer efforts. It was through this group that we have refocused our efforts to concentrate on educational programs both at our charitable foundation level and through our volunteers. A byproduct was the creation of “Teachers’ Closet” where a few elementary schools in our market place- those in some of the low-moderate census tracts access free schools supplies for students and class rooms. We firmly believe all children and teachers, no matter what their economic differences should have access to the same tools to succeed.

I still remember delivering some supplies to a grade school early on and the first grader that I encountered when he saw the new boxes of crayons that we were handing out- one box of crayons for each student. The delight that child showed when he saw some of the colors, it was the pink one that had him hugging me as he had never seen a pink crayon before. How basic but how impactful.

Wall Street and Finance used to be an “good old boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

Yes, I agree I think it has changed a great deal over the years. I think society in general changed, driven in some measure by the economics for the need of dual income households. More women in the work force has led to more doors opening at the senior level.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

As individuals, invest your time in mentoring someone.

As companies, invest in the development of individuals (whether professional certification programs, training programs or licensing) while also providing the flexibility they may need to deal with life events (whether children or parent related).

As for society, I think the current movement under way to open board rooms to qualified women will make a difference.

As a finance insider, if you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Please provide a story or example for each.

Not sure if I can come up with five, but I think it is important that they learn how to protect and monitor their information, their accounts and their credit scores.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have to say it has been my husband Philip, who is my biggest cheerleader. He has always been supportive of my career and been willing to relocate for opportunities that I have been afforded. First from Providence, RI to Boston, MA in 1992 and in 2013 when I joined USB in CT (though we do commute weekends now).

Along, the way he too has been successful in his field, yet in many instances he would take the lead with our daughters when they were children, as he had more flexibility. That helped me a great deal when I was starting out as I could devote the time to special assignment/projects when required.

Give us your favorite life lesson quote. Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There are only so many seats on my bus.”

May sound cold, but it is not meant to be. How many times over the years have you had a friend, co-worker or even family member that have required a lot of your emotional energy and time but it is only one way with them? That is when you realize they shouldn’t have a seat on your bus, you move them off and invite someone new on.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

It would be on the education front. I know what a good education did for me, and I was fortunate to be able to have parents who supported that. I have learned a great deal about the inequalities in education over the years but more so in the last ten years from my oldest daughter, who has been with Teach for America. We need to do better, and in some small way I hope the things we are doing at USB for educational programs in our community can help.

Thank you so much for all of these great insights!

About The Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and Dubai focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. In addition to his role with Regal Assets, Tyler is a regular contributor to Forbes, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Authority Magazine. Tyler has also been featured in many news publications and has been a guest expert on “The News with Ed Shultz”. Tyler is a proud member of the Forbes Finance Council a private invite only-group of hand-selected industry leaders.

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