Banking is in Maria Hackley’s blood: her mother’s family owned and ran a bank in Cuba for half a century. Growing up, she listened in on discussions about the bank’s history. Maria also displayed a natural talent for math, and her career destiny seemed clear. She enrolled at Georgetown University, majoring in finance and spending summers working in a bank in her hometown of Miami. Maria credits both her family’s influence and those summer jobs for impressing on her the important of detail and being expedient, or “having a sense of urgency,” as Maria puts it.
Three Decades at Citi
Maria has made her entire career—nearly 30 years—at Citi. In her first role with the firm after college, she knew she wanted to leverage her fluency in Spanish and Portuguese to work in the Latin American Financial Institutions division. She joined as an analyst, and her people skills drew her to coverage banking, growing her relationships with mid-tier banks in the New York and New Jersey area. After that, she moved to covering mid-cap insurance companies, and then large cap insurance companies. “I think I connect with people well, and I’m able to identify their financial priorities and get them to share those with me through strategic probing,” she notes. “As a mentor once said to me, clients buy from people they like. The relationships you develop and the differentiated advice you provide lead the client to pick you or your firm for the next deal.”
Today, as Managing Director in Citi’s Financial Institutions Group, Maria covers a wide range of industries and clients, including healthcare, insurance, and finance, all of them subject to regulation. That early lesson of attention to detail and diligence continues to inform her approach: “There’s been a lot of need to be advisors to clients in terms of how to navigate increased regulations and new capital rules,” she says. “How do you think about liquidity or capitalization in relation to your peers that are now non-bank SIFIs? How are we managing to Basel III? Citi is at the forefront of advising clients and it is critical to stay abreast of the changing environment.”
Women in Banking
In Maria’s opinion, now is a terrific time to enter into Financial Services. “It’s a great time to work in the banking world and solve client problems,” she says. “The field is very dynamic—it continues to change in response to new regulations, and it has become much more of a global business. Financial services is one of the most global careers you can choose. To me, that’s very exciting.”
Maria notes the historic under-representation of women in banking. “Women tend to select out at the VP level, in all industries, but certainly in banking,” she says. “We often challenge ourselves as to why we don’t have more women. We have to find strategic ways to provide women with tools and support, and continue to help women succeed when there are multiple demands on their time.” She serves as the Georgetown recruiting lead for Citi, and helps lead diversity initiatives for the firm.
Maria is familiar with the challenge of being a working mother; she has two daughters, one in high school and the other in college. She credits Citi for providing her with the flexibility to work a four-day week for 14 years while she raised her daughters. And when her daughters got old enough, she had the opportunity to return to a full-time schedule. When she did so, the head of corporate banking tapped her to cover one of the largest industrial clients of the firm. During her years of working a shortened work week, she gained valuable skills that she continues to use: “I learned to focus and prioritize, to determine which meetings I needed to attend and which memos I needed to write to be effective.”
In her day-to-day work, Maria is required to fully understand a client’s core issues and deliver the firm’s suite of solutions with an acute focus on funding, financing, and hedging interest rate, currency, and equity risk. “What it’s taught me is that you need to build a team to complement your weaknesses so you can focus on your strengths,” she says. “You need to bring the right product experts to bear.” She says her job requires that she be conversant about financial products, but also that she understand the larger economy, including international credit markets. “It’s important to be a strategic advisor, to be well-read, and to differentiate yourself,” she notes. “You need to develop relationships that position your firm in a special category.”
Maria loves and thrives in the competitive banking environment. “There is an intensity to this work, a demand for precision, correctness, and urgency.”
Does she ever get tired of the demands that come with being in front of high-profile clients in this role? “I’m better busy than not busy, and I work best under pressure!” she laughs.
Advice for the Future
Maria’s happiness and suitability for her career is immediately palpable. So what advice does she have to offer for young women looking to find a similar fit? Her list is clear, and concise:
- Take on stretch assignments when they are offered to you.
- Let people know what you aspire to do in the future.
- Raise your profile outside of your day job.
- Get involved with the strategic initiatives of your firm, such as diversity and recruiting.
- Be a subject matter expert and always be prepared.
- Tap experts to help you out in areas of weakness.
- Understand what’s important to management from a business perspective.
- Find a good mentor who is interested in your career.
And if that’s not enough, for good measure, she adds: “Have passion!” – something Maria clearly has herself in spades.