NAWRB Conference Interview with Alicia Townsend, U.S. Bank

NAWRB

Desirée Patno is the CEO and President of Women in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB) and Desirée Patno Enterprises, Inc. (DPE). With almost three decades specializing in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem, she leads her executive team’s expertise of championing women’s economic growth and independence.

NAWRB: What are you responsible for, in your own words?

I’m Vice President for the great state of Ohio. This is my first opportunity to engage and I’m loving it—that’s the conversation we’re just having. It’s nice for us, as bankers, to be engaged at this level and be able to go where the customer is or where the partner is to make things happen.

My primary responsibility is to ensure that the markets we cover meet our Community Reinvestment Act performance measures. That is service: Are we in the community? Are we serving on nonprofit boards? What’s our branch distribution look like, especially around low-to-moderate income communities? Are we making loans? Are we making loans to low-to-moderate income people, or are we making loans in low-to-moderate income communities? We have service, lending and investments.

NAWRB: Why is it important to serve low-to-moderate communities?

Fundamentally, everyone needs a home. Everyone needs a safe, decent, affordable and liveable home. I come from a background where I work with affordable housing, specifically. That’s fundamental. How does one own a home and how does one facilitate that? Owning a home is probably one of the biggest transactions that most individuals engage in, so how do they make that happen? Banks play a large role in that, not just in making the loan but in educating that homebuyer, working with that homebuyer, and helping them through that process. Technically I’m not low-to-moderate income, but it was kind of nail-biting and hair-raising going through that process.

NAWRB: Recently U.S. Bank was named as one of the top places for women to work. Do you see that in your home office in Ohio?

This is the third time I’ve worked for U.S. Bank over a 30-year time span. If you can imagine, I’m a person that had the opportunity to work at U.S. Bank, leave for various reasons, be recruited back and each time I’ve come back. I’ve never worked at another financial institution and the reason why is that the culture and fit at US Bank for me, as an African-American and a woman, has been awesome.

NAWRB: How would you describe that culture? What makes it different?

I like order. I like opportunity. I used to say that U.S. Bank gives every employee enough rope to hang themselves, right? But what it says is, we give you the tools, the skills, we trust your capabilities and we want you to take some educated risk as it relates to the work that you’re doing whatever that role might be.

The reason I do the work that I do is because I’ve always been empowered by U.S. Bank to be able to go out and help someone better understand “What’s a CD?” I can remember working at a retail center and having an elderly African-American gentleman come over and kind of whisper to me because he was embarrassed and he didn’t want other people to know. Well, that made me feel great that I was an insider in an industry that didn’t have a lot of women, and still doesn’t have a lot of African-Americans. It’s very empowering, very liberating; they definitely support us in that.

NAWRB: That’s not just marketing talk; that’s real talk from you.

Not only is it real talk, but U.S. Bank provides paid volunteer time for every last employee. Every last employee at U.S. Bank gets eight hours of paid volunteer time. If you’ve been at the bank five years or more you get another eight hours of paid volunteer time. Most people who get out and actively volunteer far exceed those numbers.

NAWRB: What makes it a place specifically good for women to work?

I think the opportunities that most people you think of as banking: I’ve got a teller, I’ve got a loan officer. Well, there’s 73,000 U.S. Bank employees. There’s so many different routes that I can take as a female and as an African-American woman. That’s one of the reasons my history goes back so far. I’m the type of person that I like to do things until they become old, and until I feel that I’ve mastered it. The opportunity that the bank has afforded me has always been the ability to be able to say, “Okay, I’ve done this, and I’ve done a good job at it. I might want to try something else.”

NAWRB: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Staying focused on the priority because it’s community development. No two days are exactly the same. Making sure that I am doing things that are impactful. It could be a phone call from someone who saw a sign that said “U.S. Bank” and they didn’t know who to call and oftentimes the community development manager winds up being that person that they call that may have nothing to do with whatever they’re calling about. But when we get that call, we have to make sure we get them where they need to be.

NAWRB: What are you hoping to get out of this conference?

I would like to better understand the organization, be able to make some contacts, and make connections with some of the members here, just to understand what they are looking for in that relationship and with US Bank, especially around education and the development of women.

NAWRB: Finally, in those times when you have challenging things going on, how do you mitigate stress on an ongoing basis and also in times of crisis?

One thing that truly helps is that our leadership recognizes that we’re human beings and we have lives outside of work. So, work/life balance is huge. When I say it’s huge, it’s huge. I actually went to a workshop that the bank hosted, and one of our EVPs, a woman, talked about how to balance. One of the things she shared was a book you’ve probably heard of: Extreme Self-Care. I got it on audio. Because I have a challenge with work-life balance, but it helps you to really recognize “It’s okay to say no, right?” Doing other things that help keep us healthy and give us peace of mind, so meditation, prayer, and I have great friends and family support. But I’ll tell you, my leadership team, they’re awesome. I got in trouble for not doing good work/life balance. I got busted a few times, like “Why are you on your email?”

 

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