Jeremy Gasowski
Anne Finucane ‘74 didn’t take the straightest route to the top of the banking world. But she knew exactly how to use her position there to do the greatest amount of good.
By Kristin Waterfield Duisberg

s vice chair of Bank of America, she’s one of the most powerful women in the business world. But when Anne Finucane ’74 was a student at UNH, she thought she’d be an artist — a path she forswore after she took a painting course at the Paul Creative Arts Center and concluded that she wasn’t the top student in the class. “I’m competitive,” Finucane recalls, “and I realized I was never going to be as good as the most talented art students there, no matter how hard I tried, so what was the point?”

The point, arguably, was that her destiny lay elsewhere: in a string of job opportunities that she embraced, excelled at, and inexorably parlayed into a leadership role in the rarefied realm of global finance. Finucane’s own explanation, however, is quite different.

“People evolve,” she says. “You take what you learn at one moment, and you apply it to the next challenge and turn it into something else. When I graduated from UNH, I never would have thought I’d do anything in business. That all came much later.”

Finucane and Bono
Finucane with U2 musician Bono in Africa for a (RED) trip.
Courtesy photo
Responsible Growth
Finucane’s full title at Bank of America, the ninth largest financial services company in the world and second largest in the United States, is vice chairman of Bank of America and chairman of the board of Bank of America Europe, the firm’s EU bank headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. As a member of Bank of America’s executive team, she oversees the multinational bank’s strategic direction and governs the organization’s impact on the world, leading the company’s environmental, social and governance, sustainable finance, capital deployment and public policy efforts. To that end, she leads the bank’s $300 billion environmental business initiative, $1.6 billion community development financial institution portfolio, charitable foundation and some $50 billion deployed annually to address society’s biggest challenges. In her capacity as chairman of Bank of America Europe — a role she took on in 2018 — she’s in charge of navigating the organization’s business in a post-Brexit world, overseeing more than €60 billion in assets and working with European business leaders and regulators to execute the company’s growth strategy.
Beyond Bank of America, Finucane serves on corporate and nonprofit boards of directors that span from The Ireland Funds to Carnegie Hall to Mass General Brigham Healthcare. Unsurprisingly, she’s a regular on both Fortune and Forbes magazines’ most powerful women lists as well as American Banker’s 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking list. What is surprising, perhaps, is that when asked about the recognition she’s received for her accomplishments, Finucane describes herself as conflicted.
“When I graduated from UNH, I never would have thought I’d do anything in business.”
“I’m very appreciative to receive this recognition,” she says. “But I also understand that there’s a lot that goes into it, not the least of which is that I represent a very large and successful company.”

Finucane got her start with Bank of America in the mid-1990s at a predecessor bank, Fleet Financial Group (an organization that she had also joined in the course of an acquisition — that of Shawmut Group, one of the many Boston-area companies to which she provided strategic consulting services following the birth of her fourth child). Though she had planned to step off the fast track as a member of the management team at Boston-based marketing agency Hill Holiday in favor of consulting to better balance the demands of work and motherhood (Finucane’s fourth-born, a son, was a surprise; his arrival was publicly documented by her husband, MSNBC commentator and former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle), her roles at Fleet and Bank of America have been the very definition of fast track.

As Fleet’s head of corporate affairs and marketing, she was integral to the work that went into redeeming the bank’s reputation in the wake of accusations of predatory mortgage lending practices in the South that had taken place prior to her arrival. That particular experience came in handy in the late 2000s, when Finucane, by then Bank of America’s global chief strategy and marketing officer, was tasked with an even larger-scale reputational do-over. During the early stages of the financial crisis of 2007-08 — the great recession — Bank of America made two high profile acquisitions, Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial. Because Countrywide had originated a massive number of mortgage investments that subsequently went bad, the latter acquisition ultimately damaged the bank’s good reputation and public trust.

Finucane is remarkably candid as she reflects on the challenge of rebuilding Bank of America’s once-lofty reputation. “It’s a greater challenge than having to build your reputation from scratch,” she says. “We had disappointed people.”

The work entailed addressing the issues that drove the bank’s stumble in the first place — and took much longer than Finucane anticipated. While the business itself had recovered by 2013, “redeeming our reputation took longer,” she says. “It was 2016 before we could really look around and say that we were where we needed to be.”

Finucane at home
Finucane at her home in the Boston suburbs, October 2020.
Jeremy Gasowski
During that time, Finucane went two years without a weekend off, and earned her own reputation as a no-nonsense doer who didn’t let others’ opinions get in the way of making hard calls and having even harder conversations. (Asked at the 2014 Inc. Magazine women’s summit to comment on reports that people could find her directness “brutal,” Finucane responded, “I think we should get to the truths quickly. If I were a guy, I think they’d call me a straight-shooter.”) It’s with characteristic directness, however, that Finucane demurs the suggestion that it’s anyone other than CEO Brian Moynihan at the center of Bank of America’s turnaround success story.

“Brian’s position was, ‘Given that this is broken, why don’t we look at everything, not just one thing?’” she says. The strategy came down to the concept of responsible growth: reevaluating lines of business and ensuring that all of the bank’s practices were aligned with its moral principles. Finucane describes her contribution to the process as “distinguishing the dominant from the recessive genes” driving that responsible growth. As chief strategy officer, that entailed synthesizing the work being done in every area of the bank, from consumer and investment banking to wealth management to human resources. It also meant making the call on moves such as eliminating overdraft fees on debit card purchases and instead rejecting purchases that would otherwise trigger such fees — a “watershed” event that earned Finucane praise from the Center for Responsible Lending. After operating in what she described in a 2012 New York Times article as a “very distracted environment with a lot of finger-pointing and a lot of missteps,” Finucane oversaw the work that went into articulating the new course that Moynihan had set.

Finucane’s first job out of college was working in the Cultural Affairs Office for Boston Mayor Kevin White.
Courtesy photo
Moving into the Mainstream
Given how large Finucane’s image looms in the financial world, it’s easy to picture her as a mover and shaker at UNH — a member of student government, perhaps, or a Strafford Avenue sorority president. But Finucane’s candor and wry sense of humor are both on display when she says her fellow UNH alumni would be hard-pressed to find any images related to her time in Durham.
“I wasn’t in the mainstream of anything,” she says, describing herself during her college years as artsy and politically active. She hung out at the (now defunct) UNH food co-op and spent her weekends road tripping to New York and Washington, D.C., attending concerts and rallies in protest of the Vietnam War or visiting with family and friends.

A transfer student, she arrived at UNH in the spring of 1971 following a semester at a small Catholic women’s college in New York that both she and her parents knew immediately was a bad fit. “I think my parents would have driven me home right away if they could,” she recalls. The fourth of six children raised in a tight-knit Irish-American family from Newton, Massachusetts, Finucane set her sights on finding a college in a rural setting that would allow her to study both fine arts and liberal arts and would also keep her close enough to Boston to ski and continue a pastime she’d adopted during her stint in New York: traveling — by bus, plane, car or train — around the East Coast. “UNH fit the bill,” she says, “and I made some life-long friends.”

Finucane agency days
Finucane at the annual Hatch marketing awards during her agency days.
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As an English major with a concentration in American Literature, she fondly remembers classes taken with both Allen and Harriet Rose, a UNH husband and wife teaching team in the English department, as well as the painting, drawing and sculpture classes she continued to take and enjoy, notwithstanding her competitive reckoning regarding her talents vis a vis her peers. As a senior, she completed a thesis on F. Scott Fitzgerald and insanity in women, putting her wanderlust to good use with frequent trips to the Fitzgerald archives at Princeton University.
After graduating with honors, she found herself at a crossroads, sure she didn’t want to be an art teacher or illustrator but not sure what she did want to be. She took a job in Boston with Mayor Kevin White’s Bicentennial Commission, and after the bicentennial stayed on in the mayor’s Cultural Affairs office. From City Hall, it was a short leap to Boston television station WBZ, where Finucane climbed the ranks to become creative services director, and then on to Hill Holliday as an executive producer and then director of creative services.
Up until that point, everything I did was a pretty predictable reflection of earlier interests and skills.”
“By my mid-30s, I had my first exposure to the corporate world, as the head of account management,” she says. “Up until that point, everything I did was a pretty predictable reflection of earlier interests and skills.” That’s not to say she hadn’t recognized broader opportunities earlier on, or the fact that she’d need a wider skill set to tackle them. At WBZ, Finucane would buy lunch for the sales director in exchange for an explanation of the station’s profit and loss statement, because she knew that would provide her with critical information about what she could spend on certain initiatives. At Hill Holliday, her role as executive producer involved going on location throughout the U.S. and Europe for TV shoots. While the process of setting up 16mm and 35mm film cameras was often “like watching paint dry,” Finucane says, she used the time to visit with her clients and learn about their businesses — banking, high tech, consumer products. She found them all interesting, and the work, which regularly required travel, also appealed to her interest in diverse cultures.

By that point, however, she had married Barnicle (“the best decision I ever made,” she says) and had three children in five years, and she knew she couldn’t keep traveling. “I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she says, even though stepping back meant watching other colleagues get ahead of her. “I had young kids, and too many responsibilities.” After 14 successful years in senior management at Hill Holliday, and shortly after the birth of her fourth child, she shifted to consulting for Hill Holliday, which quickly led to engagements with Partners HealthCare (the Boston-based integrated health system now known as Mass General Brigham), Shawmut Bank and its acquirer Fleet Bank. Less than two years later, she was in a senior role at Fleet, well on her way to Bank of America’s executive suite.

Alumna Changemaker
In December, Finucane will receive UNH’s eighth annual Social Innovator of the Year award, joining a list of recipients that includes Stonyfield Farm founder and chairman Gary Hirshberg, Impax World Management president and CEO Joe Keefe, and Clara Miller ’72, president emerita of the F.B. Heron Foundation. Among the university’s most prestigious honors, the Social Innovator of the Year Award recognizes leaders with a demonstrated commitment to combining the purpose of a social and/or environmental mission with the rigor and accountability of a financially sustainable, scalable model for change. And while it may surprise some at UNH to learn that a big bank executive would have a track record of social and environmental change in keeping with these criteria, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Fiona Wilson says it’s the depth and breadth of Finucane’s achievements in precisely those areas that make her a natural fit.
Finucane Boston Exec Forum
Finucane at UNH’s 2018 Boston Executive Forum in conversation with Susan Mercandetti ’75.
Jeremy Gasowski
“In her leadership role at Bank of America, Anne has used her platform and her expertise to effectively advance the idea that, because of their scale, reach and expertise, Bank of America and other major financial institutions have a major role to play in solving today’s biggest global challenges, from climate change to racial inequality, gender inequality and many more,” Wilson says, noting that, during Finucane’s tenure, Bank of America has made a number of substantial and innovative commitments to help finance global solutions for sustainability and has built an ethos of sustainable management and responsible growth. “At a time when we at UNH are continuing to deepen our own efforts to better align the investments in UNH’s endowment with our values and nationally recognized leadership in sustainability, honoring such an impressive UNH alumna changemaker, especially one who is helping lead the way globally on sustainable investing, is particularly fitting.”
Indeed, much of Finucane’s work at Bank of America during the last decade plus has been focused on how to deploy the bank’s capital in ways that help address some of society’s biggest issues — a mission that taps into her creative side every bit as much as advertising and art once did. “We’re the largest small business lender in the country, the leader in affordable housing, and also the largest green bond underwriter and a big green-bond issuer,” she says. “We’re a big bank, yes, but these are positions you can only achieve by being local, and by contributing community by community.”
“If you’re part of a solution, there’s a level of trust, and that’s ultimately of benefit to any company.”
Among the largest societal issues Bank of America has turned its attention and considerable financial resources to is the environment. In 2007, the bank committed to deploy $20 billion of capital to support sustainable business over the course of a decade, a goal it achieved in 2011. Four years later, in 2015, Bank of America upped that commitment to a $125 billion spend by 2025. With extensive investments in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable transportation, water conservation and sustainable land use, the bank reached that goal in December 2019— six years ahead of schedule. The same month, the bank announced a new $300 billion commitment with a completion target of 2030. “I know we’ll make that, because we’ve learned along the way how to broaden our efforts in financing sustainability,” Finucane says, noting that 2019 was also the year the bank achieved carbon neutrality.

Learning how to do things also played a role in the bank’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. Drawing on hard lessons about humility and prioritization learned during its own crisis in 2008-09, Finucane says, Bank of America was able to quickly assess and prioritize consumer needs that were arising as the pandemic brought the U.S. economy to a near standstill. When the U.S. Congress introduced the Paycheck Protection Program, for example, the bank was able to quickly assess the program’s merit and embrace it, which ultimately led to Bank of America producing the greatest amount of loans to the greatest number of small businesses among its banking peers. The bank also offered a comprehensive deferral program for loan customers and disbursed some $100 million of philanthropic funds for the sole purpose of providing emergency funding related to food insecurity, health care and PPE, on top of the $250 million in philanthropic support the bank gives annually. Following the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which Finucane says threw into stark relief the acute issues of racial injustice, Bank of America committed a further $1 billion over four years supporting the areas of health care, affordable housing, workforce development and support for small businesses focused on minority communities across the nation.

While these are complex and complicated issues, Finucane says the argument for tackling them is remarkably simple. “If you’re part of a solution, there’s a level of trust, and that’s ultimately of benefit to any company. It’s philanthropic, but goes way beyond that. It’s about leveraging your size and position to provide informed solutions to problems that impact literally millions of people.”

Finucane and Barnicle
Finucane with her husband, MSNBC commentator and journalist Mike Barnicle, and their grandchildren.
Courtesy photo
The UNH Social Innovator of the Year award, like the many other awards that have preceded it, is welcome recognition for Finucane’s many years of high-pressure, high-stakes work. But like all those other awards, it’s one she keeps in perspective. In fact, asked what her greatest achievement is, the straight-shooting, maybe brutal, indubitably powerful Finucane gives an ultimately relatable answer: she says it’s being a mother.

“Maybe that sounds corny. Maybe I don’t want to say that,” she muses. “But I’m proud of my kids. You know? Your children are your greatest outcomes and they’re also your greatest critics. And I hope that they’re a reflection of something we accomplish.”

Want to hear more from Anne Finucane? She’ll be receiving her UNH Social Innovator of the Year Award on Tuesday, Dec. 1 and will be presenting her keynote address “Stakeholder Capitalism in Action: Transitioning to a Net Zero Future, Advancing Racial Equality, and Addressing other Challenges of our Time “ in conversation with UNH President James W. Dean Jr. beginning at 12:40 p.m. The event will be streamed live and is open to the public; register here.