Kris Williams is all in when it comes to the city she calls home. As chief operating officer of Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, she knows all too well what loyalty, trust and service mean, not just in her work but also in life.
A native of Wheeling, West Virginia — just a stone’s throw from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — the Mountain State remains securely in her heart. A graduate of the Master of Public Accountancy program at the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, she hasn’t looked back since earning her degree.
Kris joined the bank in 2004 as chief accounting officer, the first of a number of executive positions there. She became chief financial officer in 2006; executive vice president, with additional responsibility for technology and operating services and human resources, in 2010; and chief operating officer in 2011. Previously, Kris served as chief financial officer of wholesale banking for PNC Financial Services Group, where she also spent time in SEC and regulatory reporting and served as director of accounting policy. She also has previous experience in public accounting with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte & Touche.
After earning her undergraduate degree from West Liberty University near Wheeling, Kris completed her graduate studies at WVU. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Board of Governors for West Liberty University.
How do you believe your MPA degree from B&E prepared you for the road you have traveled in your career?
My Master of Professional Accountancy degree was the preparation I needed to start my career in public accounting. I think public accounting is a great training ground for anyone interested in finance. The skills I learned at WVU have been invaluable as I have continued my career outside of accounting as well.
How has your background in accounting helped make you a better COO?
There is a lot happening all the time in the financial services industry. To be successful, you must be able to solve problems and determine cost benefit of decisions or actions quickly. Those traits are core principles taught in accounting and, I believe, keys to my success.
As COO, you’re faced with the task of differentiating the bank from the rest in the industry. How do you do that?
The Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh is a different kind of bank. First, we are a government-sponsored enterprise chartered by Congress in 1932 to provide liquidity to the housing market. Second, we are a cooperative owned by our member institutions, which are banks, thrifts, credit unions, insurance companies and community development financial institutions in our three-state district of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware. There are 11 Federal Home Loan Banks across the United States, all with designated geographic regions. Finally, we help our members deliver affordable housing and community development to their communities through our community investment programs.
We are a bank for our members and do not deal in retail transactions, so we do not have to differentiate from other banks. What we must do, however, is ensure that our membership finds us relevant and helpful as they manage their balance sheets and provide much-needed support to their communities. As the chief operating officer, I have the privilege of overseeing all member-facing activities including member services, relationship managers, product sales team, communications and marketing, service delivery operations department, community investment team and our information technology division.
What have you seen change the most in the industry since you joined FHLBank in 2004?
I have been in banking since I graduated from WVU in 1987 in one form or another. First, it was via public accounting, primarily focused on auditing and a variety of special project work, and the next 24 years was working for a bank. The industry has changed quite a lot for our membership. How people want to do their banking is very different depending on their generation. For example, millennials are all about technology and ease of use, while baby boomers generally prefer relationship banking and knowing the people who work at the bank. It is difficult to be relevant to all customers these days.
After the economic recession of 2007-2008, do you think it’s harder to earn customer trust?
The financial crisis was a difficult time for our industry. The residual impact is still being felt and continues to be a topic of debate in Washington. I believe a key to public trust is transparency. At FHLBank Pittsburgh, we’ve been clear with our membership about the key metrics by which we measure success, and we’ve been transparent and candid in good quarters and not-so-good quarters. Fortunately, in each of the past three years, we’ve been able to report record earnings in our 85-year history. There’s no question that strong performance is a great trust-builder, too!
What do you see as your most significant professional achievements?
My most significant professional achievements relate to the people I have helped mentor and coach along the way. It gives me the best feeling to see others succeed. Often all that is needed is a little encouragement and some good feedback. If I were to offer one piece of advice to anyone entering or in the workforce, it would be to ask for feedback – the constructive kind. How can you course correct if you are not clear what the issue is?
Name something you learned at B&E that you use in your job every day.
Great question. I will give you two. The first was in a speech class where I learned business communication principles: be direct, clear and to the point. The second was in a tax class, which may be surprising since I have never worked in the tax field. My lesson came less through the subject matter and more in how the class was taught. It was a debate format where we had to take a position on a tax matter and defend it in writing and orally. The skills required have been invaluable to me throughout my career, not only to defend a position, but probably more importantly, to listen so I understand the other person’s thinking. A special thank you to Dr. Ade Neidermeyer for that one!
Who were the most influential people in your life?
Wow. There have been many at different times in my life. The very first was my grandmother. I lost my mother when I was nine, and my grandmother taught me not just how to survive but how to thrive. A strong, independent and powerful woman who was way ahead of her time, she gave me the tools to deal with situations and keep my head up.
Second was my father, and I can never say enough about his influence. He was a college professor who believed that knowledge is power. He taught me that one’s path in life should be chosen logically, not left to just happen. I would often ask my dad for advice; he would ask me the pros and cons of each option but would never answer my question for me. His influence is why I choose to spend my volunteer time in education today.
There have been many other influences in my professional career: managers, colleagues, confidants and great friends. You need them all to develop and evolve as a person and a professional. My view is your network of support needs to be wide and deep. It’s not easy out there and we all need help navigating the way.
What do you do in your personal life that you find rewarding?
Spending time with my family is the most rewarding. I adore my family and cherish every moment with them. I am truly blessed with two kids and a wonderful husband, in addition to my immediate and extended family. Additionally, living in Pittsburgh is fantastic! I can see an awesome hockey game and go to the theatre all in the same weekend. Finally, it’s an easy drive back to many parts of West Virginia, which is stunningly beautiful.