By Page Leggett
The story of Ally Bank’s recent growth is inextricably linked to Diane Morais. Each year since launching in 2009, the online-only bank has seen double-digit growth in deposits. Kiplinger’s named it the best internet bank and the best bank for millennials. And for the last three years, Morais, who is president of Ally Bank’s consumer and commercial banking products division, has been ranked among American Banker’s “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking.”
After more than two decades at Citibank and Bank of America, the Pittsburgh native and Penn State graduate joined General Motors Acceptance Corp. in 2008. The financial-services company, still heavily focused on auto finance, was bailed out by the federal government in the recession. It rebranded as Ally Financial in 2010 and went public in 2014. Though the company is based in Detroit, most of Ally’s top executives, including Morais and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Brown, are in Charlotte.
Morais oversaw the launch of Ally’s mortgage and credit-card products in 2016. She also leads digital strategies and Ally Invest, the company’s online brokerage and wealth-management business that originated with the $275 million acquisition of TradeKing Inc. in 2016. Morais, shown above working on a Habitat for Humanity project, serves on the boards of Charlotte Center City Partners and Junior Achievement of Central Carolinas.
While the bank has no retail branches, about 1,500 of Ally Financial’s 7,900 employees work in Charlotte. In addition to downtown, Ally has offices in Ballantyne, South Park and the city’s newest arts and business hub, Camp North End. A new 26-story, 742,000-square-foot corporate center, Ally Charlotte Center, is under construction.
The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Millennials make up a lot of your customer base, right?
They are a growing segment for us, and we love that. Our customers are equally divided among baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials, but our digital offerings have really struck a chord with millennials.
There’s a recent statistic that $30 trillion in wealth is going to be passed down from one generation to another over the next 10 years. Millennials stand to inherit that money from their parents and grandparents.
Ally Assist, the virtual assistant that uses artificial intelligence, seems perfectly geared toward millennials.
It’s embedded within our mobile app. It uses artificial intelligence to learn, over time, what you’re looking for. If you log in every day to check your balance, it will eventually learn that and automatically provide your balance when you log in.
We like to push forward with innovative technologies. About a year ago, we launched Ally Skill for Alexa. You can ask it to state your balance or to transfer money. There’s a unique twist to it, too. My son asked: “Alexa, how long will it take me to earn enough money to buy an iPhone?” You tell Alexa how much you make per hour, and it calculates how long it will take you to meet your goal. He realized it was going to take him a lot longer than he thought.
Ally is an online-only bank. Do you see brick-and-mortar in Ally’s future?
We like not having the expense of brick-and-mortar locations. It’s a better value for customers. We can offer higher rates and lower fees. Never say never, but we really like not having the baggage that comes with retail locations. Our customers do, too.
Do you think another financial crisis is looming?
The factors that led to the crisis of ’08 were pretty rare and specific. … If you replay the tape, you see lenders loosening their standards, capital markets freezing. Having lived through it, it’s hard for me to envision something that significant happening again.
What did you take away from your previous jobs at CitiBANK and Bank of America?
My first job out of college was at Citi in the credit-card department, and I gained an appreciation for database-driven decision-making.
I had diverse roles at Bank of America that taught me how to lead people and how to be customer-centric. I got stretch assignments because leaders I worked for took a chance on me. One of my mentors ran a large business unit and was getting ready to integrate the [$47 billion FleetBoston Financial Corp.] acquisition. She came to me when I was eight months pregnant and asked me to run the deposits and debits business. I had only been in my current job in mortgage for 14 months. I thought, “I’m not ready.” But she thought I was.
What career advice Do you have for recent college graduates?
I met with our summer interns before they went back to school and shared a few life lessons with them: Have a network. Stay intellectually curious. Stay true to your values.