First Financial Bank: Women Banking Leaders Making a Difference

First Financial Bank: Women Banking Leaders Making a Difference

First Financial Bank has already built a sterling reputation in the banking industry. It’s known for its first-class customer service and client-centered financial expertise.

As one of the oldest banks in the country — founded in 1863 — it would have been easy for First Financial to rest on its historic laurels and conduct business as traditionally as possible. But First Financial takes its role as a leader in the Cincinnati community seriously. It is committed to helping its clients meet their financial needs and also places a heavy value on corporate social responsibility.

First Financial is proudly local with a focus on supporting their clients’ goals while also serving the communities they live in.

Investing in leadership that understands the area and the people that make it up is a key part of its strategic plan. One way it does this is to ensure that the bank reflects the communities it represents. First Financial views diversity, equity and inclusion as a key component of its social responsibility that brings value back to the bank itself. It’s not just about bringing together diverse individuals, but ensuring those individuals’ views are heard and valued.

Women bring diverse viewpoints and are a much-needed voice in an industry that is predominantly male. Female leadership is prominent at First Financial Bank, and nearly half of its board is made up of women. You’ll find high-level women in every aspect of the bank.

The First Financial Foundation was created in 2017 to support programs and organizations that enhance and support local neighborhoods. Grants are provided every year, and employees volunteer through the Give First program at local nonprofits. First Financial also has a wide variety of corporate programs it offers to associates as part of its commitment to develop and invest in employees.

The IMPACT mentoring program is open to any associate at the bank and helps employees further their career through networking, skill enhancement and coaching. Almost 70% of employees in the leadership program are women. These mentoring roles last six to 12 months, but many of those relationships last far beyond.

First Financial also has multiple Business Resource Groups, which provide education, leadership and networking opportunities for employees. Women at First is a group open to all associates that supports women while empowering them to face the challenges of being a female leader.

How is it working? We’ll let some of the women leaders at First Financial Bank share their thoughts.

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Mandy Neeley, Chief Consumer Banking and Strategy Officer

What helped you overcome challenges in your career?

One of the challenges I met early was to connect with a mentor to help me grow in the bank. I’ve been very fortunate to have some extremely helpful mentors. Today, I look for ways to help others in the bank who are just starting in their career.

How does First Financial Bank foster a supportive culture?

We encourage our team to dream big. Dreaming big is about turning inspiration and creativity into positive change in our relationships and families, in business and in our communities. It’s that entrepreneurial drive that ultimately turns dreams into reality, including when it comes to your future role as a leader

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Melanie McKinney, Senior Bank Counsel

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve encountered in your leadership path?

We are all so different. As an African American woman, for so long our voices haven’t been heard. I try to make myself available, speak my truth and be open about the things I’m seeing. Navigating that throughout my career has been difficult. I have had some positive experiences and some negative experiences. But I’ve tried to stay steadfast to who I am as a person, and I think it’s worked out pretty well.

How does First Financial Bank support you?

One of the things I’ve admired here that I haven’t seen in other places is the amount of access that we have to the executive leadership team. I’m not afraid to communicate with them and I know they’re listening to me and the concerns of our team. The access to and visibility of executive team leadership at First Financial Bank is tremendous and helping me grow as a leader.

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Brooke Balcom, Group Head, Sponsor Coverage & Asset-Based Lending

What is your leadership style?

My general philosophy is to work hard and play hard, but you have to get the work done first. I try to be inclusive, listen more than I talk, freely admit when I’m wrong, and to reach collaborative solutions. I firmly believe we are better off making decisions with input from the collective experience of many versus an individual.

How does First Financial Bank foster a culture that supports its leaders?

One of my favorite things about First Financial Bank is how entrepreneurial the culture is, particularly for being part of a highly regulated industry. Because leadership teams meet frequently, and ideas are encouraged, managers and associates can get an audience with decision-makers to float ideas and make change happen. So as a leader here, you have the access and support of the executive team.

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Virginia Copley, Director of Private Banking

How does First Financial Bank foster a culture that supports women?

First Financial listens to its women leaders. I am supported by my executive leadership and at the same time challenged to bring more to the table. I very much appreciate the opportunity to continue to grow and learn. We also have leadership development and mentorship programs within the bank to encourage our associates to continue honing their leadership skills.

What advice would you give to women who are early in their careers?

Be excellent at what you do. Be encouraging to others but also a standard-bearer. Help those around you to grow and get better at what they do. Ask for opportunities to lead. Advocate for yourself and make it known to your leadership where you want to go, so they can advocate for you, too. My mom’s motto was “No one is too good to take out the trash,” and I always keep that with me.

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Erica Peace, Retail Market President

What makes First Financial’s leadership culture unique?

We listen well here. We constantly ask questions, gain feedback, and we aren’t afraid to hear what isn’t working. We can work quickly across many areas to implement a solution. We really foster a culture of creativity, ownership and support at every level.

What is your best piece of advice for women entering leadership roles?

Be vocal, no matter who is sitting in the room. Never be the one who is always quiet. Let others know who you are and what you represent. Showcase your brand, your beliefs, and stay true to yourself.

The common theme for the women at First Financial is their commitment to being a positive influence at their jobs, with their clients, and in their community. That dedication is what truly makes First Financial stand apart.

Can the women at First Financial Bank help you get your financial house in order? Visit them at for more information.

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