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‘I was constantly challenged’: Anne Finucane, powerful Bank of America executive, to retire

The Boston-based vice chairwoman is credited with helping the company navigate the 2008 financial crisis.

Anne Finucane spoke at a 2019 annual dinner honoring her for receiving the Edward M. Kennedy Institute Award for Inspired Leadership.
Anne Finucane spoke at a 2019 annual dinner honoring her for receiving the Edward M. Kennedy Institute Award for Inspired Leadership.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Anne Finucane, the powerful Bank of America executive who has been a leading voice in Boston business for decades, is retiring at the end of the year, capping a career during which she was widely recognized for helping steer the massive firm through the 2008 financial crisis and its rocky aftermath.

Finucane came to Bank of America as part of its 2004 acquisition of FleetBoston Financial Corp. She became the bank’s first female vice chairman, yet has remained in the Boston area throughout her time with the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank.

The 69-year-old Finucane is considered one of the most influential women in corporate America. In an interview, she expressed confidence BofA has recovered from the financial toll of the financial crisis, as well as the damage done to its reputation. That tumultuous period included the controversial acquisition of Countrywide Financial, which at the time was the largest subprime lender in the United States.

“I’m proud of the reputation of the company. I’m proud of the performance of the company. I’m proud of the management team that’s in place,” Finucane said. “I had enormous opportunities, and I enjoyed them all — even the tough ones. Because they’re learning experiences. It’s very hard to grow unless you’re challenged, and I was constantly challenged.”

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Chief operating officer Thomas Montag, who also played a crucial role in Bank of America’s recovery, also on Thursday announced his impending retirement from the nation’s second-largest bank. The company said it would announce their successors “in coming weeks.”

Finucane is among a cadre of Boston banking executives who have populated the upper echelons of Bank of America since the merger with FleetBoston in 2004. Chief executive Brian T. Moynihan also worked at FleetBoston.

“Anne has been a trusted advisor and invaluable partner for many years,” Moynihan said in a statement. “From her time as one of the few senior women executives in financial services to today, she has provided unparalleled strategic vision, helping to make banking more transparent, while serving as a tireless advocate for equality, sustainable energy, education and health care.”

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Finucane started at Fleet Bank 26 years ago. Her wide portfolio at Bank of America includes strategy, sustainability, environmental, social and governance, and public policy efforts. She has been a major player in the firm’s endeavors to position itself as a leader on issues such as gun violence, social justice, and climate change.

After stepping down from her current position, she will remain with the company as non-executive chairwoman of Bank of America Europe and a board member of BofA Securities Europe. She will also become a member of the bank’s Global Advisory Council.

Finucane came from a marketing background, establishing herself on the Boston business scene at the advertising firm Hill Holliday and at WBZ-TV before joining Fleet. Her tenure at Fleet was during a time of immense change in the banking sector, as it bought Bank of Boston, and, in turn, was acquired by Bank of America.

The sale of FleetBoston sparked worries in the business and civic community about whether a faraway corporate headquarters would have the same commitment to the region. Finucane became a prominent face of Bank of America in Boston, serving in roles that included Northeast regional president.

Chad Gifford, the FleetBoston chief executive who would become Bank of America’s chairman for a time after the acquisition, said he counted Finucane among his closest advisers during that period.

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In an interview, Gifford said Finucane offered a clear-eyed, unvarnished analysis of the stakes of whatever difficult decision he faced. She brought a firm understanding of how to communicate about what the bank was doing, both inside the company and in the general public, he said.

As a CEO, “you have an awful lot of people who say things you want to hear,” Gifford said. But, “that was not Anne Finucane. She had an ability and a fact-based self confidence to come in and say things that I needed to hear — needed to understand.”

Finucane also has remained a presence in Boston over the years. She and her husband, former Globe columnist and current MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle, have deep connections in Democratic political circles, counting dignitaries such as former US secretary of state and senator John Kerry among their friends. And Finucane has held positions on local boards of directors including that of the Mass General Brigham health system.

At Bank of America, Finucane took on a particularly important role with the bank as it sought to navigate the 2008 financial crisis. For many people, the bank became a symbol of consumer frustrations with the financial industry — known for its high fees, low interest rates on savings, large executive bonuses, and confusing foreclosure practices. In the years after the crisis, Bank of America paid $76.1 billion in fines, the most among the largest US banks.

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Finucane was the author of plans to reposition the company’s brand as it shifted its focus to mobile banking, support for charities, and customer loyalty.

Her stature with the company was such that at a 2009 event to celebrate Moynihan’s promotion to chief executive, the new leader joked, “We know that we all report to Anne.’’

In recent years, Finucane has worked to help the bank position itself as a leader on social, environmental, and governance issues.

When Bank of America stopped financing companies that make military-style assault rifles for civilian use in 2018, it was Finucane who publicly laid out the bank’s position. She was again at the forefront in 2019 when the bank decided it would no longer lend to firms that run private prisons and detention centers.

But she said one of her proudest achievements was her work on the company’s moves to mitigate climate change. Bank of America has committed to putting $1 trillion by 2030 into moving the world toward a low-carbon economy. That money includes lending, direct investment, capital raising, and other ways of targeting money to efforts such as sustainable energy projects.

When the company announced the initiative in April, Finucane was the lead voice in the news release — speaking for the company about a massive effort that will continue long beyond her retirement.

“The private sector is well-positioned to ensure that the capital needed — at the scale it is needed — can drive the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy,” she said.

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Material from The New York Times was used in this report.


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.