Susan Elliott didn’t envision a career in banking.
She was undecided about what to do after she graduated from college. So, she said, “I took a job in a bank until I figured out what I wanted to do.”
Her fallback job turned into a lifelong career.
Elliott is executive vice president and chief business officer of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. She is one of three senior executives at the bank, a frequent speaker at industry events and a “great ambassador for the bank,” said Edward A. Hjerpe III, the bank’s president and chief executive.
It’s a far cry from her start in banking as a customer service representative at Merchants Savings Bank, in Manchester, N.H. She got the job partly because she said she could type – a white lie. Once she landed the job, like many women in banking administrative positions in the 1970s, she began a process of proving herself to management and customers.
She left after a year for Suffolk Franklin Savings Bank in Boston, and then joined New England Merchants National Bank. Elliott began moving into management positions – as a branch manager, and then in business development and commercial lending.
In 1981, she joined FHLB of Boston as its housing and community investment officer. She rose into high-level positions in member services and marketing. During an executive transition in 2009, Elliott served as interim CEO. And then, with the appointment of Hjerpe in May 2009 as FHLB’s president and chief executive, Elliott became chief business officer.
‘A Real Challenge’
Elliott said she didn’t envision remaining at FHLB Boston for 30 years. But whenever it felt like a job was becoming routine, new challenges presented themselves as a result of new legislation or business strategies that the bank chose to pursue.
In 1989, for example, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act stripped the Federal Home Loan Bank system of thrift regulatory authority, but allowed the bank to recruit members from the commercial banking and credit union sectors.
“It was a great opportunity,” she recalled. “I traveled throughout New England and recruited the commercial banks to become members of the Federal Home Loan Bank. Initially, commercial bank CEOs and CFOs were reluctant. They’d say, ‘Who else is a member?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, nobody yet.’ Once we got our first new member, others began to follow suit.”
FHLB Boston – one of 12 regional Federal Home Loan Banks – provides wholesale credit and financial services to 450 member financial institutions throughout New England. Members include savings banks, commercial banks, credit unions and insurance companies. At the end of the first quarter, it had $55.6 billion in assets.
As chief business officer, Elliott currently oversees corporate communications; public and government relations; sales and business development; member development; housing and community investment, product and solution development; and the Money Desk, which provides credit products to members.
“She’s terrific,” Hjerpe said. “She has always had and continues to have her finger on the pulse of our membership – our members are both our stockholders and our customers. She represents them very well, in issues here at the bank, but always with a balanced view.”
Elliott actively participates in a mentoring program at the bank, and enjoys helping younger employees launch their careers. She considers her role helping finance low-income housing especially satisfying. During Elliott’s 30 years at the bank, FHLB Boston has pumped $185 million into 23,000 units of affordable housing throughout New England, through subsidies and subsidized advances.
On the wall of her office is a painting done by a 9-year-old boy. It shows a new building in Holyoke he moved into, thanks to affordable housing financing by the FHLB Boston through a member financial institution. “Seeing the link between what we do each day to run the bank and what a decent, safe, affordable place to live means to individuals like that young boy and his family is a big part of what drives many of us at the bank,” she commented.
Elliott has a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire, and a master’s in business administration from Babson College that she completed while working full time. She also completed Harvard Business School’s advanced management program.
She lives in Natick with her husband, David Elliott, president of Depositors Insurance Fund, and their daughter, Kathryn, 12. She has been involved in many charitable organizations, most recently serving for 16 years as a board member and former board president of Bridge Over Troubled Waters.