WaMu's Ahead Of The Game

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“I talk to a lot of mentees about mentoring. We cannot underestimate how important it is for African Americans to network and have other African Americans as mentors,� Wilson notes. “People are appointed to senior level positions by senior executives in part based on how comfortable they are with you...

(WaMu's Donna Wilson: Networking, networking, networking...)

Washington Mutual’s Donna Wilson believes her bank will always stay ahead of the pack. Wilson, senior vice president for community and external affairs, says her bank maintains its pace by constantly conducting research in order to deliver innovative products that consumers want.

“WaMu pioneered free checking,� she says, in an interview, describing a product other banks have quickly adopted. “We are one of the nation’s most successful retail banking models. We have always been able to provide great value and friendly service to our customers.�

The bank also offers unlimited access to tellers—allowing customers to stand next to tellers and view the same screen—no monthly service charges no matter what the balance is, free online banking and free identity theft protection. “Our customers are not just a number. People want to feel valued. That sets us apart. We research what people want,� she adds.

Wilson became a part of Washington Mutual (WaMu) when her former bank, Dime Savings Bank, was acquired in 2003. She had been involved in about 18 bank acquisitions in her 20 years. In order to get to the top in a professional corporate environment it’s absolutely essential to have mentors and to network with work colleagues, she emphasizes. “I talk to a lot of mentees about mentoring. We cannot underestimate how important it is for African Americans to network and have other African Americans as mentors,� Wilson notes. “People are appointed to senior level positions by senior executives in part based on how comfortable they are with you. We have to be willing to expose ourselves and we have to be willing to communicate what our aspirations are and how interested we are in promotional opportunities. We have to be on top of our game.�

“The more you are willing to expose yourself the more your colleagues are willing to expose themselves,� Wilson adds, stressing the point that networking goes beyond the routine bank work. “You can do this by inviting a colleague out for a sandwich or sitting in somebody’s office and just chatting about the kids. We get so caught up in making sure we do the things that are presented on the desk, we miss other opportunities.�

In the fall of 2005, Family Digest's ranked WaMu among the top seven companies "working to maximize the potential of African-Americans in the workplace." The bank was also recognized as "35 Great Places for African-American Women" in Essence magazine’s May 2005.

Wilson is proud of the bank’s philanthropic work such as support for the City’s public school system and affordable housing projects. “We know how expensive housing can be so we so we have a number of initiatives that support affordable housing,� she notes. The bank also sponsors educational seminars for first time home buyers and have mortgage products designed for them.

In regards to the schools, WaMu has worked with the Public School’s chancellor Joe klein and previously with Caroline Kennedy to raise resources for the public education system. “We want to support education from K through 12th grade,� Wilson says. “While we respect private education and value that it holds and the charter schools, it’s very important that we don’t close the door on public education,� she notes, adding that the bank also helps in getting teachers graduate education so that they can get promoted. “If we can get them to the next level we can get them to stay longer and our kids will benefit.�

Customers can also get into the act to support schools through the bank’s “WaMoola for Schools program.� Customers who enroll through their check card can make a direct donation to schools. Moreover, the bank customers select a k-12 school of their choice that the bank donates money to through the program. Each time the customer uses his or her Washington Mutual check card to make a purchase, they accumulate points that the bank converts into cash donations made by the bank to the schools. In 2005, total funding for K-12 public education, including the WaMoola for Schools program, was $15.2 million.

For more information about Washington Mutual’s products and services please visit Wamu.com

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