Natalie Bartholomew is committed to empowering women to become community bankers and work their way up the corporate ladder. As the blogger behind The Girl Banker, the chief administrative officer of Grand Savings Bank highlights the stories of her industry peers and sheds light on the lessons she’s learned in her own career.
By Beth Mattson-Teig
Name: Grand Savings Bank
Assets: $464 million
Location: 12 branches in Arkansas and Oklahoma
Ever since she was a little girl, Natalie Bartholomew knew she wanted one thing: to be a banker. Following in the footsteps of her grandfather and mother was a natural fit. Today, she’s not only living that dream as the chief administrative officer at $464 million-asset Grand Savings Bank in Grove, Okla., but she’s also empowering other women in banking through her blog, The Girl Banker.
Bartholomew launched her blog in November 2017 with the aim to lift women up and celebrate their accomplishments. “I have always said from the get-go that I am not an expert on all things banking or an expert on all things women in banking. I just saw a need for someone to own this niche and have this discussion,” Bartholomew says. Women need to support each other in moving into leadership roles in banking, as well as understand they are not alone in trying to balance work, life, family and everything else that comes along with having a demanding career, Bartholomew says.
Fewer than 2%
of bank CEO positions worldwide are held by women
The blog includes her own personal experiences along with a series of profiles that tell the stories of other women in banking, their secrets to success and lessons learned. Through her blog and social media, she posts motivational and educational articles and inspirational quotes. Recent blog topics have included “So You Want to Be a Banker: The Girl Banker’s Guide to Moving Up the Ladder” and “Why You Need a Passion Planner in Your Life in 2019.”
Although her growing base of followers is mainly women in banking, the blog also appeals to working women outside of banking and, yes, even a few men. Currently, she has more than 2,200 followers on Twitter and LinkedIn, nearly 2,000 followers on Instagram and more than 1,000 followers on Facebook.
Despite her growing brand as “The Girl Banker,” Bartholomew isn’t about to give up her day job. Banking has always been her passion. She grew up spending time at $16 billion-asset Arvest Bank (then called Farmers & Merchant Bank) in Prairie Grove, Ark., where she often visited her grandfather, and the people there were like family. During high school, she was selected to serve on The Arvest Bank Junior Bank Board, which gave students the opportunity to learn about banking at monthly board meetings. At the end of her senior year, she started working at Arvest Bank as a teller, and continued to work there part time while earning a B.S. in agriculture business and an M.S. in agriculture economics from the University of Arkansas. “Through that entire time, I communicated to [the bank] that that was where I wanted to be when I graduated,” she says.
Throughout college, Bartholomew kept busy learning the ropes, including opening new accounts as a customer service representative and, later, a loan assistant. When she graduated with her master’s in 2006, she went to work as a hybrid loan officer doing consumer, commercial and mortgage lending.
She attended the Graduate School of Banking in Boulder, Colo., in the summer of 2013 and ended up being recruited by another Arkansas bank a month later. Although Bartholomew still lives in that same hometown, she was ready for a career change that would allow her to step out of her mother’s and grandfather’s shadows, and create her own identity as a professional banker. She accepted the job, moving to $1.2 billion-asset First National Bank of NWA in Rogers, Ark.
In addition to showcasing women in the community banking industry, Natalie Bartholomew of Grand Savings Bank shares her own adventures and wisdom on her website and social media pages.
Searching for diversity
As an active member of the Arkansas Bankers Association, Bartholomew noticed how the association struggled to create diversity on different committees and its leadership board. “I started thinking, ‘Where are all the women, and why aren’t some of these conferences geared to attracting women?’” she adds.
I started thinking, ‘Where are all the women, and why aren’t some of these conferences geared to attracting women?’”
—Natalie Bartholomew, Grand Savings Bank
In February 2017, she was hired as the chief marketing officer at Grand Savings Bank, a community bank serving northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. Part of her job included visiting high schools and career fairs to talk about banking, but when she would ask students who was interested, it was usually only the boys who would raise their hands. “So, it really started clicking with me that there are not very many women in banking who have a seat at the table in management, and there didn’t seem to be a whole lot coming up the pipe who are interested in it,” she says.
That realization sparked the launch of The Girl Banker blog, an idea that she had been considering for a couple of years. As a busy professional with a husband and two sons, she knows firsthand the demands of managing a career, family and personal life. Bartholomew admits that juggling all of those things—plus the blog, which she does in her spare time—isn’t easy.
She is working to move her own banking career forward. On that front, she was promoted from her position as chief marketing officer to chief administrative officer in January. In the new position, Bartholomew oversees all bank marketing, human resources, strategic planning and executive coaching.
From her early days in banking, she has always wanted to learn more and do more and move up. Eventually, she would like to rise to the top. “I am very happy where I’m at and I feel like I am home, but I do hope that CEO will be in the cards someday,” Bartholomew says. “I also can recognize that I have a lot to learn before I am ready for that.”
And part of that learning is coming from listening to stories from other “girl bankers.”
How to attract and retain women in banking
Community banks are always trying to attract and retain good talent, and bring more diversity to management and leadership. Here, Natalie Bartholomew of Grand Savings Bank shares tips for community bankers to support women in community banking:
- Flexibility: Women are often struggling to juggle work-life balance with career and family. Offering flexible options, such as working from home or getting work done outside of traditional banking hours, can be a powerful incentive.
- Advocacy: Support education and professional development opportunities for women by sending them to conferences, seminars and events. Women can benefit from the education and networking. They put women in visible roles representing the bank in the community and the industry.
- Active recruiting: Identify women who have potential to bring value to your bank. You can make anyone a community banker. What is difficult to teach is a strong work ethic, a good personality, creative thinking and leadership skills. It is important to always be on the lookout for women with those innate skills.
- Mentors: Mentorship is another way to empower women bankers by helping them to develop skills and navigate their career paths in banking. A good sponsor can help lift women up with opportunities to advance their careers. No one ever says there are too many men in banking. The reality is that there is plenty of room for more women, and it is important for women to support other women.
Beth Mattson-Teig is a writer in Minnesota.