Christine Rush, CFO of Old Line Bank, on evolution in the banking industry

Christine Rush, the chief financial officer of Old Line Bank, will retire this May after 15 years at the Bowie-based bank. Rush, 57, worked behind the scenes to orchestrate the bank’s most recent acquisition — the $49 million purchase of Bowie-based Washington Savings Bank, which is expected to close in the second quarter and would push the bank’s assets over $1 billion.

Capital Business recently caught up with Rush to discuss her accidental foray into banking and the evolution of the industry. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

You’re one of the few women in the area who holds a senior position at a bank. How did you get your start in what is still largely a male-dominated field?

I started out as a teller in 1974 at First National of St. Mary’s in St. Mary’s County.

When I moved here from upstate New York, I had $150 in my pocket, a suitcase and a place to live. I was fresh out of high school, so my choices were somewhat limited. I applied for a job as a teller at First National, and got it. I went to school nights after that and got both my bachelor’s and my master’s degree [in finance at the University of Maryland]. The rest is history.

Do you think that sort of career ladder — from being a teller to a top executive — still exists in banking?

I can’t say that I had a direct route up the chain because none of the banks — I’ve worked for three banks in my career — ... were related. I didn’t go directly from one to another. There was a period between First National and [the former] Signet [Bank] when I worked [in finance] on the corporate side. I was still involved with the banking world, but I wasn’t part of it. And then I went back to banking when I went to Signet.

Signet gave me a lot of opportunities. I knew a lot about different areas of a bank, so coming here allowed me to grow.

How did your experience from a larger bank translate to your role at Old Line Bank?

When I came here, I was originally a commercial lender, but we were so small — at that point we were probably the smallest bank in Charles County — that I could wear a lot of hats.

So, you know, when you’re small, you don’t have a lot of resources to do things and you get an opportunity to do whatever needs to be done. When we decided to go public, I volunteered to be on the strategic planning committee, and then I got involved with doing the prospectus and writing it. And next thing I know, I’m chief financial officer. That was 10 years ago.

How has the banking industry changed since you began in 1974?

The banking industry has changed significantly. There are many more players now, many different types of banks. Banking in 1974 was what a community bank is today for the most part.

Now you see investment banks control a significantly large portion of the wealth, and there are a lot more specialty bankers within the industry. There are mortgage bankers and investment bankers and community bankers and big bankers. We all provide a very different service.

Technology has also changed the industry significantly. We used to have a lot of foot traffic in the branches when I started. Then it went to ATMs, now we’re onto mobile banking and online banking, and who knows what next. I think that trend will continue. I remember when we used to move checks every day. Now we transmit images of checks. When I was a teller, we were writing cash-ins on notebook paper and added them up at the end of the day, and now computers do that.

The regulatory environment is also much different. I don’t want to say more stringent, but it is pretty demanding today — way more so that it was 40 years ago.

Why are you retiring now?

The last few years have been really time-consuming. We did the last acquisition and it absorbed a significant amount of my life over the last two years, so it seems like a good time to take a break and refocus.

At this point, I don’t have any plans. For the short-term, I am not planning on anything. I don’t know if my opinion will change if I get bored but I want to spend some time doing some fun things. And I’m on the board of [The College of Southern Maryland] so I expect I’ll spend some more time doing volunteer work.

What is the first thing you’re going to do on May 11, the day after you retire?

I’m going to get up in the morning, get out my bicycle and go for a ride. And then that afternoon, I’m going to play golf. After that I might start thinking about spring cleaning — but I’m not so sure.

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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