Bank of America Vice-Chair Anne Finucane speaks on the bank’s 50-year relationship with Ireland and the company's plans to expand its Dublin base as a post-Brexit EU hub.

After many years of championing philanthropic endeavours in Ireland such as Music Generation, the country’s national music program, as well as being a part of the fundraising drive to both bring and maintain peace to Northern Ireland, Anne Finucane, Vice-Chair of Bank of America, was honored with the Leadership Award by The Ireland Funds on Wednesday, March 15, at their annual Saint Patrick’s Day Gala in Washington D.C.

Attended by Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar and some 750-plus guests, Finucane and her professional and philanthropic endeavors to the island of Ireland were recognized alongside Sean McGarvey, President of North America’s Building Trades Unions, who was also honored for his great support of Irish causes.

Read more: Ireland Funds raises record $1 million at D.C. gala attended by Taoiseach Varadkar

Anne Finucane receives the Leadership Award from John Fitzpatrick, Chairman of The Ireland Funds America and Kieran McLoughlin, Worldwide President & CEO of The Ireland Funds. Image: Erika Lane.

Anne Finucane receives the Leadership Award from John Fitzpatrick, Chairman of The Ireland Funds America and Kieran McLoughlin, Worldwide President & CEO of The Ireland Funds. Image: Erika Lane.

“I’ve had a relationship with the American Ireland Fund for years. In the early days my interest was in funds raised to support the peace agreement, to achieve and maintain peace,” Finucane told IrishCentral the day after the D.C. Gala.  

“We helped to underwrite on two different occasions $1 million dollar gifts for Music Generation. Initially, when music was being eliminated from the Irish curriculum as part of the response to the financial difficulties, and then more recently just to expand the music programs in schools throughout the county, So in both cases for us it’s a way to give back at a community level for something we think is important - to be able to provide personal creative expression and development.”

“It runs the gamut - peace, economic development, and music generation when there seemed to be an obvious need. The austerity moves were established for good reason but it’s precisely times like that when corporations and foundations can lend a hand.”

Read more: U2 and Music Generation announce major expansion in Ireland

Anne Finucane speaking with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Image: Ralph Alswang.

Anne Finucane speaking with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Image: Ralph Alswang.

Named to Fortune’s Most Powerful Women List, Forbes’ Most Powerful Women List, and AdWeek’s 2016 Power List: Top 100 Leaders in Marketing, Media & Tech, among numerous other professional and public service accolades, Finucane describes herself as “100% Irish” with all of her ancestors having made their way to the U.S. from Ireland.

“All except my grandfather came generations before,” she explained.

“This grandfather came as a little boy as the youngest of 9 children of a widow, from a town outside Newmarket, Co. Cork.

“He came over as a small boy, going first from Cork to Liverpool, from Liverpool to Boston on the USS Michigan, and then to New Hampshire. He and his brothers went to school until 8th grade and then they were commissioned to work in the textile factories. He worked in Lowell. Lawrence, Andover. He died in his early 40s, my father only 6 when he died, so I knew about my grandfather through him but not much more.”

A member of Bank of America’s executive management team, Finucane is responsible for the strategic positioning of Bank of America and leads the company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts. As part of this, she focuses on the company's outreach to shareholders on social and governance issues, looking for and implementing innovative ways to deploy capital to drive solutions to global challenges and expanding on environmental business opportunities in support of a responsible growth strategy.

She is also set to chair BofA's European Bank Board, once the board gets the regulatory approval to drive ahead in locating a post-Brexit EU hub in Dublin. The hub will merge BoA's existing Irish banking subsidiary Merrill Lynch International Bank (MLIB) with its current main EU bank in London.

Read more: Bank of America flees Brexit Britain to relocate European HQ in Dublin

Sen. Markey, Anne Finucane, and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Sen. Markey, Anne Finucane, and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

While still pending regulatory approval from the Central Bank of Ireland and the European Union Central Bank, if finally granted, the hub will see Bank of America's future main European banking entity have its base in Ireland instead of the UK.

“We have a 50-year history in Ireland so that helps,” Finucane said.

“Bank of America Merrill Lynch has had business there for 50 years - that was the first compelling note. Second, Ireland is English-speaking and has a very well educated workforce. In addition, we already have 700 people working in Dublin. I feel familiar with it, as does Brian [Moynihan, chairman and CEO of BoA]. That’s not to say we aren’t familiar with other cities like Paris or Frankfurt, we are and have branches there too, which will report to Dublin.”

Finucane commended the current state of the Irish economy, just a short time after austerity measures were implemented, and describes the recovery made by the country as “impressive” and “formidable.”

“Now the Irish economy is booming, but it’s also important to recognize that Ireland in its most difficult times put an austerity plan in place that was so impressive and made a recovery so formidable,” Finucane believes.

“That spirit, focus, and discipline are compelling. I think it speaks to the will and capacity to learn and move ahead. It’s also not so dissimilar to our own story. Banks went through great turmoil and the ones that survived are those that had the discipline to do what needed to be done and to make very necessary changes.”  

Kieran McLoughlin, Anne Finucane and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Kieran McLoughlin, Anne Finucane and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

For the last few months, Bank of America vice chairman Bruce Thompson, who will become the European bank's chief executive upon regulatory approval, has met with regulators and leadership in Ireland to ensure Bank of America successfully implements the creation of the new base. While Finucane is unsure of any impact this could have on US-Ireland relations, she does believe the company feels “a commitment to Ireland” and wants to be a “good corporate citizen.” They are currently monitoring Brexit with interest and aim to be recruiting, hiring, or moving leadership to Dublin over the coming year.

The Ireland Funds Gala on March 15 honored not only Finucane and McGarvey but also marked the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement with special recognition given to Representative Peter T. King (R-NY-2) and Representative Richard E. Neal (D-MA-1), Chairs of the Friends of Ireland Caucus in Congress.

“Tonight’s Gala is an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate the spirit of The Ireland Funds,” said John Fitzpatrick, Chairman of The Ireland Funds America.

“In marking the Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement we look to the future with hope as we continue our support of peace, reconciliation, and dialogue at all levels in Northern Ireland.”

Bank of America Vice Chair Anne Finucane accepting the Leadership Award at the Ireland Funds National Gala in Washington D.C. Tim Lundin