Insights from Rita Sola Cook, President of Bank of America Chicago
Rita Sola Cook is a Managing Director and President of Bank of America Chicago, as well as Division Executive for the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic Division of Bank of America Private Bank. Drawing on nearly twenty-five years with the firm, she provides strategic direction and sustained leadership in overseeing the delivery of impactful banking and wealth-management capabilities to individuals, families, businesses, and institutions.
Since joining Bank of America in 1997, Rita has taken on increasing responsibilities in finance, management and operations, gaining diverse client-segment and product acumen. Prior to her current role, she served as the Global Banking and Markets Anti-Money-Laundering Executive, the Global Commercial Banking Midwest Region Executive and the Global Commercial Banking Chief Operating Officer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Governors State University. Rita lives with her husband and daughter in Mokena, Illinois.
Congratulations on being named president of Bank of America Chicago! What is your vision for this new role, and how does it fit with your existing responsibilities?
As a Chicagoland native and longtime resident, it’s a tremendous honor to have been named President of Bank of America Chicago President after nearly 25 years with the bank. In addition to this new role, I continue to serve as Division Executive for the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic regions of The Private Bank.
Day to day, the role of the Chicago President is to help connect the banking and investment resources offered through the bank’s eight lines of business to our clients, colleagues, and communities across the Chicagoland area. But our vision is much more holistic: to help strengthen our Chicago community through public, private, civic, and nonprofit partnerships that promote equity and inclusivity, drive economic mobility, and help make financial lives better for generations to come.
Bank of America has a long history in the Chicago area. Can you tell us about the company’s presence here?
For more than 160 years, Bank of America and its predecessor banks have been a mainstay in the Chicago market. Today, we have over 5,200 committed team members across more than 140 offices and financial centers in the city and suburbs helping us deliver our capabilities and expertise through each of our eight lines of business. What’s truly special, however, is that these same team members record tens of thousands of volunteer hours annually, breathing life into our partnerships with nonprofit organizations working to lift and support our neighbors.
Bank of America is woven into the fabric of Chicago. From the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to long and enduring partnerships with local cultural institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago, After School Matters, La Casa Norte, and more, Bank of America is deeply committed to building and strengthening its home base in Chicago. Our new Chicago headquarters, Bank of America Tower at 110 N. Wacker, is the latest demonstration of our commitment to Chicago for the long term.
We often hear Bank of America’s commitment to economic mobility and racial equity, two themes that have been magnified the past two years. How does that commitment come to life in Chicago?
Bank of America’s commitment to economic mobility and racial equity can be seen in everything we do – from the nonprofit organizations we support through grants to the internship programs we fund and the volunteer hours we encourage. Working toward a stronger, more equitable Chicago is in our DNA.
Since 2017, Bank of America has provided more than $43 million in funding to local nonprofits working in our must underserved communities. This year alone, Bank of America has partnered with Shedd Aquarium to help fuel opportunities for learning and curiosity for families and youth on the west side of Chicago; provided hands-on leadership training through a paid internship for students on Chicago’s South and West sides; participated in countless volunteer events, including with Special Children’s Charities and Cradles 2 Crayons; and provided grants to numerous nonprofit organizations that support and engage our most vulnerable neighbors.
The past two years have amplified this ongoing commitment to our communities, particularly through our five-year, $1.25 billion commitment to promote economic mobility and racial equity. More than anything, I’m proud to work for an organization that, when confronted with the uncertainty of the pandemic and social justice movement, didn’t hesitate to ask, and hasn’t looked back.
You’ve been with Bank of America for more than 20 years. How has the industry changed and what do you want your clients and colleagues to take away from that change?
Over the past two decades, technology has enabled us to reimagine how we deliver services to our customers. For example, our digital platforms empower customers to do so much from their personal devices – create budgets, monitor accounts, apply for mortgages, secure lines of credit – which would be inconceivable 20 years ago. Our small business clients have access to dedicated advisors who can guide them through lending options, streamlining payroll systems, freeing cash flow, and more. In short, we’re delivering services more holistically than we were able to 20 years ago.
But I think the greatest changes can be felt internally. At Bank of America, one of our guiding principles is Responsible Growth. We’re constantly asking ourselves: how do we grow our services, our capabilities, our teams, and our impact in a responsible manner? While there are a lot of answers to that question, ultimately it comes down to having a strong, committed team and to providing a workplace that celebrates and honors the individuals who choose to serve alongside us. We offer a robust collection of employee networks that meet our colleagues where they are in their careers and their lives and provide formalized support and encouragement to help them succeed both personally and professionally. In my opinion, this makes all the difference.
What advice would you give to young colleagues or those who aspire to work in the industry in the future?
My very best advice for young professionals is threefold: be authentic, look for opportunities to pay it forward, and lead through service. These attributes are a sign of strong character and will help guide them through both their personal and professional lives. I also suggest that every young person identify and foster relationships with a “sponsor.” Like a mentor, a sponsor is someone whom you look up to, but who also has firsthand knowledge of who you are and why you will be successful. This person can be a voice of support, encouragement, and most importantly, endorsement, as your career progresses.