An Economic Rock

BB&T does not stumble in shaky times, thanks to Frances Jones

"A career in corporate law has suited my personality," says Frances Jones, general counsel of BB&T. "I look for collaborative and cooperative relationships. The signing of a contract is not the end of a relationship, but the beginning of it."

In the fall of 2008, when some of the nation’s most venerable financial institutions collapsed under the pressures of their own risky behaviors, Frances Jones stood strong. As general counsel for BB&T, a North Carolina-based bank with $157 billion in assets that is consistently named one of the country’s safest financial institutions, Jones was tossed into the fray of navigating a sound legal path for the bank as it responded to new government regulations.

“There was no shortage of exciting work,” says Jones. “I am still amazed that I was in the middle of that historic time. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”

A Louisville, Kentucky, native and daughter of a pharmacist and small-business owner, Jones attended Dartmouth College and earned a law degree from Vanderbilt University. Still, her interest in business conflict resolution bloomed as early as high school. “I was interested in how the parties do business, how they make agreements, and how they establish relationships that last into the future,” Jones says. She decided to become a business lawyer to facilitate those relationships.

“A career in corporate law has suited my personality,” Jones says. “I look for collaborative and cooperative relationships. The signing of a contract is not the end of a relationship—but the beginning of it.”

Jones began her legal career with the Louisville law firm of Frost Brown Todd, LLC. Banks were her clients as she honed her skills in commercial and financial transactions and developed a proficiency in merger-and-acquisition finances. Her last year there, she led the firm’s corporate section in billable hours.

She became in-house counsel for PNC Bank, representing the institution’s regional corporate bankers until December 1996, when she joined the smaller Bank of Louisville as corporate banking counsel. In 2002, Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based BB&T acquired Bank of Louisville. Jones says one of the most memorable moments of this pivotal time in her career was the effort taken by then BB&T chairman and CEO John Allison to shake the hand of each Bank of Louisville employee, amounting to several hundred handshakes.

Important Legislation
Influencing the Financial-Services Industry

Dodd-Frank Wall Street
Reform and Consumer
Protection Act
The legislation, passed in 2010 in response to calls for financial-regulatory reform in the wake of the 2007–2010 financial crisis, is the most sweeping change to financial regulation since The Great Depression and a response
to the financial meltdown.

Glass-Steagall Act
The repeal of provisions of this act in 1999 allowed financial-holding companies to hold both commercial and investment banks.

The Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking & Branching Efficiency Act of 1994
This legislation allowed banks to acquire banks in other states and allowed branches to be converted to branches of the parent bank.

Jones assumed a new role with the bigger bank as commercial-banking counsel and, stretching her wings, became practice manager for the executive-compensation and employee-benefits side of human resources. Later, she expanded her expertise to insurance, serving as practice group manager and legal relationship manager for BB&T Insurance, the sixth-largest insurance brokerage in the country.

On January 2, 2008, Jones was named BB&T’s general counsel, and she and her husband relocated from their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, to North Carolina, where Jones would take up post as the bank’s top lawyer. Little did Jones—or anyone—know the economic turmoil for banks and the rest of the nation that would arrive that autumn with the collapse of banks, the housing market, and the stock market.

“It changed the nature of my job because, by necessity, I became more reactive,” Jones says. “The weekend Lehman Brothers went into bankruptcy I realized that five of our 38 in-house attorneys were working on Lehman issues. I had to organize the response of BB&T to those events. We were fact-gathering and examining what risks we faced. My job became traffic cop, and I worked to make sense of current events and legislation.”

After a strong 2009—during which BB&T acquired Montgomery, Alabama’s Colonial Bank, which had been the sixth-largest bank failure in US history—Jones and her husband decided in mid-2010 that they wanted to return home. Jones returned to Louisville and became a deputy general counsel, where she is manager of the corporate-governance and financial-services practice groups.

Having worked in large and small banks, Jones says the experiences are quite different, but both are challenging and rewarding. “A small bank is more nimble,” Jones says, “but BB&T can offer so many more products and services than a smaller institution. It’s exciting to be an in-house lawyer and have that many more areas of law to learn about. If I want to do something beyond commercial transactions at BB&T, there are many different directions I can go.”