Laurie Ucher loves her role at Seneca Savings. As the senior vice president of retail banking, she gets to connect with people in the community, support local entrepreneurs and help them overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of their business success. “I like to think of myself as a connector of people in the community and an advocate for some of my beliefs such as empowering other women,” Ucher said. “That’s the beauty of working for a small company. Everyone has the same common goal – to help people.”
While she has now found herself in her dream job, her career hasn’t been without its challenges.
“I was a mom at 18 years old, so it was a hard journey,” she said. “I worked hard to get through my schooling, but I wanted to be a role model for my daughters.” Ucher is the mother of three – two daughters and a son - and the grandmother of six, soon to be seven. “I’m very fortunate and blessed to be a young grandma; it’s nice to be able to crawl around on the floor with them,” she said. Ucher began her career in banking as a teller with HSBC in 1992 at the age of 20. She had been studying to become a musician, but she decided to adjust her career path to ensure she could support her young family. Without all the modern conveniences of today, the job of a bank teller at the time was less personal than the role she desired.
The goal, she said, was to move customers through the line quickly, but what Ucher wanted was the opportunity to connect with them and see how she could help them fulfill their goals. After putting in her dues as a teller, Ucher’s enthusiasm for that type of role was rewarded with a new role as a relationship manager, and then later as a branch manager with a different bank, a job she held for 10 years. But working in the male-dominated setting of global and major regional banks, she longed for a smaller setting where her voice would be heard and she could truly connect with people.
So when the opportunity arose to join Seneca Savings in 2016 as the regional vice president, she took it without looking back.
“I’ve worked in bigger banks. I feel that as a woman, sometimes you can get lost and your voice gets lost,” Ucher said. “It’s the ability to be a catalyst of change. Having the opportunity to put my thumbprint on something in coming here, was really very appealing to me.”
Being at Seneca has allowed Ucher to connect with the community in ways she couldn’t have dreamed of in her former role.
She now spearheads a community-awareness program on money management, where she works with area educators to help teens understand concepts like credit. To get the ball rolling, Ucher reached out to teachers and superintendents and worked with them to include a module on money management in their core curriculum. Ucher also works with high schoolers in Chittenango on an entrepreneurship program, planting the seeds of possibility for future business owners. “We can help to educate our community,” Ucher said. “To help provide a platform to do that is something I’m very proud of.” She also helps connect Seneca Savings with a variety of area not-for-profits, including the CNY Diaper Bank, an organization that distributes diapers to low-income families with young children. Diapers for a single child can cost up to $100 per month, an expense that is a severe challenge for families living in poverty.
“It’s something that’s near and dear to me,” Ucher said. “Diapers are not something that’s covered with social assistance. I understand that families are struggling.”
To help, Ucher and the bank run a diaper drive throughout the month of May. They also raise money throughout the year and she is currently working on a virtual 5K in support of the diaper bank. During the pandemic, banks became a lifeline for local businesses struggling to keep afloat during the shut downs, and Seneca Savings was right in the middle of it with their small business clients.
Ucher said she was extremely proud of the way all the bank’s employees joined together to get all the PPP loans processed and ensure their desperate clients got the funds they needed to make payroll and pay other expenses.
“Everyone was on board. Everyone,” she said. “It really meant believing that you can help people.”
Now, with nearly three decades of experience in the banking business, Ucher sees herself as a mentor and role model for other young women entering the business world.
“Don’t be afraid to just go for it, because all things are possible,” she said. “The coolest thing about my job is learning the reasons why people decide to take risks. Business owners are the dreamers and the risk takers in life. I’m the financial connector with making dreams come true.” SWM