Economy

Synchrony CEO Margaret Keane Stepping Down After Nearly a Decade Leading the Co-Branded Card Lender

Source: Synchrony Financial
  • Synchrony's Margaret Keane is stepping down as CEO and will be succeeded by the company's president Brian Doubles.
  • Keane helped take Synchrony public seven years ago as part of its separation from General Electric and drove high-profile card partnerships with Venmo, Verizon and Amazon.
  • "My legacy is really around the company that I built — it's not just about the financials," Keane says.

Synchrony Financial CEO Margaret Keane will step down after nearly a decade of running the co-branded card lender.

Sixty-one-year-old Keane — one of few women to head a Wall Street financial firm — will remain at the company as executive chair of the board, while Synchrony president Brian Doubles takes over as CEO. The move was part of a long-planned succession, Keane said, and will take effect April 1.

Keane helped take Synchrony public seven years ago as part of its separation from General Electric. She oversaw dozens of high-profile partnerships for the lender, including the Venmo credit card this year, as well as co-branded card deals with Amazon and Verizon.

"My legacy is really around the company that I built — it's not just about the financials," Keane told CNBC in a phone interview. "GE had such a strong culture and way of doing things, and we had to really create our own identity."

The lender is best known for its co-branded deals with partners like Lowe's, Sam's Club and Amazon.com. It has more recently added more tech-focused companies like PayPal. Synchrony has also doubled down on healthcare financing with Care Credit, and pet healthcare with an acquisition of insurance company Pets Best.

In the past decade under Keane's leadership, Synchrony shares have gained roughly 60%. The stock nosedived in March as fears about consumer credit during the pandemic rattled investors. Synchrony shares have returned 6% in the past 12 months, compared to an 18% return in the S&P 500.

Keane has also dealt with controversy around the break-up of high-profile partnerships. Walmart and Synchrony ended their nearly two-decade card relationship in 2018, which resulted in a lawsuit from Walmart over the sale of that loan portfolio.

Forty-five-year-old Doubles previously served as Synchrony's executive vice president and chief financial officer, and was the CFO of GE's North American retail finance business from 2009 to 2014. His focus in the chief executive role will be guiding Synchrony and its 16,000 employees through the pandemic, and navigating a shift to an online economy that accelerated this year, he said.

Synchrony's investments in digital and data analytics to "anticipate how customers want to shop," is helping to draw in those tech-focused partners like Amazon, according to Doubles. He also highlighted the resilience of the U.S. consumer, Synchrony's loan portfolio during the pandemic, and lower-than-expected credit card delinquencies in the last quarter.

"There's certainly the haves and have nots and clearly -- it's not uniform across the consumer base -- but generally, the consumer is in pretty good shape," Doubles said.

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