News & Politics

Business Hall of Fame 2013: William Couper

Banking on Washington

Illustration by Forrest Greene.

Bill Couper was the banker Washingtonians could count on for more than 40 years. A trainee at American Security in 1972, he retired as president of Bank of America’s Mid-Atlantic region last year. “I feel tremendously fortunate,” he says. “Washington’s economy has been as strong as any in the US. That’s critical to the strength of the bank.”

Couper was attracted to banking as a student at the University of Virginia because it enabled him to have an impact on many areas of life. “I didn’t see myself making widgets,” he says. Rising through the ranks at American Security, he embraced challenges, including the introduction of ATMs. People were willing to use them to take money out but reluctant to make deposits, he recalls.

In 1987, American Security was acquired by Maryland National. Six years later, that company became part of NationsBank and Couper moved to Baltimore to head business banking for the Mid-Atlantic. He was named president of the Greater Baltimore region in 1995, then returned to Washington in 2000 after NationsBank acquired BankAmerica Corporation and the enterprise was renamed Bank of America. In 2005, he became president.

Couper believes a banker needs to be more than a financial resource. He chaired the Greater Washington Initiative, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and the 2009 Kidney Ball. He served on the boards of Goodwill Industries, the YMCA, the Mary & Daniel Loughran Foundation, and United Way: “A big part of what I did was make sure our people were engaged in the community. We were rooted here, raised our families here. That was the basis of our success.”

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