Michelle Orr – KeyBank
Transitioning from USD LIBOR is one belaboring process. That’s the acronym for the London Interbank Offered Rate for U.S. Dollars, which is used to approximate the average interest rate banks pay on unsecured loans from each other. LIBOR historically has been used for many types of financial products.
London label notwithstanding, the index is used worldwide with the rate calculated from estimates submitted by the leading panel banks for each currency in Britain’s foggy capital city. In 2012, some panel banks colluded to manipulate LIBOR, resulting in lawsuits, fines and a regulatory push for the industry to move to an alternate benchmark, one based on transactions in a robust market.
That’s had USD LIBOR being replaced by risk-free interest rates known by another acronym, SOFR, meaning Secured Overnight Financing Rate. Overseeing the process is the Alternative Reference Rates Committee, which is a collection of private-market participants convened by the U.S. Federal Reserve Board and the New York Fed. ARRC has recommended alternatives to LIBOR, established best practices and provided guidance relating to the SOFR transition.
As a June 30 deadline nears, Michelle Orr’s agenda becomes more consumed with helping her employer, KeyBank, complete this LIBOR-to-SOFR transition. Now in her second go-around on the legal staff, Orr has spent over three years working almost daily with KeyBank’s core LIBOR team led by Anthony Bulic—senior vice president for pricing, hedging and analytics—to ensure the timely transition.
“It’s actually been a lot of fun as well as a lot of work,” she tells Vanguard in April from KeyBank headquarters in another foggy city, Cleveland. “The folks on the core team are tremendous, including those assisting from outside counsel firm, Jones Day. The respect we have for each other’s talents and open exchange of ideas is key to the project’s success.”
It’s especially fun for this banking lawyer who enjoys poring over details and weighing a slew of uncertainties. While no LIBOR loans have been made since Dec. 31, 2021, Orr keeps busy assisting in the race to convert old loans and other financial products to a replacement index. Although SOFR is the ARRC-recommended replacement index, there are many versions used—daily rates, term rates, averages—depending on business and product.
Despite challenges, she’s optimistic that when all’s said and done, banks and clients alike will benefit. Still, variables pend.
“It’s been a huge project for every bank and financial institution,” she says. “Not only in the United States but around the world.”
And it’s far from Orr’s only project as SVP and assistant general counsel. So much else is changing in the banking industry, and she’s applying her experience toward keeping KeyBank abreast with trends, especially those relating to doing business electronically.
Small business clients want their loan applications promptly processed, and Orr has had a hand in making that business as usual. With her legal oversight and collaboration with the technology and operations departments, KeyBank is digitizing more of its offerings, enabling clientele to do business electronically on the deposit side as well as in application for credit and execution of loan documents.
“We’re making it easier to do business with us, whichever way the client chooses, either remotely or in person,” Orr says. “Instead of filling out paper wet-ink style, the client can do so electronically and work with a loan specialist on a device, all while creating and preserving an audit trail.”
A preemptive portal
Long before COVID-19 necessitated remote service, KeyBank was on a path to digitizing the banking experience, she explains. When the pandemic hit, KeyBank leveraged its experience with electronic signatures and electronic vaulting in the leasing space, adopting those processes to stand up an electronic portal for processing small-business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.
Orr and another attorney interpreted the law and ever-changing Small Business Administration regulations governing PPP as well as supporting implementation of such during the pandemic.
“I would say that our electronic portal and process is one of the factors that propelled KeyBank to be one of the top SBA lenders in the initial round of PPP funding, which in turn helped KeyBank get relief to its customers quickly,” Orr says. “Crazy as that time was with so many businesses closing, we had a mission to help our clients and communities and embraced PPP as a way to achieve that mission.”
It’s been an eventful dozen years—especially the last few—for Orr, who rejoined KeyBank in 2011. Her big responsibility then was assisting in the adjustment to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Once those details were fine-tuned, she helped relaunch KeyBank’s credit-card business, which she supported for six years before immersing in the commercial lending side that’s taken such an interesting turn since COVID-19. But, as Orr reminds, the financial world calls for much pivoting. She’s made a career of it for nearly 30 years and has long since gotten over being rejected for flight attendant.
As a young woman, Orr studied in Paris and rode the Orient Express with a friend who went on to serve passengers aboard Delta Air Lines. Orr not making the cut, she opted for Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, graduating in 1991.
First the firm
Orr honed her skills for two years-plus with Thompson Hine in Cleveland. KeyBank among the clientele, Orr served it well enough to be asked to join its legal staff in 1993. In 2001, she left to be the first and then-only in-house counsel at Third Federal Savings, but returned to KeyBank a decade later and has earned three promotions.
“As a law student I gravitated to the document and research side rather than litigation,” she says. “It prepared me for the many roles I’ve had since then.”
Three decades in banking haven’t dulled her passion, though she does enjoy getaways to her condo on Florida’s Panhandle. Homelife’s quite satisfying for this married mother of two grown children, with everybody being avid golfers.
But time on the links and beaches might be compromised in the runup to LIBOR’s phaseout, which Orr feels is overdue.
“LIBOR’s demise has been a long time in coming, so I’ll be glad when we can wrap up another successful project and move onto the next big challenge,” she says.
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2023 Edition here.
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