Insights: Article

Conversation with Jill Castilla

November 15, 2016

Possibilities recently sat down with Jill Castilla, president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond, Oklahoma, to get her thoughts on the current state of banking.

Possibilities: Both you and your bank have a very strong social media presence. What do you feel are the keys to building an audience on social media, and why is it important for your bank?
 It’s not so much about building an audience as it is building connections. How many followers you have or their reach isn’t as important as being connected to the right people and learning from them. You want to build on those interactions. I believe it is important for community banks to connect on social media because many of the businesses and individuals you interact with are people who don’t go to traditional networking events through your local chamber or Rotary club. My experience has been that if you’re not out on social media, you are excluding yourself from an audience that is readily available for you to engage with. In addition, if you’re cost conscious when it comes to advertising or marketing, social media is so time efficient and inexpensive that I think it’s a no-brainer for a community bank that’s trying to cut expenses and maintain a presence. It’s an incredible avenue to do that efficiently. It also leads into earned media and the opportunity to engage with journalists and the idea shapers of our industry, because social media is where they hang out. You can be part of the conversations going on right now about the future of our industry. Social media often can remove the barriers for working with those stakeholders.

Possibilities: How is the current regulatory environment affecting your bank?
Jill: It’s challenging, but it requires us as bankers to be smarter and scrappier than we have ever been. I enjoy that challenge, and I’m fortunate to be in a market with great people who also enjoy that challenge. They like learning the regulatory requirements and figuring out how we can conduct our business effectively for our customers and comply with both the technical details of the regulations and the intent of the regulatory agencies. We don’t find it burdensome or that it is keeping us from being good community bankers. However, what we do find is that it is often burdensome for our customers—it impacts them the most. That’s who I feel for. From a business standpoint, we’ve been able to handle it well. There’s definitely opportunities to improve the regulatory environment, and I hope that’s the case, but through smart work we can conduct our business as we always have.

Possibilities: Your bank has been a part of Edmond virtually since the city’s inception. How does that history influence your operations? What are the keys to long-term success?
Jill: Our town is so important in the history of Oklahoma. It’s really the birthplace of education in the state. The very first schoolhouse was built here just a couple blocks away from the bank, and the first institution of higher learning was built just a few blocks away as well. Our community grew out of the land run on Oklahoma, and our bank was there at the beginning and has grown along with the city. We’ve always had a strong commitment to education here in Edmond, and we have one of the highest populations of educated households in the country. It requires our bank to be on the cutting edge of technology. Customers expect us to be highly engaged with them and progressive in developing new products and services. We may be an affluent suburb of Oklahoma City, but we have a small town soul. Everyone wants to feel connected to one another. Our bank puts on a big block party, we have monthly celebrations with the community, and more than 30,000 people attend each of our eight customer appreciation days every year. We are heavily banked here with a lot of competitors, but there is loyalty to our community bank and support for our efforts.

Community banks are so well positioned to have great social capital that even in hard times the community will stick by you, and that’s certainly been the case for us. The relationships you develop are the foundations of being a community banker, and communities support their local banks because it’s not just about deposits and loans, it’s about the community good. There’s accountability for community bankers because we see our customers in the grocery store isle or kids’ soccer and baseball games. Personal accountability is why our relationship with our customers is so strong. It’s no secret where I live or where I can be found at work—all our employees work on the ground floor. We’re accessible, humble and approachable. It’s the same for many community bankers elsewhere because we are putting our hearts and our sweat into our communities. We’re not just there to make a buck.

Possibilities: Your talk at our Bankers Seminar in Mankato, Minn., will discuss how Citizens Bank of Edmond went from nearly closing to thriving in a matter of years. Can you highlight some of the issues you faced and how you worked through them?
Jill: I first worked for Citizens Bank about 20 years ago, and my family has been part of the ownership of Citizens Bank for more than 100 years, but I was serving as a CFO at a community bank in northern Minnesota when I got a call from my family asking if I would come back because Citizens had received a horrible examination, and they wanted me to help with the turnaround.

We quickly found out we had several million dollars of fraud internally and abuse on the lending side. The bank needed a massive overhaul that I had to lead. I picked up some interesting nicknames along the way, but our team led the fastest turnaround in the nation without adding capital. We were getting a lot of attention from the media because of the fraud, and we started using social media to change the story of the bank and reconnect with community. We consolidated our branch locations into one once our capital was strong. It was very well received by our customers and we did that without any sort of net deposit loss. We embraced innovation and created our own interactive teller machines that attach to our ATMs and cost less than $15,000 per unit, whereas ATMs can cost well over six figures. We now sell that technology to other banks.

We found that being that close to failure really brought out our ingenuity. We feel like we can do anything, and we have the confidence and courage to take some risks. We understand that if we have small failures that don’t impact our customers, then that’s okay. That gives us opportunities to innovate and try new things, as well as involve our customers in the deployment of new ways to access the bank and have conversations on social media about how to improve. It’s taken our bank to a new level. We’re a better bank now with half the staff compared to when I started, and that efficiency is a good thing. We want to stay nimble, scrappy and smart going forward.

Possibilities: How can community banks ensure they have a successful future?
Jill: The number one thing we can do is keep our small-business mindset. Our business model works well, so long as we don’t turn into a corporation that loses its connection to the pulse of the business. When you are a small business owner, you live or die by what’s happening daily and monthly, where the trends are going. It’s imperative that we stay on that level and don’t get too removed from what the day-to-day business is. We also have an extreme advantage because of our scrappiness and nimbleness. I have a friend who is high up in IT at a very large bank, and she tells me how jealous she is about how quickly we can assess and get to market with ideas, whereas they have layers of bureaucracy. They may have more resources, but it’s difficult for them to make decisions and get things done. We can use that to our advantage and have innovation start with us. Community bankers are creative and have the ability to pull things together that can revolutionize our industry. We can use the social capital we’ve built in our communities to feed a “bank local” movement. If we stay humble and connected to our communities, they will be behind us and help ensure our long-term survival.

About Jill Castilla
Jill Castilla is the president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond. Her responsibilities include leading and managing the day-to-day operations of the $250-million asset, 115-year-old community bank. Citizens Bank of Edmond leads in innovation, social media, financial technology and small business relationships in the industry.

She is the fourth generation of ownership and management at Citizens Bank and is passionate about her community, serving in leadership roles with multiple local organizations, as well as with the American Bankers Association, Independent Community Bankers of America and their state run associations.

Jill is the recipient of American Banker’s “Community Banker of the Year,” The Journal Record’s “Most Admired CEOs in Oklahoma” and Bank Director’s “Most Innovative CEOs in Banking.” She has also led the bank to win countless awards and recognitions, including back-to-back recipients of American Banker’s “Top Team” in 2014 and 2015.