How a community bank rebuilt its brand

Engagement and authenticity go a long way, Citizens Bank of Edmond CEO Jill Castilla tells conference attendees

Jill Castilla - (Photo / Submitted)

When Jill Castilla’s stepfather asked her to return to Oklahoma to save his family’s bank in 2009, the offer the bank gave her was less than enticing.

The position offered a 50 percent pay cut from her current job, a demotion and much less vacation time. It also meant uprooting her family from Minnesota to Oklahoma and taking responsibility for a bank whose troubles had deep roots in the company’s culture.

She took the job. 

Now, she’s president, vice chairman and CEO of that institution, Citizens Bank of Edmond. The $250-million asset bank in the suburbs of Oklahoma City now boasts a thriving social media presence, a popular bank-sponsored street fair and a reputation as a community-friendly bank, she said. Castilla has also received numerous awards from business publications, earning titles like “Community Banker of the Year” and being ranked among the “Most Admired CEOs in Oklahoma” and “Most Innovative CEOs in Banking.”

Castilla’s road to this point was fraught with personal and professional hurdles, she said March 6 during a keynote address at the Pennsylvania Bankers Association’s Women in Banking Conference.

Here are three lessons she offered conference attendees:

1. Comebacks happen

Castilla knew when she joined the bank that it had problems. But she didn’t know, at least initially, how bad circumstances really were.

The institution lost $7.5 million her first year there, a problem worsened by routine misuse of company credit cards and headlines about its problematic lending practices, Castilla said. On top of that, some leaders at the 115-year-old bank struggled to accept changes Castilla wanted to make when she joined the leadership team in 2009.

More from the Women in Banking Conference

The fourth annual Women in Banking Conference, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bankers Association, drew 291 women and 21 men from across the state. That’s more than any previous year, association officials said.

The conference also featured the first winners of the Recognition of Excellence Awards, a new program honoring women and men who support women in their workplace.

  • Patti Husic, founder of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association’s Women in Banking initiative and CEO of Centric Bank, won the Woman of Influence Award. Starting next year, the award will be called the Patricia A. Husic Woman of Influence Award.
  • Rebecca Stapleton, chief banking officer for S&T Bank, and Charles Ferry, partner with law firm Rhoads & Sinon, won the Champion for Women Award.
  • LeAnn Gephart, chief marketing and culture officer of Woodlands Bank, won the Tomorrow’s Promise Award.

Read more about the awards here.

“No one talked to me,” she said. “Meetings were contentious beyond contentious.”

As she helped handle these issues at the bank, Castilla also had to navigate her difficulties in her personal life. Her husband stayed in Minnesota for nine months to wrap up business there after she moved to Oklahoma, leading her to live temporarily with her mother and stepfather. She also had to care for their young children, who often joined her at the bank at 5 a.m., went to school then returned with her in the evening.

Circumstances did, eventually, improve. The bank was financially solvent again by early 2012, without layoffs or adding capital, in part thanks to a decision to sell several properties. The company also emerged from its written agreement with regulators over its loan practices that year, and cracked down on what had been a long-accepted practice of using business credit cards for personal expenses.

Castilla slowly worked her way into the good graces of the bank’s leadership, becoming CEO in 2014. Since then, the company has embarked in projects like music video parodies that instill a sense of fun in the office and ensure the good vibes are there to stay.

2. Engage – and be authentic

Castilla has since learned to own her bank’s story. She frequently speaks at banking and women’s events throughout the country and has done interviews with publications ranging from local newspapers to American Banker.

She also shared brutally honest details about her personal and professional life during her hour-long presentation at last week’s Women in Banking conference, having learned over the past few years that candidness resonates with people (a lesson she learned, in part, from coaching from Patti Husic, CEO of Lower Paxton Township-based Centric Bank, she said).

Authenticity is also one of the main tenets of Citizens Bank of Edmonds’ social media strategy.

Castilla initially shied away from social media but has since realized the value in engaging with the community in that space. She personally replies to comments and complaints, often leaving her personal cellphone number. At times, she receives calls at odd hours from customers with ATM or debit card issues, but she can often direct them to the right bank employees for help, which in turn helps the bank build its community rapport.

Citizens Bank of Edmond now has more than 3,500 likes on Facebook and more than 4,000 Twitter followers.

Castilla spends about 10 minutes each day on social media, she said, making the payoff well worth the modest amount of time put into it.

3. Be a good neighbor

Aside from engaging with customers, the bank also has another goal in its social media strategy: lifting up its neighbors. It does this by sharing posts that shine a light on the positive happenings in Edmond, as opposed to advertisements for the bank’s services.

Several recent posts on the page, for example, feature photos of local students with their high school mascots, while others feature local artwork and businesses. 

This strategy is part of the bank’s larger goal of building rapport – which translates to more customers – by being a good neighbor.

Citizens also sponsors a popular monthly street festival, Heard on Hurd, filled with food trucks and pop-up shops. It keeps bank branding to a minimum there, shifting the focus instead to its local vendors.

It also does periodic cash mobs, a kind of flash mob in which the bank gives its employees $5 to spend at a local store while wearing Citizens Bank attire. 

Not only are these events fun for employees and the community, but they help the bank brand itself as an institution that supports its small businesses.

Jennifer Wentz
Jennifer Wentz covers Lancaster County, York County, financial services, taxation and legal services. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at jwentz@cpbj.com.

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