James Robert Lay illustrates the quintessential hero's journey, where every hero requires a guide. In movies, we see figures like Obi-Wan, Mr. Miyagi, and Gandalf. But what about real-world heroes such as military personnel? Who guides them through their financial quests? A recent episode of Nymbus' "Heart of Growth" series the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast seeks to answer just that.

The top 3 insights from this article:

  • People Before Transactions: Focusing on the local community's needs and fostering authentic ties can lead to significant transformations, transcending mere financial transactions.
  • Innovation Through Empathy: There is a need for tailored financial solutions built on genuine understanding and top-tier digital experience.
  • Harnessing Personal Narratives for Growth: Understanding and integrating these stories can pave the way for revolutionary products and services in the financial industry

A Team-Driven Growth Mindset

With a vision rooted in caring and growth, Jill Castilla, the president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond, and her team have paved the way for a banking experience that puts people before transactions.

Jill explains how she has cultivated a growth-oriented team at her bank. With a focus on local needs and a mission-driven approach, her team has identified and filled geographical service gaps. Beyond just banking, the essence of her work lies in fostering community ties and meaningful transformations over mere financial transactions.

Jill emphasizes the legacy of the 122-year-old Citizens Bank of Edmond. Its significance extends far beyond its balance sheets and financial services. The bank's continued impact on the community underscores its value. Being part of a community with numerous banks, the question isn't about the bank's size or its number of transactions. Instead, it revolves around the unique, positive mark it leaves on the community, generation after generation.

Another fascinating aspect of the bank's journey is the ownership structure. With the bank's largest shareholder being its employee stock ownership program, there's a unique sense of "Extreme Ownership." This structure not only promotes nimbleness in decision-making but also encourages a culture of radical candor. Every employee has a voice, ensuring the bank continuously meets community needs while innovating for future growth.

Bridging Borders and Building Futures: The Birth of Roger

With community transcending traditional borders, innovative solutions to age-old problems are emerging. This is the story of how Citizens Bank of Edmond bridged past and present, creating Roger, the first military-focused digital bank.

As in every hero's tale, there's always a guiding force. Luke has Obi Wan in Star Wars, Daniel son has Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, and Frodo had Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. For the military community, that new guiding light is Roger.

When asked about the motivation behind creating Roger, Jill shared an internal mantra that stems from the Navy, "If not us, then who? If not now, then when?"

With a team composition unique and serendipitous—led by a veteran and with 20% having military experience—Jill highlights how they identified a long-standing issue.

"The military community has been somewhat overlooked for the last four decades," Jill notes. With personal stories resonating across the team, they understood the need for a financial solution tailored for the military community.

The aim? A financial future built on understanding and top-tier digital experience.

The Power of Stories: Jill Castilla's Journey

Jill candidly shares her formative years in eastern Oklahoma, where college wasn't in the cards. Despite challenges, including financial hardships and betrayals, her drive remained. An encounter with an army recruiter changed her trajectory, presenting the military as a ticket to economic freedom and education.

Recounting a deeply personal financial setback involving a close family member depleting her hard-earned savings, Jill highlights the vulnerability of young recruits. This resonates deeply with the mission of Roger, as it underlines the need for financial security and understanding for those in the military.

But her military experience wasn't just about financial challenges. It was also a crucible for personal and professional growth.

"From a leadership development piece... it was the biggest leap in my professional development," Jill states, seeing the military as a transformative rite of passage.

With stories that mirror countless others in the military community, the birth of Roger isn't just a business venture—it's personal. It's an innovative solution rooted in empathy, understanding, and the desire to give back.

James Robert  reflects on the concept of the "voyage and return" archetype, drawing a parallel between story mythology and the journey of Citizens Bank of Edmond. James Robert believes that every experience, whether known or unknown to us at the moment, leaves an indelible mark, guiding our thought processes and actions for the future.

Jill's story emphasizes the significance of sharing personal experiences, no matter how painful. By doing so, she discovered that many others faced similar challenges, which acted as a foundation for the concept of Roger.

The Role of Money and Community

For many, money is often a taboo topic. Yet, being open about financial matters, especially in the context of personal stories, can open new avenues for individuals and businesses alike. 

Jill sees endless possibilities in the world of digital banking, especially when institutions harness the unique stories of their employees and customers.

"Understand your own stories where your expertise lies well beyond typical banking expertise, but your life expertise."

Whether it's catering to the agricultural community or ensuring service members across the globe receive top-notch banking services, Jill believes that understanding and leveraging personal narratives can lead to revolutionary products and services in the banking sector.

Lessons from Launching Roger: Risks, Partnerships, and Mindset

Jill reflects on her journey of launching Roger. The biggest lesson she highlights is twofold:

  • Risk Management vs. Risk Avoidance: Community bankers are expert risk managers. It's crucial to not just avoid risks but to manage them effectively.
  • Choosing the Right Vendors and Partners: For Castilla, the mindset and collaboration opportunities with vendors matter more than the product itself.

"We need partners, vendors that will listen to us... that allows us to also treat them with respect and have an influence over where our product goes."

James Robert elaborates on this mindset, explaining how collaborations can act as exponential multipliers where the sum is greater than its parts. For him, commitment to a cause is more meaningful than the present moment.

A Vision for Roger: Serving the Military Community

Jill unveils her broader vision for Roger: to alleviate financial challenges faced by military families. With a shocking 40% of military families currently experiencing food insecurity, She sees a dire need for effective financial literacy programs.

"We have a very robust financial literacy program that we're integrating with Roger. And what we really would love to do is be able to build a community of mentors."

For James Robert, this goes beyond just transactional banking. The core lies in human connection, mentorship, and community building.

Jill emphasizes the philosophy of doing good. For her, when actions are rooted in good intentions and selfless service, the rewards - both tangible and intangible - will naturally follow.

"Finding where the gaps are, serving in a way in which you are doing so wholeheartedly. And then the fruits of your labor will come back to you tenfold."

Take Action Today:

  • Prioritize People-Centered Banking: Re-evaluate and redesign customer experience strategies, ensuring they're tailored to the community's specific needs and challenges.
  • Leverage Personal Narratives for Innovation: Initiate programs or platforms where employees and even customers can share their financial experiences and challenges. Use this feedback to inform product and service innovations.
  • Risk Management and Partnership Evaluation: Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment across operations and redefine vendor selection criteria based on collaborative potential and alignment with the institution's mission.

By incorporating these action items, leaders can set the stage for a more empathetic, innovative, and community-focused approach to banking. 

For more about financial transformation, reach out to James Robert Lay at the Digital Growth Institute.