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Banking Niche Populations: Insights from Jill Castilla and ROGER

In the dynamic landscape of financial services, community banks bring unique advantages to the table. Their intimate understanding of local needs, coupled with personalized service, sets them apart in an industry dominated by larger institutions. But how can community banks effectively tap into niche markets, serving them with tailored solutions while maintaining their core values? To explore this, we sat down with Jill Castilla, CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond in Oklahoma, and the visionary behind ROGER, an online bank catering to military service members. Here’s what we learned:

Know Your Strengths

Community banks excel in personalized service and local insights, making them inherently suited to cater to niche populations. But before diving into niche markets, community banks must first identify their strengths. Jill Castilla emphasizes the importance of aligning opportunities with internal capabilities. This involves a deep understanding of who you connect with and the expertise of your team. Since Castilla and much of her team have served in the military, banking the military community makes sense.

The expertise within the bank plays a pivotal role in serving niche populations. Having a diverse team with firsthand knowledge or experience within the targeted group enhances authenticity and understanding. Leveraging this internal expertise fosters trust and strengthens the bank’s relationship with the community it serves.

Know Your Audience

Understanding the demographics and needs of the target niche is crucial. Community banks thrive on personal connections, allowing them to tailor services to specific groups effectively. Whether it’s veterans, small business owners, or a particular cultural community, identifying the audience is the first step towards meaningful engagement.

“Authenticity is a strategic advantage for community banks,” asserts Jill Castilla. Community banks have the advantage of embedding themselves within the fabric of their communities, fostering trust through transparency and sincerity. This authenticity breeds loyalty and sets community banks apart in a competitive market.

Build A Risk-Tolerant Culture

Effectively banking niche populations require a certain level of risk tolerance. However, it’s not about recklessness but rather about smart risk management. Jill Castilla highlights the importance of cultivating a risk-tolerant culture: “You have to be a culture that’s not completely averse to risk,” she said. “We’re going to accept some risk, but we’re going to be so good at mitigating it that the risk will be minimal when we go to execute.”

By doing so, community banks can navigate uncharted territories with confidence, knowing that risks are minimized through thorough planning and execution.

Involve Your Team

Success in banking niche populations isn’t a solo endeavor—it’s a team effort. Jill Castilla emphasizes the importance of involving the entire bank in such initiatives: “It wasn’t just a project manager that got ROGER to the finish line,” she says. “It was a cross-section of our entire bank, with BSA, marketing, and operations at the front end of this. It also helps you get really great buy-in across the bank and lets you vet risks a lot earlier.”

From compliance and marketing to operations, every department plays a crucial role. This holistic approach not only fosters buy-in across the organization but also allows for early risk assessment and mitigation strategies. In the case of ROGER, it was the collective effort of Castilla’s team that propelled it to success. With various departments collaborating from the outset, risks were identified and addressed proactively, resulting in a robust and tailored banking solution for the military community.

In conclusion, community banks possess inherent strengths that uniquely position them to effectively serve niche populations. By aligning opportunities with internal assets, understanding and authentically connecting with the audience, fostering a risk-tolerant culture, and involving the entire team, community banks can thrive in catering to specialized groups. As Jill Castilla’s insights demonstrate, success lies not only in strategy but also in the genuine commitment to understanding and serving the needs of the community.

For more insights from Jill Castilla, listen to season 2, episode 6 of The Correspondent podcast: The Correspondent – Banking Podcast from ICBB: Leading Through Innovation (libsyn.com)


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