Most Powerful Women in Banking: No. 4, Bank of the West's Nandita Bakhshi

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President and CEO, Bank of the West

Nandita Bakhshi, two years into her tenure as the chief executive at Bank of the West, is candid about the hits — and misses — she’s experienced so far as she tries to grow an institution that has long had a conservative reputation.

On the one hand, the San Francisco bank’s deposit franchise is a bright spot, growing by 15% in 2016 and 12% last year.

Last June, Bank of the West launched a checking account that allows customers to avoid paying monthly service fees as long as they make at least one deposit each month. Previously, depositors paid fees if their accounts fell below a certain dollar amount.

Bakhshi said that the new product is encouraging depositors to use their Bank of the West accounts for everyday spending. “It has been a tremendous success,” she said.

The $89 billion-asset bank has also significantly improved the experience of opening an account through digital channels. Two years ago, only about 3% of accounts were opened online.

“At various points of what I call the funnel, the customer would walk away and not complete the application,” Bakhshi said.

After the bank sought customer input on fixes, however, more than 20% of accounts so far this year have been opened digitally. “So this customer-centric view that we are taking, it’s really, really helping with our growth,” Bakhshi said.

Yet not everything has gone as well. Loan growth remains a challenge. Total loans and leases rose by 9% in 2016 and 3% last year, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Noninterest income — an area of focus in the bank’s executive suite in recent years — rose by just 1% between 2014 and 2017. One goal is to generate more fee income from corporate clients by integrating more fully with the bank’s French parent company, BNP Paribas.

“I would tell you that we still have a little bit of work to do,” Bakhshi said. “We are not where I would like for us to be, but I think we’re making tremendous progress.”

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Bakhshi, who spent seven years at TD Bank before heading west, is complimentary of the corporate culture she inherited. She said that the bank’s employees have long been focused on customers, and feel good about coming to work every day.

But it is also clear that change is afoot. About one-third of the members of Bakhshi’s executive team have been with Bank of the West for more than two years, while the rest are either from BNP Paribas or other institutions, Bakhshi said.

Two high-profile hires — Ryan Bailey as head of the retail banking group and Hisham Salama as head of digital channels — are former TD executives.

Bakhshi said that she wants the bank to be agile and dynamic, and a place that empowers its employees. “We’ve taken a very good culture, and we’re making it better,” she said.

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