Nikki Stephenson, Regions Financial | Most Powerful Women: Next

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Head of commercial portfolio management

As Regions Financial set out to revamp its commercial credit underwriting processes in late 2018, it had some ambitious goals: to become more efficient and profitable while also improving the customer experience.

The $133 billion-asset company also hoped to get it all done in six months.

Nikki Stephenson, known at Regions for her exceptional work ethic and proven ability to galvanize colleagues to initiate change, got the assignment — and she embraced the challenge.

Stephenson, who was promoted to head of commercial portfolio management when she agreed to helm the project, paired underwriting professionals with commercial lenders to better align credit delivery and risk exposure with processing costs. She empowered both to work directly with customers throughout the loan application and approval process.

Previously, customers were assigned to bankers based on capacity. As a result of the change, both lenders and underwriters forged relationships with borrowers — ties that led to more informed and efficient decisions. Ultimately, Regions saved money because the customer-facing bankers were able to absorb management and support staff functions into their roles.

“We go much further than most with our customer-centric approach,” Stephenson said in an interview. “There is a material difference.”

Stephenson streamlined job classifications — 13 classifications reduced to five — and peeled away layers of management. The project reduced management positions from 20 to 10 and drove aggregate headcount reduction of 25%. The annual savings totaled approximately $4 million.

“This initiative, which was fully implemented within six months of Nikki’s transition into her new role, is representative of her ability to adapt to a new and challenging environment, and, ultimately, create operating efficiencies that benefit all stakeholders,” said Timothy Monte, head of credit products at Regions.

Stephenson’s work earned her a spot on our second annual Next list. This extension of our Most Powerful Women in Banking program is meant to highlight high-achieving women in the leadership pipeline who are age 40 and under.

While both highly driven and focused on the details, Nikki also connects well with clients (internal and external) and builds highly engaged and motivated teams.
Timothy Monte, Regions Financial’s head of credit products

This spring Stephenson was tapped for a key role in another big project. She helped lead Regions’ all-hands rollout of the Paycheck Protection Program, the Small Business Administration’s effort to get emergency loans to business owners to bridge the gap from the pandemic to economic recovery. Regions funded about $4.8 billion in PPP loans in a matter of weeks.

“It was an intense, very fast-moving project,” said Stephenson, who oversees a team of about 90, but drew on resources from elsewhere in the company to handle the flood of PPP inquiries. “It was, as we like to say, like building a car in the middle of a race. But it was so important. Our ability to quickly build partnerships across the bank paid dividends for our clients.”

Nominating executive:
Timothy Monte, head of credit products

What he says:
“While both highly driven and focused on the details, Nikki also connects well with clients (internal and external) and builds highly engaged and motivated teams,” Monte wrote in nominating Stephenson for the Next list. “In late 2018, Regions undertook a redesign of its core commercial credit process. Nikki inherited a large organization that was on the verge of significant change and in need of strong leadership. She immersed herself into the redesign and worked tirelessly to fully understand the details, the vision, etc. Within a short period of time, she was the subject matter expert on the redesign and the proposed impact to her organization. She led the change to her team successfully and drove additional efficiencies (in both time and cost) that exceeded the original plan.”

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Commercial banking Regions Bank The Most Powerful Women in Banking: NEXT 2020