‘Strong, quiet passion’: What to expect from ICBA’s new chief

Register now

The Independent Community Bankers of America may be at a crossroads, and members believe they have the right leader in place to handle the change.

Rebeca Romero Rainey, a third-generation community banker from New Mexico, is slated to become the association's president and CEO when Cam Fine retires in May. She is set to take over at a time when banks, especially smaller ones, seem poised to get more regulatory relief.

While Fine developed a reputation as a firebrand, particularly in the fight for rightsized regulation after the financial crisis, Rainey, former CEO of Centinel Bank in Taos, N.M., is expected to champion small banks with fresh ideas, passion and an authentic communication style.

Regulatory relief will remain a key part of the platform, though Rainey said in an email that she is determined to spur innovation, support the next generation of bankers and fight for an equal playing field for all financial institutions. The ICBA also plans to push hard for change at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and lobby for a bill designed to bring stability to farming sector.

“As a community bank CEO for the last 20 years, I’ve been so inspired by the work of community banks from across the nation,” Rainey said. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with the incredible ICBA staff and our volunteer leaders who are all so committed to ICBA’s mission of creating and promoting an environment where community banks flourish.”

Those who know Rainey describe her as a collaborative, experienced banker who is capable of uniting voices to make the case for small banks. And they also believe she is up to the challenge of succeeding Fine, who garnered considerable respect from community bankers during his 15 years at the ICBA's helm.

Though she has an ability to find common ground, Rainey can take a firm stand when necessary, which lawmakers and regulators will quickly discover, her supporters said.

“While she's one of the most gracious, gentle-speaking people around — don’t underestimate how determined she is," said Jerry Walker, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers Association of New Mexico. "Quite honestly, she’s going to make a lot of folks say, ‘Golly, we need to reconsider our position.’ She's that good.”

Rainey always seemed on track for a more public leadership role, said Cynthia Blankenship, vice chairman and chief operating officer at Bank of the West in Grapevine, Texas. Blankenship, who said she could envision Rainey as a future gubernatorial candidate in New Mexico, would even volunteer to serve as campaign chair if she ever ran.

"I've always felt like she was destined for" bigger things, Blankenship said. "You can feel it when you're around her."

Blankenship, who described Rainey as a "velvet hammer," recalled a state banking convention where Rainey spoke soon after giving birth. Blankenship held Rainey's infant daughter while she delivered her address.

"She has that much commitment and conviction," Blankenship said. "Even then, you could tell she had a strong, quiet passion for what she ... was doing in the industry. I think she'll be such a role model to younger women."

Rainey has spent her entire life in banking. She became Centinel's CEO in 1999 after graduating from Wellesley College and the Pacific Coast School of Banking. She was only 22.

Under her leadership, Centinel more than doubled in size, to $230 million in assets. Along the way, she crafted a growth strategy and encouraged employees to participate, said Angel Reyes, who succeeded Rainey as the bank's CEO.

"She really cares about people and she's not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get in and get the work done," Reyes said. "To her credit, she has had the vision of getting the bank to where we were in 1999 to where we are today."

Rainey had a legacy to uphold at Centinel.

Her grandfather, Eliu Romero, founded the bank after another financial institution refused to lend him $50 to buy furniture for his legal practice. After state regulators denied his application, he went to Washington to secure a charter. About 300 Taos residents capitalized the bank, which opened in 1969 and fulfilled Romero's vision to build a bank willing to serve everyone in the community.

Perseverance and tenacity seem to run in the family.

Rainey has a "genuine passion for our industry," said Preston Kennedy, the ICBA's vice chairman and CEO of Zachary Bancshares in Louisiana. “I just think she's the right person at the right time. She has lots of energy.”

She is also a hands-on leader, people close to her said.

Rainey was the first chairman of the Independent Community Bankers Association of New Mexico to insist on joining the CEO on an annual tour of every bank based in the state, Walker said. Her decision to do so created a tradition that every subsequent association chair has followed.

“You will not find anyone brighter than her,” Walker said. “She's going to bring perspective and a style that is totally different than Cam Fine — and you're speaking with a Cam Fine supporter.”

Jill Castilla, president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond in Oklahoma, recalled asking Rainey at the last minute if her team could stop by Centinel while in town for a conference. Despite the timing, Castilla's group was welcomed and introduced to all of the host bank's employees.

"Rebeca's technical knowledge and leadership impact were evident," Castilla recalled. "We came away from the visit inspired and motivated to do more at our own bank."

"No one should dismiss her ability to step up if there is an issue at hand and forthrightness is required," said Alice Frazier, president and CEO of Potomac Bancshares in Charles Town, W.Va., and a new member of the ICBA's board. "I expect Rebeca would be able to handle that with great finesse."

Rainey, who has already moved to Washington, has also had the advantage of working with her predecessor for months.

Fine, for his part, praised his successor's skills. He had some simple advice.

“Stay aggressive, be approachable, build relationships all over town — and she’ll be just fine,” Fine said.

At the same time, Rainey should have no trouble recruiting help to fight for community banks, according to bankers who met with her during the ICBA's annual convention, which concluded last week.

"If she needed someone to step up, anyone would," Frazier said.

“I’ve seen her in action and she’s really outstanding,” said Timothy Zimmerman, CEO of Standard Bank in Monroeville, Pa., and this year's ICBA chairman. “I’m looking forward to working with her. ... I think she will take us to the next level.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Community banking Lobbying Financial regulations ICBA New Mexico Women in Banking