President and CEO, Citizens Bank of Edmond

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Jill Castilla has countless admirers.

As president and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond in Oklahoma, Castilla has become a master of social media and an internationally recognized voice for community banking. So much so that more than 100 institutions have adopted her bank’s use of cash mobs, where employees shop at a local business and then post about it on social media.

In addition to that, Citizens hosts other bankers who trek there to learn from Castilla and her team.

Not bad for an institution with just $256 million of assets in the suburbs of Oklahoma City.

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Castilla said. “Community banking is so much different than two large retailers competing against each other and trying to stay one step ahead of each other. There is a place in the market for many of us.”

Castilla seems to relish the opportunity to hear from and work with her fellow bankers. As chairman of the Community Bankers Association of Oklahoma, she has traveled across her home state, meeting with other community banks to hear their stories and learn about their concerns. This leadership has led to record membership for the organization.

“We were really inspired by the creativity of these community bankers in these rural areas and urban environments as well and their ability to survive and thrive,” Castilla said.

Castilla sees communication as a cornerstone in building a strong culture for her own bank, which she led through a turnaround. Employees anonymously submit questions for Castilla to answer during monthly fireside chats. She doesn’t review the questions beforehand or have someone screen out uncomfortable ones.

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“It is candid and there aren’t prepared responses,” she said. “Ultimately that builds autonomy.”

During these chats, Castilla has fielded everything from the goofy —
"Where do babies come from?" "What is your favorite yoga position?"—
to the more complex and strategic— "How big a threat do fintech charters pose to banks."

These sessions usually bring to light concerns from employees that management may not have been aware of. For instance, the dress code was modified after an employee asked about letting a tattoo show.

“It almost always leads to some kind of change, whether it’s policy or workflow to rethinking a strategy,” Castilla said.