Insights from the future: BAI Emerging Leaders Network

In the final installment of our series on the BAI Emerging Leaders Network, we’re proud to present the personal reflections from nine more outstanding young professionals you’ll surely hear about in the years to come.

Here, they share the experiences that have defined them, the long-term opportunities they see for the industry and the reasons why taking a big risk can pay off. (Meet more participants in the BAI Emerging Leaders Network in parts one, two and three of our series.)

Lauren_CantuLauren Cantu

Assistant Vice President, Lending Compliance Manager
Citizens Bank of Edmond
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

What advantages do you see with social media and/or emerging technologies?
Utilizing social media and emerging technologies is an integral part of our Bank’s identity. We are always looking for the next innovative thing that will first and foremost add value to our customers, and also help us stay ahead of the curve and remain competitive in the community bank market. I think social media and cutting-edge technologies can be detrimental if not used properly; however, they are essential to staying relevant in today’s ever-changing financial environment. There is no better way to reach a community and spur change than to engage in social media. Our customers and community are always at the forefront of our minds, and social media and emerging technology help us serve them and our community better.

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken with your career and what were the results?
The biggest risk I have taken in my career was leaving it. When my son was born a little over three years ago. my family and I decided I would leave my career to focus on raising a family. But after two and a half years I decided to venture back into the job market, hoping and praying my skills would still be relevant and my time away wouldn’t hinder my return. I decided to take the reins and create the opportunity I wanted, so I logged into LinkedIn and searched for Jill Castilla, the President and CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond. I had heard so many great things about her and the bank she was leading, and I knew I wanted the opportunity to learn from and work for her. Finding her profile, I clicked on it knowing full well how LinkedIn worked and that she would most likely see I viewed her profile. My hope was she would, in turn, view my profile and notice I was a bank compliance professional looking to reinstate my career. It worked! I had a LinkedIn message within hours telling me the bank had a compliance opening and asking if I would be interested in discussing it. I was elated! Fast forward to the final interview and I was offered the position of Assistant Vice President, Lending Compliance Manger. It was an amazing feeling knowing I was still relevant, my skills were still desired, and I could continue my professional journey with an amazing bank and group of people.


April-CowinApril T. Corwin

Training Specialist, Forcht Bank
Lexington, Kentucky

What are you looking for from your organization to keep you engaged and working for the company?
I want to work for a company that values their customers and employees, has top management lead by example by serving their community, understands the importance of family and work/life balance, and encourages further learning and development.

How do you relax?
One of my favorite ways to relax is hiking with my husband and son. You can’t beat a beautiful Kentucky spring or fall hike.


Krysten_DipollinoKrysten Dipollino

Strategy Consultant, Citizens Bank
Dedham, Massachusetts

What do you see as the top challenges and/or opportunities in the industry?
One of the top challenges within our industry is keeping up with rapidly evolving customer expectations. Companies outside of financial services, such as Amazon and Apple, are raising the bar in terms of what they can do to service their customers’ needs more quickly and simply, and customers are expecting that from their banks. In such a regulated industry, it can be difficult to compete and keep up with this demand. As much as I view this as a top challenge for the bank, I also think it is one of the greatest opportunities. It is a chance for companies to take a step back and truly rethink their strategy and almost start with a clean slate. Banks need to become nimbler than they have been in the past given how quickly things are changing within society. I think we are at a defining moment when we either make some big changes or lose out.

What is the biggest risk you have taken with your career and what were the results?
A new project was in the works for a small team to think about a new product or service within the market that solved unmet needs for consumers. They were looking for someone early in their career to join the team during the design phase, work through prototypes and test the ideas with consumers through different platforms. I was really excited to take this opportunity, but I was also terrified. I had no experience working on a product team and no experience in design thinking or prototyping — and I also said yes to a job that would last about 3 to 5 months with no clue where I would be working at the end of it. It was definitely risky to sign on not knowing where I would be a few months down the road, but I knew working on something like this wasn’t going to be an opportunity I would get very often in my career, and it was a chance to really broaden my capabilities in an area I had little experience in.


Michelle Kenning_CircleMichelle Kenning

Product Manager, Fifth Third Bank
Cincinnati, Ohio

What are you looking for from your organization to keep you engaged and working for the company?
One of the biggest things I am looking for from my organization is continuous opportunity. Career growth and upward mobility are very important to me as a young professional. My employer has done a great job at giving me opportunities to grow. I have been given the chance to learn, make mistakes and grow in my role. These experiences have made quite the impact on my career, and I am very thankful for that.

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken with your career and what were the results?
The biggest risk I have taken with my career is giving up my investment licenses and pursuing a career in corporate versus staying in the financial centers. I had grown into various roles within the banking center over the years, and I felt very comfortable where I was. I loved my customers and being their trusted advisor. However, I felt something was missing. I decided to go back to school to get my master’s degree and interview at our headquarters in Cincinnati. I went for a role in retail product even though it was outside of my comfort zone. I am pleased to say that I have been in retail product for a little over a year now. I feel that I am thriving in my role, and I am very happy with my decision. I am thankful daily for the opportunities I have been given in this new role, and I am very excited for the future.


Precious-PearsonPrecious Pearson

Assistant Vice President, Consumer Business, BBVA Bank
Birmingham, Alabama

Tell us about a time when you had to think outside the box to complete a task.
A few years ago, retail bankers had no way to prioritize and best distinguish their marketing calling leads within the lead generating system. The high demand for system improvements required a quick solution that seemed nearly impossible because of the engineering work required. Thanks to the collaboration of a devoted team with a can-do mindset and a passion for serving the retail network, we were able to develop a naming convention that categorizes outbound calling leads for easier segmentation in Salesforce: PROM – Priority, Retention, Onboarding & More. This has been received with much appreciation by branch bankers, and banker calling rates have improved since.

Who would you most like to grab a cup of coffee with?
I would be elated to indulge in conversation over caramel lattes and croissants with the late Maya Angelou, the famed poet, author and activist. She was and is still an inspiration to me for many reasons. Maya Angelou was a trailblazer in achieving success in many fields as an African-American woman, making her one of the most influential voices of our time. We’d sit and chat about the driving forces behind her unapologetic voice and unparalleled intellect, and her influence in the movements against social injustices, oppression, inequality and gender bias, among other social issues. I’d ask how I can apply this to being an impactful leader in the banking industry and society.


Kaitlin_Radar_CircleKaitlin Rader

Sales Insights Analyst Sr., Huntington National Bank
Columbus, Ohio

Why did you get into financial services?
I jumped into banking immediately after college graduation. It seemed like the most logical career choice since my degree was in economics, and it did not take long for me to land my first “real job” as a teller at a community bank. Once I started working for the bank, my eyes were quickly opened to the many different career paths offered in the financial services industry, and not just your typical brick-and-mortar roles. I chose to continue my career in the financial services industry because of the abundance of talent drawn to these companies. In a typical day, I am afforded the opportunity to interact with scientists, strategists, lawyers, software designers, analysts, sales professionals … the list goes on and on. I find it exciting and intriguing when I am able cross paths with so many talented individuals.

Who would you most like to grab a cup of coffee with?
Take me back in time for a conversation with Thomas Edison! He was an amazing inventor whose contributions still have a profound impact on our daily lives. I could spend hours listening to the successes and failures of his different inventions and why he chose the work that he did.


Clarissa _Westby_CircleClarissa Westby

Assistant Vice President, Business Banking Support, U.S. Bank
Minot, North Dakota

What makes a great leader?
I think everyone has their own version of what a great leader looks like. When I look at examples of great leaders, I see people who have great communication skills, who have a way of connecting with their employees, who are highly involved in all aspects of the job, who know when to involve others and who understand what their limitations might be and are willing to accept them.

Use three words to describe yourself.
Motivated, reliable, and independent. I am someone who enjoys being challenged in most everything I do, but I hold myself extremely accountable for the things that I sign up to do. It would be very rare for me to miss a deadline that has been set or I’ve set for myself.


Stephanie-GillStephanie Gill

Branch Manager, Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union
Pensacola, Florida

What makes a great leader?
One who leads by example and pushes their team to be their best.

What three words would you use to describe yourself
Motivated, responsible and friendly.


Halle Reighley

Senior Vice President, Regional Manager, Cleveland West Region, PNC
Cleveland, Ohio

Why did you get into financial services?
Years ago, I read a book that gave advice to single women on achieving financial security. It gave me some much-needed direction, along with a sense of empowerment. A few years later I was working late in a demanding job that provided little work/life balance when a recruiter called explaining they were looking for people who understood sales production to lead in their retail branches. I knew the job I was in would never allow me to achieve my personal goals. I also knew that financial services had the potential to help me find a sense of fulfillment in my work. I interviewed and was in my new career three weeks later.

Describe the most challenging obstacle you had to overcome recently.
Recently I had to have a conversation with an employee who received a potentially terminal medical diagnosis. I had to address her options and their impact on growing her career. I was unsure of the right words to use and the fear of the unknown, thinking, “How will she take it?” I heard someone say once that when you are unsure of what to do, you should sit alone with your hands over your heart. When you are calm enough to feel your heartbeat, think of three things that you are deeply grateful for, and when you do, you will know what to do. I found this process useful in important decisions in the past and it was helpful again in this one.

Learn more about the BAI Emerging Leaders Network.

Read parts onetwo and three of this series.