Citizens Bank of Edmond evolves its innovation strategy by working with—and for—its community partners. We spoke to two of its business customers for the first article in a new series.
By Colleen Morrison
For Jill Castilla, president and CEO of $372 million-asset Citizens Bank of Edmond, Okla., innovation extends far beyond its technology offerings.
“I would not think of innovation as technology; innovation is a mindset,” Castilla says. “You have to get around people who challenge the way you’re thinking. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re at risk of not being innovative.”
With that guiding principle, Citizens Bank of Edmond has taken a unique approach to innovation by introducing community-based solutions that extend beyond traditional financial products. From a “bankerless” bank for cash-dependent businesses to a storefront entrepreneurial space for retail clients, the bank deploys outside-the-box solutions to meet the emerging needs of its community.
That’s a truth that customers Sharina Perry, founder of Utopia Plastix, a plant-based plastic alternative manufacturer, and Matthew Burch, founder of the Urban Agrarian, a grocer specializing in sourcing and selling local food from Oklahoma farms, can attest to.
The community-first approach is critical to enabling innovation.
Sharina Perry: A sustainable ecosystem is a core part of my business, and I believe that sustainable practices start with community. Long before there were legislators and councils, there was community, and that community identified what was needed to make it sustainable. Citizens Bank of Edmond truly wears that, continuously asking, “What does our community need that we can serve?”
They are not only doing this as a bank but by using their spaces to support the community itself. From coworking spaces and a monthly food truck and entertainment celebration to the revitalization of [local landmark] the Tower Theater, they go beyond just being a bank. They are looking at the things that drive community and supporting those things.
Matthew Burch: Exactly. This is where I’m from. I want to earn a living at Urban Agrarian, but I just want something like this to exist in my hometown. What we do is not common—a company running refrigerated trucks around the state on a loop. I know some of this didn’t look great on paper, but we’ve been helped along the way by Citizens. They offered a lot more than other banks and had the wherewithal to engage with us.
Jill Castilla: The way I see it, seeking to understand is where we have the opportunity to be innovative. That growth mindset is where it starts and to think less about protecting what we have and more about ‘How do I lean into this and really be part of something to lead where the community is going?’
Castilla, Perry and Burch agree that innovation comes in many forms.
Castilla: Innovation’s about always elevating the bar. It’s about having really wacky ideas, like having our coffee machine integrated with our bank app, but asking, ‘Why not try it?’
Burch: I think a lot of it is in the culture at Citizens; they do not take no for an answer and figure out how to get it done. For example, I saw them invest in the EastPoint Project, which is a part of town that’s probably not been invested in for 30 years. It’s an underserved community, and that type of innovation endears them to me quite a bit, these social and community-based innovations.
Perry: I agree completely. I’m passionate about minority business and growth, and during the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) craziness, I was able to refer minority business owners—who weren’t getting the time of day from other banks—to Citizens for help. They were hands on, answering questions and processing applications for struggling local companies. That’s innovative thinking. It goes beyond the simple, obvious solution to how they can provide the best experience for their clients.
As Citizens Bank of Edmond continues its innovation path, focusing on the community remains at the forefront and is a continual selling point for its customers.
Burch: Jill saw the strength of our vision and our commitment. She really cared about what we were doing and wanted to help and thought we could be successful. [Bank employees] find a way to say ‘yes’ to projects that we all know should happen and that are the right things to do.
Perry: I believe banks should have relationships with their customers. I know that Citizens is championing for me. Jill and the team make themselves available for what my needs are, and you feel like you’re talking to someone you can trust.
Colleen Morrison is a writer in Maryland.