Citizens Bank of Edmond is eager to show that smaller banks can be innovative when it comes to recruiting business.

Many banks are averse to change, especially when it comes to social media — but not Citizens. The $252 million-asset bank, led by the energetic Chief Executive Jill Castilla, has installed the newest ATM technology, pursued an impressive social media campaign and even found a unique way to connect with small businesses.

"I believe in the art of trying as long as it doesn't put the bank at risk," says Castilla, who is also the Oklahoma bank's president. "If something doesn't work out then we don't need to do it again. But I believe in taking very measured risks when it comes to things that can promote your brand and are true to who you are."

Like many smaller banks, Citizens suffered serious setbacks during the economic crisis. It was placed under a written regulatory agreement in January 2010 after losses and its loan-loss provision ballooned. Castilla, a fourth-generation banker, rejoined Citizens in 2009 and served in a variety of key posts before becoming CEO earlier this year. (She had once worked for the bank but left for a job with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.)

The underlying strength of the local economy and a commitment from employees, executives and directors to staying independent helped Citizens bounce back. Regulators removed the written order in March 2012.

"Knowing the board and management team were committed to long-term independence allows for freedom to look at banking differently," Castilla says. "It allows us to define who we want to be."

Citizens has chosen to define itself as a bank that readily embraces new technology. After deciding to close or sell four branches, management determined that virtual tellers at ATMs would make sure customers could still receive great service while completing transactions. But the technology wasn't readily available for smaller banks so Castilla, who is also an Army veteran, worked with local technology firms to deliver the product.

So far, customers have warmly received the virtual tellers, which were launched last year, she says.

Besides implementing new technology, Citizens is focused on serving small businesses and touting the local economy's vibrancy. To accomplish this, the bank began running so-called "cash mobs" in November. Each bank employee gets up to $10 to spend at a previously selected small business on a given day. Employees take pictures of themselves at the store, then upload the photos to social media.

The cash mobs have garnered a lot of media buzz and goodwill in the community at costs that are roughly equivalent to traditional advertising, Castilla says. At Chirps and Cheers, a local stationery store and the first business to be cash mobbed, the experience was wonderful, says owner Susan Kropp.

"As a small business, we can't afford to buy that kind of publicity," says Kropp, who adds that such events foster loyalty between a small business and its bank. "I can't say how much we appreciate their support of local, small businesses."

The cash mob concept is great because it shows marketing creativity while providing value for the bank and the business, says Nick Miller, president of Clarity Advantage. It could potentially work with other consumer-oriented businesses, he adds. "Increasingly the idea of a value proposition is expanding to include joint value rather than a one-way exchange of value," he says.

Citizens has also developed a strong social media presence that includes educational and entertaining videos on YouTube. (Its latest installment showed the bank's employees parodying the song "Royals" by Lorde.) Castilla, who has more than 3,000 Twitter followers, actively tweets and engages with others on the site. The bank's regulators have never objected to its social media activities, she says.

"A community bank is all about accessibility," Castilla says. "I answer my own phone. I see social media as extension of that."

Castilla uses her Twitter account — @JillCastilla — to respond to customer questions or complaints, even at odd hours. She also uses the account to promote Citizens' activities. The bank has even used social media to find out about philanthropic needs in the community, though it resists the temptation to discuss products or rates.

Such an approach can be powerful for a bank, says Stewart Rose, president and chief executive at Truebridge Financial Marketing. A CEO with a strong social media presence can be an asset and help set the bank's brand and voice, he says.

"You need to have something people want to hear on social media," Rose adds. "Entertainment can be a huge part of that. That usually gets a lot of hits. What Citizens does [with its YouTube videos] has a high entertainment value. It says something about them and makes them look very approachable."

Castilla, who finds it humorous when others tout her creativity, describes herself as "a complete nerd" who loves math and science. Castilla says she believes in turning perceived shortcomings, such as being a smaller bank, into an advantage.

"You have to make your weaknesses your strengths," Castilla says. "There are so many ways that a community bank can use its nimbleness that a larger bank can't. If a customer is upset about something all you would have to do is come into the bank and talk to me. As a community banker we have accessibility."

Jackie Stewart is a community banking reporter for American Banker.

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