Career Profile: From Bank Marketing to Chief Diversity Officer

By Craig Colgan

Today we begin a series on career issues across the bank marketing field as it evolves and confronts new challenges but also new opportunities.

ABA’s offers a range of events and training for all career levels, including: The CFMP gives bank marketing professionals a competitive edge while Bank Marketing School offers the foundation necessary to move beyond the basics. Learn more.
Nicole Almeida, CFMP, a former bank marketer, is SVP and chief diversity officer at BayCoast Bank, headquartered in Swansea, Massachusetts. Her story illustrates how bank marketers are transitioning to top leadership roles in banks, using their experience and career training to inform their important new positions. Can bank marketers succeed in broader leadership roles?

“Absolutely!” Almeida says. “Bank marketers have access to and interact with every department within the organization. This gives them insights and experiences unique to the position. They are responsible for the tone, culture and reputation of the organization, both internally and externally in most cases.”

Almeida answered our questions recently about her career arc and described her new position.

Q. How did your career begin?

A. My working career began in retail. It offered the part-time, flexible hours I needed initially (being a single mom at 18), with an opportunity to learn and grow at the same time.

I ultimately moved up into regional management, and then banking came calling. At the time, Citizens Bank was looking to open its in-store line of branches within Stop & Shops and they were looking for individuals with a strong sales and customer service background.

The banking stuff they could teach, but the sales skills, with an in-store location, that’s where they needed experience. They had us selling checking accounts in the lettuce aisle. If you weren’t afraid of that or meeting your goals, well, you were in!

I spent a few years there before being recruited to a smaller community bank in the market. I had a fantastic CEO, who became a mentor, who I owe much of my banking success to. I leaped head-first into every opportunity to grow in leadership roles, ultimately moving to a regional manager position within banking as well. The bank was sold to a larger regional bank and while I stayed on for a bit through the transition, I decided to take an opportunity to pursue a passion for community service. I took a position in a local nonprofit as its resource and development director. I did grant writing and volunteer recruitment for an at-risk youth mentoring program for a few years before heading back into banking.

The board chair of that nonprofit happened to be the CEO of my current bank. It had just merged with another institution, and at only 14 branches, was surely not done growing. They were looking to begin a regional manager-type position, as I had done at my previous bank. Fortunately for me, I interviewed and was hired by the chief banking officer, yet another fantastic mentor and now, colleague and friend. This year makes 10 years that I have been with BayCoast Bank.

Q. What inspired you to investigate bank marketing?

A. Bank marketing found me, actually! As a member of the community banking team, I became known as somewhat of a cheerleader. As a regional manager, and ultimately as VP of community banking, it was my job to inspire, lead and support the division in providing the best possible customer experience we could.

Working collectively throughout business lines and affiliates, I developed a true passion for our brand, our mission. I joined the event planning committee, rolled out an organization-wide referral program and participated in many ad hoc projects and community development areas at the organization level. I spent five years in community banking, before I was given the opportunity to head up marketing. I was thrilled, shocked and absolutely terrified of the opportunity.

I did not have a degree, let alone any formal marketing training, banking or otherwise. Once in the role, I immediately signed up for the ABA’s online bank marketing courses, as well as Bank Marketing School, which I attended six months into my new role. This is one of the best decisions I made! I was a banker, through and through, coming from the retail side, the asset/liability, numbers, sales goal, relationship building side. All these years later, I consider myself a bank marketer!

Connect with peers and leading experts at ABA’s virtual Bank Marketing Conference, September 27-28. Learn more.
Earning the CFMP designation, for me, was like earning “street cred.” Coming from the banking side and not having the typical external marketing training or relevant experience, I didn’t feel confident enough to call myself a bank marketer, until I passed the test and earned my CFMP.

Attending Bank Marketing School first, then taking a few months to apply knowledge and skills gained and prepare was the right path for me and I would recommend the same for anyone who might actually want my opinion. I am a CFMP, after all!

Q. Please describe your move from bank marketing to your current position. What inspired that?

A. I suppose I have always put people first, or really had the ability to “see” a bigger picture when it came to people. Managing, leading, advocating. It’s all I know. Every career assessment, right down to the one I just took last week, says I should be a teacher, psychologist, social worker, therapist. When the pandemic hit, sure, traditional marketing efforts ensued: emails, social posts, direct mail. Notifying customers and effectively communicating with employees was important.

But doing so with empathy and understanding was even more critical. As bank marketers we were all in our element, circumstances were unfortunate, yes, but our passion for the brand, each other and the community really shone through.

George Floyd’s murder and the events following sparked unprecedented action in the industry. As community banks, we have always prided ourselves on being there for all members of the communities we serve, but the events in 2020 made us take pause. As our organization began to talk about our current social responsibility efforts, our potential impact and our plans for the future, I wanted to be a part of it. I expressed my interest in being involved, and through the creation of a DEI committee came the opportunity to slide into a new chief diversity officer role. Professionally and personally, this will most likely be the role in banking I am most proud of.

Q. How do banks best recruit and keep quality professionals?

A. The banking industry has grown exponentially. There are so many cool positions available. We need to get the word out that banking is pretty sexy when you think about it—marketing, IT, cybersecurity, data analytics. Very few people think of these when you say banking or financial services.

There must be a way to change that. Providing apprenticeship programs as a start maybe? We are piloting one now with a cohort of 10 recent high school graduates. They work part-time with us and we’ll put them through a fast-track, three-year bachelor’s degree program in business. We will start them at the teller line and introduce them to every other area of the bank throughout their time with us, hoping to spark an interest in a field within the industry.

The program over time should begin to build a pipeline for us and provide another avenue for students looking to get into a business field right out of high school. The student-employees benefit individually through greater earning potential and exposure to new and different career possibilities and the community gains educated, active and productive members of society who we hope will follow our lead and continue to give back.

The keeping part—that’s a bit harder. Clear career paths and goals, constant communication and consistent accountability are all areas I think we could do better as an industry. Creating an inclusive, belonging environment is important to retaining employees, and more importantly, engaged employees. The pandemic, as unfortunate as it has been, may have opened our eyes a bit wider to these needs over the last year and a half. Leading with empathy, encouraging diversity of thought and providing fair and equitable treatment for all: sounds simple, doesn’t it?

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About Author

Craig Colgan

Craig Colgan is digital editor at the ABA Banking Journal.