Magnum Opus: Building a Bank & Opening Up a Vault of Best Practices

Aine Cryts Finance, Issue 14 - Nov/Dec 2014 Leave a Comment

Nicole Carrillo, EVP and CFO at Opus Bank, grows business from the bottom up by focusing on the details

“We started as a new bank, so we really had a clean slate. We could create processes and procedures and drive culture and even set up floor plans exactly how we wanted to,” said Nicole Carrillo, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Opus Bank, which is among the fastest-growing banks in the western U.S. With more than $4 billion in assets, the bank has offices in California (headquartered in Irvine), Washington, Oregon and Arizona.

As she continues to build on her success at Opus, Carrillo draws on her 10 years of experience at KPMG, a global network of professional firms providing audit, advisory and tax services, where she served on audit teams for banks of all sizes.


Creating Best Practices

Because of her audit and advisory background with these banks, Carrillo witnessed firsthand how they approached different processes, solved problems and managed their staff and culture. As a result, in helping establish best practices at Opus, she was able to emulate what worked at those banks while avoiding the things that obviously did not work.

“We’ve really tried to break down some of those barriers that we thought hindered creating an efficient work environment,” Carrillo said.

For example, she strives to rely less on meetings and hierarchy to get work done. Carrillo doesn’t want to have to go to the Executive Vice President of Risk if she has a question she knows the Internal Audit Manager can answer. Likewise, she wants the legal team to feel comfortable reaching out directly to her Controller, who is recording check proceeds and knows where those funds are going.

To further encourage efficiency, in situations where a question can be answered in five minutes or less, rather than rely on email, she encourages her team to walk over to the person who has the expertise needed and ask the question. And the open floor plan at Opus, which features a few offices but mostly cubicles with low walls, helps facilitate a communicative and fluid work environment.


 Hiring Smart

When she started as CFO at Opus during Summer 2013, after having served as the bank’s Chief Accounting Officer, Carrillo immediately knew that she would have to replace herself. What she didn’t know was that two members of the team would leave within a month of one another.

There she was, a newly minted CFO who needed to provide strategic direction, and she had no direct reports. Still, the day-to-day work continued. Carrillo learned quickly that, until she hired her direct reports, she’d be actively supervising a team of about 30 people who were still fulfilling those daily responsibilities.

Carillo_Nicole_smallquoteThe benefit of this “perfect storm?” Carrillo learned very quickly the skills and strengths of her entire team—from Finance and Treasury to the Accounting and Budgeting and Planning groups. Though hers was a tumultuous start as CFO, Carrillo gained a better sense of the types of people she needed to fill the open positions.

 A Service-Oriented Approach

The way she looks at it, Carrillo’s team has their basic everyday duties to complete to help keep the bank running—processing checks and strategic planning, for instance. Furthermore, though, the department also provides a service function to the entire organization.

As she puts it to her team: “If someone’s reaching out with a question and they’re on the revenue-generating side, we need to help them. We need to provide good service to them. If, for example, they messed up on their expense report, we need to help them out,” Carrillo said. In this scenario, she encourages her team to take the time to show the employee how to fix their expense report, streamlining the process for everyone involved the next time around.


Aine Cryts is a freelance writer based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Nicole's Key Partners:
Primatics Financial (Loan Accounting & Valuation) | EY (Tax services) | JP Morgan Chase (Investment Banking) | Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (Capital and M&A advisory) | KPMG (Audit Services)

Aine Cryts

Writer at Forefront Magazine
Aine (“ONya”) Cryts is a freelance writer for Forefront Magazine. A political scientist by education, she’s a marketing consultant and freelance writer/editor by trade. Aine has served as a marketing director at a number of software companies in the Greater Boston area. A former volunteer tour guide and a current long-distance runner, she loves Boston and is an enduring fan of all of its sports teams.

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