The test of management | ABA Banking Journal

By Evan Sparks

Building on a longstanding program that—in collaboration with state lenders associations—establishes programs to cultivate increasing banking skill, ABA honored its first-ever class of Emerging Leader Award winners at the ABA Annual Convention last fall. In these profiles, discover what drives a few of these effective bank executives.

Kristina M. Schaefer
EVP, Chief Risk Officer and Chief Administrative Officer
First Bank and Trust, Sioux Falls

Raise your hand

Sometimes, management calls you into unforeseen circumstances.

Kristina Schaefer was chairwoman of the South Dakota Bankers Association in 2015 when a questionable concern emerged in the state capital of Pierre. The proposed expense? A procedure that would obstruct banks with policies that restrict credit for weapon business from working with the state. Similar legislation has actually appeared in other states, simply among numerous locations where banks have actually ended up being a battleground for a proxy culture war.

“Most community banks don’t have a policy that limits firearms,” states Schaefer. “But we decided that this is a slippery slope. We wanted to bring home the message that banks should decide who they want to bank.”

She’s definitely not uneasy with weapons—Schaefer is from a farm household and matured pheasant searching thus numerous South Dakotans. And while she highlights that “we weren’t making a statement on guns,” promoting on behalf of banks pitted her versus weapon rights supporters. The day she affirmed in a committee hearing was a lobbying day for a weapon rights group. “The guys who testified in front of me put their clips right there on the podium!” she remembers.

She handled to thread the culture war needle, and in a win for SDBA, the expense wound up not continuing. But it wasn’t the very first time Schaefer raised her hand addressed the call of management.

She started her banking profession in high school and signed up with First Bank and Trust in Brookings, South Dakota, while in college. After college, Schaefer went to law school and started practicing service and banking law. After a time, she was welcomed back to First Bank and Trust as its very first internal counsel. She’s grown her function significantly from compliance and one-off business tasks. She raised her hand for brand-new chances and now functions as basic counsel, primary threat officer and chief administrative officer. (As the executive managing the primary personnels officer, her portfolio likewise consists of a 20-employee onsite day care at the Brookings head office.)

Schaefer likewise raised her hand in advocacy and state management. During her management with SDBA, she assisted prepare a brand-new ladies in banking occasion. She would have enjoyed to get 50 participants, however they maxed out the space with 125. In 2022, the occasion drew 300 and “helped us all connect to our bigger purpose as bankers.”

When lenders do raise your hand, Schaefer advises them to be deliberate. “If you are willing to raise your hand, commit to it,” she states. “I always want people, when they think of Kristina, as the person they can count on to show up.”


Ryan Coaxum
Vice President
Guaranty Bank and Trust, Austin

Pass it on

Ryan Coaxum’s entry into banking was a mild push from Mom—”you require to leave the insurance coverage,” she informed him. “I looked at it and said, ‘I need to get a career!’” Coaxum signed up with Sovereign Bank and increased through the ranks from part-time teller to individual lender and credit expert. But his manager, a senior loan provider called Travis Brown, had larger concepts for him. One day, Brown asked Coaxum what he desired out of his profession. Coaxum shared his objective of continuing to grow. “That sounds great, but you need to go back to school and finish your degree,” Brown stated.

“It lit that fire under me,” Coaxum notes. “On my lunch break, I went to Huston-Tillotson University and I enrolled in the night program.”

Armed with his degree, Coaxum’s bank was gotten, and he signed up with Brown at a de novo called Guaranty Bank and Trust. The switch was “the best thing in the world.” Despite working 15-hour days to introduce the bank, the relationships he was constructing kept him charged up. “People give me that energy.”

Coaxum took advantage of Brown challenging him to grow and from coaches like Texas Bankers Association CEO Chris Furlow, who has actually been a “guiding force.” Now, he intends to purchase the next generation of lenders. “Representation is a big deal. I want to see more people that look like me in the industry,” he shows. “That’s why I work so hard outside of my traditional nine-to-five job. The legacy for me is in every life that I touch.”


Abby Nguyen-Burke
Senior Vice President and Team Leader
Eastern Bank, Boston

Find a supporter, be a supporter

Abby Nguyen-Burke leads a “small but mighty” group of 3 serving ladies- and enterpreneur-of-color-owned service enterprises at Eastern Bank. Her enthusiasm is supporting underserved small company owners, and her group has actually been able “to leverage the special purpose credit program as one of our credit solutions,” she keeps in mind, which opens the door to “collaborations with referral community organizations and nonprofits that provide technical assistance and microloans in addition to bank financing.”

Her objective: “Helping small businesses grow and prosper,” she states. But she didn’t get to that objective over night. Nguyen-Burke signed up with Eastern Bank as a teller in college. She was studying criminal justice and sociology, however she chose to remain in banking—in part since of a fantastic branch supervisor. “I want to be her someday!” Nguyen-Burke informed herself.

As she rose the ranks to end up being a supervisor herself, she was familiar with an SVP and group leader in Eastern Bank’s neighborhood advancement providing department who was likewise motivating. “I want to be her someday too!” she informed herself—and a years later on, Nguyen-Burke had actually reached that objective.

Mentors like them was necessary to her profession, however Nguyen-Burke highlights the requirement for sponsors or supporters—those who will discuss you to others, not simply to you. She salutes many senior executives at Eastern Bank who were “always willing and ready to say my name and push for my leadership roles.”

Now, Nguyen-Burke looks for to design the very same sort of advocacy for her group. “I aim to advance a plus-one” for tasks, conferences or conferences to produce development chances for her enthusiastic and skilled staff member. She aims to be “mindful and purposeful about who I talk to,” promoting for and commemorating customers and coworkers alike.


Meet the other Emerging Leader Award honorees

Adam Johnston | SVP, North Louisiana Regional Manager | First Guaranty Bank, Bossier City, Louisiana
“I have found that being the youngest person in the room can be a good thing as long as you work harder than everyone before you get into the room, while you are in the room and after you leave.”

Billie Jo Parker | Senior Vice President | Pinnacle Financial Partners, Memphis, Tennessee
“I’m proud to be a banker. For me, it’s been such a rewarding and challenging career path. To know that banks can help serve the communities that we’re in by helping small businesses flourish, helping families buy their first home or send their kids to college, it’s a unique and powerful opportunity that we get to be a part of.”

Hazel Davis | VP/Compliance and Community Development Officer | Jefferson Bank, San Antonio
“My passion for banking is rooted in the support we provide to the individuals and businesses in our communities. Banks do more than offer products and services, we listen to customer aspirations and support their goals with sincere service. We build communities with our time, talent and capital.”

Kirsten Agard | VP, AMP, Closing/Post Closing Manager | Umpqua Bank Home Lending, Portland, Oregon
“To me, an emerging leader is someone who’s open to learning, growing and failing. Someone who crushes their goals individually and as a team, and someone who thinks outside of the box and is willing to share their unique ideas and perspectives.”

Lydia Levin | SVP, Channel Strategy Manager | Zions Bank, Salt Lake City
“I am passionate about how the banking industry connects people to their goals and dreams —entrepreneurs and families alike. To work in an industry that helps create value for its local economies takes a certain kind of person, and they’re the bankers I respect so much and love working to train and develop into greater roles.”

Nicholas E. Vrba | EVP and Secretary of the Board of Directors | First State Bank and Trust Company, Fremont, Nebraska
“With patience and a strong work ethic, the results of one’s labors show. I wear my youth as a badge of honor and look forward to the next opportunities that presents.”

Sandra Starnes | SVP and Director of Marketing Citizens Bank, Batesville, Arkansas
“It is an amazing time to be in the banking industry. Bankers have been a trusted partner in success and [managing]challenges for decades. Through unique partnerships and thoughtful innovation, financial institutions are equipped to take that community building legacy exponentially farther. Advocating for the future of banking can be as simple as education. In short, spread the work and light the fire.”

Shanna Fuller Cahalane | VP and Director of Marketing and Community Development | Reading Cooperative Bank, Reading, Massachusetts
“Banking touches everyone and should be for everyone. I’ve seen firsthand that when community banks reach out to the unbanked, they can help them climb the financial ladder and improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. It is a privilege to be both an anchor and a lifeline in the communities we serve.”


A news media journalist always on the go, I've been published in major publications including VICE, The Atlantic, and TIME.

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