B. Nichoel Casey – Willamette Valley Bank

A dynamic approach to law, risk and administration

What is your “core why?”

Nichoel Casey adopted this guiding question and principle from motivational speaker Simon Sinek, using it regularly in her work at Willamette Valley Bank, member FDIC. Her “core why?” Successfully leading a business with an integrated risk management approach, she says.

B. Nichoel Casey – Willamette Valley Bank

B. Nichoel Casey | General Counsel and Chief Administration Officer | Willamette Valley Bank

That is: Financial institutions should explore integrating the responsibilities of general counsel, chief risk officer, compliance officer and administration, posits the Oklahoma native and one-time bank teller. She took on that unique role at WVBK in 2018—in fact, she proposed it—and is nothing less than passionate about its implications for banking.

Simply put, she says it’s the best way to navigate banking today, and it is a growing, viable need for the industry.

“I am so blessed to have found a career path that I am passionate about,” Casey says. “I like to say that ‘I have never been this happy to be this challenged,’ but I enjoy the type of stress involved in figuring out the best approaches and outcomes.”

Navigating a new era

As Casey explains, following the housing market collapse and the 2010 passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, auditing and risk management became increasingly important, and the banking industry began establishing chief risk officer roles and teams.

B. Nichoel Casey – Willamette Valley Bank

Although still evolving, these roles have been traditionally separated from banking institutions’ legal departments and administrative teams. According to Casey, integrating risk management and legal can help banks be more efficient and compliant while better supporting business units. Not to mention, it saves money to have one well-versed department as opposed to two specialized ones.

In her first year as general counsel at the Salem, Oregon-based financial institution, Casey focused on developing and implementing a formal risk management program that integrated training, corporate governance, financial investigations, BSA/AML, vendor management, enterprise risk, compliance and legal risk. Then, after taking on the chief administration officer role, she expanded the program to include corporate infrastructure, information technology, security, data analytics and human resources.

All this is accomplished with an eight-person team—comprised of two risk consultants, an associate counsel, a monitoring manager, an HR manager, and an IT manager with two IT support staff—that constantly stays abreast of business strategy, operational needs, banking risk and requirements and, more recently, myriad shifting guidelines around COVID-19, she explains.

B. Nichoel Casey – Willamette Valley Bank

“It’s that balance, right? Supporting the entrepreneurial spirit that is banking, so that WVBK can support its customers, while also adhering to government requirements and dealing with the challenge of antiquated banking laws,” Casey says. “Many bankers feel that increased focus on risk and administration will be detrimental to the bottom line, but we have proved the opposite.”

She points out that WVBK has been named American Banker Magazine’s No. 1 Community Bank in the nation for the last two years.

One major focus this year has been supporting the unprecedented success of the WVBK mortgage production team during the pandemic. WVBK’s portfolio loan team also originated hundreds of PPP loans to support small business in Salem. As she puts it: “How do we continue to provide exceptional service with minimal in-person interactions?”

B. Nichoel Casey – Willamette Valley Bank

Ultimately, she describes her role as dynamic, and emphasizes the importance of being both a legal generalist in 21st century banking and understanding banking processes. In her dual roles, she has the opportunity to touch all areas of law and business—wills and estates, trusts, human resources, SEC matters, governance, fraud, money laundering, criminal investigations, operational agreements, contracts, cybersecurity, and all consumer compliance protections.

“I get to do every type of law that you can think of,” Casey says. “I essentially lead a dynamic firm with one client—the bank. And because I integrate law and business, I don’t just focus on the legal or compliance side; I support strategy and business development.”

Continuous improvement

Holding a JD from the University of Oklahoma School of Law, a master’s in administrative leadership and a bachelor’s in criminal justice from the University of Oklahoma, Casey “the lifelong Sooner” was always interested in law, she says—and initially looked into the Secret Service, the FBI and the financial crime and investigation arena before coming back to banking.

B. Nichoel Casey – Willamette Valley Bank

After serving as a compliance manager at MidFirst Bank and a vice president of regulatory and operational risk at Umpqua Bank, she joined WVBK so she could implement her vision of “organizational empowerment and efficiency through clear goal development, balanced risk appetite and exceptional business processes,” she says.

“If you do that well, I think an organization can be unstoppable,” Casey adds.

She studies banking history, industry trends, organizational development and business process enhancement research to better support all divisions of WVBK. “I am a self-proclaimed business and banking nerd that reads this stuff for fun,” she says, calling it her life’s work.

B. Nichoel Casey – Willamette Valley Bank

Case in point: She is on year three of the American Bankers Association’s Stonier School of Banking graduate program at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. With an expected completion date of 2021, she is now deep into her capstone project: an analysis of the benefit of risk and administration integration. This, she explains, will evaluate the increasing cost of compliance; review the challenges of department silos; examine industry shifts and regulatory scrutiny; and outline ways to better integrate divisions.

“My background and education have been perfectly suited for the shifts in the banking industry,” Casey says. “What is exciting is that banks of all sizes are looking for ways to integrate and can find value with minor adjustments.”

Published on: September 11, 2020


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