This CFO helps set growth strategy

Chikako Tyler counts sales-team management among her responsibilities.
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Chikako Taylor

· 4 min read

Chikako Tyler is EVP and CFO of California Bank & Trust, an affiliate of Zions Bancorporation. Each Zions division operates independently, according to Tyler, meaning that each of its seven regional banks’ leadership teams set their own objectives and strategy. Tyler plays a key role—alongside Eric Ellingsen, CEO of California Bank & Trust—in setting the bank’s strategy.

While also discussing the risks that an uncertain economy poses to her organization, Tyler also told CFO Brew how her role and responsibilities are structured so that she can help shape the bank’s growth strategy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Could you tell me a bit about California Bank & Trust and how it operates under parent corporation Zions Bancorp?

All of the affiliate banks—there’s seven of us across different markets divided up by state geographies—we’re all considered a division of Zions. We operate independently in terms of markets, sales, [and] strategy, but we get all of the back office technology support from Zions…And so we reap the benefits of having this almost $100 billion bank, liquidity, capital, technology investments, but we really control the California market penetration, how we go to market, the sales, the strategy, and our bankers, which is really the bulk of what we manage.

What does your role as CFO of California Bank & Trust entail?

My job is financial management, of course, of our California Bank & Trust financials. And then the question really is, “How do we grow and penetrate the California market?”…I actually have treasury management and deposits sales teams under me because [Ellingsen] really wanted a CFO that understood the full gamut—not just expense management and financial metric management, but how do you drive revenues, and penetrate markets, and continue to grow the organization. So my role is quite a hybrid of finance, but also revenues and strategy.

How competitive is the California market, and what are the specific challenges there to growing revenue?

California is really interesting, because we’re the fifth-largest economy in the world, so we have a ton of opportunity. However, we also have a ton of competition because every major national bank is in the California market, plus we have a lot of community and regional banks in the market. We have everything to compete with in our market from small banks to large national banks.

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It’s really up to us to be better than our competition to acquire that opportunity. I’d rather be in a market with a lot of competition and a lot of opportunity, because that just means we have the most opportunity to grow, than be in a market where you have no opportunity, but also no competition, because that just makes it really hard to grow.

What do you bring to the table as CFO when you’re helping lead that growth strategy?

If I look back at 15 years ago when I first started my career, we just didn’t have as much data to work with. But now there’s just tons and tons of data that you can work with. I try and sift through all of the data to say, “Look, here’s all the data, but what you need to do is aggregate and synthesize this information into how [it aligns] with our strategy.” We aren’t interested in being everything to everybody. We’re not big enough for that.

What we really want to do is to hone in on, “Who are we? Who do we serve? And how do we target exactly who we serve to be the best we can be to the people that we are trying to specifically target for our business?” My team takes all of this market information and says, “Look, we are a premier business bank. That’s in our mission, that’s in our values. We’re not interested in just the mass consumer.” That’s a very specific, niche area. So how do we target the businesses that we’re trying to bank, and then the business owners of those businesses?...How do we design [and] price our products and services accordingly? And what do we bring to the table that’s unique and different from just another [bank]?

We’re very sharply focused on what our strategy, mission, and values are, and making sure that we have lots and lots of information to understand how we optimize every dollar of expense to drive further revenues for us.

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CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.