Karen Kitchens, Regions Bank's new market executive in Hot Springs, recently discussed the path leading to her new leadership role:
What's your primary focus in your new market executive role?
What 2020 taught me -- and I think so many of us -- is that we are all in this together. I was reminded of this during a holiday shopping trip. I saw so many people I know "shopping local" at downtown merchants and supporting our neighbors' businesses. It was heartwarming.
In taking on this new role, I believe it's essential to partner closely with local organizations and leaders as we best leverage Regions' resources in the community. Regions and our predecessor banks have been in the Hot Springs market for over 100 years. We have a long history of giving and supporting the area -- and I think we can do even more.
I believe we can enhance our emphasis on supporting small businesses through the educational resources we have available and our experienced team of bankers offering financial advice and guidance. For the broader community, we have opportunities to elevate education and advance workforce readiness initiatives that reflect the bank's strategic priorities. We have the chance to do more of what Regions does best: to help all of our neighbors achieve greater financial wellness through access to education and resources.
You have a unique educational background for someone in the financial services industry. How does someone with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a Criminal Justice minor get into banking?
When I was growing up, many of my friends wanted to be teachers, dancers or actors. I wanted to be a psychological profiler. This was long before all of the television shows highlighting this field were airing. John Douglas was one of my favorite true crime writers and I was hooked on anything involving investigations.
After initially exploring a career with the FBI, I pursued and even took a United States Marshals Service test, but then they implemented a hiring freeze. At the time, I was working two jobs to help pay for my student loans and a good friend recruited me to work for him in banking. I thought it was going to be an "in the meantime" job, but that was in 1997 and here I still am today!
I soon discovered that banking offered the opportunity to ask thoughtful questions and to be curious, so my unique background ended up being an asset. By being curious, I was able to help clients put together their full story. I could help families stay in business, transition their business to the next generation or assist them with selling their business if that was their goal.
What is your approach to serving customers in the Hot Springs community?
It really comes down to three words: listen, understand and deliver.
We have an incredibly dedicated team in Hot Springs, many of whom have been working for Regions and living in this community for years, and, in some cases, for their whole lives. While Regions is a regional bank, we are also very much a local resource here to help. We understand that one size does not fit all for our customers.
We're focused on gaining a better understanding of each client's unique circumstances by being intentional in our conversations and taking the time to actively listen to better understand their individual needs. When we do this, we're able to deliver solutions to help them achieve their financial goals.
2020 was hard on so many people and businesses in our community. While the calendar reads 2021, we know many are still experiencing hardships. Our local banking team is here to understand, to listen and to help our customers take the next step -- whatever that may be.
What's been the biggest change you've observed in the banking industry during your career?
Without a doubt, technology has transformed the banking business for the better. Many of our computer systems have gotten much smaller and far faster. When I started my banking career, the proof machine had its own room, and all client files were hard copy and were updated every month. The file room sometimes occupied multiple floors. Today, customers are able to bank from a device that fits in the palm of their hand. It's amazing how much things have changed.
You're involved with Rotary and United Way in the community. What do you enjoy most about your volunteer service, and what have you learned about yourself from the experience?
I have always enjoyed helping people. Being a Rotarian and volunteering with the United Way of the Ouachitas each offer an opportunity to do that. Both organizations raise money for local community nonprofits, help connect people with assistance and foster additional partnerships supporting the community.
Through volunteer service, I've discovered that I'm a connector. I enjoy networking and I love learning more about organizations and people to then help introduce and guide them to other resources to fulfill their dreams. I'm proud to be part of the Oaklawn Rotary Club of Hot Springs board of directors and am looking forward to serving as president beginning this July. I've also been part of the Rotary Scholarship Committee, a role where I annually review resumes from some of the best and brightest scholars and future leaders in our area. For United Way, I serve as part of the Allocations Committee that reviews grant requests and awards funding to area nonprofits. Both committees are incredibly rewarding.
Tell us a bit more about yourself. What are your hobbies?
My favorite thing to do is to go fishing with my dad. It is my happy place and one of the main reasons I moved back to Arkansas in 2015 ... to be closer to good fishing, and to my parents, of course. But, if the fish ain't biting, then the next best thing is a day at the firing range hitting some targets, or going for a hike with my dog, Glacier, a Great Pyrenees. I am also a certified U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) Adult Swim Instructor. I have been swimming since high school and love to be in the water. I received my certification in March of 2019. COVID-19 has delayed my teaching, but I hope to begin this year. I love sharing my love of the water with others.
What's one thing about you that might surprise your teammates and/or clients?
While I enjoy dressing up for work, my other happy place is sporting my bluejeans and leathers while riding my motorcycle, a Yamaha V Star 950cc.