Orphaned at age three and raised in Spanish Harlem by a bevy of family members who would take her in as they could, Deena Espinosa, Regions Bank Wealth Management area investment manager for Central Florida, exudes the work ethic, gratitude and attitude of encouragement that we all need in our corner.
I sat down with Espinosa to learn more about her impressive nearly four-decades long career in banking and walked away with an incredible sense of inspiration and empowerment so fitting for Women’s History Month.
If you are looking for some inspiration, read below for excerpts from our candid conversation about building a career in a male-dominated industry.
You began your banking career almost 40 years ago, can you tell me how you got started?
I was a very young mother – and a single parent fairly early into motherhood. I knew I needed to get a job to support myself and my child, so I began searching through the classifieds when I found an ad for teller training. The two-week course included a job placement program. I borrowed the money to take the course and interviewed with two banks when the training concluded. I received offers from both and accepted a position with Atlantic Bank, which was acquired by a larger bank, where I ultimately spent 25 years of my career.
You held a number of roles with increasing responsibility in those first 25 years in banking without ever needing to prepare a resume – that is impressive. Your work ethic and drive speak for themselves. Tell me about how your career developed.
I had spent five to six years in the teller role when the branch manager reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in the sales side. I was really hesitant at first, as I didn’t come into banking with the same credentials as the bankers in those roles. A lot of what I learned, I learned on the job. I raised my hand when there was an opportunity. I had a lot of mentors and great resources. My mentors really pushed me to do things I didn’t necessarily think I could do.
I spent time as a branch specialist, then assistant manager and ultimately a branch manager overseeing up to four branches and 20 employees before I made the move to a customer relations leadership role where I was overseeing 22 branches and 24 financial team leaders. When I left that bank after 25 years, I was the sales leader for Volusia and Seminole counties in Central Florida.
I built my first resume when I was recruited by another large bank that was setting up shop in the Central Florida market in 2006. That bank was acquired by another that had a culture that didn’t align with mine, so I began exploring other opportunities with financial institutions that were more in line with my personal values.
You joined Regions in 2012 – what drew you to the company?
A former colleague of mine had joined Regions Bank and really loved the company and shared an opening for an investment coaching role that sounded like a great fit. My friend passed my resume onto Jim Nonnengard and soon after I interviewed with Andy Rippy. I joined Regions a few weeks later and I absolutely love this company.
What a journey. To have people so invested in your career and your development is incredible.
I obtained my FINRA licenses as Regions was building a financial advisor platform and beginning to bring advisors on board. My manager Alex Sarafianos asked if I wanted to continue in my coaching by influence role or if I was interested in leading the team of investment advisors.
I took the lead role and really learned that side of the business from my manager. We are a great team – combining business acumen with the soft skills needed to really build those associate and client relationships, something Regions is known for in the industry. We created a cohesive partnership between the branches and the financial advisors and coach around the importance of really get to know your client and understand their financial needs and ultimate goals for their success. Being able to help build a team of talented, relationship-oriented financial advisors has been so impactful.
In a fairly male dominated industry, historically speaking, tell me about how that is changing – and how you are supporting that evolution.
Someone once asked me if I have ever not taken a job or role because I don’t look like anyone else in the room or at the table. My response – absolutely not. I embrace the opportunity to bring a different perspective and be part of the changes taking place in the rooms and at the tables. In every role I’ve taken on, I do so with the intent to be the best that I can.
I currently manage 18 financial advisors – five are women and I am hoping to add more. In this industry, there are a lot of women who don’t realize how successful they can be as a financial advisor. I have really made it a part of our strategy to educate and support our female associate and female clients. Many women have not managed money or had a need to until they have lost a spouse or navigated a divorce or separation. We want to invite those women into the process and help them understand finance earlier.
For me, it is about making a difference in the lives of our associates and our clients. I want my career to be impactful – and I want to recognize and support partnership and connection. Because that is truly what it is all about. Understanding each other’s goals and challenges to help make one another’s lives better.
What advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now?
The advice I would give my younger self is what I give to the folks I try to inspire today. Getting and being uncomfortable is part of the journey to success. There are a lot of fears in life – and fear has many faces. It is the voice in your head that makes you question – am I good enough? Can I accomplish these goals?
Growing up as an orphan I feared becoming what was so often modeled through reverse role models. But I am grateful to them because they taught me what I knew I didn’t want to be. With each new challenge, I knew I had to lean into courage. Without that, it is easy to give up and give in to those voices that make you question yourself and your ability.
If I could go back, I’d tell myself that I’d be uncomfortable along the way, and that is okay. Those who I have seen struggle the most are often some of the most successful. Lean into your courage to gain that confidence when you struggle. When you are courageous you can do anything.
Espinosa recently served on the leadership panel for the 2022 Women in Wealth Forum. Read key takeaways from this empowering event on Redefining What It Means to Have Work-Life Balance.
Additionally, she has been featured in the Wealth Insights podcast talking about the significant financial impact Covid-19 has had on women and shared insights on how to get back on track. Listen to the podcast Rebounding From the Financial Impact of Covid-19 to learn more.
Espinosa was named a Rising Star in 2021 by Banking Insurance & Securities Associates (BISA).
Ready to build your career at Regions?
Associates are Regions’ most valuable resource. When they succeed, Regions succeeds. Looking for a place to chart your personal career course? Visit the careers page on regions.com to search current job listings and to learn more about working at Regions.
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