Sometimes, the seeds of leadership and excellence in banking are planted before you know it.

“One could argue my motivation to be a leader was harvested at a young age, when my basketball coach asked me to be the leader of the team,” says Dave Ralston, Arizona market CEO for BOK Financial. “He then proceeded to set expectations of me, some of which I have maintained throughout my career.”

The roots of leadership in youth and sports seems to be a common theme in the financial services industry.

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“I was raised by a teacher and a coach, so it seems natural to take a leadership position in any organization,” says Mike Thorell, president of Arizona Federal Credit Union.

But for some, the motivation for leadership is the the satisfaction of seeing others rise to new levels of excellence.

“I’m very passionate about the banking industry, specifically taking a very complex process and finding ways to help customers grow and succeed,” says Don Garner, CEO of Alliance Bank of Arizona. “As a leader, I learned the importance of taking my experience and conveying those insights in a way that inspires, encourages and motivates the accomplishments of my team.”

That is a sentiment that Mike Brown understands completely.

“The opportunity to teach someone a new skill every day motivated me to become a leader,” says the Arizona regional president for WaFd Bank Arizona. “Through education and mentorship, I can convey my knowledge and experience to a new generation of professionals and help them build a successful and impactful career.”

In the story below, you’ll meet the banking leaders and learn about the financial services institutions that have achieved levels of excellence that help drive Arizona’s business community. And you’ll learn a little about how they’ve achieved a level of excellence that separates them from their competitors.

“I try to allow my personal values to guide me in where I go and what I do in life,” says Kyle Kennedy, president and Phoenix banking director for Bell Bank. “I hope people would say that I am a leader who aligns people’s values with the company’s values to achieve something better in this world. Ultimately, it’s about making the world a better place. What better motivator can there be?”

Bell Bank made a huge splash in 2021 when it signed a 10-year naming rights partnership with the $280 million multipurpose sports and entertainment complex that opens in 2022 in southeast Mesa.

Excellence in banking: Banks of the Year

Bell Bank

Bell Bank made a huge splash in 2021 when it signed a 10-year naming rights partnership with the $280 million multipurpose sports and entertainment complex that opens in 2022 in southeast Mesa. The 320-acre complex will be called Bell Bank Park, designed to host youth and amateur sports, teams and individual training, family fun events, concerts, youth sports tournaments, and fitness opportunities. It will be the largest of its kind in North America.

JPMorgan Chase

In March of 2021, JPMorgan Chase announced a $475,000 grant for the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for its implementation of Ascend Phoenix, a program to help grow small businesses owned by Black, Latinx and other underserved entrepreneurs, boost their long-term success and create inclusive economic growth. Ascend Phoenix seeks to assist underserved small businesses by providing training and resources related to management skills, navigating market access through contracts and supply chain relationships, and developing networks with mentors and others.


In 2021, PNC became the fifth largest U.S. commercial banking organization with more than $560 billion in assets after its acquisition of BBVA USA Bancshares, including its U.S. banking subsidiary, BBVA USA. “Our acquisition of BBVA USA accelerates our national expansion and positions us to increase shareholder value over time by bringing our industry-leading technology and innovative products and services to new markets and clients,” says William S. Demchak, PNC’s chairman, president and CEO.

UMB Bank

In November, UMB Bank announced the formal launch of its Family Wealth offering – a multi-family office of registered investment advisors focused on delivering entrepreneurial investment strategies, sophisticated tax planning and generational wealth guidance to families with significant wealth. “We were already providing many of these services within Private Wealth Management, and we decided it was time to truly formalize the offering, including hiring and developing a dedicated team of investment professionals,” says Nikki Newton, president of Private Wealth Management at UMB.

Wells Fargo

Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona is one of more than 220 Habitat organizations awarded a grant from Wells Fargo as part of its nationwide initiative to help low-to-moderate income families construct and improve homes across the country. “Far too many people across the country are facing housing instability and one of our key priorities is to create housing affordability solutions where everyone can have a safe and affordable place to call home,” says Don Pearson, Wells Fargo lead region president.

Cathleen Walker of PNC Bank has been honored as one of Az Business magazine’s Most Influential Women.

Bankers of the Year

Jennifer Anderson

Senior vice president MidFirst Bank

Anderson has a successful track record in developing people, exceeding organizational objectives through building and managing successful teams, and leveraging key partnerships.

Mike Brown

Arizona regional president  WaFd Bank Arizona

Brown leads WaFd Bank, which has 30 branches statewide, $1.6 billion in local deposits and is a winner of’s Best Bank in Arizona.

Kevin Cutter

Arizona president

Pacific Premier Bank

Cutter has worked in the banking industry since 1992, specializing in credit administration, relationship management, commercial real estate, construction lending, and risk management.

Tina Figueroa

Business banking manager

Wells Fargo

Figueroa is regional small business banking manager – healthcare for Wells Fargo in Chandler. She has been with Wells Fargo for more than 36 years.

Jeff Friesen

Southwest region president 

Enterprise Bank & Trust

In August, Enterprise named Friesen as president of the Southwestern Region. Friesen is responsible for Arizona, Albuquerque, and Enterprise’s growing presence in Las Vegas.

Kyle Kennedy

Arizona president

Bell Bank

During his career, Kennedy has specialized in the areas of commercial and industrial lending, treasury management, small business banking and private banking.

Ericka LeMaster

Senior managing director Alliance Bank of Arizona

LeMaster sources, underwrites and structures commercial real estate loans, including acquisition, vertical construction, term and bridge financing within a portfolio that exceeds $1.3 billion.

Christine Nowaczyk

Corporate banking Arizona executive

BOK Financial

In addition to her role at BOK, Nowaczyk is on the board of ACG Global, the premier mergers and acquisitions deal-making association.

Seth Philbin

Lead business advisor


As a lead business advisor for the East Valley, Philbin serves as the trusted point of contact for business clients and works closely with experts across Alerus.

Cathleen Walker

Regional president


Walker brings 30 years of financial services experience at PNC Bank to the market and leads a team that provides top-notch service, scale and capabilities with a community focus.

Credit Unions of the Year

Arizona Central Credit Union

ACCU is a not-for-profit, full-service, financial institution locally owned and operated by its members. With almost 58,000 members and more than $500 million in assets, ACCU has served members in Arizona since 1939. ACCU operates nine full-service branches throughout the Greater Phoenix area, Tucson, Flagstaff and Show Low and offers access to more than 5,600 branches nationwide through the CO-OP Shared Branching Network.

Arizona Federal Credit Union

When Arizona Federal Credit Union acquired Pinnacle Bank in 2019, it was the first time an Arizona credit union acquired a community bank. Arizona Federal Credit Union is the only Arizona-based credit union that has been designated an SBA Preferred Lending Partner (PLP) by the U.S. Small Business Administration. As an SBA preferred lender, Arizona Federal has the authority to approve its SBA-guaranteed loans, which simplifies and expedites the SBA loan approval process for borrowers.

Desert Financial Credit Union

Many organizations shuttered doors and turned away customers in the wake of the pandemic. But this “Angel of the Year-Business” lived up to its title. Desert Financial Credit Union invested more than $5 million in 2020 to help members ($2,227,200), the community ($1,229,413) and employees ($1,815,279) during this time of need. When the pandemic broke, leaders decided to double-down on its people-first strategy and instead of scaling back, moved ahead with record giving back.

Landings Credit Union

Landings Credit Union has been making a difference in the lives of its members and the communities it serves for more than 65 years. Landings Credit Union’s leadership has the experience and expertise of a big bank, but the sensibilities of a small business and understand that banking needs aren’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing. That is why they focus on each member’s story to help them to achieve their personal financial goals.

OneAZ Credit Union

OneAZ Credit Union was named No. 6 on the 2021 Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America by Healthiest Employers for its investment in the health and well-being of its employees. This award honors the organizations that are demonstrating care for their people by investing in health and well-being solutions and initiatives. “Investing in the health and wellbeing of our associates is an important part of our mission here at OneAZ,” says president and CEO Kim Reedy.

Sandra Sagehorn-Elliott of Vantage West Credit Union has been honored as one of Az Business magazine’s Most Influential Women.

Credit Union Leaders of the Year

Alan Althouse

President and CEO

TruWest Credit Union

Althouse has been the president and CEO of TruWest Credit Union since 2016. His leadership philosophy: “You must be passionate about making a difference in the financial lives of consumers – that is ultimately what employers are looking for. This can mean excellence in customer service, developing a killer financial app or creating a superior service culture within a work group you lead.”

Jeff Meshey


Desert Financial Credit Union

Meshey is president and CEO of  Arizona’s largest credit union. His leadership philosophy: “I have always been comfortable providing leadership to teammates on athletic teams, classmates in school and colleagues in business. I strongly believe in servant leadership and know that I can make the biggest impact by inspiring and preparing others to achieve more and enabling them to truly make lives better.”

Kim Reedy

President and CEO

OneAZ Credit Union

With more than 35 years of financial industry experience, Reedy joined OneAZ as CFO in 2012, providing leadership to drive asset growth from $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion and membership growth nearing 150,000. His leadership philosophy: “Compassion for people and helping them to reach their goals. I have always believed it can be tremendously rewarding to assist others in helping them achieve what is important to them.”

Sandra Sagehorn-Elliott


Vantage West Credit Union

Sagehorn-Elliott leads Vantage West, which has 20 branches statewide and $2.5 billion in assets. Her leadership philosophy: “I didn’t set out to be a leader, but discovered when I got my first opportunity to step into a leadership role that I loved it. Coaching and developing others and then watching them achieve great things is one of the most rewarding things a person can do.”

Robert J. Swick

President and general manager

Hughes Federal Credit Union

Swick serves as both president and the treasurer of the volunteer board. With 37 years of executive leadership and 23 years serving as president and general manager, Swick has overseen Hughes’ growth from $239 million assets and 31,500 members to more than $2 billion in assets, 174,000 members, and the credit union received the No. 1 ranking in Arizona by Forbes in 2021 in its annual America’s Best In-State Banks and Credit Unions.

Community Impact

Bank of America

Bank of America has directed more than $17 million to support Native American communities since the onset of the pandemic. Funding includes capital investments and philanthropic grants to nonprofits and institutions providing services to Indigenous communities as part of the bank’s effort to advance racial equality and economic opportunity through its $1.25 billion, five-year commitment.

Desert Financial Credit Union

To help Desert Financial’s more than 350,000 members remain financially solvent and slow the spread of the virus, leaders at the credit union took swift measures during the pandemic, including reducing or eliminating member fees, instituting senior hours and following all CDC recommendations for branch safety. Immediate needs in the community were identified and a $400,000 donation was split between four local food banks.


FirstBank, which has a focus on “banking for good,” announced that for every FirstBank Bloom Package that was opened by Aug. 31, 2021, the bank would plant five trees in partnership with global reforestation nonprofit One Tree Planted. The bank is hoping to plant up to 50,000 native trees throughout Arizona, Colorado and California in an effort to improve air quality, filter and conserve water, support wildlife and more.

National Bank of Arizona

National Bank of Arizona is working to address the needs of consumers who may find themselves priced out of traditional banking products. NBAZ received Bank On certification for its no-overdraft-fee bank account from the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund. The product, called OnBudget Banking, helps keep customers aligned with their financial goals with a predictable monthly service fee of $5, mobile banking and no overdraft fees.

OneAZ Credit Union

OneAZ’s leadership wants to be an organization that exists to improve the lives of its members, associates and communities. Through its OneAZ Community Foundation, the credit union has given more than $600,000 to nonprofits across the state. “This year we’ll probably put somewhere around $300,000 into community giving through the foundation,” says Kim Reedy, president and CEO of OneAZ. “In five years, that number should be $1 million.”