HR Strategy

How Citizens CHRO Susan LaMonica shepherds employees through transitions and acquisitions

LaMonica is involved in ensuring a smooth transition when the bank acquires new talent, such as the recent hiring of around 50 former First Republic bankers.
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Citizens Financial

4 min read

When Susan LaMonica started her career at JPMorgan in 1985, she didn’t expect to end up working in HR. The banking executive, who now serves as CHRO of Citizens Financial Group, spent years working in a variety of different operations, technology, and risk-management roles before she had an opportunity to take on an HR role.

It turned out that she loved it, and the stint turned into a decades-long career at JPMorgan running development, with a focus on “learning, leadership, diversity, culture, [and] organizational change.” During her last four years with the bank, she was promoted to HR business partner roles, and most recently served as a managing director and HR executive for its global markets and investment banking arm.

After leaving JPMorgan in 2006, LaMonica took a five-year career hiatus for personal reasons. She reentered the industry as the Americas HR director for Royal Bank of Scotland (which then included Citizens). Since becoming CHRO for Citizens, which is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, she has helped integrate new employees into the workforce following mergers and acquisitions.

New acquisitions, new talent. During her time at Citizens, LaMonica has led staff through business transitions that have required her team to help acclimate employees to a new working environment. She oversaw HR when Citizens’s previous owner, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), spun off the bank and took it public via an initial public offering in 2014, after which she was appointed as CHRO.

More recently, Citizens has been focused on building out “fee income businesses,” including a wealth business, said LaMonica. To that end, the bank has made a number of acquisitions—and in turn, new team members have joined the organization. In 2018, Citizens acquired Clarfeld Financial Advisors, a wealth management firm based in Tarrytown, New York, bringing on nearly 100 wealth professionals with expertise working for ultra-high net worth clients. And in 2022, it acquired Paladin Advisors, based in Kensington, New Hampshire, bringing on about 10 new employees.

In June of 2023, Citizens hired about 50 senior private bankers from First Republic Bank after it was seized by regulators and sold to JPMorgan. The bank spent $35 million on these hires and related costs, according to the Wall Street Journal. In bringing on these former First Republic employees, Citizens intends to build out its private banking capability, which is tied to the wealth business, LaMonica said.

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Putting culture first. Whenever Citizens brings new talent on—whether through acquisitions or hires—HR seeks to assess whether they’re a culture fit, LaMonica explained. “Is there some consistency in terms of how they see the world, in terms of behavior, in terms of values, in terms of their philosophy from a business point of view?” she said, describing her team’s thinking. “That process starts before you hire someone, before you close a deal.”

LaMonica described the culture at Citizens as scrappy, team-based, and collaborative, with a heavy focus on customer experience and the greater good of the enterprise. There’s an emphasis on a culture of care—this year, for example, Citizens is offering a new “community sabbatical” benefit, allowing employees to take four to five weeks away from work to volunteer in their communities.

Once new employees are ready to join Citizens, LaMonica’s team takes a number of different tacks to ease that transition, she said. During small- and large-group sessions, they seek to acclimate people to what it’s like to work at Citizens, and create an “open two-way flow of communication.” When large-scale acquisitions occur, her team hosts “a series of tailored meetings” designed to acclimate new employees to Citizens’ culture, covering topics such as growth and development, benefits, diversity and inclusion, and community impact, LaMonica said in a follow-up email.

LaMonica stressed that new talent doesn’t necessarily have to conform to everything Citizens does. She said her team tries to keep an open mind about “practices and behaviors that we may want to tweak and change,” based on what new team members “are bringing to the table.”

Leaders play a critical role in helping talent acclimate to the culture at Citizens, LaMonica said: “If we get that leadership equation right, it helps ensure that a culture really comes to life at all levels of organization.”

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.