As chief people officer of Amerant Bank, Mariola Sanchez deals with something even more valuable than the company’s $9.1 billion in assets. She’s in charge of the Coral Gables-based community bank’s approximately 700 employees, and she knows that attracting and retaining the best talent takes more than a competitive paycheck.
“We realize that human capital is an asset,” Sanchez says of the workforce spread across 23 banking centers in South Florida and Houston. “You can earn money anywhere, so what makes the difference? Why would you work for us? I focus on all those other things because the money is not enough.”
She was entrusted with that role last June, when newly hired CEO Jerry Plush asked the “homegrown” South Florida native to move from her role as general counsel to head up Amerant’s human resources department.
It didn’t take her long to say yes. For one thing, the timing was perfect. In 15 years heading the legal department, Sanchez had notched an impressive number of accomplishments, including helping take Amerant public with its 2018 Nasdaq IPO and using mediation and arbitration as alternative dispute resolution methods. Furthermore, employees had always seen her as a trusted ally.
“My transition to head up HR was a natural fit,” she explains. “I had been with the company for a significant amount of time, I know the workforce, I know the culture, I know what motivates them, and I know what doesn’t.”
The question of what employees want is even more acute in this tight labor market, where monetary compensation is just one of many factors that candidates consider.
“People want to feel appreciated; they want to feel that what they do has value, and they want to see how it adds value,” Sanchez says. “They want to know how they fit into the organization, and they want to see that the organization is aligned with their beliefs.”
While it has been a challenging transition from her previous role, she’s found satisfaction in her new responsibilities of recruiting, hiring
, and managing a diverse workforce, particularly in an era of remote work.
“I never thought I’d be able to make a bigger impact in this role vs. in legal, but in HR, I’m the one making some of these decisions and some of these moves,” she says. “I am now part of the executive management committee—it’s a seat at the table.”
That seat comes during a period of great change. When it went public five years ago, the company, formerly a wholly owned subsidiary of a Venezuelan entity, became independent and changed its name from Mercantil Bank to Amerant. In doing so, it sharpened its focus on serving the South Florida and Houston markets and is now the largest community bank headquartered in the Sunshine State.
Today, Amerant maintains a robust business with Venezuelan expatriates seeking safe places to put their money while growing its community banking operations through advanced technology and branches that are more user-friendly than ever. There’s also a private banking group that focuses on the needs of professionals.
“Business with Venezuela is not easy, and a lot of Venezuelan clients now reside in other parts of the world, including south Florida and Houston, but we don’t shy away from it,” she explains. “The focus has shifted to a lot of the local community business, so it’s been a nice fusion between the domestic and the international, which I think is our sweet spot.”
Of course, a rebranding calls for a reintroduction, which Amerant has been quite aggressive about. In addition to launching an advertising campaign that includes billboards and wraps around the Miami Metromover elevated train, the bank sponsors the Miami Heat, the Florida Panthers, and University of Miami Athletics. It’s no surprise that the Heat sponsorship is Amerant’s highest-profile campaign in this basketball-crazy town.
“If you go to the arena—it was the FTX arena, now it’s just Miami-Dade Arena—we have our name all over it, and the lounge in the arena is the Amerant L
lounge,” she says. “We host not only clients there, but we also take our employees as a team-building opportunity, and we’ll get the suite to ourselves.”
As for Amerant’s future, it’s all about growth. “We’re focused on growing domestically and growing the private banking group, and we have approval for four new branches,” Sanchez says. “We’re also focusing on technology and making banking easier and better for customers.”
That’s a tall order in a part of the United States that has seen an influx of new residents from other states and other countries over the past several years, but Sanchez believes Miami’s diversity is one of its biggest strengths. “I see an opportunity to welcome new ideas, and with that comes change and growth,” she says. “Miami’s a large city, but it’s a small town, too, and I don’t want to sound cliché, but we’re making an effort to get along.”
Photo by Brett Hufziger