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Voices in Risk Management - Nicole Knutson

Nicole Knutson Headshot Web 1168X660v2 (1)

‘One of the best pieces of advice I received was, “When you help others succeed, you’ll succeed.”

Nicole Knutson, director and senior risk, compliance, and audit manager at U.S. Bank, credits her rise to “being exposed to many different aspects of the company” and learning “how each area intersects with the others.” In this Voices in Risk Management interview, Knutson discusses her role as director and senior RCA manager, the importance of effective communication, and the evolving landscape of compliance risk. Knutson reflects on her career path, key challenges—and tips for surviving Minnesota winters. 

On her role at U.S. Bank 

I oversee facilitation, execution, and reporting of the bank’s primary compliance risk assessment programs, including fair and responsible banking and financial crimes. My team engages with risk managers across the company who evaluate compliance risk associated with state, federal, and international laws, rules, and regulations. My team also is a resource for risk managers, helping them to understand the state of control design and operational effectiveness. We share results with senior leadership for visibility and action.  

On what she enjoys about her job 

Being in a compliance function, I’m exposed to many different aspects of the company, and it’s been rewarding to learn how each area intersects with the others. I enjoy collaborating with senior leaders to improve processes, and it’s satisfying to be involved in a wide variety of projects, whether they’re business-as-usual activities, special initiatives and enhancements, or mentoring relationships.  

On her path to bank risk management 

In high school I went to the bank each week to deposit my paycheck and the teller suggested that I work at the bank. I liked that idea, so when I finished college I started working for U.S. Bank in the Minneapolis/St. Paul branch network. I noticed other leaders at the company had varied career backgrounds, so when the opportunity presented itself, I transitioned to areas outside of branch banking to learn more about the business. I joined my current team in corporate compliance about five years ago. I’ve always enjoyed taking on roles that focus on enhancing or expanding a department’s program, and that’s how I started in my current role. Also, being the first-born child in my family, I tend to like to follow the rules, and compliance risk management aligns with that trait! 

On setting goals 

Early on, I knew I wanted a career that would challenge my brain and critical-thinking skills. I was fortunate to join the bank in a fast-track role to branch management and I set a personal goal to become a branch manager by the time I turned 25. When I reached that goal, I set a new goal to work at U.S. Bank’s corporate offices in downtown Minneapolis to gain additional experience in the industry. One of my current goals is to ensure I’m surrounded by people who have an excellence mentality, who are in my corner, and who challenge me to be better.  

On the importance of mentorship 

Early in my career I was fortunate to connect with mentors outside the bank who exposed me to different ways of thinking. One of the best pieces of advice I received was, “When you help others succeed, you’ll succeed.” Over time, a few key mentors have helped me identify my blind spots and smooth out some rough edges. Having a mentor has helped me be the best version of myself that I can be for my colleagues. In turn, this has helped me to help others step more fully into who they are.  

On books that have inspired her  

I love reading and look forward to having the opportunity to do more of it again when my kids are a bit older. “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie helped me learn how to relate to others and how they relate to me. Once when I didn’t get a job I applied for I realized one of the reasons I fell short was because I hadn’t been focusing on my team’s development. I picked up one of John Maxwell’s books, Developing the Leaders Around You,” and instantly identified changes I could make in my leadership style to enhance the leadership skills of others, and this has continued to be a priority for me.  

On her RMA involvement 

The Risk Management Association is an invaluable resource in our industry. Locally, we provide educational courses, research, networking, and leadership opportunities to our community of risk management professionals. Being on the board of directors of RMA’s Minnesota Chapter, I get to hear how senior leaders at other financial services organizations think, what their priorities are, and how they overcome challenges, which helps me bring value to our RMA members. Participating helps me contribute to the growth of up-and-coming risk professionals, and it helps me learn from other experienced leaders in the industry.  

On Minnesota winters 

My favorite thing about winter is that it’s a change of pace. I like experiencing the hottest days of summer and the coldest nights of winter, but to get through those cold stretches, I stay inside and keep warm. I’ve found it’s helpful to travel to warm places early in the year to break up winter. Also, I try to embrace it and play in the snow with my kiddos—and watch them enjoy hot chocolate! 

On handling industry change 

The pace of change in our industry isn’t slowing down any time soon, but this presents exciting opportunities for risk and compliance professionals. Our teams need to understand the regulatory landscape, understand the impact of emerging risks, and make sure we have the policies, procedures, and controls in place to ensure we’re doing the right things. It’s always about helping the company provide the best possible products and services for our customers.  

On the future of compliance 

Compliance trends mirror the many ways our industry is evolving. Artificial intelligence is a great example. In the compliance space, we’re proactively seeking ways to responsibly implement AI capabilities, such as in risk assessment. More broadly, of course, we’re watching the regulatory environment to understand expectations for developing programs and controls designed to protect our customers. Another example is the evolution of consumer habits and the shift to digital interactions. As our business lines develop innovative, state-of-the-art solutions to respond to this trend, our compliance risk managers are right there, asking questions and bringing the power of risk management to the table.  


Professional Experience 

U.S. Bank
Director, Sr. RCA Manager, 2023-Present 
Risk, Compliance & Audit Consultant, 2016-2023 
Enterprise Risk Manager, 2013-2016 
Branch Manager, 2009-2013 
Customer Service Manager, 2007-2009 


University of Minnesota - Carlson School of Management 
Finance, Entrepreneurial Management 


Voices in Risk Management celebrates the diversity of experience, background, and skill that is driving the best risk management practices of today.

*The comments have been edited for length and clarity.