Jacqueline “Jackie” Dascal Chariff has been an entrepreneur all her life.
Born in Cuba and raised in Miami Beach, she started her first business when she was 21. Her mantra: “Seeing what is the next big thing and capitalizing on that.”
In September 2013, Dascal Chariff was named chairman of Continental National Bank, the business her late father founded in 1974 as the nation’s first Cuban American-owned bank. The oldest of three siblings, Dascal Chariff had served on the bank’s board for 10 years.
Now, as she carries on her father’s legacy, she is bringing her entrepreneurial spirit to the bank, modernizing it, enhancing its technology and expanding its branch network.
“I am by nature a marketing person,” she said. “It’s bringing a different dynamic to the institution.”
We met with Dascal Chariff in the conference room of the Little Havana-based bank, and then emailed her these questions, to which she responded.
Q. Please tell me about the history of Continental National Bank.
A. Our family left Cuba in 1961 and settled in Miami. As a struggling immigrant, my father always had it in his mind to help his community, and in 1974 he founded Continental National Bank as the first Cuban-American bank in the nation. The first branch was opened in Little Havana (where it remains to this day), catering to exiles like himself who were trying to make it in this country.
We have many success stories of original customers, who are still with us today, that Continental National Bank helped to establish and grow their businesses. We currently have seven branches with more to come soon, and this year I am proud to say we are celebrating our 40th anniversary!
Q. What is the focus of the bank’s operations and clientele?
A. Continental National Bank has always focused on the local community. We have many customers who we helped in the 1970s that have become pillars of the community, and now we service the second generation of these original customers.
We thrive on helping small businesses get the capital they need to expand and grow. We are now focusing on informing customers who rent to explore the opportunity of buying their facilities, in this low-interest environment, and build their equity by owning their office or warehouse buildings.
Continental National Bank is top-rated on SBA loans, again, as a focus to service small business owners. As chairman, I would also like to focus on female-owned companies and helping women to secure SBA loans for their business needs. Our strength historically has been commercial real estate and business lines of credit; we are now aggressively expanding into residential mortgages.
Q. How has the bank grown over the years?
A. We have grown by focusing within the community we serve, commitment to our employees and doing it better than most. Many of our employees, including members of our executive management team, have been with us for decades. Our president, Guillermo Diaz-Rousselot, has been with us for 38 of our 40 years.
We have weathered several recessions by following sensible lending practices and understanding our customers. Of course, you need to have the products and the technology to level the playing field. We also believe that even though technology is a great source for deposit growth, it’s our branches that keep our customer base loyal to us. And so, we will continue to expand our footprint accordingly.
Q. How did the bank weather the recession?
A. We are generally conservative yet forward thinking. This general mantra is what made Continental National Bank survive, unscathed, the financial downturn and debacle of 2008. We recognized the early warning signs: oversupply, condo-flipping, inflated prices, and simply stayed away from those high risk loans, or if we did finance we requested large equity positions from the borrower.
We are safe and secure, and I can honestly say to my closest friends that “our institution is a safe place to keep your money.” In fact, Continental National Bank is rated with a five star “superior” rating by BauerFinancial.
Q. You have an entrepreneurial family. Please tell me about your family members and their business ventures.
A. I am the oldest of three sisters. Growing up, my father really never encouraged us to work, but it seems that genetics prevailed and there was no holding us back.
My middle sister, Karla, owns the premier event production company, KARLA Conceptual Event Experiences. It is one of the most sought-after event design companies in Miami. She will soon be opening a wellness center and gourmet raw vegan restaurant and academy called White Lotus, the first of its kind in Miami.
Liz, my youngest sister, owns Contemporary art+design, an interior design and art consulting company. She has been charged with redesigning and refreshing our branches to meet our new branding objectives.
Of course, I am compelled to mention that our family is in the car business as well. We own South Motors, Vista Motors and Midway Ford. In fact, my husband Jonathan has been running these dealerships for 15 years. We are all big BMW fans, as you can well imagine!
Q. Please tell me about your own professional background.
A. I’ve been involved in a variety of businesses throughout my career. For me, it’s about identifying trends, seeing what the next big thing is, and capitalizing on it.
For 16 years, I’ve run a distribution company in Latin America, primarily Colombia, serving as the exclusive distributor for top name hair care and skincare products such as TIGI Beadhead, Bliss Products, iS Clinical Skincare, among others.
Before that, I was in the recreational/sporting goods industry with products that included in-line skates, skateboards, footwear and apparel.
I started my first business, Promo Advertising, at age 21, selling advertising specialties and promotional giveaways. You could really call me a serial entrepreneur.
Q. How did you get involved in the bank?
A. I have actually served on the board for the past 10 years and my father had always told me “Jacqueline, one day this will be yours and you must learn about it. Get to know the people and learn to help your community.” And so yes, I guess Papito was right, and in fact it was my destiny to ultimately continue his legacy.
Q. How are you bringing your entrepreneurial spirit to Continental National Bank?
A. I’m a marketing person by nature. I think that my own experiences in the business world, building companies in many different sectors, and the mindset of the small and mid-sized business owner helps me better understand our own clients’ needs and requirements.
I have a teenager that keeps me on the cutting edge of technology and what’s new and relevant to the next generation. I plan on taking Continental National Bank into the future and beyond in terms of technology.
Since taking the helm, I’ve been involved in the rebranding of the name and look, the launch of our new website that is not only beautiful but very easy to navigate and functional. We will soon be developing our mobile app, so exciting things are soon to come! Stay tuned…
Q. How do you envision the future of the bank?
A. We’ll continue to stay true to our cultural and traditional banking roots while evolving with the market and our clients, and casting a wider net. In addition to refining our look and digital functionality, we have a renewed business strategy that includes three new branches to open in Doral, South Miami and Wynwood.
We’ve developed a partnership with Florida International University on a financial education program to educate students on the tools and resources available to them so they can make smart, financially informed decisions.
It’s an exciting time, and Miami is booming and growing at an incredible rate. There is unlimited opportunity, and we are looking to support our community in the steady evolution of this culturally diverse town.