Kim Pugh of Financial Women of San Francisco (FWSF): “Set financial goals”

To achieve anything worthwhile, you must have the faith and confidence in yourself and your ability to accomplish the goal. You need to be willing to put forth the effort needed to see it through, even when the tasks seem insurmountable and there may be forces moving against you. This has been true with many […]

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To achieve anything worthwhile, you must have the faith and confidence in yourself and your ability to accomplish the goal. You need to be willing to put forth the effort needed to see it through, even when the tasks seem insurmountable and there may be forces moving against you. This has been true with many things I have accomplished in my working life, volunteerism, special interest, etc. There have often been naysayers indicating it could not be done and obstacles placed in my path, but I had to believe it could be achieved and have the fortitude to make it happen.

As a part of our series about “Women Leading The Finance Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Pugh.

Kim Pugh has spent several years in a variety of functions within financial services and is the newly elected president of Financial Women of San Francisco (FWSF). She has been a FWSF board member, Financial Woman of the Year Committee Chair, Programs Committee Chair, Alliance Committee Chair, and member since 2009. Her company, YurPath Solutions, helps companies in financial services and other industries unearth customer and employee insights and develop the essential processes that lead to improved customer experience, elevated employee job performance, and ultimately to increased revenue.

Kim is advising the FWSF Member Services Committee on onboarding and member-retention strategies. She became a member because, “I wanted to promote and interact with women in finance and financial services. Through FWSF, I feel I have contributed to advancing women in finance through our scholarship fund and educational events. I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know a dynamic group of members in many facets of finance and financial services.” Kim has several goals as FWSF President, one of which is to further expand the organization’s offerings to members that address and assist them throughout their careers (e.g., early, mid, and late career).

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?

Like many children, I toyed with “what do I want to be when I grow up” but my stepdad guided me to begin seriously thinking about possible career paths when I was about 12. What was I good at, what did I like to do, what did I want to accomplish in life, what lifestyle did I envision, what careers/pursuits would likely be conducive? We also discussed what would be involved in achieving those goals…what would it take? My stepdad imparted a lot of valuable wisdom that has sustained me throughout my working life but one of the many things he said particularly stayed with me: Banking and finance are the glue that “holds it all together.” Commerce/trade is the engine that makes the country hum. However, regardless of the goods and services produced, finance is what underlies and drives it. I began to think that if I could become part of the “glue,” then there was boundless potential to have connectivity with many areas of commerce… not just one or a few.

In high school, I attended a private prep school. I obtained an internship at a large corporation where I worked all four summers of college learning business through completing assignments in various departments such as Accounting, Auditing, IT, Legal, Payroll & Pensions, etc. While completing my MBA, I was recruited into a management development program at a large financial institution and began the position upon graduation.

I had management responsibility early on and was able to progress and round out my experience there and at other financial institutions in several areas such as funds positioning, financial analysis, lending, operations management, product design & development, sales & business development, large corporate relationship management, customer research & user experience, digital channels, process re-engineering, M&A, etc. I later began a consulting practice that focuses on financial services and other industry segments.

An important piece of my backstory, beyond my education and my career positions, is my involvement with the Financial Women of San Francisco. Having a professional network — and the association with women who believe in supporting women in this male dominated field — has been priceless.

My background and association with organizations like the Financial Women of San Francisco have been instrumental in my ability to interface with companies, and to help them overcome business challenges.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

When I think back about my career, one thing that rings true is having to continuously prove myself. I have passed so many tests. And while it is unfortunate in some ways, but in counting my blessings, it has also allowed me to build a long track record of achievements. We know this — women — and especially women of color — really have to prove themselves, even more than men do to earn their place in the senior ranks of business.

Luckily, I was willing to put in the hard work. There was a time when the company I worked for had built a major new platform in the days before the internet and things digital had been widely adopted by businesses of any size. It was a case of “if you build it, they won’t come.” Many business customers were highly skeptical of completing financial transactions and accessing reporting online. The challenge was getting businesses to voluntarily adopt the new platform. Those in closest customer contact such as our sales and relationship managers were probably even bigger naysayers than our customers, and were not inclined to endorse or promote the platform to clients.

I had been on the ground floor with the group building the new platform and, at the time, the only one on the team that not only had a “back-shop” background like my colleagues in product design & development, operations, usability testing, etc., but also had extensive sales and relationship management experience at the company with a deep knowledge of their customers and internal partners.

I sought out senior management and volunteered to be the evangelist. I determined the approach and built, developed, and managed a team from the ground up that convinced and trained internal partners across the company’s geographic footprint and aided them in promoting the platform and educating customers. The result was we helped to far exceed the platform adoption goals within the allotted timeframe, with revenue increasing substantially.

That role led to others where I established a niche of being tapped to create and manage areas with new capabilities from scratch, that had not been done before.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have a project that is particularly interesting to me right now.

I have just become the next president of the Financial Women of San Francisco. This comes on the heels of my position of leading the organization’s Financial Woman of the Year initiative, and helping to fund the scholarship program. It sincerely moves me to be in such a position to help the advancement of women professionals. I have also led programming efforts that provided events to members and the business community in industry leadership and professional development, as well as been an alliance chair forming relationships with other finance organizations to further the development of finance professionals.

In my career, I spent 30 years in various roles that provided a well-rounded background in financial services and in business. Since then, I have been able to use the expertise gained, not only to assist corporate clients, but also to help others with their career ambitions, especially women in finance.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Companies often pursue the creation of new products, tools for staff, or processes based upon an internal view of what they think their customers will desire and their employees will find useful to do their jobs. Frequently, the results of these efforts do not live up to expectations. To ensure customer satisfaction, it is necessary to understand your customer’s and your employee’s underlying needs. Uncovering these insights can lead to best-in-class solutions, varying from developing new services to building and improving processes. YurPath Solutions assists companies to more closely define the real challenge(s) impacting the business, uncover customer and employee true needs, develop new or improved processes and services, and implement an ongoing roadmap.

We have been involved in various types of engagements, which may be more oriented towards developing solutions, after determining the company incorrectly identified their business challenge. One example is a company that looked to add new online features, expensive to develop, that they perceived the market wanted. However, we uncovered that their customers had no interest in these enhancements. Instead, the customers had issues with the current design and had suggestions for improvements (which is where the real opportunity lay). Our subsequent proposed redesign of existing features resulted in increased customer satisfaction, and ultimately helped to boost sales.

Still other engagements may have been more closely focused on process and customer strategy. We helped a company that had purchased a large competitor and 1) needed to adopt their platform, 2) migrate its own customers onto it, 3) add new functionality, 4) retain the customers of the former competitor, and 5) continue to grow the business. We created a detailed playbook for internal stakeholders; a merger office to direct cross-functional teams; and a command center for issue resolution. In addition, we created customer feedback practices to improve the migration experience and ensure post-integration client satisfaction — and develop enhanced or new features to foster customer retention and growth. A “high satisfaction” customer rating was received for the migration and post-integration. The roadmap developed was planned to also be used for future integrations.

Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion what caused this to change?

When women raise our hands for difficult assignments, and possibly for things that have not been tried or achieved before — and then we succeed — can cause change. When I started my career, I knew this industry was male-dominated and most of the men were white. Knowing that, I worked hard to beat expectations. I found my footing and have achieved some great success. What helped most was consistently achieving results above and beyond expectations. It is one way women can break in and break through.

I earned trust that I would “get the job done” and I became a “go to” person. My success became the success of management and partners around me. As a result, I gathered sponsors and those willing to advocate for me.

Despite the progress we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to (a report) from CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what three things can be done by a) individuals b) companies c) society to support this movement going forward?

Individually, women must support their female coworkers — and both men and women can offer women of color encouragement and invest in building their talent and growth opportunities, and advocate for parity. All of this not only helps individuals, but can absolutely elevate companies as a whole!

From experience, I know that being overlooked or not being considered for various opportunities can be frustrating, even when qualified and with a demonstrated track record. Professionals should consider putting themselves in the role of being a sponsor/mentor who will advocate for others. A solid mentor can help women of color break through boundaries.

From a company perspective, all companies — no matter their size — must take diversity and inclusion recruiting far more seriously, especially at higher professional ranks. In parallel, they must take an undeniable stance on pay parity. It is shocking that well-educated, accomplished women still get paid less than men.

Finally, societally, we simply must stop boxing women in with dated views of our roles and capabilities. This discourages women from achieving their full potential. Societally, women must be better supported, too. COVID-19 has impacted women more than men, sending women’s workforce progress backward, as four times as many women have had to drop out of the workforce. This is largely because of interruptions caused by childcare. We must find a way to have more balance.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what three things would you recommend to improve these numbers?

For some reason, finance can make people anxious. But people must be able to manage their finances for success. Nowadays people are shouldering more of the responsibility themselves — they must save enough for retirement, handle trading personal assets online, and be careful to manage student, medical, credit card, and mortgage debt.

I think the causes for these unfortunate numbers include lack of education, which leads to anxiety and avoidance. I believe we need a national effort to educate our population from an early age to handle the kind of complex responsibility they have nowadays. Improvement in financial literacy can have a profound effect, not only on individuals, but on the entire population, as they will be better able to provide for their own financial future.

The education should not end there. Universities should require students to take Personal Finance in their first year curriculum. Most universities offer this, but it is not required. Lastly, employers could require a retirement planning class upon hiring.

To date only five states require the completion of financial education classes for high school graduation. This needs to be raised to 50, and very soon!

You are a finance insider. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  • Educate yourself, find mentors, and later possibly seek the help of certified professionals — Starting out, you often “don’t know what you don’t know.” You can make avoidable mistakes and/or miss out on opportunities just because “you didn’t know.” Do some homework — There are plenty of publications, info online, workshops and classes, etc.
  • Set financial goals — 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, retirement, etc. Start early on to know where you are and where you want to be over time to reach your goals. This may alter as time progresses, but it is important to keep front of mind when making financial decisions.
  • Create a budget — Live within your means and set aside funds for savings and investments. Do not spend more or all that you have. Limit your spending so that you have enough to save for a rainy day and to make investments.
  • Manage credit card debt. If you use credit cards, pay them off before interest accruesandonly spend what you can afford to pay off in the short term.
  • Understand insurance and make the correct selections depending upon your circumstances and age. Insurance is lower when you are younger and is an investment from unexpected events that impact your financial future.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My stepfather was one of the early African American executives that worked in corporate America in the 1960s. He later became an entrepreneur and started his own businesses. My mother attended university to become a teacher and, like many women of her generation, married early and was a homemaker. However, by the time I reached my teens, she managed a small local newspaper and became an entrepreneur working alongside my stepfather. “Business” was a daily part of life growing up and was a frequent subject of conversation at the dinner table. I was taken to business events and, when appropriate sat in on business meetings, negotiations, etc. Summers, I worked for my mother’s newspaper.

My parents were inspirational by leading through example in their career efforts. They provided guidance, shared valuable experiences, and acted as a sounding board that was immensely helpful in my working life.

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to your life?

I will share two quotes.

  • “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” — Theodore Roosevelt
  • “Nothing will work unless you do.” — Maya Angelou

To achieve anything worthwhile, you must have the faith and confidence in yourself and your ability to accomplish the goal. You need to be willing to put forth the effort needed to see it through, even when the tasks seem insurmountable and there may be forces moving against you. This has been true with many things I have accomplished in my working life, volunteerism, special interest, etc. There have often been naysayers indicating it could not be done and obstacles placed in my path, but I had to believe it could be achieved and have the fortitude to make it happen.

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