Bernadette Macko of Provident Bank: “Kindness matters”

Kindness matters. I am quite focused and have a direct personality, but never forget the humanity in everything we do. I take the time to send handwritten notes or a personal message when someone needs encouragement or does an amazing job. Needless to say, I’ve accumulated a box full of similar notes that remind me […]

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Kindness matters. I am quite focused and have a direct personality, but never forget the humanity in everything we do. I take the time to send handwritten notes or a personal message when someone needs encouragement or does an amazing job. Needless to say, I’ve accumulated a box full of similar notes that remind me of the inspiration and compassion I received along my career journey and how valuable it is to pass it on.

As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bernadette N. Macko.

Bernadette is Senior Vice President and Manager of the Corporate Cash Management Department at Provident Bank, located in Iselin, NJ. Bernadette has more than 30 years of experience in the banking industry. She has also held positions in retail banking, merchant bankcard and cash management services at various financial institutions throughout her career.

Bernadette holds an Associates Degree in Business Management from Brookdale Community College and a Bachelors Degree in Business from Farleigh Dickinson University. She is currently pursuing certification as a CTP — Certified Treasury Professional through the AFP — Association for Financial Professionals.

Bernadette serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Brookdale Community College Foundation, the Advisory Committee of the 100 Women Campaign at Ocean County College Foundation and actively participates in the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation/College & Career Ready Academy at various high schools throughout New Jersey. She is a member of the Association for Financial Professionals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?

I don’t have an engaging story surrounding my entry into the financial series industry. My first position in banking was as a part-time teller in a local community bank. The hours and location fit the needs of my family at the time.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Well, my journey has been long and taken so many winding turns, many of which were not by choice. There is one that I do believe resonates well after all these years that I enjoy sharing. After 8 years in retail banking, I decided it was time for a change and contemplated where the next journey in financial services would lead me, I saw a position advertised and consulted with my dad who had been encouraging me to seek more from my career. (A side note my father was a huge proponent for women in the workplace well before it was a popular topic). My dad recommended that I be more creative than the average candidate and drive my resume to the bank. Mind you, this was a very large financial institution but the location for the position was clearly stated. I took the afternoon off from my current position and indeed walked into the reception area explained why I was there and the receptionist took the time to introduce me to the recruiter who had not seen anyone take this type of initiative in the past. I got that position which opened the door to my future. It was truly a pivotal moment in my career.

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

I’m so fortune to have many priority projects in my sights at the moment. In the words of Billie Jean King, “Pressure is a privilege — it only comes to those who earn it.” But most exciting for me is the integration of a new portfolio of cash management with our systems as the result of a recent bank merger. I relish the idea of consulting with this newly acquired client base and expanding the solutions available to them for realizing greater efficiency in their business.

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

Our long history serving the banking needs of businesses and consumers for more than 180 years is a good story to tell and has been a differentiator. But this alone is not enough. What separates us from our competitors and keeps customers engaged is the overwhelming sense of commitment my colleagues and I demonstrate day in and day out to our customers and to each other.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all-white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

It’s a scientific fact that women think differently and bring a diverse set of skills to balance out a winning team. When you build collaborative teams where diversity and varied opinions are combined, great things can happen. In addition, the modern generation of women have expanded the career options available to them by educating themselves and bringing solid credentials to the positions available. Corporations are getting pressure to hire and promote a more diverse workforce. However, there is more that needs to be done. I had a female colleague tell me she admired my courage and I use that as a guide post often. My advice to other women is to ask themselves this question when faced with a challenge, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” You’d be surprised how it can reframe your approach.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

I wish I could offer the panacea for this topic as it continues to move slower than most of us are content with. As individuals, women need to self-promote and confidently ask for the seat at the table. Companies are getting more pressure at the board level to consider not just female candidates but all diverse backgrounds. There is a misconception that mentoring women is the only solution, however in the absence of meaningful sponsorship, progress of women is slowed. As a society, we can accelerate this movement by breaking the gender gap, but we need male counterparts to be our champions for equality. There is a research study underway on the topic of Covid-19 and the impact on the progress women have made. It will be interesting to see if the data supports what some believe may demonstrate a set-back.

Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?

The first may be the obvious answer: education, knowledge is power which provides a solid basis for well-informed decisions. The sooner you can begin educating youth about making sound financial decisions the better the long-term outcome.

The second would be the best utilization of the tools available to educate and motivate financial literacy. Technology has expanded the opportunity to deliver content and function to people where they are most comfortable. There are mobile applications that can reward individuals for consuming pro-active sound-bites of learning which is resonating well. In addition, financial institutions are offering ways to make savings fun through apps that have been experiencing positive outcomes.

The third are solutions for reaching the under-banked. Traditional banking is not the solution for everyone and there is an entire working-class of individuals who benefit from alternative solutions that permit the flexibility to transaction payments without a direct relationship with a bank.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

  1. Establish a budget — no matter what your income level, so you’re living within your means.
  2. Save for retirement — start as soon as you enter the workforce, no matter how minimal your contribution and avoid unnecessary breaks along the way. You will want to be prepared to enjoy the lifestyle and opportunities it affords you in retirement.
  3. Understand debt — avoid the debt cycle credit cards can create and set specific goals, only borrower long-term for significant purchase and life events such as purchasing a home.
  4. Monitor your credit — protecting your privacy and the security of your financial well-being is paramount. Use tools to monitor accounts and consider a lock on your credit.
  5. Interest rates — shop around and evaluate often, it is a very competitive market for deposit, loan and credit card rates.

None of us are able to 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?

Over my more than 35 years in banking, I have had many “unofficial” mentors, sponsors and influencers, each of whom played a role in my success. Some were teachers, supervisors or colleagues who saw something in me and offered me the opportunity to excel. There are simply too many to mention and they all know who they are.

A quick story is actually of one of the hardest lessons I learned early in my career but took the most from. I was given a task to complete a very large mailing to a group of high value clients for a merger. I’d been involved in all of the meetings and conversations to ensure each task was accounted for. On the day of the mailing, the team came to me and indicated that the envelopes we ordered were too small to fit all the materials. Needless to say, I was very upset and embarrassed. My supervisor took me aside to advise me with words I’ve not forgotten and have shared with others in similar situations. “No one died, but the smallest of details can take away from all the high value efforts you’ve put into this task. Now, breathe and use your instinctive skills to figure it out.” Mistakes won’t define you if you demonstrate resolve and adapt quickly.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Kindness matters. I am quite focused and have a direct personality, but never forget the humanity in everything we do. I take the time to send handwritten notes or a personal message when someone needs encouragement or does an amazing job. Needless to say, I’ve accumulated a box full of similar notes that remind me of the inspiration and compassion I received along my career journey and how valuable it is to pass it on.

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