Scheduling financial check-ups: It helps to treat your financial wellness just like you would your physical health. I recommend proactively setting time aside — whether it’s every month, or each quarter — to check in on your financial wellbeing and identify opportunities for improvement.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Jessani.
Kerry Jessani is the National Commercial Banking Head of Healthcare, Higher Education and Non-Profits at JPMorgan. An experienced leader with a demonstrated history of working in the financial services industry, she boasts a strong skill set in corporate finance strategy, risk management and treasury services. She holds degrees from Georgetown University and New York University. Prior to her tenure with JPMorgan, She previously held investment banking positions at Bear Stearns & Co.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?
I’ve loved working with numbers for as long as I can remember and initially found studying economics attractive because I thought the work would be definitive, that there wouldn’t be room for grey area. What I ultimately experienced is that, while the numbers do help to tell a story, the real world is anything but definitive. It’s critical to understand the nuances of what’s going on in my clients’ worlds — beyond the numbers — and there’s also a human element to manage. I’ve actually found that infusing creativity into my work and building deep relationships is what keeps my work exciting, so I’m glad that my experience differed from my initial impressions!
Can you share the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
Earlier in my career, I was working in mid-cap investment banking when the leader of my team approached me and said he’d like me to consider taking on a role in the energy space, which was based in Texas — thousands of miles away from my family in the Northeast. My initial response was, “I’ve never been to Texas and I know nothing about the energy sector.” The following morning, I had what I initially thought was an informational meeting with the head of the team, but when I walked in, he was on a video call and introduced me to the full team as a potential new team member. I was looking for a new challenge at the time, and though I could’ve never planned for the opportunity, I soon found myself on a flight to Texas and excited for what lay ahead. This experience ultimately taught me that you have to be open to possibilities, trust your gut and know when to take a leap of faith, even if something isn’t part of your original plan.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of my key focus areas, particularly during this pandemic, is to help support midsized nonprofit institutions — organizations that are vital to our communities. My team and I are helping develop strategies for tackling business challenges at a time when they’re more stretched for resources than ever before. During this time of stress, smaller nonprofit organizations — including healthcare and educational institutions — have been some of the hardest hit. We are focused on providing them with banking solutions, market insights and access to the full power of our firm. From food banks, to educational institutions and community hospitals, I take great pride in helping businesses thrive during these tough times. When we help clients realize efficiencies and savings, they can put greater weight behind advancing their missions.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
JPMorgan Chase offers a unique combination of industry expertise and broad capabilities to deliver on companies’ individual needs as they scale, whether they’re large or small, a global leader or an emerging startup. We help our clients navigate the changing business and regulatory landscape to drive future growth and offer scalable solutions including credit and financing, digital payments and treasury services, and more. During the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S., when the pandemic first hit institutions, we were able to assist many of our clients to ensure they had enough liquidity within days. All of a sudden, hospitals needed to buy PPE and we were able to help our clients set up payment systems to avoid fraudulent activities. It’s been truly inspiring to see the firm harness the strength of our proprietary insights, legacy experience and holistic capabilities to effectively help clients protect themselves during this uncertain time.
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?
We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and we must build on their progress for future generations. When I think of inspiring women, my aunt immediately comes to mind. She was a one of the first female executives at a major manufacturing company, and I truly believe that it’s people like her that made some of the biggest strides by breaking into the industry, hiring underrepresented talent and championing their advancement. I believe that change often comes from the top, and fostering a diverse culture isn’t any different. I feel lucky to be at a company that firmly believes in the importance of inclusion and is taking action to support minority and female employees, including those raising families, like myself. I’ve enjoyed participating in JPMorgan Chase’s Women on the Move program, which offers mentorship and educational opportunities, in addition to a dedicated workforce reentry program for women. Initiatives like this will continue to drive positive change and lead to increased diversity in the industry.
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?
Women have made impressive strides in the professional world, but we must all continue to do our part to elevate women at every stage of their careers to increase representation at the highest ranks of leadership.
I believe that we can keep up the momentum through:
- A continued focus on recruiting and accountability: It’s important that the business community continues to seek out, hire and cultivate diverse talent. This starts through concerted recruiting efforts. There should also be accountability and regular measurement of these efforts, so we can continue to improve our approaches to ultimately increase the number of women in the field.
- Mentorship and community engagement: I’m a strong believer that businesses have a responsibility to bring their expertise to the communities that they serve. For financial institutions, this could include exposing more women to career opportunities in finance, offering tools and resources to close the skills gap and mentoring and engaging with diverse communities.
- Rewarding openness and transparency: Sustainable change will come when every individual in an organization feels fully empowered to voice their concerns, be transparent and bring their full selves to work. As leaders, it’s our job to champion this openness and, in fact, encourage it.
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?
There are a few key approaches that can help increase financial literacy in the U.S., including:
- Reaching youth at school: I’m a strong believer in teaching financial literacy beginning at a young age. Bringing curriculum around the basics of financial literacy to schools would enable us to reach youth with this important knowledge before they have full financial responsibilities of their own.
- Taking advantage of digital dashboards: Most financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase, offer resources to help consumers analyze their spending habits in an easy and intuitive way. Visual banking dashboards can be especially helpful for those that don’t like diving into the numbers, but still want a comprehensive picture of their expenses, spending and investments.
- Teaching through experience at home. Many financial institutions provide educational tools that can help increase children’s financial literacy through first-hand experiences at home. For instance, JPMorgan Chase recently introduced a children’s checking account that helps them learn to manage money, while giving parents the ability to guide their experience safely and in real-time.
If you had to advise your adult child about five three non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Please give a story or example for each.
To better-understand the fundamentals of money management, I’d recommend:
- Scheduling financial check-ups: It helps to treat your financial wellness just like you would your physical health. I recommend proactively setting time aside — whether it’s every month, or each quarter — to check in on your financial wellbeing and identify opportunities for improvement.
- Tapping the experts: There are several leaders and money management experts that can help you learn the basics of finance and then scale up your knowledge from there, and picking up a book is a great place to start. I also encourage speaking to friends and family openly about financial questions and struggles. Finance should not be a taboo topic. You’d be amazed how many pitfalls you can avoid (and help others avoid) by openly sharing first-hand experience.
- Stumbling, learning and getting back up: I’m a firm believer that one of the best ways to learn about managing finances is through first-hand experience. In conjunction with the tips I just mentioned, putting learnings into action and finding out what works for you is invaluable. Over time, keeping your financial health in check will become an increasingly intuitive part of your routine.
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?
There are countless individuals — from family members and friends, to colleagues and mentors — that I owe my success to. First and foremost, my family has been my biggest inspiration. When I think of success, I immediately envision my aunt — a successful female leader in the manufacturing industry in the 20th century. I think of my parents. My father was in finance and my mother worked in healthcare, and what’s exciting about my current role is that I have the opportunity to fuse both of those specialties together. There’s no doubt that my interest in the intersection of healthcare and finance was inspired by my parents. I also owe my success to dozens of colleagues who have been with me on this journey and helped me up when I wasn’t in a good place. As a leader, I now strive to be that person for others, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of the selfless individuals that championed me when times were tough.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from Florence Nightingale: “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” I’ve challenged myself throughout my life to rise beyond fear, push doubts to the back of my mind and embrace challenges. If I ever find myself too comfortable and feeling afraid to pursue something new, that’s when I know I need to take a leap and push myself further — whether that’s personally or professionally. And it’s paid off, from leading me to take a new opportunity across the country earlier in my career, to diving into industries that I’d never operated in. Ultimately, overcoming fear is what I believe leads to the greatest levels of success, and the philosophy behind this quote has never let me down.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
Outside of my day-to-day role, one of my greatest passions is increasing financial literacy in children. It’s close to my heart and an area where I believe we can make a meaningful impact quickly. It’s critically important to start financial literacy education for children early. In my opinion, kids would benefit from increased financial literacy education within schools. If you can reach people when they’re young, there’s a better chance of them successfully picking up that knowledge, applying it to their financial experiences early on in life — and even bringing that knowledge home to their parents. That’s how real impact starts to take place. It should start at schools, be community based and rooted in a commitment to provide the knowledge and tools to young people before they reach adulthood and are responsible for their finances.