As a society we need to destigmatize the role men can play in the household. Truth be told, the path to becoming an executive requires hard, tireless work. The hours and demands make it difficult to balance work with the demands of raising children and maintaining a home. It’s just easier when you have a partner that not only helps, but is willing to take a leadership role at home when the situation demands it. That could mean being a stay-at-home spouse, taking on daycare pick up and drop off duty, or simply doing the majority of the housework. To get there, I think men will need to feel that role is as valuable as we as women know it is.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Ann Doherty. Kelly Ann serves as EVP and Chief People & Communications Officer for Mr. Cooper Group overseeing all facets of human resources and corporate communications. As the leader of our People organization, she also leads our culture initiatives to create a more encouraging and empowering work environment. Previously, she served as Vice President of Corporate Communications at Elevate, a financial technology firm. She also served as a public relations and affairs consultant for four years and as a strategic communication staffer for a Presidential campaign and within President George W. Bush’s administration with a tour at the White House in Presidential Personnel and N.A.S.A. as a political appointee. Kelly Ann is also active in the community, serving on the Board of Directors for The Women’s Center of Tarrant County.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Kelly Ann! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
My father always says that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. While I believe that to be true most of the time, I don’t think anyone can truly say they are prepared to work in financial services. The industry is complex and highly regulated, and it can be overwhelming at the start. However, I’ve learned over time that even the most seasoned professionals are learning something new every day.
My first role in the financial services industry was with Elevate, a (at the time) small fintech start-up focused on meeting the credit needs for those in the non-prime category. My roommate saw a job posting for a corporate communications manager, and thought it would be a great fit for me. It was the perfect combination of government, public affairs and communications. Having had a background in political and crisis communications, I agreed. I interviewed for the job which included what we call a “murder board,” which included an on-the-spot, tough Q&A with several of the company’s leaders designed to test my instincts, composure and confidence in my responses. I’m happy to say I killed it… and the CEO offered me the job on the spot.
Now, I’m very proud to be part of the Mr. Cooper Group team. We are doing incredible things at Mr. Cooper to give homeowners and homebuyers a better experience. And it all starts with our culture and our team members. I couldn’t be more excited to play a role in creating a more engaging, positive team member experience.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far?
I hit the daughter of the Vice President of the United States in the back of the head with a piñata. Mary Cheney, to be specific.
It was Halloween 2003, and the presidential campaign, in which I served as a communications staffer, was humming — but not so crazy that we couldn’t decorate our area with a piñata full of candy. It was my job to open up the piñata, but we couldn’t figure it out. My idea — put it across my shoulder and throw it on the ground. As the piñata went soaring, the rope I was using to throw it detached, and it went flying… right into Mary Cheney. The small crowd in the breakroom went silent… and then (thankfully) she started laughing. I profusely apologized.
The story doesn’t stop there. An hour later I got a visit by the Secret Service. They wanted to talk to me about the “incident.” They pulled me into a small conference room and started asking me questions. I of course started to freak out, but then Mary popped in the room in full laughter. And I started breathing again.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In my role at Mr. Cooper Group, I am focused on the team member experience. I want to create an environment that inspires them to be cheerleaders for each other, champions for our customers and empowered to challenge convention and the status quo to make positive change in our industry.
The Mr. Cooper team works very hard to keep the dream of homeownership alive for our customers, so I’m really excited to bring that same dream to our team members through the recently launched down payment assistance program. The down payment assistance program includes participation in a financial wellness program, matches up to $5,000 in cash, and is in addition to our already established team member loan discount program. For many of our team members, this support could make a difference in them qualifying for a mortgage. We’ve already seen a positive reaction from the team, and I think it’s a great benefit and aligns perfectly to our company’s mission.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In the last few years, our company has evolved in many ways including our rebrand to become the Mr. Cooper Group — an unusual name for a mortgage company that certainly stands out! For us though, it’s not the name that makes us unique, it’s what the name embodies. We want to be advocates for our customers and are trying to do something different in the mortgage space by challenging the normal conventions of the home loan experience to really put the customer first.
Whether it’s a friendlier tone, more approachable letters and website, better digital tools and educational content to make mortgage less intimidating, we want to change the way consumers experience the mortgage process and the time they spend in their homes. To make great change, we had to start with our team. Happy teams lead to happy customers. In our transformation journey, we have made a lot of changes not typical of financial services. We have a relaxed dress code, a style of communication that’s personal, a CEO who communicates with our entire team on a weekly basis via fun videos, and an internal social network that encourages discussion and engagement. We even have our own Artist in Residence program, so the walls in our workplaces are bright, colorful and interesting — not your typical office scene. All of those things, plus so much more, make us something special.
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 encouraging to hear more people talking about this issue, but unfortunately there still aren’t many women in senior roles at major financial institutions. And honestly, more broadly speaking, many women aren’t comfortable with managing their own financial lives. That’s why I love to see the new ideas and programs designed to help women in this area.
One of my favorite examples is what Sallie Krawcheck, the CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, is doing. She is creating a platform that makes investing feel more accessible to women and encourages women to get more involved in their personal finances with educational content that inspires confidence.
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?
1. As a society we need to destigmatize the role men can play in the household. Truth be told, the path to becoming an executive requires hard, tireless work. The hours and demands make it difficult to balance work with the demands of raising children and maintaining a home. It’s just easier when you have a partner that not only helps, but is willing to take a leadership role at home when the situation demands it. That could mean being a stay-at-home spouse, taking on daycare pick up and drop off duty, or simply doing the majority of the housework. To get there, I think men will need to feel that role is as valuable as we as women know it is.
2. Companies need to focus on the pipeline of diverse talent. That means that with every level within a company you should be conscious of how many women are there and how many
women are in development to be there. You can’t expect a woman to grow in to an executive role if she’s not yet had the opportunity to be a manager or a VP. To support that pipeline, development opportunities, executive visibility and sponsorship, and flexibility are all key.
3. As a woman who has had incredible opportunities, I believe I am obligated to pay it forward inside and outside the office. In the office, I want to be a positive example for women by being the most prepared, thoughtful, direct and accountable executive we have. That means giving direct feedback (even when it’s not easy) and encouraging them to swim outside their swim lanes. Outside the office, I am passionate about giving back to women. Mentoring is one of my favorite things to do, and I have the opportunity to do that through a network called the BadA$$ Ladies of DFW. I also sit on the board of the Women’s Center — a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women, children and families overcome abuse and poverty. By taking your expertise out of the office, you never know who you could influence. It could be a future CEO.
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.
1. Not all debt is bad debt. Let’s say you wanted to buy a car for $20,000 and you worked hard, budgeted and had saved up money to be able to pay for it in cash. Amazing feat! But let’s also say you qualify for a .9% APR loan. Should you forgo the monthly payments and pay in cash for peace of mind or take out a loan. Take out the loan! One, if you are smart with your money, you could invest that $20,000 in a fund that pays out a multiple of that .9%. Two, having debt and paying it off can help improve your credit.
2. Similarly, get a credit card early and use it (as long as you pay it off every month). If you have dreams of owning a home, buying a car or making any other major purchases in your lifetime, you need good credit. To have good credit, you must have outstanding credit. I know this because this is a mistake I made. I spent my 20s in the midst of the financial crisis, and I was terrified of debt. When I went to buy my first car, I had a rude awakening and ultimately it cost me because my interest rate was higher.
3. An emergency fund is more important than your 401k. This is not to say that a retirement fund is not critical. It is! But many experts say before you set aside money for retirement first save at least three months of paychecks stored away in a rainy day fund. In my experience in the financial services industry, I’ve seen time and time again people who need to take out loans to cover common, smaller emergencies such as a flat tire, home repair or taking their child to the doctor. While there are products to help those customers with a much smarter alternative to extremely high costs of credit, the cost still came at a higher price point than a consumer with good credit. An emergency fund would have saved those customers money in the long run.
4. Be a savvy shopper and don’t be afraid to buy used! This is probably intuitive, but it’s a lesson I had to learn with time. As a woman who loves fashion, I took a quantity over quality mindset in my 20s. What’s $10 for a shirt? Ten shirts later, that $10 is actually a $100 — and that adds up. Now, I focus on quality pieces. But that doesn’t mean I don’t bargain shop. I try to buy shoes and clothes on sale, and my favorite way to shop is on consignment. There are some amazing websites out there now that offer great pieces at a fraction of the price. They may have been previously enjoyed pieces, but they are new to me!
5. Lastly but most important, focus on your EXPERIENCE bank over your bank account. In your 20s and 30s, try to take on roles because you believe you will learn, grow and advance personally and professionally. Don’t take a job just because it pays you $5,000 more than another. Sure, that $5,000 may be a lot to you in the moment, but the experience you’ll gain by following your passions and growing your skillset will pay dividends in the future. When I was in my early 20s I took a job at the White House — for a $10,000 pay cut. It crushed me. But looking back, the experience was priceless, and the short-term sacrifices then have paid off 100 fold since. Now I recognize today, many young professionals have student loan debt that they have to pay off. I understand, and I’ve been there too. If that’s what is holding you back, call your loan company and see what you can work out. In my personal experience, a little negotiating can get your monthly payments in line with what you can afford.
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?
I think through the course of your life you can have many people that influence who you are in that moment and who you become.
Early on, I have to say my parents. My mom and dad instilled in me from a very early age that I could do anything and be anyone I wanted to be. In fact, I was so confident that I won a speech in the third grade where I emphatically proclaimed I would never do drugs because I wanted to be President… and drive a Porsche. I no longer want to be a U.S. President, but a Porsche wouldn’t be so bad. My point being that I believed I could do those things because my parents believed I could. I was able to do things like speaking contests because my parents drove me, coached me and listened to me constantly.
Today, that person is my husband. I am not easy. My job is not easy. My ambitions are not easy. But he is overwhelmingly supportive. He celebrates every success with me, steps up when my job takes me away from other obligations and encourages me to overcome every obstacle and challenge in front of me. We all need people who believe we can be anything we want to be, and I’m so lucky to have found a partner that believes in me in that way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s a proverb: “She is clothed in strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future.” I found this proverb during an exceptionally hard chapter in my life. I had just gotten out of an unhealthy relationship and got sick with an infection that required a lengthy hospital stay. I felt alone and broken. This proverb reminded me that I already had everything I needed within me, and the future is bright.
Today, it’s a constant reminder to me of my own abilities and purpose — not just because I think about it, but because it’s also tattooed on my ribs!
Thank you for joining us!