Meet The Female Leaders Of Finance: “Being inclusive is about finding common ground and adjusting our language to our audience.” with Julie Pukas of TD Bank and Tyler Gallagher

Each one of us also needs to be cognizant of the language we use on the job to be more inclusive. This includes the stories and analogies leaders use to motivate their teams. Are you possibly excluding people by the analogies you use? It’s about finding common ground and adjusting our language to our audience. […]

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Each one of us also needs to be cognizant of the language we use on the job to be more inclusive. This includes the stories and analogies leaders use to motivate their teams. Are you possibly excluding people by the analogies you use? It’s about finding common ground and adjusting our language to our audience.

As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Pukas, Head of Commercial Product Integration and Head of Merchant Solutions at TD Bank. In this position, she works with executives across TD’s Commercial Bank to create end-to-end processes for implementation and go-to-market strategies that bridge product development to active sales and to deepen customer relationships. TD’s Merchant Solutions group offers point-of-sale technology (in-store and mobile) via a completely digital onboarding experience, making the Merchant Solutions sales teams one of the first in the bank to offer this convenience. Julie joined TD Bank in 2014 as Head of U.S. Bankcard and Merchant Solutions. For four years, she played a vital role in overseeing TD’s high-performing U.S. Merchant Solutions and Bankcard (credit card) businesses with a keen eye toward innovation and performance. As a champion for women in financial services, Julie is passionate about serving as a mentor and offering coaching to women in financial services. She founded the Philadelphia chapter of W.Net, a non-profit organization intended to inspire and empower women in payments and is also an executive member of TD Bank’s internal Women in Leadership resource group. Julie currently serves as an Outside Director on the board of Remington & Vernick Engineers in Haddonfield, N.J., and is on the board of trustees for La Salle Academy, an independent Catholic school for grades 3–8. She also participates on the boards of the Electronic Transaction Association, W.Net and the Discover Network Advisory Board. Julie holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University.

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

I had a couple of early jobs outside of finance, but they didn’t seem to offer a path that would allow me a long-term and fulfilling career. I didn’t have a particular career in mind, but I knew those early companies just weren’t giving me what I needed and I began to see that working for well-regarded companies like banks could offer a sustainable career plan. I found my first finance job through a classified ad and worked with a Philadelphia bank to educate people on how to use their ATM card for purchases at merchants during the very early days of changes taking place in the payments space. I was hooked.

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?

I remember being told that my first day at Citibank, where I worked before joining TD, was not going to take place in my new office but in another country with people who had no idea who I was. Obviously, that was a bit intimidating and disconcerting for a first day on a job. As much as I looked at the situation as an interesting adventure, traveling across the Atlantic really heightened the insecurities and uncertainties that we all have when starting a new job. The good news is that people whom I interviewed with were on my flight and actually remembered who I was and did their best to be welcoming. Out of that I realized that 1) people are people and we shouldn’t be so afraid of new experiences; and 2) you don’t have to go to a foreign country to feel out of place at a new job. I came away with a better appreciation for the importance of welcoming, onboarding and helping new people, and I’ve carried that feeling with me.

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

I am on a broader team at TD Bank working on several digital projects that focus on the business customer experience, small and large. We recognize that small business owners and CFOs want the same digital conveniences they have at their fingertips in their personal lives, and we’re well on our way to deliver similar solutions for businesses. Small business owners are especially pressed for time and resources, and our recent and upcoming offerings from online checking account opening to closing SBA loans digitally and more will add conveniences and streamline how and where they manage their cash inflows and outflows.

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

TD stands out because of its culture, which I define as a balanced approach of focus on the employee and the customer. Many financial institutions will say they are customer focused but forget about their employees. We know that our employees deliver those great experiences to customers — whether digitally or in-person — and TD recognizes and celebrates that as much as we do customer perks and conveniences.

For instance, one day I was doing a training in one of our stores in northern New Jersey and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a horse walking into the store. It wasn’t a horse — it was a Great Dane and its owner, one of our customers — and our employees acted like that was totally normal. Because it is normal at TD and I think that epitomizes who we are as a company. We don’t just invite your tiny lap dog into our locations, you can bring your horse-sized dog too and we’ll give it a dog biscuit, and you brighten our employees’ days with your pet’s visit.

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 can’t and shouldn’t dismiss the work that women have done over the past 25 years to make this change happen. I recognize and respect that the women in the 80s and 90s were breaking barriers that allow me and my female colleagues to sit where we sit today. The pace may not have driven as much progress as we would like to date, but we’re now at a societal inflection point that most women believe will quicken the time it takes for women to achieve an equitable seat at the table.

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?

Of course there should be parity in the workplace — why wouldn’t there be? But companies still need to deliver on this expectation and there’s still work to do. I believe there is a desire and a momentum across organizations to get to parity, and companies and individuals need to help define what that looks like.

I wouldn’t call this a “movement” — it’s necessary change. Companies and society should recognize there are fundamental differences in leadership styles of men and women and those are not a bad thing. Collaboration has been viewed as not as “results-oriented,” for instance, but we should be aware that a mixture of leadership styles is what companies should aspire to support and nurture.

Each one of us also needs to be cognizant of the language we use on the job to be more inclusive. This includes the stories and analogies leaders use to motivate their teams. Are you possibly excluding people by the analogies you use? It’s about finding common ground and adjusting our language to our audience.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise a young adult 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.

I feel there’s a need to “get back to basics,” so these might not all be non-intuitive, but they are critical.

1. Get a summer or part-time job — Kids should work in high school and college to earn their own spending money and/or pay for education. I do think contributing in some way to your funding your own education, provides a sense of pride in the outcome of one’s education.

2. Define a budget and check your finances — Actually know what’s in your account day-to-day and take responsibility for what’s coming in and going out.

3. Pay (yourself) now and pay later — Try to save for short-term things like vacations but absolutely to contribute to your 401(k). It’s about balance of your current and future goals.

4. Use credit responsibly — Build your credit profile with manageable, responsible debt, whether as a credit card, car loan or student loan. Understand what your credit score is and what it means. Credit cards with benefits like travel or restaurant points or cash back can enhance your life, but only if you’re paying off your balance each month.

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’m grateful for my husband, Greg, who has been with me every step of the way. He’s provided balance and flexibility, including putting up with crazy travel schedules, and solid advice along the way. Having his support has been invaluable as I grew in my career.

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

I like to say, “Be like a duck.” We should not perceive what people say in the workplace to be so personal. Women especially spend too much time ruminating about a bad conversation or meeting that could have gone better. Instead we should let it roll off our backs like water off of a duck.

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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit more than 50 countries, and recently I’ve been most inspired by women I met in developing countries like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Seeing the entrepreneurial spirit of these women moves me because it shows how education and a means to generate income can lift entire communities and families — and this applies in the U.S. too. As someone who works at a bank, it spurs me to think about how financial institutions can help women globally flourish, whether through micro loans or financial education. Education and starting a business don’t just help now; they can change generations of a community.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

About the Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and United Arab Emirates focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. Prior to founding Regal Assets, Tyler worked for a Microsoft startup led by legendary tech giant Karl Jacob who was an executive at Microsoft, and an original Facebook board member. Feel free to reach out to Tyler on Linkedin HERE .

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