I believe society has come to realize that women can serve in senior positions, and now we just need to do a better job at supporting the movement. We’re living through a transformative time and the rate at which things are changing is tremendous, we just have to deliver on our promises and actually help women reach their fullest potential.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Annemarie Murphy, President of SBA Lending at United Community Bank, a leading financial institution in the Southeast with national lending capabilities. Since the launch of the bank’s SBA division in 2014, Annemarie has helped grow the team to 67 employees and almost $200MM in loan volume. She has also developed a strong management team that continues to drive growth, expanded United’s lending capabilities and offerings, and implemented an online portal for SBA clients. Annemarie has worked in executive positions and launched SBA divisions at various financial institutions throughout her career. She holds degrees from Allegheny College and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Like many other people that work in my field, I had no idea what SBA was before I was hired. I was actually working at a law firm when I was approached about transitioning to a position in SBA lending and though I was unfamiliar with the field, they were offering a pay raise and I knew I could figure it out. Fast forward to my first official day of work and I nearly ran away when my boss handed me the 6-inch thick binder full of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)! We are definitely more technologically advanced now, but we still give a similar binder to new employees when they join the team. Even though they’d prefer to glance at the online version, we always remind them that nothing can beat the hard copy with all its pre-text and space for writing notes.
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?
My team and I have a running joke that if you’ve raised a teenager or worked in SBA, your favorite phrase is “wait, what?” So, I strive to make work as fun and enjoyable as possible because it can be stressful at times. Recently, a lender of mine came to me and said the construction crew at a project we funded just realized that the building they were working on — a building that was 40% complete — was backwards! “Wait, what?!” was my immediate reaction. The good news is that this was a misunderstanding and not a large problem, but things like this happen around us every day and it helps to have a good sense of humor about them. We now give awards at each of our Annual Meetings for the top three “wait, what?” moments from the past year. By taking these seemingly stressful situations and turning them into something lighthearted that my entire team can enjoy and laugh over, we’ve really strengthened our camaraderie and team spirit.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’ve implemented monthly leadership trainings for my senior leadership team as a way to foster an open environment that encourages everyone to feel comfortable sharing their experiences. We complete monthly trainings with Echelon Front, an organization that specializes in leadership training, risk management, and team building, and we take what we’ve learned and share it across the business unit. This has helped all of us understand the importance of ownership, humility and responsibility. It has also increased interaction between teammates and created an environment of cross-communication that introduces teammates from different lines of business. Our overall goal is to make sure every team member has an outlet to turn to at any time, and this initiative has greatly strengthened our relationships with one another. Furthermore, the increased teamwork, communication and leadership skills have also positively impacted our clients and provided a better experience for them.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What sets United Community Bank apart from the rest is that we’re small enough to know our clients personally, but large enough to serve all their needs. We are a community bank, so we operate with a local focus and love to serve others. But traditionally speaking, community banks have a hard time measuring up to their larger competitors because most lack the technology, products or services needed to attract customers. We don’t have that issue at United Community Bank. We offer a full range of consumer and commercial banking products and are consistently investing in technology that improves our client’s lives. At the same time, customer service drives all our decisions and we work together to make our communities better and our client’s lives richer.
Last year, we initiated the process of United implementing an online application and customer portal for SBA clients. After intensive planning, the platform has launched and it allows customers to apply online and scan in documentation remotely, eliminating the need for one of our team members to do it. This sort of initiative is forward thinking for many community banks, but it’s something we prioritized for the sake of our customers. As a result, overall efficiency for our team and customer satisfaction have greatly increased, human error has decreased, and it is estimated that this capability will save $2MM in overhead costs.
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?
The shift in a more-inclusive direction is definitely a positive one and I think it’s happening because everybody realizes how important differing viewpoints are to an organization. Thankfully, people are beginning to understand that they can no longer make a few diverse hires here and there as a way to check a box. We’ve gone beyond only focusing on diversity of race, gender or religion. Companies that want to excel in today’s world should also focus on diversity of thinking and how that adds value to their organization. This shift in mindset is especially joyful to me as a woman because we bring so much to the table based off our own personal experiences. We almost always have a different viewpoint than the men which is beneficial because in order to serve and connect with many different audiences, you have to have a well-rounded company.
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?
As individuals, women need to support women. We cannot succeed in a “mean girls club” and we don’t have to bring each other down in order to get ahead. We’ve all had to work extremely hard to get where we are, and we should bond over our shared experiences. Our intrinsic characteristics allow us to lead in our own unique ways and I think it is advantageous for us to be different then our male counterparts.
Companies need to take a more active approach in developing diverse leadership teams that include women. When most women leave work at 5 p.m., they go home and make dinner, take care of children, raise families, tend to the house — they essentially work two full-time jobs. These responsibilities shape us in ways that can benefit companies because inherently, we are leaders. So, if a company is looking internally to fill a leadership position, women should be at the top of their minds.
Lastly, I believe society has come to realize that women can serve in senior positions, and now we just need to do a better job at supporting the movement. We’re living through a transformative time and the rate at which things are changing is tremendous, we just have to deliver on our promises and actually help women reach their fullest potential.
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. Focus on your credit score
When both of my daughters were in high school, I downloaded the Experian app on their phones and told them if their scores went below 700, they were in “really big trouble.” A few months ago, my oldest daughter bought a car on her own with no cosigner. After the transaction she revealed to me her current credit score and even I was impressed! She went on to thank me for teaching her the importance of credit at such a young age and I’m so glad that I was able to because many young people don’t learn the concept until it’s too late.
2. Set a budget & work within it
I am a big fan of using online tools for budgeting. I recommended “You Need a Budget” to my daughters and I especially enjoy this app because you have to allocate every single dollar. My youngest daughter once called me because a dress she had been admiring for a few weeks was finally on sale. She really wanted to purchase it, but the app said she did not have the spending money available and would have to put it in on credit card which she knew was a bad idea. In the end she fought the urge, listened to the app and decided not to purchase the dress. It seems so simple, but that type of self-discipline really puts you in the mindset to continuously make better decisions with your money.
3. Pay down your debt
Both daughters took out private student loans during school, so they’ve understood the concept of accruing interest for quite some time and are really cautious of using more on credit than they can pay back. When they do use credit, however, I always remind them to pay more than the minimum. That goes for credit card debt, student loans or any other type of debt. Pay as much as you can, but at least pay more than the minimum.
4. Put 10% into savings
I’ve stressed the importance of at least saving 10% since they were very young. If they received $10 for their allowance, they had to at least put $1 in their piggy bank. As they got older, I began depositing money for bills and other expenses into their bank accounts so that they could make the payments and become familiar with the process. One day, my oldest daughter called me about her paycheck. She had just graduated college and gotten her first check and was so upset about how much was taken out. Of course, she immediately began to list all the reasons she couldn’t save 10%. I went on to ask how much she currently had in savings and she bluntly replied “$7,000.” I was stunned, unable to fathom how a recent college graduate could already have that much stashed away! She then revealed that each time she would ask for money for a bill payment, she tacked on 10% more than what was due so that she could put it in her savings. Unbeknownst to me, I had been funding her savings account for years!
5. Watch for identity theft
I only recently began giving this piece of advice, but with all of the tools that offer credit monitoring and the increased fraud activity online, I’ve really encouraged my daughters to take heed to prevent identity theft. If your identity is stolen and you don’t realize it until you need to make a large purchase, you’re backed into a corner with limited options and a whole new world of trouble. They both tell me how annoyed they get about the daily emails they receive from the various credit monitoring sites, but better to be annoyed by meaningful updates than to be battling fraud!
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?
Julie Huston, President and CEO of immito, has been my professional mentor for quite some time. She hired me back in 1999 as a brand-new salesperson with limited experience, and I’m forever grateful that she took a chance on me. Julie also serves as Chairwoman of the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders (NAGGL) where I am a member and serve as an Instructor, so we still talk often, and I can lean on her for guidance whenever I need it.
Julie was in charge of nearly 100 people when she hired me and quickly helped me realize how much women can gain from supporting one another. At that time, I was a single parent with two small girls and Julie was extremely understanding of my need for a flexible schedule that worked around daycare and school. She fostered an environment where women understood that they didn’t need to be mean to one another and she taught me how to handle stress with grace. I can’t think of anyone who has spoken poorly of Julie and for that I try to emulate her as much as I can. I constantly remind the women on my team that they don’t have to act like guys or be harsh to get their point across. We can be effective at making points and leading in our unique ways, and I have to thank Julie for teaching me that lesson.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I enjoy the saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, go get more people or find a different room.” I find it really fitting because if you’re the smartest one in the room, you’re doing all the talking and not learning anything, and your team isn’t learning because they’re just being micromanaged. Being surrounded by people that know more than you really expands your horizons and opens you up to a world of knowledge that can be nothing but beneficial to your growth. And most importantly, nobody likes the smartest person in the room because they often come off as overbearing and narcissistic — two things I never want to be.
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’m sure I read about this in a book somewhere, but I would start by giving each of my team members $100. We’re a community bank and community involvement is our #1 focus, so I would do this in hopes of creating a domino effect that would have a positive impact. Sort of like a “pay it forward” initiative for the good of the community. Most people think you need millions of dollars to make an influential change but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Good deeds don’t take a lot of money, but they are extremely meaningful. A lot of people live very different lives than we do and there’s a subset of the population that we don’t know personally, but we can help. If I could get good people to support other good people, I believe we could start a movement and really make a difference in the world.
Thank you for joining us!
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 .