Share your own lessons; most of us have learned certain money lessons the hard way. As parents, we don’t always want to share our failures with our kids, but it’s important to be honest and help them learn from our mistakes.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristi Fox, Chief Human Resources Officer at Securian Financial — a large life insurance and financial services company headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. Kristi joined Securian Financial in 1994 as a customer service representative. After working her way up the ranks in a variety of business operations positions, she was named the company’s first Chief Diversity Officer in 2017. One year later, Kristi took on responsibility for all of Human Resources and in 2019 was promoted to Chief Human Resources Officer. Kristi builds, guides and motivates high performing teams with an emphasis on collaboration and inclusiveness. She has a broad-based business acumen, strong strategic leadership skills, and excels at leading major operating model transformations while maintaining a positive culture marked by high employee engagement and retention.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the financial services field?
After graduating from college in 1994, my mom and I frequently visited the local library so I could search the help wanted ads in the newspaper and then research each company. I was looking for local employers that aligned with my values. After doing my research, I decided to apply for an entry-level role at Minnesota Mutual (which later become Securian Financial). It was a company I was proud to work for; they were customer-focused, committed to their employees and focused on the future.
I accepted an entry-level position in customer service, and it was the most important job I’ve ever had. I answered our toll-free phone lines, often talking to people who were reporting a death in their family. Because we provide life insurance and annuities, we were one of the first organizations people would reach out to for help.
Now, as Chief Human Resources Officer, I often reflect back on the importance of selecting an employer I was proud to work for. I started in an entry-level position and am now reporting to our CEO. This has taught me that regardless of your position at a company, it’s important we connect back to our purpose, follow our passions and stay open to trying new things — you never know where a new opportunity will lead you. I am passionate about empowering people, and my past roles were foundational in helping me motivate people to be their best!
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 worked for a senior leader for nearly 20 years who regularly monitored the fax machine and delivered each fax to the person it was intended for. I used to think it was a bit odd — he must have more important things to do! However, I quickly learned this was his way of making connections with people. He wanted to connect with people from all levels of the company to understand the heartbeat of the organization. He was walking the floor with a purpose; getting business done and connecting with his employees. This was his way of showing each person he cared about them and the work they were doing. It was one of the smartest things he could have done. All 400 people reporting to him felt valued. I learned from him the importance of finding my own way to connect with others.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Securian Financial is in the middle of a five-year strategic plan, which contains financial objectives and goals to achieve our strategic aspiration: to be the highest-performing, purpose-driven financial services company. One of my favorite parts of this plan is our CEO’s strategy to further our reputation as an employer of choice. We want Securian Financial to be known as a place where all employees trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do and enjoy the people they work with. We are investing in diverse talent acquisition, employee development, technology and employee benefits. We offer paid time off for employees to volunteer during the workday, and we are upgrading our workspaces and common areas. We are investing in our employees. I feel so lucky to work for an employer that is investing in the right things, and I am grateful to be leading the initiative. It can’t get any more exciting than that!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We care about each other, our customers and our community. Securian Financial is a mutual holding company, which means we don’t answer to Wall Street — we answer to our policyholders. Because of this, we are able to strategically think about the future. Instead of focusing just on immediate returns, we can make investments that will pay off over the long term. This brings value to our employees, our customers and our community.
Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
No matter your profession, it starts with what people are willing to spend their time on when looking for job opportunities. Our schools are putting a lot of emphasis on STEM, and as a result, more girls and women are exploring math and science. This is a tipping point for the financial industry. We have made great strides, but there is still a lot of work to do to encourage all genders to consider all careers and interests.
At Securian Financial, 38% of those in senior leadership positions are women. I personally have never experienced a glass ceiling in the 25 years I’ve spent at this company, however, that doesn’t mean all women have the same experience here or working for other companies. It’s a problem that still needs to be resolved.
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?
We all need to become more educated on our unconscious bias. Whether it is assuming a woman is leaving work to care for a child instead of attending a business meeting, or assuming a man has more time to handle a project, we need to realize our biases to eliminate them. Our Chief Diversity Officer at Securian Financial is leading these conversations and encouraging everyone to pay attention to unconscious bias. Our senior leadership is modeling this behavior. We also have competency-based interview guides to eliminate bias in the hiring process. When we become more aware of our unconscious biases, we are not afraid to try new things.
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.
- Start the conversation when kids are young. If you wait to talk about financial literacy until your children are adults, it is too late. Money habits develop from the moment we get our first allowance or paycheck.
- When kids are young, talk to them about the basic concept of “money in and money out.”
- Have fundamental conversations with your children about money. Use real examples to help them understand.
- Share your own lessons; most of us have learned certain money lessons the hard way. As parents, we don’t always want to share our failures with our kids, but it’s important to be honest and help them learn from our mistakes.
- Securian Financial is working with schools to help kids learn about financial literacy and career goals. Educating children at a young age is a critical part of financial literacy.
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 am forever grateful to my parents. When I was in 5th grade, my dad started taking me to work. He was a manager at a local trucking company and was tasked with coordinating where trucks needed to go. I learned basic lessons like the importance of having a solid process and managing logistics. Most importantly, I learned about caring for people in the workplace. The way my dad communicated with customers and his employees taught me a lot about how to make an impact in people’s lives. He was able to manage a big operation, tackle one task at a time and not get overwhelmed. At the end of the day, people — employees and customers — were most important to him.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Leave a good wake.” As someone who loves the water, this practical advice sticks with me everyday. No matter the situation or the people involved, we are all in control of our wake, or the impact we make on others. Focusing on that can get you through some of the toughest situations.
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 want to eliminate the stigma around mental health, particularly mental illness. We share so many personal things about ourselves everyday, yet as a society, we are not comfortable talking about mental health challenges.
I had a parent who diagnosed with bipolar disorder and it is my passion to bring this conversation into the workplace. Thousands of people come to work each day at Securian Financial, and I want to make it easier for us to talk authentically about our lives, including our struggles. Bringing our full selves to work helps us connect personally with our colleagues, receive a community of support at work, and ultimately empowers each of us to reach our full potential.
Thank you for all of these great insights!