“Society has pushed the pendulum of hiring decisions in the wrong direction” with Sandra Stephens and Tyler Gallagher

Society has pushed the pendulum in the wrong direction. Individuals do not want to be hired by a company because of their race, gender, etc. Individuals have strong desires to become part of a company, make contributions, and help it grow. It seems as if the general public feels the need to “check-the-box” when making […]

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Society has pushed the pendulum in the wrong direction. Individuals do not want to be hired by a company because of their race, gender, etc. Individuals have strong desires to become part of a company, make contributions, and help it grow. It seems as if the general public feels the need to “check-the-box” when making hiring decisions. Society needs to allow companies to hire the right people and it will make a huge difference filling positions within the Finance and Investment Banking world.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sandra Stephens, the COO/CFO for Keel Point Partners, LLC., with more than 34 years in the banking and financial services industry. Prior to joining Keel Point, she served as the CFO/EVP for American Bank in Huntsville, Alabama and was CEO of SouthFirst Bancshares, a publicly traded community bank. She also served as CFO/COO for First Federal Bank in Tuscaloosa, AL for approximately ten years. Ms. Stephens graduated from the University of Montevallo with a degree in Finance and from Birmingham Southern College with a degree in Accounting. She served on the Board of Trustees of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church as well as President of the Sylacauga Rotary Club. Sandra resides in Hampton Cove, AL with her husband, Jeff, and two children.

Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

I was inducted into the finance field at a very young age — as a child, my grandfather would stop by our house weekly, and have me go into town with him to conduct business and take care of errands. I looked forward to this each week as it was our one opportunity to spend some special time together. He always ended the trip with a visit to my favorite drug store with a soda pop and crackers.

In addition to our treats, each week we would go to the local bank to conduct transactions. Even though I had no money to contribute, I was in charge of completing the deposit slip and handing it into the teller myself, who would always accept it and thank me. I found this fascinating — a world where they counted money, distributed money, handled transactions, and even helped people through the most stressful financial conversations of their lives. On top of that, the tellers were so lovely to us each time we visited.

When the time came for me to enter college, I knew that I loved math, numbers, and money — I was fascinated with the banking world and moved forwarded with my dream by selecting a major in Finance, at University of Montevallo. My choice to begin a career in finance has been so rewarding, and there have been so many times in my adulthood that I wish I could speak with my grandfather, share with him my life and career, and thank him for introducing me to this world.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

In 1986 I was given the opportunity to work for a financial institution that made the decision to go public and issue stock. The process was fascinating in that I was able to work with the team of auditors and accountants as the due diligence was completed, as the new shareholders bought shares, and the conversion to a public entity was completed. This enabled me to have an in-depth understanding of how a company evolves from one entity to another. To be able to be involved in the SEC filings, the issuance of stock certificates, the stock ledgers was a once in a lifetime opportunity. This broadened my understanding of both the financial and accounting worlds. It certainly provided me insight for the understanding of how publicly traded companies operated as I would become the CEO of a publicly traded financial institution twenty years later.

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

We have just completed a conversion from several systems to one major operating system within our firm. This is very exciting, because we have eliminated so many separate programs that we were using and had the ability to integrate all of our processes to reside in one place. The impact this is having on the business practices and efficiencies on so many individuals within the firm is such a positive reflection of the decision we made to conduct this conversion. Not only are we eliminating time, we are also reducing many of the manual processes and spreadsheets utilized to complete monthly and quarterly reports. In addition, the system has the capability to assist us in continuing to streamline our processes as we grow as a firm.

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

Keel Point is an outstanding firm to be employed at. Beginning at the top, there is a spirit of Servant Leadership within the executive and senior level team. You see this exemplified often, as so many of the employees live out the core values of the firm daily.

One of my favorite core values is that we “Care for Others”. In the past couple of years, the spouse of our Director of IT was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. This was such an unexpected find for a seemingly healthy person. Once the diagnosis was made and the treatments were to begin, several employees within the firm determined that we should have a dinner at a local restaurant, invite each spouse and celebrate the person that would be receiving the treatments. It was a complete surprise — she had no idea that we had all gathered and was totally amazed and blown away. We all shared with her that we cared and wanted to be there for her and their family as they began this difficult journey. She received this gift of care with an open heart.

While this happened in our corporate office, I learned later that employees from other offices, 700–900 miles away sent gift cards for meals for the family while the spouse was receiving treatments. They were not able to be there in person; however, they still demonstrated their caring spirit and wanted to ensure their co-worker and his family knew they were concerned and wanted to support them in many ways.

I love being a part of the Keel Point team! We are truly a group of people that cares about you, not only as a peer, but as a human being!

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?

I feel there are many people in this industry who have realized this issue existed and have worked tirelessly to bring different types of individuals into both Finance and Wall Street. There are now many female only organizations in the Finance and Banking arenas, such as the Financial Women’s Association and the Forte’ Foundation. These organizations provide opportunities as it relates to jobs, speaking engagements and media exposure for women. Also, as both the gender and race of many corporate leaders have evolved over the past few years, and America had her first African American president, it has impacted both Wall Street as well as Finance/Banking. We still have a way to go and need to continue to add diversity to this industry, but I believe we are beginning to make pretty good headway.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this in report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior position 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?

Individuals can be participants in programs and organizations that promote the hiring of both women and minorities. In addition, the opportunity to serve on boards and committees that review hiring practices is another option of individuals to contribute.

Companies need to ensure their employment objectives are inclusive and attempt to fill open positions as it relates to talent, ability and passion. Examples would be mentoring programs for employees that are being hired as soon as they graduate college, during the interview process understanding the applicants passions as it relates to their professional life.

Society has pushed the pendulum in the wrong direction. Individuals do not want to be hired by a company because of their race, gender, etc. Individuals have strong desires to become part of a company, make contributions, and help it grow. It seems as if the general public feels the need to “check-the-box” when making hiring decisions. Society needs to allow companies to hire the right people and it will make a huge difference filling positions within the Finance and Investment Banking world.

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) Read — read and understand as much as possible about the financial system and how it works

2) Taxes — study and comprehend taxation; be aware of how you can allocate income and spending. Examples: Health Savings Accounts, 529 plans, 401k plans, etc.

3) Budgeting — set a budget, follow the budget and recognize where you can decrease spending and save money

4) Net Worth — have a good understanding of what your net worth is, how it grows, decreases etc. Always be aware of the value of your asset and liabilities

5) Income — make sure that you find a career that makes you happy and that you can support yourself with financially.

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 how that was relevant to you in your life?

Yes, there is a mentor that I crossed paths with early in my career. He joined the financial institution that I worked for and became my supervisor. We were the same age, however, had totally different lives and objectives. He shared a wealth of knowledge with me as he came from one of the large accounting firms in the nation. Even though I had received my degree in Finance, he encouraged me to go back to college and either work on an Accounting degree or Masters. He taught me so many things about the world of finance, exposed me to many matters as it related to Wall Street and provided me the opportunity to both make mistakes and learn from them.

It is now 32 years later; this gentleman serves as the CEO of a very profitable community bank. We have continued to build our relationship through the years and stay in touch to share thoughts and ideas. For the five years that I served as a CEO for a bank, he was always just a phone call away to support, listen and encourage. This has been an interesting relationship because we began as supervisor/employee and moved on to become peers in the industry. I will always be thankful for his encouragement and tenacity in pushing and encouraging me during my career.

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

My favorite quote is, “this too shall pass”. For many years I pondered and thought about this statement and only in the past ten years have I been able to understand and apply it to all aspects of my life. There are so many times that we feel as though life, our career, our family is all crushing in on us and we cannot breathe. However, I have come to realize that we must step back at times, address one issue at a time and realize that life is as difficult or easy as we make it. In addition, there are circumstances we cannot control, however, we need to be patient and understanding to realize that things come and go, and do not last forever. Even now when life is overwhelming, it seems as though I am drowning, I remind myself of this quote and it inspires me to move forward.

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.

If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, it would be a movement that instills values in human beings to care for others. I feel that so many of our problems and issues in society could be resolved and eliminated if only individuals learn to care for and appreciate other people.

While we all may be different in many respects, we can still have a caring and compassionate heart for other people. It only takes a moment to speak to someone, share a laugh or tear or be a good listener. We need to take the time in life to interact with others, to understand their joys and struggles and to encourage.

We seem to be at such a fast pace at times that even speaking in the elevator can seem like an imposition. Life is short, we need to live it to its fullest and care for others along the way. Caring is such a great reward!

Thank you for 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 Dubai 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. In addition to his role with Regal Assets, Tyler is a regular contributor to Forbes, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Authority Magazine. Tyler has also been featured in many news publications and has been a guest expert on “The News with Ed Shultz”. Tyler is a proud member of the Forbes Finance Council a private invite only-group of hand-selected industry leaders.

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