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Steve Wyett of BOK Financial: “We were already in a high-change environment before the pandemic”

We were already in a high-change environment before the pandemic. Virtually every business witnessed disruptions in ways we could not have imagined even 5–10 years ago. Technology, for all of its benefits within many organizations, is also a major disrupting factor. Within financial services, technology was already altering the “value statement” for many individuals and […]

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We were already in a high-change environment before the pandemic. Virtually every business witnessed disruptions in ways we could not have imagined even 5–10 years ago. Technology, for all of its benefits within many organizations, is also a major disrupting factor.

Within financial services, technology was already altering the “value statement” for many individuals and firms, and the pandemic only accelerated the rate of change. The risk, and the opportunity here, are two sides of the same coin. Firms must review their business models to seek efficiencies, and employees must be willing to accept, and even drive, this change to remain relevant and valuable. An unwillingness to do so, even to the point of transforming your business model, risks failure. We are focusing on what is important to our clients. What do they find valuable enough to want to continue to pay for it?


As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Wyett, BOK Financial Chief Investment Strategist.

Steve joined Bank of Oklahoma in September of 2005 as a Senior Portfolio Manager in the Tulsa market. In July of 2006 Steve was named the Market Leader for the Tulsa market and in September of 2008 he assumed responsibilities as the Portfolio Management Executive for BOKF. Beginning in February of 2015 Steve assumed the role of Managing Director-Investments within Private Wealth before being named the Chief Investment Strategist for BOKF in May of 2020.

Steve began his investment career in 1982 as an institutional bond salesman for First National Bank of Oklahoma City. He remained in institutional bond sales until April of 1999 when he joined Tom Johnston Investment Management Inc as their head trader and fixed income SMA manager. While there, Steve attained his CFA Charter and was an analyst and portfolio manager at the time he joined BOKF.

In Steve’s present position he is part of the creation of and responsible for the communication of the BOKF investment management process across multiple delivery platforms. Steve interacts with internal business partners as well as external clients and prospects. Steve is an active participant in the formulation of the investment message as a member of the Wealth Management Asset Allocation Committee as well as membership on the Alternative Asset Sub-committee and Manager Review Committee. Steve is also a member of the Wealth Management Investment Committee and Internal Trust Committee within the Trust department.

Steve is Immediate Past President of the board for Family and Children’s Services in Tulsa and is an active participant in the TAUW. Steve is a member of multiple Societies of Financial analysts as well as the CFA institute. Steve graduated from Oklahoma State University, where he played varsity tennis, with a B.S. in Finance.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Candidly, I got into the investment business entirely by accident. I began my college career thinking about medical school. I played tennis on scholarship until my schedule began to conflict with afternoon labs. I chose not to give up tennis and balance my passion for the sport with a newfound interest in the school of business. As a result, I had the opportunity to pursue a unique set of electives for a finance degree, including invertebrate zoology and organic chemistry. I planned to stay in school and pursue an MBA but decided on a lark to interview with some companies recruiting on campus. I was thrilled to receive job offers, and taking the advice of a trusted mentor, my academic advisor, I decided to begin my career with s First National Bank in Oklahoma City.

That decision also came with a stroke of luck. I was offered a chance to be the one person in the management training class assigned to the investment division. Why I was offered that position, I have no idea. I had no real investment background but decided that being the “one of one” meant the management team saw something in me that I might not have. I learned the mechanics of internal changes could lead to untapped opportunities. On my first day at work, an institutional bond salesman resigned to work for a competitor. I went to lunch with the EVP of the investment division and the sales manager, and by the end of lunch, they had offered me that job. I said yes without any idea what being a bond salesman even meant. But it was the most significant career break I could have ever asked for. I am now 39 years into a career that has spanned institutional bond sales and trading, equity analysis and trading, and portfolio management. I got my CFA Charter in 2003 and joined BOKF in September of 2005.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

It happened during my lunch meeting mentioned above. Actually, before lunch even started. The bank at that time had an executive dining room on the top floor of our building where we went to lunch. As we walked in, I saw the owner of the bank and our bank president, who I had never met, sitting at the table right next to us. The table was set with salads already in place, and as I sat down, I dropped the end of my brand new, first day at work, tie right into the ranch dressing on the salad. I grabbed my napkin to begin wiping the dressing off the tie while apologizing to my hosts. I am sure I was beet red as I was totally embarrassed. As the lunch went on, the oil from the dressing soaked higher and higher on my tie so that by the end of lunch, it was fully halfway up my new yellow Polo tie.

As mentioned before, I was offered the job in question. What I learned that day is that much of what we think is important is really not. My brand-new tie was ruined, but it set the table for my brand new career.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

I am an avid reader, but it tends to be economic and market research more than actual books. Being an Oklahoman, the last book I read was “Boom Town,” a book about Oklahoma City’s history. I’ve just started “The Courage to Act” by Ben Bernanke about the Fed’s actions in the financial crisis.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?

I learned early in my career it was important to focus on the process and not the outcome. Outcomes are the result of implementing a well-thought-out process. I have also found it is helpful to approach business, and life, with an understanding that there is always something bigger. This helps me avoid becoming too focused on the “me” part of whatever I am doing.

And working for an organization with a similar approach is highly gratifying. We strive to have an impact bigger than ourselves. BOK Financial employs a philanthropic approach from the top, as do the individuals who work here. BOK Financial provides the support and time to positively impact my community through board service and community actions. And BOK Financial does its part by actively providing monetary support across the communities in which we serve.

BOK Financial also looks inward for opportunities to help. Just recently, parts of our footprint suffered devastating impacts from a severe winter storm. In response, BOK Financial activated an “employee disaster relief fund,” which provides financial relief for employees who need immediate help in meeting expenses due to the winter storm. This action reflects the ongoing commitment of BOKF to its employees, customers, and the markets we serve. I am proud to work for BOK Financial.

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

Within the Wealth Management division, we have an “Investment Philosophy” which guides much of what we do. There are three primary pillars to this philosophy-

  1. Relationships are built on knowledge: only when we know and understand what money means to our clients and their definition of financial success can we offer guidance from an investment standpoint. We believe having the right investment objective, which defines our asset allocation guidelines, is the most important decision we make with a client.
  2. Our process leads to objective advice: In all cases, we strive to interact with our clients in a way that keeps their interests at the forefront of our decisions.
  3. Thirdly, we believe ongoing oversight and communication drives results- there is no such thing as a “set and forget” investment strategy. Life provides changing opportunities, and markets shift in ways that require us to better manage risk and pursue better returns.

Taken broadly, all of the above is about valuing our clients, seeking input and knowing that the best decisions are those made together.

Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

We have been incredibly fortunate as a family throughout this pandemic. While my immediate family is dispersed from Florida to Texas and range in age from 32–87, we have remained healthy. All members of my family who are not retired have also remained employed. My oldest daughter has been working from home for months, but the rest of the family has been going to work every day. My wife and I are fortunate to have the opportunity to work from home, but we are well aware that we are the exception and not the rule.

But like most everyone, our family doesn’t see each other nearly as much as we would like. The past holiday season was a series of “virtual” calls, and while technology has been great at allowing us to share in ways we could not have even five years ago, an inability to spend time with loved ones is difficult. I can tell you we are all looking forward to spending time with each other again as soon as we think it is safe.

Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Any business where customer relationships are an important part of their success has had to adapt within this environment. Using technology has proven very helpful as we had to adjust to reduced interactivity, but it only goes so far. We implemented virtual group meetings to inform clients about the steps we were taking from an investment standpoint and what we saw in the markets. We pro-actively scheduled one-on-one calls with clients to make sure they knew we could manage their investment accounts without interruption, despite the need for social distancing. We also made a concerted effort to increase the quality and quantity of our broad client communications.

The more challenging part will be how we grow our business. Maintaining relationships is one thing; developing and growing new ones is something else. We have been growing our client base but at a slower rate than we saw before the pandemic. Still, we are optimistic about returning to some sense of normalcy soon, allowing us to be in front of clients and prospects.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?

If there is a benefit to the pandemic period we have been through, it is a greater appreciation of the importance of our family and loved ones. Collectively my family worked hard to make sure everyone knew that despite any distance between us, we were here to help in any way we could.

From a business standpoint, we have found a renewed focus on frequent communication. While we understand that there is an absolute avalanche of information in some ways, our clients and employees need to know what we think, what the information means, and how we are taking action to manage risk and pursue returns. It is easy to talk to clients when things are good, but it is vital to speak to clients when things are tough. We know that while the reasons for market volatility might change, equity markets have been, are, and will be, volatile. If we know the impacts of market volatility, we are less uncertain when it actually happens.

Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?

The impact and recovery from the pandemic have been widely variable. For many, technology and the ability to work remotely has meant little impact on incomes or jobs. At the same time, those working in areas requiring customer interaction and mobility, like restaurants, bars, casinos, hotels, airlines, etc., continue to struggle. Broadly as we discuss this in late February, there are still some 10 million fewer jobs in the US economy than when we entered the pandemic. That said, there are a few reasons to be optimistic here.

Our overall sense is optimistic based upon three primary factors- vaccines turning into vaccinations, continued monetary accommodation, and continued fiscal accommodation. While there have been some kinks in the vaccine distribution process, we are starting to see real progress. The ability to get a majority of the population vaccinated provides real hope for a broader return to normalcy. As this occurs, our sense is employment within these industries will improve materially and provide a much stronger economic foundation without continued reliance on the Federal Reserve and Congress’s extraordinary efforts.

Within that outlook, it may be that the areas most impacted provide the most opportunity. Unfortunately, many businesses will not be able to survive until we see a return to normalcy. Still, there is a lot of liquidity available for new businesses, and the financial system is not capital impaired, meaning there is a lot ofcapacity to lend. Greater mobility will be a huge positive for those areas of the economy currently struggling.

How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?

It is hard to answer this question with certainty because there is still much to learn about COVID-19 and its variants. Still, I think greater awareness of the impacts of social interactions will remain for some time. Whether that means masks will be required is hard to say, but every one of us is now more sensitive to being around large groups of people.

From a business perspective, it might be that COVID-19 allowed us to identify some jobs which can be just as, if not more, effectively done in a work-from-home environment. It has also identified some jobs which cannot. This might impact the amount of office space businesses require going forward and could also affect where people think they need to live. Areas of the country with lower living costs could see increased demand as employees are no longer tied to a specific geography to work for a company.

Business travel might be slow to come back to pre-pandemic levels. The use of technology has provided a real-time use case to communicate and hold meetings using virtual platforms effectively. There is still value to being in front of employees, and especially clients and prospects, but the frequency of those in-person meetings might be reduced.

In the end, we are social creatures, and reduced mobility is not ideal. Still, we have a new input into the decision-making process around social interaction that is not going away for some time, if ever.

Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?

We were already in a high-change environment before the pandemic. Virtually every business witnessed disruptions in ways we could not have imagined even 5–10 years ago. Technology, for all of its benefits within many organizations, is also a major disrupting factor.

Within financial services, technology was already altering the “value statement” for many individuals and firms, and the pandemic only accelerated the rate of change. The risk, and the opportunity here, are two sides of the same coin. Firms must review their business models to seek efficiencies, and employees must be willing to accept, and even drive, this change to remain relevant and valuable. An unwillingness to do so, even to the point of transforming your business model, risks failure. We are focusing on what is important to our clients. What do they find valuable enough to want to continue to pay for it?

Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?

Don’t fear change. Don’t fight change. That doesn’t mean to be undisciplined. But try to see the bigger picture of your business in the competitive landscape. Within this high change environment, there are incredible opportunities, not only from improving your own business but also from those who are unwilling to adapt.

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

  1. “Nobody cares about risk until it gets parenthesis around it.” We all want to make money but never lose sight of the potential downside.
  2. “The avoidance of one risk is the acceptance of another.” There is no riskless way for us to achieve long-term financial goals or live life. Just try to know the risks you are taking.
  3. “Speculate responsibly.” With what we have seen in names like GameStop and crypto-assets recently, I think it’s important to remember not to bet more than you can lose.

How can our readers further follow your work?

https://www.linkedin.com/company/bok-financial/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/steve-m-wyett-cfa-66b5b610/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


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