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“We need to teach financial literacy in high school” with Jason Hartman & Kathryn Gruenefeldt

The disappointing financial literacy numbers are caused by the failure to learn budgeting and financial planning skills and a shrinking middle class, that is causing too many folks to not have sufficient funds to pay their bills regardless of their budgeting skills. Asa part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the […]

The disappointing financial literacy numbers are caused by the failure to learn budgeting and financial planning skills and a shrinking middle class, that is causing too many folks to not have sufficient funds to pay their bills regardless of their budgeting skills.

Asa part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Gruenefeldt. Kathryn is the Head of Engineering at Joust. During her twenty-year career as a senior engineering leader, Kathryn has hired and inspired high-performing engineering teams that have consistently delivered innovative and market-leading solutions to customers. Prior to joining Joust, she delivered innovative fintech solutions at Simple Finance and BBVA Open Platform, Healthcare and Energy conservation solutions, and numerous enterprise product features at Oracle Corporation. Critical to her success is her commitment to building deep relationships within each company and engagement with 3rd party partners during the selection, requirements definition, and ongoing partner management processes.


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

I was first introduced to the banking/finance field when I learned about Simple Finance and its innovative banking features. It was the first time I had seen a product offering that actually helped consumers track and manage their finances. Regardless of your income level, we all know people that don’t understand where there money is spent and how to save for planned and unplanned expenses. I was impressed that Simple was aiming to solve these issues and I joined the company in 2014. I’m proud to have helped lead and develop several new features that truly helped our customers take control of their finances.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I interviewed and received my job offer from Oracle the night before I went into labor with my first son. After my son was born and while I was still at the hospital, I negotiated an update to the terms of my offer so that I was eligible for maternity leave immediately. At that time, there was a mandatory waiting period, but I insisted that if they wanted me to join, they’d need to bend their rules.

I wanted a career and a family. My takeaway from this experience is that you need to go for opportunities when they are presented. Juggling a new job and my first child was very challenging, but this was exactly the right move for my career.

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

Yes, I am working on a very exciting project as part of the Joust leadership team. Joust is offering a business bank account, merchant account and invoice factoring product for the 56.7 million self-employed workers in the US. We know this is a growing market whose needs are not met by traditional banking products. Joust understands the financial pain points for the self-employed worker and we are tailoring our product to meet those needs. The platform combines critical financial features into a single product that will grow with our customers, as their businesses grow. The Joust product offering is truly revolutionary and unmatched in the US.

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

Joust stands out because it provides self-employed workers with banking features tailored to their specific needs, all in a single platform. The Joust team also has a wealth of experience and talent from both traditional banking backgrounds and self-employed entrepreneurs. Therefore, we understand the ins and outs of banking and the challenges of being self-employed.

We are building a product that is also compliant, secure, and meets the needs of the emerging self-employed market. We know that when our customers don’t get paid for their work, it has tremendous impact on their small business. Every customer has at least one story of either not being paid or being paid late. With Joust’s payment guarantee product, PayArmour, we help ensure our customers get paid.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. 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?

Women and minorities are making great strides in Wall Street and finance because they see the benefits of careers in these areas. They have been working hard to gain the education and relevant experience to be key contributors. Being qualified is fundamental, but so is the push for more diversification in Board of Directors and leadership roles. These qualified women and minorities have been ready for years for these opportunities, the difference now is that folks hiring and Board nominating committees have to look beyond their normal inner, white male circles. I believe these are two of the most critical factors and together are changing the face of Wall Street and finance for the better!

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 mentioned in my previous answer, women are getting the experience and qualifications needed for senior positions, but we can still do more.

First, we need to help women stay in the workforce, if they choose to have a family. Too many times, the woman has the societal pressure to sacrifice her career to have a family.

Second, we need to push back on outdated and sexist thinking and believe that with the help of their spouse, the workplace, and society, women can have successful careers.

Third, we need to talk about and share how it is possible to manage a career and raise a family with other women, It isn’t easy, but the more women share how they make it work, the more other women see it is possible and it becomes a cycle.

Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?

The disappointing financial literacy numbers are caused by the failure to learn budgeting and financial planning skills and a shrinking middle class, that is causing too many folks to not have sufficient funds to pay their bills regardless of their budgeting skills.

Since salaries aren’t keeping up with inflation, too many Americans cannot pay their bills and cover expenses even while working multiple jobs, and many do not have access to employer retirement saving options.

My recommended changes are:

1) Teach financial literacy in high school (Only 17 states require it. All 50 need to make it mandatory.)

2) Employer Pension Plans are gone! We need nationwide retirement savings support — programs like www.oregonsaves.com (allows workers whose employers don’t offer a retirement savings option to save and invest their own money through automatic payroll deductions).

3) Provide education and training opportunities to help the lower and middle-class access skills training that can raise their earnings 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. Know where your money is going each week/month and own how you are spending it. Don’t be one of those people that say, “I don’t know where my money goes.”
  2. There will be unexpected/unplanned expenses. Don’t let them surprise you, have a safety net.
  3. No matter how much you love your job, always network. Changes can occur with your employer/job/economy that are out of your control. Active network connections need to be built and nurtured.
  4. Go ahead and spend money on what is important to you. If you love traveling, then travel. If you love having the latest gadget, then buy it. However, you can’t have everything so be purposeful on those spends.
  5. Don’t assume you need to buy a home. Home ownership has its upsides, but can also limit your mobility for career opportunities.

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?

Early in my career, I approached Gary Kelley (VP of Engineering at Informix software) at an Informix User Conference about work that I was doing at SRI International and how my experience of building a custom product for the US Army could be leveraged to develop a new product offering at Informix. I knew Informix lacked a replication product and I explained the competitors offerings and how I could help build and launch a superior product for Informix. My proposal went through many rigorous reviews, and ultimately, I was hired and built the team and delivered the replication feature for Informix customers.

My relationship with this VP lasted over eleven years and we worked together at two different companies. Publically, he praised and supported my work and privately, he gave very critical feedback that consistently challenged me. Gary taught me to ask for an opportunity to lead, be accountable for my actions and decisions, and believe in my ability to deliver.

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

My favorite life quote is, “Always be able to look at yourself in the mirror.” Many people have the split personality of the business persona and the home persona and they leave their integrity at the door when they start work. I have had countless conversations through the years with my employees where they describe other companies and/or co-workers getting recognized for unethical actions. Be true to your values, even when folks around you aren’t.

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. 🙂

Too many high school students see college as the only way to attain a good paying job. We need to offer alternatives to a college education in the US for those students that don’t want to go to college after high school, but do want a career.

Offering vocational training programs will help raise the skills of the American workers and also the lifetime earnings potential. This is not my idea or a new idea, but I believe it is time to push for this change.

Student loan debt is crippling too many people and, in many cases, a college education is not what they want or need. Back to the earlier question on financial literacy, Americans need the skills and job training to earn a living wage. No amount of budgeting can stretch a paycheck when it doesn’t cover basic housing and other expenses.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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