Women In Finance: “Companies need to make a conscious effort to do the right thing; This includes hiring and promoting a diverse array of people”, With Navy Federal Credit Union SVP Katie Miller

An Interview With Jason Hartman

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Companies need to make a conscious effort to do the right thing, which includes hiring and promoting a diverse array of people. When a leadership team consciously creates a culture of inclusiveness, employees of all levels benefit.

As a part of a series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Miller, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Data and Analytics at Navy Federal Credit Union. Katie has been with Navy Federal for 16 years. She has managed the Product Development branch and the credit card portfolio, and has served as Vice President of Mortgage Lending and as Senior Vice President of both Membership and Savings Products. She currently serves on the executive council of the credit union. Not only is Katie an avid Steelers fan, history buff, and spin instructor, but she also enjoys unconventional outdoor activities and practices extreme traveling (like hiking the GR20 across Corsica). Though recently, the most dangerous things she’s done are commute in Washington, D.C. and chase a toddler around her parking lot. She earned her Bachelor’s in Mathematics from Dartmouth College.

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

I’ve been a Navy Federal member my entire life. My mom was a career Navy civilian and was on Navy Federal’s board of directors for 20 years. I learned a lot from her. She taught my Girl Scout troop how to write checks and taught me how to save money. That early exposure really sparked my interest in finance — I actually ended up majoring in math and economics in college — which led to an internship at Navy Federal when I was 19.

I was in love after that first internship. It wasn’t even about the money, it was how different credit unions were. The not-for-profit nature of our business, the focus on helping our members (many of whom are service members!), and the amazing company culture all resonated with me — my friends who were working at investment banks didn’t get exposed to all of that. I got to come home every day from a job where I was challenged, where my skills were being used, and where I was helping servicemembers — a group that holds personal meaning to me as my father and both of my grandfathers all served — and that is a privilege few people working in finance get to experience. That privilege has kept me here for two decades.

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 takeaway you took out of that story?

I once worked with a member who recently got out of the Navy and was working in Louisiana. He was interested in applying for a mortgage, but he didn’t know what a VA loan or a single family home were.

None of us should assume that just because someone was in the military means that they understand all the aspects and benefits of a VA loan. Or that they’ve even had the opportunity to know what a single family home is. They may have lived in apartments and then barracks their whole life! I’ve learned you can’t ever assume what people know about their finances. Working at a credit union, we live and breathe finance every day, but most of our members, especially our active duty military members, have other, more important things on their minds. They’re not thinking about their credit card rewards or the benefits of their checking account. We need to make our products as easy to understand as possible and take the time to help them be informed.

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

We’re at the beginning of an enterprise-wide initiative to improve how we use data moving forward. The goal is to better meet member expectations and prepare us to proactively anticipate their needs. Online retailers regularly tell you the next best product to buy and media companies can recommend the next movie or show to watch — the world of finance is no different. Our members expect us to have the same kind of insights about them and offer a personalized experience.

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

The “credit union difference.” The benefit of being not-for-profit allows us to measure success differently, offering unique benefits to our employees and our members. I had to spend months bugging one of my friends, a staff sergeant in the Army, to visit a Navy Federal branch and talk about his finances. And, once he finally went in, it was amazing how much the branch team was able to help. In the course of one visit, he was able to consolidate his cards and refinance his car loan at half the rate, saving hundreds of dollars. I asked why it had taken him so long to take charge of his finances, and he said he was embarrassed by the fact that he didn’t have a better grasp of finances and his options in general. That level of customer service, not to mention the rates and products that are only offered at a not-for-profit, member-focused company, really set us apart from the competition.

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?

I haven’t taken a sociology class in a couple decades, but everyone seems to be working these days. Unemployment is the lowest I’ve seen in my lifetime, and the United States looks different demographically, so doesn’t it make sense that companies, and the leadership in these companies, would look different as well?

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?

  1. People should make an effort to establish relationships with mentors early on in their career. No one is going to hand them a leadership role — they have to take charge of their professional development and then, once they’re in management, work to develop their leadership skills.
  2. Companies need to make a conscious effort to do the right thing, which includes hiring and promoting a diverse array of people. When a leadership team consciously creates a culture of inclusiveness, employees of all levels benefit.
  3. I would love to see more visible and reasonably priced opportunities for working parents to get help taking care of kids. Finding and paying for daycare is NOT easy.

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 how to budget — this is fundamental to understanding how much you’re spending and where you’re spending. This gives you insight into where you could be saving or changing the habits you don’t even realize you have. I recently heard that Starbucks’ “lifetime customer value” is $25,000. Think about that — what else could I be doing with $25,000 besides drinking coffee?
  2. Understand interest rates/dividends — break the behavioral economics cycle and understand what you’re getting or giving up when you take on debt or make a certain investment.
  3. Understand how to calculate a basic cost/benefit analysis — a good example of this is deciding whether to refinance your mortgage when interest rates are on the decline. Most financial institutions will help you make a decision, but you’ll want to understand if the savings you’re getting from the lower interest rate will exceed the closing costs you’re going to have to pay. A lot of factors go into that calculation, like how long you plan to stay in the home and what else you could be doing with that closing money, but those types of decisions can save you thousands of dollars.
  4. Learn how to build up an emergency savings account — not having the money to afford an unexpected cost, like fixing a broken transmission or repairing flood damage, can lead to a debt spiral.
  5. Understand the benefits of the accounts you have but aren’t taking advantage of — there are all kinds of rebates, discounts or givebacks that are offered for the financial accounts that you rely on every day — do your homework and find the products that offer the best deal and service.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person whom you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother and grandmother taught me to be fearless. I was always encouraged to ask questions and never received the “only speak when spoken to” guidance that holds so many bright people back. I also owe a lot to a former leader here at Navy Federal — he didn’t care how you looked or dressed, but he understood the importance of perception and helped me make informed decisions about how I wanted to be perceived.

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

“You only have so much time, make it worth it.” It was relayed to me in the context of collegiate athletics — you only have so many years of eligibility, so make the most of it while you’re here — but it means so much more to me than that. I only have so many hours a day with my daughter, so the hours when I’m at work better be worth not being around her. And when I am with her, I really need to be present, not on my phone or watching TV.

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. 🙂

Financial literacy. It’s so basic, and yet it’s something in which so few people ever get any kind of foundational education. The next time you find yourself sitting in traffic, call someone you know and trust. Ask them for their perspective on some of the basics. Just get the ball rolling with a simple conversation — you’ll learn something new about your finances and what you could be doing better!

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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