I would suggest make investing a hobby. When something becomes your hobby you learn about it, read about it and explore different avenues. You also put money into the hobby and have fun with it. It’s like when I was younger and collected baseball cards. I used to watch baseball to see what players were good, buy packs of baseball cards and hope I got the players I wanted, and buy the price guides to see how the cards were valued. As I got better at collecting cards, I knew which sets to buy and invested in lots of cards of players rather than assume the risk of buying random packs and not getting any card I wanted. As I had more money to spend, I would sometimes buy older packs of cards in hopes of finding a rare card and to bring fun back into hobby. With investing, the fun is seeing how your money performs and learning about new investment opportunities and assessing their risk. Instead of seeing a movie in the theater ever week, go once or twice a month, watch Netflix and invest the rest. You will be making/saving money and having fun.
As a part of my series about the The 5 Essentials of Smart Investing, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Vitale. Andy is the Head of User Experience Design at SunTrust Bank, where he instills the importance of design and a client-centered approach to solve problems, grow revenue, and achieve far-reaching goals. He leads a diverse and dedicated team in translating human insights into actionable experiences to both differentiate the bank and raise the bar for the finance industry. Throughout a decades-long career, Andy instills the importance of design and a client-centered approach to solve problems, grow revenue, and achieve far-reaching goals. He has solved problems for organizations ranging from startups to Fortune-ranked companies. He’s led a team of designers at 3M focused on enterprise healthcare software, served as a digital agency partner, and pioneered mobile experiences at Office Depot. He’s a relentless user experience evangelist, with a passion for cognitive thinking and making technology more human. Andy is driven by a user-centered passion that transforms teams from capable to difference-making. Aside from his primary role at SunTrust, Andy is an adjunct professor for Kent State University’s User Experience Design graduate program and serves on the advisory board for multiple professional organizations and educational institutions.
Thank you for doing this with us Andy! Our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?
I’ve been a designer for almost twenty years now and I have seen the industry evolve to where designers are solving more complex problems and impacting outcomes and revenue like never before. When you really have an opportunity to improve people’s lives it is an amazing feeling. I had the chance to do this in the healthcare space when I was at 3M and that is where I really fell in love with enterprise design and working on large scale solutions. When I decided it was time to move on in my career I wanted to find an industry that I could have a similar impact; one that was as complex and full of constraints. I had a great conversation with my boss, KC Wolff-Ingham, and learned about what he was starting to build at SunTrust. KC talked to me about his vision, the challenges, the journey and the impact we could have on the banking and financial industry and I was sold. The relationship people have with their finances is so personal and important, and feels so unique that I immediately fell in love with the problem space, and the work we are doing as a team feels like we are moving in the right direction.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My team has been working on a few exciting business banking solutions, two of which are new products. These solutions are in pilot right now and the customer feedback has been great so far. To quote what one customer said our mobile product, “it is 1000 times better than the current product we offer.” Even more exciting than that is SunTrust’s upcoming merger with BB&T to create Truist, which is scheduled to close sometime in Q4. This will make us the 6th largest bank in the United States, allowing us to create solutions for even more people. I am so excited as this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. 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?
This isn’t surprising to me at all. We just asked about this very topic in a recent round of research. Financial literacy isn’t something that is commonly taught in school. A lot of what people learn is through trial and error around their own experiences and by making mistakes and learning from them. At SunTrust we have a financial literacy program called Momentum OnUp and many companies, including us internally, use this platform to educate their employees on key financial topics.
If you had the power to make a change, what would you recommend to improve these numbers?
I would recommend schools add at least a basic financial literacy class to their curriculum. For those who are no longer in school, I would offer free courses in financial literacy available both in-person and online. This material needs to be tailored for all styles of learning. It benefits everyone for our entire society to be financially literate and more importantly, financially confident.
Ok, thank you! Now to the main question of our interview: You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
Well, I wouldn’t consider myself a “finance insider,” but I’m a designer in the space. Because of this I’ve spent some time really digging into the industry — hearing from people about how they perceive it, gaining empathy for those who use financial products every day, and understanding their needs and objectives.
My first piece of advice to someone who is thinking of investing would be to understand that all investments come with some risk attached. You have to be OK, both financially and philosophically, with losing the money you are investing. There is no get rich quick investment. Those penny stocks are just like hitting the lottery. Your friends at work don’t have the inside scoop on a company nobody else has heard of. Sure there is the rare occasion of hitting it big and getting a great return on investment but the average return for an investor over the last 30 years has been about 7% in the stock market.
Secondly, I would suggest make investing a hobby. When something becomes your hobby you learn about it, read about it and explore different avenues. You also put money into the hobby and have fun with it. It’s like when I was younger and collected baseball cards. I used to watch baseball to see what players were good, buy packs of baseball cards and hope I got the players I wanted, and buy the price guides to see how the cards were valued. As I got better at collecting cards, I knew which sets to buy and invested in lots of cards of players rather than assume the risk of buying random packs and not getting any card I wanted. As I had more money to spend, I would sometimes buy older packs of cards in hopes of finding a rare card and to bring fun back into hobby. With investing, the fun is seeing how your money performs and learning about new investment opportunities and assessing their risk. Instead of seeing a movie in the theater ever week, go once or twice a month, watch Netflix and invest the rest. You will be making/saving money and having fun.
Next I would recommend having a diverse portfolio. Invest in different mediums, across multiple platforms but don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Buying stock or putting money in one fund allows you the potential to build up a good amount of money but all it takes is that fund or company to have a bad product release, a bad public relations headline, or not meet expectations for a quarter for it to drastically drop in value. Explore mutual funds, stocks in companies you like, IRAs, ETFs and bonds. Play with cryptocurrencies if you want to. Max out the 401(k) to get the full company match. All of these things can be good investments but they will not always perform well.
Don’t be afraid of artificial intelligence. Investing can be both time consuming and intimidating. Sometimes both experienced and inexperienced investors can feel a little unsure if they are making the right decision. There are a lot of applications and fintechs out there that have built intelligence into their product to move around funds to ensure the maximum return on investment and least amount of taxes owed. I understand trust in technology isn’t what it used to be and data breaches are top of mind but I can say from personal experience that these products have been safe. Of course I am constantly monitoring them but they are making decisions and moving money in a way that benefits me and right now I don’t have time to do the research on my own.
Finally, get rid of your credit cards. The United States has about $900B in credit card debt because it is easy to make purchases with money that might not be immediately accessible, but it is difficult to pay it off with the high interest rates and fees for late or missed payments. Pay off your cards and get rid of them. Keep one or two for emergencies, or travel, or one with the best rewards or cashback; but make sure to pay it off each month.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As a designer, one of the quotes that has always stuck with me is when Steve Jobs said, “one of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” Throughout my career I’ve always found this to be true for building both practical and innovative products. It all starts with the need of the customer. Technology is an enabler; it doesn’t have a conscious or a moral compass. Design helps us apply that technology in a meaningful way. When people who will use the products you create are brought to the center of the process, the outcomes are always better.
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. :-)
Be a good human. Be welcome and encouraging of people who come from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Respect every human being and their time, privacy and intelligence. We’re all in this together.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you continued success!