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Women Leading The Finance Industry: Julie Shinn of RateGenius On The 5 Things You Should Do To Increase Your Financial Literacy

An Interview with Tyler Gallagher

Learn to Budget — Setting up a budget allows you and your family to know where your money is being spent. According to US News and World Report’s article, “10 Simple and Free Budgeting Tools,” the easiest way to start the budgeting process is writing down a list of all your expenses, from bills you pay each month to discretionary purchases like eating out with friends and family. If you’re spending more money than you earn each month, you know what areas you can cut to start living within your means. There are also free apps available to assist with tracking your monthly spending such as Mint.com. The best thing you can do is start, and then stick with it.

As a part of our series about “Women Leading The Finance Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Shinn.

Julie is VP of Lender Management at RateGenius — one of the largest providers of auto refinance loans in the US — where she manages all lender relationships and prospecting efforts nationwide along with the Titles and Delegated Underwriting teams. She has maintained several different roles during her 15-year tenure at RateGenius. Julie graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied journalism and public relations.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?

My career transitioned into the finance field unintentionally. All the opportunities throughout my career arose due to relationships I have built along the way, and being open to learning new things within each role. I graduated from the University of Texas with a journalism degree focused on public relations. My first professional job out of school was handling business development and public relations for a law firm, and then transitioned into a business development and project management position for a web development company from there. RateGenius was a client of the web development company, which is how I made connections for my initial business development role at RateGenius.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to expand my knowledge within the financial industry as various needs have presented themselves within our company, including the creation of the RateGenius Lender Management team I oversee today. As the company began to grow again in 2009 after the economic downturn, we were rapidly adding new lenders to our network. My business development and project management skills came in handy through this expansion, as it was apparent the company needed a team dedicated to building and maintaining our lender relationships. Listening to our lender’s needs and concerns, as we work to meet their lending goals, has provided a wealth of knowledge regarding lending and more specifically auto lending. In addition, being nimble as a company and making necessary changes to diversify ourselves within the marketplace helped us succeed and get to where we are today.

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

I’ve met many great people throughout my career, several of which I consider mentors within the industry. One of our original lenders I assisted in onboarding at RateGenius is a local credit union which remains a lender within our network today. They are open-minded and always willing to try new things to bring in dedicated loan volume.

I often reached out to the credit union’s AVP of Lending at the time, as an industry expert when trying to figure out new solutions for our lenders. He taught me so much about lending over the years, especially around specific things lenders are looking for when underwriting and funding loans to give our team a better perspective of how we can convert more loan applications. After seven years of having him as a trusted resource and lending partner, he came to work for RateGenius to develop our delegated underwriting group. He ended up being my boss for over five years! The lesson learned is to always foster relationships throughout your career, as they can lead you to many great opportunities that you least expect. And, never burn a bridge, because someday you may be connected with that person again, even having them as your supervisor.

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

RateGenius is always looking for new ways to expand and improve our business. Consumers are focused on quick, easy solutions to lower rates and payments with minimal impact to their credit score. RateGenius has done an excellent job of providing a wealth of information for consumers on how best to evaluate their current loan and decide if it makes sense to refinance their loan. We’ve made improvements to our Customer Dashboard for convenient ways to clarify information included in the loan application and add necessary documentation throughout the refinance process.

Finally, getting states to accept electronic signatures on auto title documents is a focus throughout the industry. One of many things confirmed through the pandemic is the importance of always expanding our utilization of technology. Documentation for transferring vehicle titles traditionally has required handwritten (or “wet”) signatures. There are many states that require a notary for these transactions as well, which requires documents to be signed in-person for the notary to witness your signature.

When DMVs around the U.S. started shutting down during the pandemic, it brought new challenges to the titling process, and we’ve since seen changes in the industry when it comes to adopting new technologies that benefit consumers. Many states are reviewing and accepting electronic signatures for basic title transfers as part of the refinance process, and there is online technology being tested for remote, video-based notary solutions. RateGenius is working to implement this technology within our title process in all states where it’s allowed and regularly participates with industry organizations promoting the adoption of this technology by the various state DMVs. We’re continually finding efficiencies through technology as well as ways to ensure quality and convenience with the products that we deliver.

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

The breadth of our lender network sets RateGenius apart from other refinance companies, and is a testament to the relationships we’ve built with our lender partners. Throughout my years with the company I’ve come to realize there are ebbs and flows with lending.

The key to success is ensuring the quality of our service meets and exceeds our lenders expectations to keep them comfortable lending, even during times where the industry is becoming more conservative with underwriting practices. When the pandemic started, lenders rapidly shifted the majority of their focus to refinance when dealerships had to close. Shortly thereafter, they quickly became concerned with how to prove borrowers’ income as best possible when employment for a large portion of the population was being impacted. RateGenius swiftly adjusted our staffing and application validation processes to accommodate these concerns to keep our lenders at ease without drastically changing their lending guidelines or coverage areas.

Auto refinance offers savings opportunities no matter if interest rates are low like we’re experiencing within the industry today, or even when interest rates start to rise. There are always new consumers buying vehicles for the first time or other borrowers looking to enhance their overall financial situation by improving or building credit — all of which benefit from auto refinance. RateGenius is dedicated to offering savings and quality products to our customers, and the size of our lender network offers more savings options for consumers than 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?

Higher education opportunities and financial assistance for women to obtain college and master’s degrees and beyond have changed drastically over the last 40–50 years. This has allowed more women to build careers and independent financial success. With more women in control of financial decisions, their buying patterns and approach to finances have changed as well. It’s important for the leadership of any company, not just the financial industry, to be comprised of individuals that are representative of and understand the nature of their consumer base. The leadership in all the companies I’ve worked for were forward thinking and accepting of all perspectives to ensure success in the marketplace.

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. It has been my experience that hard work and dedication to always do your best within your current position allows for more opportunities in the future. Gain understanding of the expectations of your leadership, and then meet if not exceed those expectations. Don’t be afraid to respectfully share your thoughts. Leaders are always looking for proactive individuals. I’ve found that being honest, even if the information you’re sharing is not the best news, is appreciated and far better received if addressed up front and with a solution.
  2. Continuing to learn and expand your knowledge of new things within any industry is key for advancement in your career. As women, we need to find ways to constantly build up fellow women within the financial industry. I think it’s important to continually network with other successful industry thought leaders, and to share areas where you’ve personally experienced success.
  3. Many organizations today, especially through the pandemic, are supportive of flexible work schedules that allow women the dedicated family time while also maintaining their careers. As leaders, we need to foster this to the best of our ability within our individual teams and companies.

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?

As leaders in the financial industry, it’s important that we find time to give back to our communities to educate high school and college students on the significance of maintaining your finances and the freedom that it provides. We are a society that thrives on instant gratification, and because of that, there are many people that live beyond their means. Three things I recommend to improve these numbers:

  1. Ensure you’re educating your own children and family members on the importance of budgeting, saving and building credit. When your kids are elementary age, set up a savings account for them and teach them to track how much their savings grows each year. Rather than purchasing things for your kids when they’re in high school, help them create and maintain a budget themselves for their monthly needs. Set up an account and debit card that you finance with a set amount each month, and allow your children to be responsible for paying for items like school lunches, back-to-school clothes, athletic fees, etc. Once your kids turn 18, help them establish credit in their own name with a gas card and small balance credit card. You’re probably already dedicated to paying these expenses anyway. However, this way your funds have additional value to your child’s future by educating them on budgeting and establishing good credit along the way.
  2. Work with schools in our communities to develop more robust education programs. Provide financial support, if feasible, to establish this course as part of the regular curriculum and a requirement for high school graduation.
  3. Outside of schools, work with local organizations to offer adult education opportunities regarding financial literacy too. Many community centers and churches would gladly work with you personally or your financial organization to schedule regular seminars or courses teaching the basics of building credit and maintaining finances.

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. Learn to Budget — Setting up a budget allows you and your family to know where your money is being spent. According to US News and World Report’s article, “10 Simple and Free Budgeting Tools,” the easiest way to start the budgeting process is writing down a list of all your expenses, from bills you pay each month to discretionary purchases like eating out with friends and family. If you’re spending more money than you earn each month, you know what areas you can cut to start living within your means. There are also free apps available to assist with tracking your monthly spending such as Mint.com. The best thing you can do is start, and then stick with it.
  2. Build Savings — A recent Federal Reserve survey concluded that 40% of Americans are not able to cover a $400 emergency expense themselves using cash, savings or a credit card that’s paid off each month. This is a scary thought. One of the easiest, convenient ways to build savings is to take advantage of direct deposit when you get paid each month. Set up a savings account, and designate a regular amount to be deposited to that account with each paycheck. The funds are attributed to savings before you ever see and start relying on them. You will be able to build up an emergency fund before you know it.
  3. Establish Credit History — Setting up a credit card with a small available balance allows you to effectively build credit history. Use it for your planned monthly expenses, and pay it off each month. By doing this, you’re building a strong payment history which is a big contributing factor of your credit score. On the flip side, not paying your credit card balances or just paying the minimum payment can easily begin to hurt your credit history instead. It’s best to only spend what you already have the funds to pay off monthly in order to maintain a good credit standing.
  4. Invest Early — Understanding the impact of compound interest (interest earned on both the money you saved as well as the interest you’ve earned over time) is a key component of investing. The earlier you start investing the more you benefit from compound interest.
  5. Never Stop Learning — Research financing options for large purchases such as a mortgage or auto loan before you start looking at houses and cars. That way you know what rates and dollar amount you qualify for up front, and have the advantage when negotiating pricing. Also know that it’s ok to make mistakes when dealing with your finances as long as you learn from them. That is how you become financially literate.

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?

Yes, I have a couple folks that have played a role in my success both personally and professionally.

The first is actually the parents of our dear friend. Early on in our marriage, a friend’s parents suggested that my husband and I start investing. The father was a retired investment planner and introduced us to a trusted colleague within his former organization. He and his wife even drove us to our first appointment with the financial planner, and then treated us to lunch after to help answer any of our questions. My husband and I began investing and saving early on in our marriage thanks to the influence of this couple, and have encouraged our family members to do the same along the way. I’ll be forever grateful to them for encouraging us to focus on investing in our future.

I have worked with several lenders throughout my career, and a couple have even come to work for RateGenius as well. I mentioned my former-lender-turned boss, who is still a mentor to me today. I keep him on his toes even in retirement! Another industry mentor was the VP of Lending of the first credit union that became a lending partner on the RateGenius network. Since then his career has taken him down several other paths within the industry — on the technology side, even working for RateGenius for a period of time, and now he’s one of our lender partners once again. He has provided me with a wealth of knowledge about process flow and reporting. And he’s never afraid to shoot straight with me which I greatly appreciate. This industry is smaller than you realize, and it’s important to continually foster relationships throughout your career. As I said before, never burn a bridge, because who knows, that person might be your boss someday.

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

This isn’t necessarily a quote, but more of a key personal value in my life. For me, there’s always something to be said about hard work and honesty. Deliver what you promise and communicate well throughout the process. Even if you’re delayed or things take a wrong turn, as long as you’re honest and communicate the situation along with providing a solution, people will respect you more in the long run. I think those core concepts are keys to success in leadership.

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. :-)

I’m a proponent of being professional, but being direct. Don’t beat around the bush. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times, as it’s something I personally try very hard to live by. Have open communication and shoot straight with people even if it’s not good news. People appreciate it and respect you more when you’re direct with them. They are more open to working with you on a solution or resolution — whether that’s working your way through your finances and building your credit back up, or working with a partner to build out their program at RateGenius, or even working with family members and friends out in the world. I think it’s important to be truthful and straightforward in anything you do.

Thank you for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success.

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