Women Leading The Finance Industry: Shital Whitmore of SmartBear On The 5 Things You Should Do To Increase Your Financial Literacy
Not all debt is bad. Debt can be a useful tool. If you borrow at a low rate and invest at a higher rate of return, you can come out ahead. A mortgage is good debt if it’s at a low interest rate. This is basic life knowledge that young people should learn from parents and school, and unfortunately, I don’t think they do on a broad scale.
As a part of our series about “Women Leading The Finance Industry,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shital Whitmore.
Shital Whitmore is a finance professional with a well-rounded background in public and private equity-backed organizations — from large to small, across various industries. With her experience in turnaround situations and public companies, she knows not only how to help a team grow, but channel that growth toward the goal of becoming a world-class finance organization.
Shital is currently Senior Vice President of Finance at SmartBear, a leading provider of software development and quality tools. She has held VP and Director level positions at Cengage Learning and Fresenius Medical Care. She was also Senior Financial Analyst at Lewtan Technologies. She has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Bentley University and master’s degree in business administration from Babson College.
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?
Growing up, education was always a number one priority with my mom and dad. When they came to America, education was number one. Math came very easy to me. For whatever reason, I always pictured myself as a business woman wearing a suit and carrying a suitcase, not that I necessarily do that today working for SmartBear. But generally, I like numbers, and math came easy to me.
As a kid, you don’t really know what finance means. You learn that as an adult, so early on, I didn’t necessarily pick finance, but I definitely picked business math. I got a bachelor’s degree in finance from Bentley University and master’s degree in business administration from Babson College.
While in college, I didn’t fully appreciate all the different jobs you can have in finance. We certainly don’t get educated enough in high school, and not even in college, on the different areas of finance and the different career paths you can take.
For my first job, I was fortunate because I landed a finance and accounting rep role with a small company, though I wasn’t even really sure what that particular job entailed at the beginning. It was a paycheck, and it sounded interesting. Working for a very small company allowed me to wear multiple hats, and at a young age, I was able to work closely with the executive team. I learned a lot about business acumen. It was there that I learned about the different types of finance in more depth, at least in corporate finance. My husband works in finance in banking, and it’s completely different. In school, no one teaches you all the differences and all the possibilities where finance can lead you.
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 take away you took out of that story?
I’m not sure anything that amusing has happened to me in my career! I have certainly been fortunate in my career path, the jobs that I’ve had, and the amazing people that I’ve worked with and for. I’m sure we will get into that in this interview.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Working for SmartBear every day is a different day. We are such a fast growing organization that even as a finance professional, we have to be able to change quickly and move quickly. SmartBear is growing at a record-setting pace, both through organic growth and acquisitions.
And yes, we’re working on new and exciting projects — there’s always acquisition projects. SmartBear has acquired a number of companies over the years. Most recently in April, we acquired Pactflow, a leading global contract testing collaboration platform based in Australia, to advance our API development platform. There are a number of initiatives that go along with our acquisition projects.
We are always working on various strategic initiatives to drive the company to continue its strong growth, or change the way we’re doing business here. When a lot of people think of finance, they think budget and someone sitting in the backroom crunching numbers. But because we’re growing so fast, we have to think outside the box. How can we invest more? What can we invest in? Because we’re always trying to figure out what’s the best way to steer the company. We are always looking ahead to what’s next.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ve worked at turnarounds organizations where every six months you have a layoff, and I’ve worked at organizations that are very steady and you have plenty of time to breathe. Working at SmartBear is very exciting, very fast paced. Because we are growing so quickly, you don’t know what’s going to come at you next. There are always new and different projects that we’re working on.
SmartBear development and quality tools are playing an increasing role for millions of developers and technology teams worldwide as our customers work to build the highest quality software, which is more important today than ever as so many of us rely on digital services. SmartBear is used by 16 million developers, testers, and operations engineers at 32,000+ organizations worldwide. We are working to help our customers ensure their software is working the best it can be, and that’s important work.
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?
For me personally, I’ve had great mentors — both men and women. I was raised to have confidence by a very strong woman — my mom, who always said to stand firmly on your own two feet, which I believe drove me to success. By having the proper guidance from mentors along the way as well as strong family encouragement, for me personally, has helped me grow to where I am now.
The role of women has changed. Women have more confidence and courage today to speak up, and are being recognized more. When I first started my career, I always looked up to other women, wondering how they got to where they were. How did she do it? How did she get there? I gravitated toward women, whether they were at my company in finance or another area in the company. In my personal experience, most women have been very open to helping other women grow. That female mentorship or just women wanting to help women to succeed is very important, and I believed has played a role in helping women in finance as well as in other careers. As we all continue to consciously help women, the more advancement we’ll see.
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?
There’s always more work to be done. Here are my three recommendations. I hope this is helpful:
- For a woman starting off her career, have an open dialogue with your superior — woman or man — about what your goals are and your desire to be a part of the leadership team. Make sure your superior knows what your goals are, and if you aren’t really sure, all the more reason to have these conversations.
- Ask for that promotion or that next pay increase. If you don’t speak up and ask, your voice won’t be heard. You may not get that promotion because someone’s speaking louder than you. Whether it’s a promotion or compensation adjustment, if the answer is no, ask why it’s no and ask for a path to get there. If you’re the one pushing and asking the right questions and having that open dialogue, it will get leadership thinking. Maybe this person can go further ahead — whether that’s now or in the future.
- For companies, they need to ensure they look at diversity within their organization. SmartBear is doing better and better with this all the time. In tech, you tend to have a lot of men in leadership, in particular. I report to the CFO, who has 50% male and 50% female direct reports. It’s really great to see this, particularly in tech. I know our CEO strives to have diversity. And we need diversity to come up with the best solutions, because we’re all built differently. We have different opinions; we think through things differently. Having diversity within an organization isn’t just talk; it’s about bringing in ideas and thinking from various backgrounds.
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?
I talk to friends and colleagues about this topic often. Young people are not raised to know basic financial concepts, which I think hurts us as a society. It’s very surprising that we are not taught basic concepts in school like how to survive financially. What does debt actually mean? How much debt is bad? What does credit card debt mean? Why and how should we save money? How to spend money wisely, so you have enough in the future? We don’t learn these important lessons in high school, and no one teaches them to you unless your parents do. I think kids need to be taught this at a very young age — both at home and at school. This needs to be a fundamental change in our educational school system in the U.S. It shouldn’t be that difficult to implement it.
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.
Here is some advice that I do believe is intuitive to me, but may not be intuitive to everyone.
- Not all debt is bad. Debt can be a useful tool. If you borrow at a low rate and invest at a higher rate of return, you can come out ahead. A mortgage is good debt if it’s at a low interest rate. This is basic life knowledge that young people should learn from parents and school, and unfortunately, I don’t think they do on a broad scale.
- Use a credit card. But be sure to pay it off every month. Don’t let that balance build up. If it builds up, you’re getting yourself into a hole, which is where I think a lot of depth in America comes from today.
- Invest what you can and don’t concern yourself with the day-to-day movement in the stock market. Wealthy people invest their money, whether it’s properties or the stock market. Start young. Your money will grow.
- Learn about the stock market, even the basic principles. Stocks have the highest potential of returns, so depending on your goals, investing in the time to learn about stocks at a young age can be beneficial. Stocks can bring bigger returns compared to bonds, real estate or other options.
- Save for retirement. This is difficult to think about when you are young, but so important to contribute to a 401k or IRA account for retirement. Start while you are young, and it really builds over the years.
I’d also recommend you surround yourself with financially literate people. More specifically, surround yourself with those who support you and encourage you to be the best you can be because you will learn from each other and help each other along the way.
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?
My family’s support, particularly my mother’s support, is how I got to where I am today. Growing up, my mom was a very strong woman who raised my sister and me to have confidence and believe in ourselves. In her, we had a very strong female role model growing up.
I’ve been with my husband for 20 years, and he’s supported me while working early mornings and late nights in corporate finance so I give him much credit. After I had two children, I have tried to have more of a work-life balance, and SmartBear is very supportive of the balance.
I have also been fortunate to have some amazing bosses (and mentors) along the way — all male, including my current boss. Many of them have encouraged me to take on more, to learn more, and believed in me, really guiding me toward success.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t know how famous this is, but I heard it years ago from a friend while at Babson who heard it at a women’s leadership conference:
“I always want to be at the beginning stage of my career.”
I love that. No matter what stage of your career you are in, you always want to be learning constantly, constantly growing.
And then I had one of my employees give this to me in a frame:
“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”
That resonates so well with me. As my kids grow, they’re definitely teaching me what life is about, what’s valuable to me, as I get older. I love learning from them while I try to teach them. They are my everything.
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. :-)
We need to teach financial literacy in schools, the basics, like we talked about earlier in the interview. The basics in money and finance can help get people started on the right foot at a young age. We need a widespread movement where students are educated in school. Imagine how widespread financial stability could help this world. It would help stress levels. It would help mental wellness. It would help relationships.
Thank you for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success.