By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Weekly sat down with KeyBank Area Retail Leader Aspasia Sotiriou to ask her advice about how to best manage one’s money. Sotiriou is responsible for the sales, service, and financial leadership of a team of 14 branches in the Seattle and Bellevue area. Twenty-four years of banking experience have given her the ability to summarize key elements of financial wellness.
For Sotiriou and the KeyBank team, financial wellness is “about helping people get to a place where they can make choices that are best for them, and empowering them to make those choices by providing them the support to do so. The hardest part is knowing what the right decision is.” It’s difficult to make the right decision if one does not know what paths are out there. And, when a person suspects he or she is in financial difficulty, broaching the topic can seem daunting. “People are really smart, in general, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re always smart about money,” Sotiriou explained. “A common obstacle is not knowing what the options are and not taking the time to ask for help. That’s what we’re here for, to be an adviser, not just a banker, to help them with their financial literacy.”
It’s an individual situation
Sotiriou emphasized that, while there might be overall suggestions a financial adviser can give, each person’s picture of financial wellness will be different. “It’s a very personalized and individualized choice,” she said. “It’s a very personal journey and no two clients are the same.” Each of us will have a different life situation, different goals, and different problem areas. “We have a financial wellness review that we embark on with our clients. That helps us better understand each person’s life and how their household runs. Once we understand how they manage their money, household, and what their budget looks like, then we go through a recommendation process.”
We all knew that word was coming up somewhere. What does budgeting mean? For a lot of people, it’s confusing. “Clients are not sure—Should I pay off this debt first? Should I invest first? Those are some of the common questions,” revealed Sotiriou. KeyBank recommends starting with a process around managing your money for pressing needs before you decide what to do with excess funds, if any. Investigate your own financial portfolio, such as, “What’s the higher debt? What’s the savings needed? Most people, we advise, should have six months of expenses in their savings for emergencies…Maybe [you] have a line of credit, but it’s not available, work towards paying it down and creating the liquidity again.” Sotiriou admitted that budgeting is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult step, for people living a “consumer” lifestyle. But once you have made this investigation, you can begin to set yourself goals and create a plan.
There is no time like the present
It’s never the wrong time to create your financial wellness plan. And, it’s never too early. “Life moves really quickly one day, boink, you’re 40-something,” said Sotiriou. “I always share with my team that the best time to plant a tree for shade was 20 years ago and the next best time is today. Getting past our own shock that time is flying by and just starting. Half the battle is starting. It’s never too late, but it’s definitely easier when you’re younger.” This is why KeyBank stresses forming a sound habit of managing your money from an early age. “We do a lot of financial literacy for the younger generation exiting college and high school. They have extra income because they’re still at home, have some extra support. Setting that behavior up front—that I’m going to save money—is to help build a process.” A lot of millennials are scared they will never be able to own a home, for instance, yet Sotiriou assured us that does not have to be a concern if the right habits are developed from the beginning of our income-earning years.
What about older people who are getting a late start? Better late than never. Many older people do not have a retirement plan in place. “People should invest in themselves, and take the time to dig in, as scary as it is, into their finances,” urged Sotiriou. “It starts with savings and creating that habit of being able to put money aside every month.” Taking a closer look might reveal areas of opportunity you did not know were there. “I’d look at their cash flow,” said Sotiriou. “I’d still start with their money management, and where they have savings. Many times, we don’t realize we have some savings put in place, but maybe it’s not working hard enough for us. How can we look at their debt? Their budget? How can we create more opportunities to free up cash? How we can leverage savings to work harder?” KeyBank looks at the whole picture — assets, vehicles, homes, cash — to understand what a person wants “their future to look like.”
We asked Sotiriou what are some small, everyday things a person can do for financial wellness?
“Stick to the budget,” she advised. Look for different tools to start saving. There are bank products, such as KeyBank’s EasyUp, which will round up your spending and automatically deposit the remainder into a savings account. That way, you will be saving every time you swipe your debit card. Sotiriou recommended taking a look at your employer and whether or not you are leveraging your 401K. What does your employer match? Do you have the option of a health savings account at work? “Are you taking advantage of that?” she asked. In the spirit of increasing your knowledge, Sotiriou suggested that you “understand your credit score.” And, if you do have debt, look into consolidating and getting a lower interest rate.
“Everyone deserves an opportunity to create this path for themselves and to think about what’s possible,” Sotiriou said. “What we’ve found is we’ve set the wheels in motion to achieve goals that some never dreamed possible. That’s what empowering is. Changing our communities for the better, and what legacy we leave behind for the future…When you think about the American Dream, it hasn’t changed. There’s still a way to do it.”
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.