Celebrating Global Money Week: A Conversation with Shamim Okolloh

In celebration of Global Money Week, we spoke with 4 women in banking to learn their recommendations for financial literacy for young women and girls. Next up, we introduce you to Shamim Okolloh, vice president of community outreach, at Encore Bank. Keep scrolling to read our Q&A with Shamim. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in banking, and what advice would you give to young girls and women considering entering the financial industry?

I am an accidental banker. While working in the nonprofit sector, I attended a meeting convened by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Little Rock Branch. I walked into a board room full of bankers from different financial institutions collaborating to bring forth a product for unbanked and underbanked (that was the first time I heard those words, too!) individuals. I was fascinated and challenged. I returned to my organization and started implementing financial literacy programming with our food insecurity work. A few years later, I made a career change and joined Encore Bank.

Today, I actively encourage young girls and women to consider studying finance with a concentration on banking. Once in banking, I encourage them to learn as much as possible about the various other departments, such as retail, treasury management, mortgage and compliance. Not only will this support their career advancement, but it will equip them with the knowledge to be advisors to their peers. Money is sometimes a taboo topic in some cultures, so having a woman banker advocate for and advise other women within a relatable context can help reduce the stigma and facilitate better financial wellness and progress for women. 

 

As a successful female banker, what financial habits or strategies have you found most beneficial for building wealth and financial security?

I only built sound financial habits once I was a mother. Since then, the most beneficial tactic for me has been sharing my budget plan and goals with my children. They keep me accountable when grocery shopping; if impulse buying kicks in, I often hear, “Mommy, I do not see that on the list.” If I tell them we are going to the store to pick up two items, they will confirm what those are and keep me on task. It is cute haha! 

I also automate savings per pay period until I have the muscle memory and discipline to do it myself. 

 

What are some common misconceptions about managing money that you’ve encountered, and how can women overcome them to take control of their financial futures?

I think most of us, especially those with experience living in survival mode, assume you have to earn X amount to save large amounts of money. But the reality is you can start where you are. I started by having $10 per pay period automatically sent to a savings account. When it finally hit $100, I was so proud of myself. We must be honest with ourselves and analyze our relationship with money, starting from childhood. Is there financial trauma? How can we have healthy conversations about money while dating or in a marriage? What boundaries do we set? What are cultural norms that hold us back financially? 

Once a woman is self-aware about her financial state, she can take the steps to educate herself on programs, products and financial institutions that align with her short and long-term financial goals. 

 

In your experience, what are the most important steps women can take to establish financial independence and achieve their long-term financial goals?

One of the most terrifying activities I did was to do a net worth activity for myself. You can access templates online, but basically, you list your assets and liabilities on paper – income, debt, savings, 401K, investments, etc. It then gives you an honest look at where you are and helps guide you to where you want to be in 5, 10 or 20 years. 

I also suggest seeking professionals when needed and building a solid team. It can range from HUD-certified financial counselors, establishing a relationship with a banker or having a financial advisor. Additionally, if you are a business owner, separating your personal and business finances is critical. 

 

How can women overcome barriers or biases in the banking industry?

This is a tough question for me, and one that inspired my son and me to co-author a children’s book about it. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Have a mentor and sponsor at your financial institution AND in the industry. 
  • Build a sisterhood with other female bankers in the industry. These relationships are a game-changer. 
  • Invest in yourself – take the time to attend webinars or conferences, listen to podcasts, read and stay on top of industry trends. 
  • Be bold and shadow the best male bankers and seek opportunities for the bank to invest in you, e.g., attending banking school. 

 

Can you share any personal experiences or lessons learned from your financial journey that may resonate with other women striving for financial success?

I wanted to take my two children to Disney, so I took on two side hustles – Doordash and Walmart grocery delivery for almost two years. During this time, I encouraged my kids to save money with the deal that if they could pay for it themselves (at Disney), I couldn’t say NO! That was the best trip ever. They were so budget-conscious with their little wallets that they learned to estimate and spread their spending over four days. They are now nine and ten years old and have maintained savings for “big things” while dipping into them to live a little in the present. This Disney trip hustle and savings taught me that starting our kids with positive and consistent financial habits at an early age is possible, even as a single parent. 

 

Looking ahead, what do you envision as the future of women in banking, and how do you believe women can continue to empower themselves financially in the coming years?

I heard (on The Girl Banker Podcast) that only about 3% of women in banking are in the CSuite, although we make up more than 40% of the industry. I envision a future where women, especially women of color, have more leadership opportunities in banking. I’d also love to see more women as commercial loan officers and the industry be more inclusive of different races across all departments. 

Women have come a long way, and we are in a great position with more access to resources and information to increase our wealth. And as we climb, we must lift up our sisters. 

 

Shamim Okolloh was born in Nairobi, Kenya and moved to the US at age 19. She is the Vice President and Community Outreach Officer at Encore Bank, overseeing the Bank’s outreach program in Central Arkansas with a focus on financial inclusion for the underserved minority community who are often unbanked and underbanked.  

Shamim is a presenter for WFA’s Women’s Economic Mobility Hub, where she leads intimate, open and candid conversations about the barriers and pathways to accessing capital for Black-owned and -led small businesses.

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