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Resolving to Be Financially Sound

Local bankers offer up their top money management tips for business and personal success.



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I t’s a new year, and as always come the promises of self-improvement — running the gamut from getting in shape to making more money.

One of the top stressors of Americans seems to get buried underneath everything else and can become a load we carry throughout our lives. Just like our health, our level of financial fitness, if not in check, makes most of us feel uneasy and out of control no matter how much we are worth. Experts say avoiding or correcting certain repetitively bad mental and management habits can keep financial wellbeing from becoming psychologically burdensome.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), whose mission is to “empower consumers to take more control over their financial lives,” gives the following descriptions of a consumer with financial well-being:

1-has control over day-to-day, month-to-month finances

2-can absorb financial shock

3-on track to meet financial goals

4-has the financial freedom to make choices that allow one to enjoy life

 
This innate desire to be financially secure and in control of our money matters runs deep with baby boomers and millennials alike. Many boomers were hit by financial setbacks as their retirement funds were squeezed by unforeseen circumstances, including the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis.

“They are faced with an investment dilemma as they approach retirement,” adds Fritz Gomila, principal with ThirtyNorth Investments, LLC. “As they look to reduce risk in their portfolios in favor of income-generating investments, the traditional place to go is bonds.” However, Gomila points out that the current low interest rate environment for bonds “isn’t generating the necessary income.”

Stephen Wessel, Investar Bank’s New Orleans regional president, adds, “For baby boomers, retirement preparedness is the biggest fear, but taking a few steps now can help ease your mind.”

And for millennials? “A major source of stress and anxiety is their financial future, but the best two assets they have are that they are usually well-educated and young,” says Wessel.  Add to the mix of fiscal uneasiness are entrepreneurs who are trying to stay ahead of the game in a highly competitive market.

Biz New Orleans spoke with a handful of Greater New Orleans bankers and financial planners about their top money management tips for both personal and business banking and planning.  They offered the following advice.
 

Personal Banking Check List
 

Budget and keep track.

First and foremost, flesh out your budget by comparing your income and expenses; seeing this in black and white can have a significant impact. Experts say review your household budget yearly, if not bimonthly, and make adjustments when necessary. “This is where you may find that you are spending more than you thought on certain things and allows for better prioritization,” advises Chris Ferris, Fidelity Bank’s executive vice-president, chief of retail banking and operations.

Keeping track will also give you a sense of control and help you maintain a positive attitude about your money management. “There is a very important first step to budgeting that you cannot skip if you want to have a real budget that you can live with and that can help you save regularly toward your goals, and that is tracking your spending,” says Julie Gunter, community development director for the Federal Reserve Bank.  Gunter advises writing down your day-to-day spending for a couple of weeks in order to make an accurate budget. “You’ll be amazed to see how little amounts can add up through the work week and month.”
 



Exterior of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Ted Eytan



Once you have the budget, online banking will make keeping track an easier task, plus it offers two more advantages, says Home Bank’s New Orleans Market President, John Zollinger IV.  “This will allow you to notice if there are any suspicious transactions on your account much faster than looking at your monthly statements, and it will keep you more aware of your spending habits.”  
 

Maintain a rainy-day fund.

Maintaining a “rainy-day” fund, or a savings for the unexpected, is crucial for both maintaining peace of mind and keeping financial fears in check. Extra income or additional assets, like pay raises, annual bonuses and tax refunds, should be tucked away in this fund and not deposited into a checking account where it will vanish overnight. Kelly Kuebel, IBERIABANK’s private banking relationship manager, advises to “put that money aside as if it did not exist. Pay yourself first! Set aside a certain amount from each paycheck to protect against the unexpected.” Ferris adds, “An auto transfer or direct deposit to savings is an easy way to stay on track.”


 

Control credit card debt and credit scores.

Make sure your credit card spending doesn’t spin out of control and exceed what you have in the bank.  

“In the new year, use a credit card as you would your debit card: pay off the balance in full,” advises Kuebel. Credit card debt can directly affect your credit report, but, unlike in years past, you can receive free annual reports from three different agencies and it won’t affect your financial reputation. “Pick a day of the year — most will recommend your birthday — to pull your credit report,” says Kuebel. “Doing this will allow you to review any misreported information that may affect your ability to borrow funds in the future.”


 

Protect your assets.

In addition to the aforementioned advice to monitor accounts online for suspicious activity, Zollinger strongly advises a few other security safeguards. “Consider always writing ‘ask for ID’ on the back of your credit card or ATM/debit card. This will prompt the waiter or clerk to ask for your ID to make sure that you are present when your card is being used.” If your purse or wallet are stolen, or if you cannot find your credit or debit card, expedite the cancellations. “Keep the toll-free numbers of all your credit cards handy, and not in your wallet,” continues Zollinger.
 

Business Banking Checklist
 

Form solid relationships.

Establishing a long-term relationship and affinity with the bank with which you conduct business is key to your overall success. In the same vein, Wessel says, “View your banking arrangement (for both loan and deposit products) as a long-term relationship.”

Wessel also offers this advice: “Find a banker who understands your business and industry, including your creditworthiness and your seasonal borrowing needs.”

Zollinger concurs. “Running a small business can be a lonely job. Your banker works with many different companies and encounters many situations in their career, so foster that relationship.”
 

Sustain honest dialogue.

Once you establish that relationship with a banker, Wessel suggests, “Meet with him or her at least once a year, and offer updates or insights into your company’s finances and future plans.” Brad Jongbloed, Fidelity Bank’s senior vice president and chief commercial banking officer, says it’s crucial to maintain open and honest dialogue with your banker. “This helps ensure the banker can meet your needs and problem solve. Nobody likes any last-minute surprises when trying to bring a loan to the closing table.” Wessel agrees with such transparency. “Be up front and honest about your long-term plans as well as how you see the next 18 to 24 months for your business.”
 

Know your business and fees.

“Businesses thrive on good information, so keep good accounting records and know how your business is doing,” advises Zollinger. He says tracking your business activity is very important for the health of your organization. “It can also allow better access to capital when you need it.”

Jongbloed adds this tip: “As a small business owner, it is critical that you understand your business’s cash flow cycle.” Zollinger also recommends you update your personal financial statement at least once per year. “This will act as a personal financial check-up. Understanding what you own, and who and how much you owe is important.”  You also want to make sure you are aware of bank fees.  “It is just as important to discuss options for your deposit needs as it is for loan pricing,” adds Wessel.
 

Utilize technology.

All banks today offer various technology aimed at helping you expediently manage both your business and personal accounts.  “Ask your banker how technology can improve your business,” advises Zollinger. “Mobile banking, online banking, treasury management and remote deposit capture have allowed community banks to compete without having as many locations, but still delivering personal service.” Ferris believes technology “services like Apple Pay, Mobile Deposit Capture and Touch ID” can also help keep your financial life in order.
 

Investment Checklist
 

Be cautious and know the risks.

When it comes to investing, you want to make sure you err on the side of caution and don’t make mistakes you’ll regret.  ThirtyNorth’s Gomila says trading on emotion can be costly. “Be cautious about changing long-term investment strategies based upon short-term headlines and events.” Protecting your financial assets, he continues, is critical. “Make sure you understand the risk in your portfolio. The last thing you want is to take more risk than necessary to earn your returns.”
 

Take advantage of your 401(k).

As for your 401(k) plan, be sure you’re getting the most advantageous returns for your dollar. “Save as much as possible through your 401(k) plan at work, taking full advantage of company matching and the tax treatment of these accounts,” says Gomila, who adds that it’s essential for you to do your homework. “If your plan rewards you for saving, take advantage of it because in these accounts the tax advantage can accelerate compounded growth.”
 

Final Thoughts
 

Remember this: no matter what your resolutions are, the key to success is sticking with your plan to reach your goal.

Whether in personal or business financial matters the advice of American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. (author of “Life’s Little Instruction Book”) applies: “Watch your finances like a hawk.”

For many, monetary security can simply mean having a sense of knowing exactly where you stand financially. While diligently saving and investing reap great fiscal rewards, doing a better job at managing your money can provide intangible recompense, including peace of mind, regardless of how much you have in the bank.
 


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