Rob McNeilly | Crain's Nashville

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rob McNeilly

Background:  

As one of and the nation's largest providers of financial services, SunTrust Bank operates more than 1,400 bank branches across 11 Southeastern states. SunTrust purchased Third National Corp. in Nashville in 1986, and has served the Nashville market ever since. 

The Mistake:

Primarily in looking back, what I wish I had done, especially with family members, was to provide better financial information and advice.

I've been in the banking retail side as well as the commercial and institutional side, and dealing with individuals on something that is as personal as their finances and their financial well-being is hard. I took for granted that people understood financial tactics.

I made some assumptions about my own family members and their understanding not only of finances, but our household finances as a family. In looking back, I could have done a much better job of providing information and access to resources.

Specifically, I would have advised being very careful about the use of credit cards, and credit in general. I would have suggested having at least $2,000 to $3,000 set aside for emergencies. If you don't have that, you swipe it on a credit card – and that exacerbates the problem.

I would have told them the value of having a budget that spends roughly 80 percent of your income versus 100 percent, so you're not in that paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. Over 50 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and that's true regardless of income levels. I encounter people every day who really don't have a thorough understanding of their situation, or the steps they can take to remedy it.

I've been with the company for almost 35 years. Early on, I was one of those who lived paycheck to paycheck. One of the ramifications of that is you don't have short-term savings, so if you have a flat tire or a health emergency, you're not prepared. I've been guilty of that. I made the mistake of not maxing out the contributions to my 401(k). 

Helping people means you're giving advice, and not just doing what they ask.

The Lesson:

In looking back, I didn't do a good job of looking at my family’s or my own personal financial situations in a more holistic way, and I was more oriented towards short-term.

Whether you take advantage of SunTrust or other financial resources, establish a household budget and try to live on 80 percent of your income. Internally, we call it paying yourself. Instead of having everything go to pay your bills, that money should go into your savings or 401(k). 

Really pay attention to what you want versus what you need in terms of household expenses. Most of us want to drive a really nice car – but quite frankly, one of the tough things about being in the banking business is that if we're doing our jobs, we're financial advisors. Some of the toughest conversations we as bankers have include telling people they can't afford things at their current income levels.

What I've learned is that there's great gratification out of helping people – but helping people means you're giving advice, and not just doing what they ask.

Photo courtesy of Rob McNeilly.

Follow SunTrust on Twitter at @SunTrust.

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