Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
April 25, 2023

Financial Literacy at Ulster Savings Bank

Financial Literacy at Ulster Savings Bank
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Spotify podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Castro podcast player badge
RSS Feed podcast player badge

April is Financial Literacy Month!

It's also National Jazz Appreciation Month, National Fresh Celery Month, Foot Health Awareness Month, World Landscape Architecture Month, and National Soft Pretzel Month. But let's just stick to finance for now, a topic that affects us all throughout the year. And for a refresher on that topic, we met up with our local bank branch manager, Samantha Awand-Gortel, for a conversation on banking and finance in the Catskills and beyond.

Did we mention April is also National Poetry month? Hey, ChatGPT, how about a limerick on financial literacy to get us started?

There once was a person named Jill
Who never learned to manage her bill
But with financial literacy in hand
She could finally understand
And now she's financially fit and chill!

It's no Carolyn Wells, but honestly, financial literacy poetry is hard to find.

Pictured: Ulster Savings Bank Phoenicia branch manager Samantha Awand-Gortel, with a poster by some appreciative (and financially literate) Phoenicia Elementary Schoolers.

Many thanks to our sponsors:

The Mountain Eagle, Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, and Briars & Brambles Books

--- Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/kaatscast/support


Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via https://otter.ai

Samantha Awand-Gortel  0:04  
I have been out of high school for a while now, but I remember what we were taught was kind of just how to write a check and that was really the extent of it.

Brett Barry  0:12  
If your high school experience was anything like Samantha Awan cartels, you're likely better acquainted with the quadratic formula, negative B plus or minus the square root of B squared minus four AC all over two A, then how to get a mortgage and finance a home. April is Financial Literacy Month and as good a time as any really to brush up, so sharpen your number two pencils and let's recap.

Samantha Awand-Gortel  0:40  
So my name is Samantha Awand-Gortel. I manage the Ulster Savings Bank in Phoenicia on Main Street, and right now we are in my office having this conversation.

Brett Barry  0:49  
Main Street, Phoenicia, New York.

Samantha Awand-Gortel  0:51  
Main Street, Phoenicia, New York. Yep, cool small town in America.

Brett Barry  0:55  
So I saw on the Billboard at I guess the flagship branch in Kingston that it's Financial Literacy Month and I didn't know there was such a thing, but that's important. So what does financial literacy mean to you?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  1:08  
It could be broad and it could be more scaled back. I think in the very least financial literacy is understanding how to manage money you earn, you inherit, you invest, things like that, just having basic conversations about money with your partner, your spouses, your children, your parents, and not being afraid to have those conversations, understanding basics, like what documents you need to even open an account how to go about cashing the first paycheck you get as, you know, maybe a high school student and having a summer job (something like that), so I think it's just really important to have those the basic knowledge of what banking is, and how to help try and manage your finances, whether they're smaller or larger.

Brett Barry  1:49  
So I did a little research. Financial Literacy Month grew out of a Youth Financial Literacy Day, which grew into a Youth Financial Literacy Month...and now, it's intended for everybody, not just youth, but I think, you know, you mentioned, you know, how does a high schooler know where to deposit their first check...so do you think that financial literacy is something that's covered at all or enough in schools and (what's missing) how do we've kind of fill in those gaps?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  2:14  
So I really think that it is lacking in the school system. I have been out of high school for a while now, but I remember what we were taught was kind of just how to write a check and that was really the extent of it in my mind, you know, I find that the schools could be creating more of maybe an elective kind of class to teach, you know, students, what a checking or a savings account is and what happens when you don't pay your bills on time, what your credit score is and how to build it, manage it, how to find out what your credit score is; crash course and paying taxes would be amazing because I feel like it's so complicated and, you know, there are all these outlets of H&R Block (things like that) that you could have do your taxes for you, but it would be great to have that understanding and a general basic sense of what taxes are and that you have to do them every year...and so I think that would be something that the high schools, in my opinion, should be teaching at a basic level, you know, when I was in elementary school, I remember we did a DinoSaver account, so just getting kids used to earning money, how they can earn money, maybe doing chores, or good deeds for your neighbor and earning a little bit of money shoveling snow, you know, things of that nature, introduce kids to finances; and again, it's on a very, you know, minimal level there, but like even when you're at the store and you're giving a clerk your debit card to pay for things, just kind of having a small conversation, so that's also I don't think it can only fall on the school system. I think it also has to start with your parent, guardian, family members, just kind of introducing kids to money in ways that matter to them at certain ages.

Brett Barry  3:58  
And you do some things here to encourage young kids to save and create accounts and we've been through that system with our kids. Tell me a little bit about those programs. I know that there's something with report cards, there's something with financial kind of literacy programs on the website to earn a little bit extra money into your account, so what is that all about?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  4:17  
Yeah. So when you're much younger, until you're about age 13, we have minor savings accounts...and so there are no minimum balance required; can...can deposit a couple dollars when you want. We also then if you bring us good report cards, we'll give you $2 for each quarter that you have a good report card, so that's a good incentive also to have your kids do even better in school, and then we just recently in the last couple of years; started a smart checking account for students that are 13 to 17 years old, enables them to utilize a debit card with less of a purchase limit than an adult would have. They are able to write checks. That's a good way to get a direct deposit going for their payroll; if there have a summer job or after-school weekend kind of job, and then with that student account, the student checking account, we do have financial literacy modules on our website and if you complete all of them, you do get a $25 credit into your checking account for completing those. They're super educational. They also provide some of the information for your finances and managing your checking account. I've had...even the parents of students do those modules with them and they found them to be useful. So I think they're great tools, they give you again, that little bit of extra incentive to learn a little bit.

Brett Barry  4:28  
Now...are you the one to determine whether the report card meets the grade in terms of that $2?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  5:32  
Yeah. Basically, we're just gonna take a peek at it. As long as it's not like F's across the board, I don't even know what the rating system in school is anymore on a report card. But, you know, as long as you're passing everything and you're doing, you're doing pretty well, then we'll give you that credit.

Brett Barry  5:58  
Great. So young bankers aren't the only ones that need or could benefit from financial education. It's useful throughout our lives, but I'm also thinking about older bankers, you know, we're moving into a society that's going more and more cashless, there's app based banking, there's peer to peer payments, so what should older bankers know about some of the changes that are going on recently?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  6:25  
I mean...I find on a daily basis, pretty much that I have a lot of the older generation, they still like the pen and paper, the check, the sending it through the mail, I am finding a lot of them frustrated when they don't have that option because a lot of companies are moving away from that and wanting to do payments online, automatic payments out of your account. I think to add to that it also there's so much fraudulent activity or phishing attempts, which is someone trying to coax you into clicking on a link or providing your personal information or banking information to someone that is going to try and scam you, so I think that becomes an even greater challenge with the people that are really, really trying to stay away from technology because so much of our information is out there when you start using the internet and technology, so I think that becomes a big frustration. I try to just help them to understand what the potential scams are out there, what to look for what you should not be doing what (again) not clicking on anything that you haven't requested to be sent to you, so I just think that that's our role as the banker also is to try and help move them in the right direction and keep them safe, keep their money safe. It is difficult, but I do find that a lot of people from an older generation...have their computer, they have a cell phone, they have an iPad or, you know, a tablet of some sort...and so I'm always here to have them bring those pieces of technology in and I will help them in any way that I can to make sure that payments are sent securely and information is not being shared with any sort of scamming or fraud kind of situations.

Brett Barry  6:42  
Do you see even just at this branch...a move away from cash?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  7:26  
You know, I think you're seeing that, but I don't see it as much on a grid like I still think cash is king for a lot of things...and so I do have a lot of contractors that will take out cash, so that they can go purchase all their materials and it's not always being used on a debit card or rarely as a check written for something like that. Locally in Phoenicia, I can really only speak here, but I don't feel like there's that drastic of a move away from...from cash.

Brett Barry  8:35  
What about bank safety...so there's been a couple of high profile bank failures recently; is that something that we should be aware of or concerned about and what kind of protections are in place or safeguards that...that won't happen to us?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  8:48  
Yeah. I mean...in regard to safeguarding your money, you know, there's FDIC insurance that is $250,000, but it can be manipulated in a way where if you have joint ownership on an account or beneficiaries listed on your account, it'll break down the insurance coverage to allow you to have a little bit of a higher balance in our banks and be secure and insured and that (god forbid) anything were to happen. We're a very stable financial institution. I think banking locally makes a big difference. I think going with smaller community and regional kind of banking is a great way to (again) have that personal interaction with the people that are in the branch that you frequent often. They know you, I know, I can guarantee you that about 90% of the customers that walked through this door, I know them by name, I know their situation. I know their family what vacation they just took, so I think that does help people feel a little bit more secure, you know, I think there were some mistakes made obviously recently with some of those bigger banks and just try and reassure my customers that, you know, we are a stable financial institution and try and help them manage that FDIC insurance limit and put their mind at ease with some other tools that the FDIC website has out there.

Brett Barry  10:02  
And at the very least as a single account holder...$250,000 of that money is guaranteed.

Samantha Awand-Gortel  10:09  
Correct. Yep, you'll be insured for that amount of money, if you're single, individual, no joint owners are no beneficiaries on your account.

Brett Barry  10:16  
What are some of the other benefits of local or regional banks over national chains and, you know, just looking at a map of this area of the Catskills, I think the local banks really went out, you don't really get into the bigger banks until you get down to Kingston or places like that, so there are a lot of local options. What are some of the other benefits there?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  10:34  
I think (again) speaking only specifically for Ulster Savings Bank is that we are very community minded. We pride ourselves on community service and community giving, as far as donations. We really want to see all of our local businesses thrive. We want to see all of our local residents thrive. We want to see them do the best that they can with whatever tools we can provide to them to help move them to the next levels, if they have goals in mind, you know, we have a lot of other business partners that we work with Ulster Insurance Services, tax and financial services, commercial and residential lending options, and I think just the personal experience you gain from banking with a local institution is great. I think when you go to the bigger banks, you become a number, I see a lot of people who have come to this area from, you know, the Bronx and Brooklyn and Manhattan, and they find that when they open an account and start coming to our branch locations more often, they just feel like they're coming home, we want to treat all of our customers and clients as if their family, so that they can come back with theirs, you know, and I mean they can refer their friends and their family to come and start banking with us because we want to take as good care of them as they deserve.

Brett Barry  11:47  
What are some of the services here that some people might be surprised are available?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  11:52  
I can...I think there are...those other business partners that they're not always aware of that...that we have, but you could be (oh) it's a one stop shop, you know what I mean? You want to invest, I have someone you can talk to you, you need some insurance, quoting. We have, you know, a plenty of people on our main office and other branch locations that can take your information and try and find you a great deal on insurance, need your taxes done, we gotcha. If you need a vehicle loan for your business, we've got you on that, too. You need a mortgage, you need a home equity line of credit, things like that, so I just think it's really great to be able to (again) that one stop shop is beneficial. I think for our community,

Brett Barry  11:52  
What are some of the financial mistakes or oversights that you see people making most often?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  12:23  
I think a lot of the time, it's going back to having those conversations about money, it's sometimes difficult to have a conversation about money; and either you have a little or you have a lot, I think they're difficult to in a lot of different ways, you know, you can create a lot of tension or continuing arguments, if you and say your spouse are on different pages and one's a spender and one's a saver, it could create a lot of tough moments there, but I think if you have those conversations and you're honest and you can come to an agreement on what works best for the family as a whole, I think that's great. I think the other thing is and it's probably heightened these days because of social media, but like the "Keeping Up with the Joneses" kind of thing is...a lot of people want to do that, but it's living outside of their means and it's just digging them into a hole that may not be easy to get out of, so I think being really realistic on budgeting and financing...that's really important. Making sure you read all of the fine print and ask questions pertaining to anything, whether it's opening a checking or savings account or going and having conversation about investments, I think it's just really important to make sure that you have a solid understanding of what you're signing up for...before you sign on the dotted line.

Brett Barry  13:51  
What types of accounts or banking practices would you consider essential for most people?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  13:56  
Definitely from a personal side at the very minimum, a checking account is really important. I do suggest that if you're doing a lot of like gaming online or a lot of purchasing online, you maybe want to open a secondary checking account to make sure that the bulk of your money (god forbid) there is some sort of scam or something you get into online or someone gathers your information fraudulently that they're not taking all of your funds. Also, I think a savings account is an exceptional idea. There's emergencies that come up through, you know, everyone's lives that are unexpected. Even things setting up for, you know, it's a little bit morbid, but when you pass away, having something set up so that your family isn't stressed or your loved ones aren't stressed, you know, trying to mourn whatever the situation is, and then also having financial stress added. So I think those are really basic necessities that everyone should have.

Brett Barry  14:52  
Is there a limit to how many accounts you can have or are their buckets that you can put your money into and it within a single account? What's the best way to kind of diversify different areas of spending?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  15:00  
You can have as many accounts as you want, there is no limit...and so a lot of people have that misconception. I've heard that quite often, you know, can I open another checking account? Absolutely. When I go to like the business side of things, we have a lot of small businesses, but we also have some bigger businesses and a lot of them use separate accounts for things like payroll for their taxes to put money aside for each year when their taxes come through, and then a main operating account, so I think it's great to set goals for either you personally or for your business, and create separate accounts for each of those, you know, you want to make sure you're saving for a vacation. Okay, well, maybe if that's not coming for a year, you open a CD gives you a little interest that you're earning, put a chunk of money in there, or you can open a money market account and that's actually liquid funds, so you're able to deposit and withdrawal from that as you'd like, but it also is probably giving you a little bit more of interest than a savings or a traditional checking account would be giving you so.

Brett Barry  15:57  
While Sam grabs that call, we'll take a quick break, and when we come back, we'll hear about one particular challenge for Catskill area residents, plus a top 10 list for personal finance. Stay with us. This episode of Kaatscast is sponsored by the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce. Providing services to businesses, community organizations, and local governments in the Central Catskills region. Follow the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and sign up for a weekly email of local events at centralcatskills.org. Kaatscast is also supported by Briars & Brambles Books, where you can locally purchase a personal finance book like one of my all time favorites, "Get a Financial Life." Located in Windham, New York, right next to the pharmacy; just steps away from the Windham Path. Briars & Brambles Books is the go to independent book and gift store in the Catskills. Open daily. For more information, visit briarsandbramblesbooks.com or call 518-750-8599. Thanks also to the Mountain Eagle, where a weekly subscription won't break the bank. The newspaper covers Delaware, Greene, and Schoharie counties, including brands for local regions like the Windham Weekly, Schoharie News, and Catskills Chronicle. For more information, call 518-763-6854 or email: mountaineaglenews@gmail.com. We are back with Samantha Awand-Gortel (Branch Manager of the Phoenicia Branch of Ulster Savings Bank). Are there any unique financial challenges or opportunities for Catskill folk?

Samantha Awand-Gortel  17:44  
So I think that one of the greater challenges I'm seeing lately when we talk about that move to more technology for using, you know, for paying bills and other finances is that we don't have cell phone service, so I find myself on a daily basis being asked to get the text message or a phone call with a code to because it's added security as a multi-factor authentication to get into different, you know, websites or different programs that I use...and so I do find that that's a frustration. I help people all the time with their online banking and I think having a lack of cell phone service makes it difficult for people to kind of move in that direction easily; as far as other financial challenges, I think we're just in a general-like crazy time in the economy, you know, we just came out of a pandemic, and then we get struck with like, you know, inflation...and so I think a lot of folks are stressed financially, but just trying to be there to understand and listen to people's situations and giving any sort of option or assistance that I possibly can on how to maybe manage things a little bit better, so I don't know that...that's particularly for Catskill folk; I think that's kind of for everybody these days, but it's not easy. It's definitely challenging.

Brett Barry  18:58  
That's a great point about the cell phones. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten an authentication code that I've had to jump in the car, drive to Boiceville to get the code, and then race back and try to enter it before that expiration, so that is definitely a challenge.

Samantha Awand-Gortel  19:14  

Brett Barry  19:15  
And now, it's time for top 10 rules for personal finance.

Samantha Awand-Gortel  19:23  
So the first one is to accept 100% responsibility for financial decisions; acknowledge that you're in control of your household finances. You are the one who makes the decision to splurge or save; great thing as the number one rule is accepting 100% responsibility for your decisions, and the second one would be focused on your household. You comparing yourself to others is a recipe for disaster. Social media is a trap. It can make us feel like we need to keep up with the Joneses. Thankfully like not a contest, and you can focus on what's right for you.

Brett Barry  19:56  
And people post the best of on social media, so if they live like that every day that would be different.

Samantha Awand-Gortel  20:01  
Yeah. You never see that kind of negative side of someone's life, so is butterflies and roses. Late payments are dangerous as number three...do not allow bills to go past due or to allow your insurance coverage to lapse, even if you let your insurance lapse for a week, you could have problems down the road with insurability and you could negatively impact your risk rating and maybe your credit score, so you don't want to feel like you're a liability when you're trying to apply for an auto loan or buy a house for the first time (things like that), so just be conscious of that as number three...plan for the unexpected. Life can throw you curveballs if of worst time...things wear out, things break, your car breaks down...set money aside for this sort of unplanned expense, so that it doesn't put you in a bad mood or a bad situation or derail your financial goals. If you've set any, it's really important to just make sure you've got some money set aside for those oops moments or those emergency moments. Five: I had mentioned this is read the fine print, you know, the fine print disclaimers on anything on commercials on the TV or paperwork that you're signing. Please be sure to read the fine print and ask questions. Six: debit cards...they are the modern convenience and as our society writes fewer checks. We need to be aware of our debit cards use and limitations. We have Allpoint Network, which is a surcharge free ATM system; there's 55,000 of them all over the country. Debit cards allow you to access funds from your checking account from innumerable locations, you know, purchasing certain services like a rental car or hotel accommodations can be more difficult with a debit card a lot of the time they want a credit card, so just being aware of what your debit card can do and the uses that it has.

Brett Barry  21:50  
So a debit card is cash...basically...credit card is alone.

Samantha Awand-Gortel  21:54  
Right. Correct. You're and you're probably going to pay interest on the credit card payments, the debit card is coming directly from what funds you have in your checking account, so number seven would be to know your credit score. Your credit score is not a fixed number, so think about it as moving along a sliding scale as you make financial decisions. It measures your credit reputation takes time and effort to build and you want to monitor it and check periodically for errors, so you can reach out to the credit bureaus to give you an annual free credit report and it'll show you anything that's like negatively impacting your credit. Again, making any sort of late payments on loans or, you know, in other things could definitely negatively impact that; having some business or company run your credit too often will negatively impact that, so just making sure you're keeping up on that. Eight: Again, super important to talk about money, get comfortable talking about money with your children, your significant others, your parents, and your financial planner, if you have one. There's also your family of origin (money messages), so if you're, you know, if you remember when you were a kid, and maybe your parents were very strict on what was spent, you may stick with that as you become an adult, you know, those money messages carry over with you until you're an adult. What if someone was, you know, spending, spending, spending all the time, you may think it's okay to just splurge all the time, so just be really focused on the money messages and...and how you relate those to (again) partners, spouses, children, parents, etc. Being fiscally fit is not like a bad diet. It's a lifestyle and a series of choices, so again, having those conversations to make sure everyone's on the same page is important. Nine: Each goal should have its own account, so we were just talking about maybe, you know, a business would have a payroll account, a tax account, or a general operating account (the same can go for your personal expenses) you want to have money set aside, so you can do those little splurge moments, every once in a while. Great. Let's open an account and leave the funds in there for that one account, you know, could be just for your bills to pay all your bills, another one just for online services or gaming or things like that...that you want to do. Set your goals and have its own account for those specific goals, vacations, things like that. Holidays: We have a holiday club account, which will let you save money until October, and then they send you the money in that account, so that you can purchase holiday gifts, things like that; and finally, number ten is being good with money takes effort and discipline. People view money differently and we all know people in our lives who are spenders or savers, but regardless...helpful from a few experts you can meet or even exceed financial goals.

Brett Barry  24:41  
Thank you so much, Sam. It's always a pleasure to speak with you and I appreciate all the insights.

Samantha Awand-Gortel  24:46  
Thank you. It's always nice to talk to you, too...and I'm glad we're able to get this information out.

Brett Barry  24:54  
Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. Please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Ask your smart speaker to play "Kaatscast: The Catskills Podcast" and visit us anytime at kaatscast.com, where you can sign up for our mailing list, search for shows based on keywords and transcript text, or join one of our listener supporters for as little as $1 a month. Thanks for listening. I'm Brett Barry. We'll see you next time.