Kristen Saranteas

  • photo of Kristen SaranteasBA in International Studies and Spanish (1991)
  • head of treasury management at First Midwest Bank
  • former student representative at Marcum Conference Center
  • former chapter president of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority

My Profession

"I'm the head of treasury management at First Midwest Bank. Treasury management, formerly known as cash management, is the area of commercial banking where we sell and service products and services to companies to help them with their day-to-day cash flow.

"As an international studies and Spanish major, I would love to say that I always had a plan after graduation — other than living in Madrid working for some international corporation and using my Spanish every day! Life just tends to get in the way, and I really wanted some real-world experience. Banking seemed like a great fit, despite my lack of a business or finance degree — because, honestly, at any company there are so many different roles that have nothing to do with whatever you might have prepared for, whether that be HR, marketing, sales, or others.

"With my liberal arts education from Miami, I had the skill sets and the stroke of good fortune to get into a career that's more traditionally the focus of business majors. Banks offer training courses to help recent grads of any major to understand real-life experience, and especially if you're a people person like I am you will find your niche. For me, this specific niche was sales, and I had enough discipline, acumen, and financial knowledge to be able to pick it up quickly. I wouldn't have been as successful without a liberal arts background.

"My first banking job was in American National Bank's rotational management program, which provided experience in various disciplines, starting with treasury management. I was tasked with handling someone's portfolio while she was gone on maternity leave. As it happened, she didn't come back, and I never left! This gave me a great foundation on how to be a businesswoman, what banking meant, and how to work with corporate clients. The on-the-job training I gained from running my own portfolio helped me become successful at sales, and I just never looked back."

Best Miami Experiences

"Truth be told, I chose Miami without even having seen the campus. By joining a sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, I realized I could get on campus early and find my way around before classes began. I never thought that my two best friends, who are still my two best friends, would come from my sorority. I really found my niche there, and we had women from all walks of life, academic disciplines, interests, nationalities, backgrounds. Joining my sorority and ultimately becoming chapter president really broadened my horizons beyond anything I would have expected.

"I developed my leadership skills quickly through my work both in my sorority and as a student representative at Marcum Conference Center. Marcum in particular required a pretty rigorous application and interview process to be selected. When people visited Miami as guest speakers or participants in different programs, many stayed at the Marcum, where we were there to greet them, tell them a bit of the university's history, give campus tours — whatever that particular guest wanted. As an undergrad I was already dealing with professional adults and making important decisions while carrying a really full course load. Once I learned how to prioritize my calendar, Miami made it very easy for me to get involved in things and become a more well-rounded person. It also helped me learn how to balance that with my course load and other things in my life.

"Still, if I had to do it all over again, I think I would've added in a few more business-related classes because of the career I ended up with. I learned more of my actual business skills on the job than from my academic background. Although taking more business classes might have helped me hone those skills more quickly, I firmly believe that the world is your oyster as a liberal arts major! Banking was simply where I focused my talents.

"Overall, the ability to think and apply your thinking to your passion is what's important. You won't necessarily have the same kind of linear path to a career that an accounting major would. However, with the vast number of choices available to someone graduating in the liberal arts, it's good to find those places where you'll get the real-world training that will help you figure out where you want to go next."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"International studies encompasses a wide variety of disciplines: economics, history, political science, language, literature. This broad and diverse background taught me how to learn and how things became the way they are. Adding in my people skills, I was able to understand more deeply why people make the choices they do, and why we come together in particular ways.

"One thing I was particularly good at was predicting someone's buying choice, and I know this came from my interdisciplinary liberal arts education. It broadened my empathy around our client base, and in international studies everybody comes from different backgrounds.

"On top of that, with my Spanish I'm able to relate more directly to native Spanish speakers. In banking, I haven't used my Spanish often, but one of our clients, who owned a multimillion dollar company, originally came from Mexico. As the ultimate decision maker and patriarch of his family, he was not an English speaker, but I was able to conduct our whole meeting with him in Spanish, and we were able to see eye-to-eye about the business. After all, banking is ultimately about human relationships!"

Advice to Students

"During my recent campus visit, I was particularly impressed with the Office of Community Engagement and Service, which did not exist when I was a student. I believe that involving yourself in community affairs not only broadens your horizons and your network, but it gives you a great feeling of giving back. I strongly recommend that students take advantage of any opportunity to augment their education and career preparation by volunteering!

"Giving to the community is a great way to meet people that are passionate about their mission. You also gain firsthand experience in marketing. It's simply the right thing to do. You feel good about it both personally and for the community you choose as your passion. There are also business reasons to volunteer as well, because doing so forms who you are.

"Therefore, just get involved — try everything. And go Redhawks!"

[March 2018]