From Finance to Poetry: When Getting Uncomfortable gets Comfortable

When there is talent, it flourishes in many directions. Such is the case with Mey-Ling Perez, an accomplished alumna of the FIU Master of Science in Finance program. Currently serving as the senior vice president at First Horizon Bank, Mey-Ling's expertise in banking and wealth management is well-regarded. However, her recent venture into the world of poetry and prose showcases the multi-faceted nature of her talents.

In her interview, she shares her journey from academia to finance leadership, her most rewarding moments, and how professional and creative spheres intertwine to create a better and happier human being.

Can you tell us about your personal and professional journey?

My academic journey began at FIU, where I pursued a double major in finance and eventually earned my master's degree. My entry into the banking world was marked by a role in credit underwriting at the Export-Import Bank of the United States. During this phase, I facilitated international companies in forging connections with U.S. multinational firms, an experience that truly opened my eyes to the global nature of business.

Then I transitioned into private banking, where I spent over eight years in the Northern Trust Company. Within this capacity, I assisted high-net-worth individuals, families, foundations, and corporations in areas encompassing lending, wealth management, and trust services. My tenure there offered me a comprehensive understanding of the intricate needs of diverse clients.

My current role at First Horizon Bank involves offering guidance to high-net-worth individuals and companies across the entire spectrum of banking, including lending, wealth management, and trust services. Accumulating more than 16 years within the realm of private banking, my journey has been one of constant growth and evolution.

What has been the moment in your career that brought you the most satisfaction?

Lately, I've been contemplating the shifts that time brings, particularly considering the impact of the past three years. Looking back, the COVID-19 outbreak stands out as one of the most challenging periods for the entire world. A global pandemic took us all by surprise, leading us to pack up and transition to work remotely. For someone like me, accustomed to an office environment, it was a significant adjustment that demanded rapid adaptation.

You might be curious about the connection to joy amidst this situation. Let me share the part that brought immense satisfaction to me. If we rewind to March-April 2020, the U.S. government introduced the PPP plans – the Payroll Protection Program. Those were days of intense effort. I probably put in 14–16-hour workdays. There were moments when exhaustion was overwhelming. Yet, looking back, it was all worth it.

We were able to help our clients, ranging from restaurants and hospitality businesses to small enterprises. It was a different aspect of banking, diverging from our usual focus on wealth management and client growth. It was refreshing to stand on the side of safeguarding and aiding our clients at such a crucial moment, providing the financial support they needed to carry on their legacies. Despite the difficulties, this period emerged as one of the most rewarding in my career.

When all was said and done, I remember having a continuous smile for three straight days. It was a time of substantial impact, not just for me but for many. I never anticipated making such a significant difference in my sphere, yet during that phase, I realized the extent of my capability to do so.

What are the challenges you foresee for the finance industry?

As I reflect, it's evident that many challenges and disruptions are already manifesting. An aspect that currently captures my attention is the notable uptick in cybersecurity and fraud incidents. It is a trend many of us observe in the industry, often preceding potential economic shifts or recessions. The heightened sense of uncertainty tends to give rise to security concerns and fraudulent activities.

These deceptive practices encompass a broad spectrum, from intercepted mail and manipulated checks to the intricate realm of artificial intelligence that fraudsters have tapped into. What used to be the classic "inheritance from Nigeria" scheme has evolved into sophisticated tactics employing AI. Undoubtedly, this presents a considerable challenge, impacting both banks and our clients. Ensuring awareness and education amid this era of fraud and impending economic adjustments is paramount.

Additionally, the digital landscape is witnessing amplified competition, a trend poised to stay and continue evolving. The third challenge I would highlight, particularly relevant in the Miami market, is talent retention and management. The upheaval brought about by the pandemic has reshaped work-life preferences. Professionals seek a balance, leaning towards remote work and flexibility. It is a shift that resonates deeply in finance, compelling us to adapt to these evolving demands.

Mastering talent retention and management will be pivotal. As the landscape evolves, meeting the needs of this dynamic talent pool will be crucial for sustained success.

Mey-ling, you've achieved incredible success in finance, so what's next for you?

Currently, my focus remains unwaveringly on my role, particularly in steering the growth of the Brickell market. Yet, on a personal front, I am embarking on an endeavor that involves engaging both hemispheres of my brain. A project that fills me with excitement is my debut book, which is currently available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books and Books. The official release is scheduled for September 19, with a launch event set at Books and Books on September 23.

This book, crafted in my native language, Spanish, intertwines poetry and prose. It is a labor of passion where I have invested copious time, energy, and heart. Juggling these two sides of my life, my professional and creative spheres, adds a certain balance that keeps me motivated and engaged.

What made you start writing, and what message do you want to get across?

The timeline sometimes blurs, but my journey as a writer has spanned my entire life. From my early days, writing was my escape, my equilibrium, my comfort. However, it was in 2019, amid a challenging phase due to an autoimmune disorder diagnosis, that I rekindled my connection with writing. It became my anchor, my coping mechanism in the face of high stress.

The book I have poured my heart into takes readers through three significant phases – love, loss, and the eventual rebirth that echoes in the human experience. Its essence centers on the idea that regardless of the hurdle life throws – whether personal, career-oriented, or family-related – we humans possess an extraordinary ability to adapt, to emerge fortified. I firmly believe that even in the face of heartbreak, those fissures can be filled with something magical, allowing us to return stronger than before.

An intriguing facet is the book's cover, inspired by the art of Kintsugi, a Japanese practice of mending broken pieces using precious metals. It's a visual metaphor for my message – that these mended parts can hold greater value, becoming even more exquisite than they were originally. This principle echoes through life's journey; as we navigate different stages, we inherently become more exquisite.

It is this essence of resilience, of growing even more beautiful through life's different chapters, that I hoped to encapsulate in my book.

Amar, Perder y Renacer: Poesia y Prosa

What are the benefits of practicing a form of art, especially for those highly focused on the business world?

We're all fully immersed, whether it is in business or other industries. The competitive landscape is intense. This is especially palpable in the finance world, where emails are sent, and immediate responses are the norm. It often feels like a relentless machine-like pace. Amid this whirlwind, concentrating on our passions and expanding creativity is a meditative oasis. It is a way to pause, recharge, and gain a fresh perspective.

For me, this creative outlet brings happiness. The ripple effect is significant: my contentment extends to my team, then to my employees, and, of course, to my clients. This balance ensures that I can remain effective in my professional life without succumbing to burnout.

Exploring new pursuits activates different pathways in our brain, fostering connections we might not have previously accessed. The essence lies in remaining active and vibrant, embracing a lifestyle that keeps us youthful. Whether it is writing, painting, or a simple stroll on the beach, it is vital to infuse our lives with these rejuvenating moments. In essence, these activities energize us, fueling our continued engagement with life's myriad challenges.