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Kim Shappee, a senior credit officer at Bank of Montana in Missoula, has structured a class for women called "Intro to Investing" to help make sense of the financial world.

Research shows women in America make the majority of consumer decisions for their households, deal with complicated money situations almost every day and are more likely today to need to make financial decisions on their own.

Yet for many women, the word "investing" is intimidating.

Here's a little advice from someone who knows a lot about the topic: "You're perfectly capable of rocking your own world," said Kim Shappee, a senior credit officer at Bank of Montana who is offering her financial expertise to women through an "Intro to Investing" class she's organized in Missoula.

"Just looking around my world, I know some incredibly savvy businesswomen who are incredibly astute at managing their companies and companies' finances. I know some single mothers that are wonderful and would make chief financial officers jealous at their budget. But some would freeze at making financial decisions and don't understand their own financial place in the world," Shappee said.

Shappee recognized that this confusion stems from a lack of educational tools that could help women take their financial knowledge a step further. Shappee's career just happens to center around the financial world, where she works every day with Bank of Montana customers to help finance often complicated business deals.

Conversations with female friends spurred Shappee to start her first investing class, which she researched, wrote and now teaches, with the first class starting a year ago.

"I thought, ‘What about a book club scenario with wine and cheese, but instead of books we do ‘intro to investing?' Thirty people ended up at my house," she said.

***

Shappee's plans for the first class were altered once she got a sense of what women really wanted to know. That meant going back to the basics. Once a month for nine months, class members met to discuss everything from how to buy a house, to how to find your credit score, to how to deal with student loans.

Shappee's second class session begins Nov. 7 and is already full. Anyone interested in a possible third round of classes can email Shappee at kshappee@bankofmontana.com.

This time, "Intro to Investing" will start with the basics of finances, including having all attendees write down their top three financial goals. The class will grow from there, and could touch on any number of financial topics depending on interest.

***

Questions about investing come up often and a handful of women - some from Shappee's first class - have now formed a finance club that has produced an investment portfolio called the Garden Fund. The fund has 11 women participating. They all contribute an equal amount of money each month and hold different positions in the club.

Shappee is the co-president of the fund and an investor.

"Kim has always been super into the education piece of (finances). All of her friends would ask her questions about it, so she started making time to answer ... the questions at once instead of eight times," said Mary Poole, also co-president of the Garden Fund.

Poole said joining the finance club has helped her branch out in the financial world in other ways.

"What's been really neat, outside of the club we have been able to improve our own financial situations. I've opened a Roth IRA," and that was easy once she started down the right path, Poole said.

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Shappee's career began with a focus on educating people about entrepreneurship.

She graduated from Babson College in Boston with a degree in entrepreneurship and economics. After graduating, she traveled the world, teaching entrepreneurship in South Africa and studying it in South America. When it came time to come home, she quickly connected with Tom Swenson, Bank of Montana's founder and president, and worked with him to form what Shappee calls a "business bank for entrepreneurs."

Today, Shappee is not only one of the youngest senior credit officers in the country, she's also currently the president of her Pacific Coast Banking school class. A fellow Montana woman is the vice president, making them the first female pair to lead a class at the prestigious banking school based on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.

Shappee works daily with business people to help them finance their dreams, a great part of her job, she said.

"I feel like I get to see every part of banking, the whole transaction, and how it all balances out. That gives me an advantage in seeing how the banking system functions, which I think gives me an advantage on my financial perspective of the world, really understanding how a bank works," Shappee said.

Shappee helped Jessica Daniels and her husband finance their first home purchase, and Daniels is now a part of the Garden Fund.

Daniels had been looking for a place to invest and found that doing research for the club's potential investments and having the safety net of others to talk them over with gave her a better sense of where her money was going.

"I think we're wiling to take on a little bit more risk, and risk is OK when you do it responsibly and it's well thought out," Daniels said.

Shappee hopes future classes create more financially savvy women who have investing confidence like those in the Garden Fund. She knows women have the power to help change economic conditions.

The small start here could have a big effect.

"I really feel like it will ripple. ... You teach a man to fish, and you feed a village. You teach a woman about financial empowerment, and revolutionize the financial industry," she said.

Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or a jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

 

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