Dividends Magazine, 2021 Edition
By Carolanne Roberts
Rhoshunda Kelly, 2001 business graduate, speaks with passion about her role as Mississippi’s Commissioner of Banking and Consumer Finance and the ladder she climbed to reach that post.
Whether recounting her first fleeting major (medicine), or how she coupled an English minor with a degree in banking and finance or even the challenges of banking in COVID times, every ounce of Kelly is confidence and forward motion.
Yet the Commissioner well remembers her younger self, the high school student who observed more than she talked, the mouse-quiet one possibly least likely to become a leader.
“I was – and am – an introvert,” she explains. “But I think leaders are made, not born. It takes some training to get there, developing confidence and doing it in a way that’s lasting and respected.”
This certainly applied early in her career with the Mississippi Department of Banking and Consumer Finance (DBCF), when a job as field examiner required meeting with bankers who were sometimes 20 to 30 years older than she was.
“You’re giving them findings, and you must use your voice because this is your job – you must exude confidence,” she states. “You are not only reflecting yourself but also your agency.”
Kelly’s parents, who live in Choctaw County just 23 miles from Starkville, emphasized, “You can be anything you want to be,” and the daughter believed. A professor in the College of Business believed too, enough to provide an introduction to a banking professional in the very agency Kelly now leads, who opened the initial doors. She started at DBCF as an examiner trainee, followed by Examiner 1, 2 and finally Examiner 3 over a period of five years.
“As you grow, instead of being a team member, you’re leading a team,” she explains. Along the way, her original plans changed.
“I planned to work as an examiner for one year, then go to law school – but banking regulation just keeps pulling you in because there’s so much to learn,” she says. “Things don’t always work out the way you plan, but they work out the way they should.”
The upper rungs of the DBCF ladder became more accessible as Kelly continued to achieve. A shift from traveling examiner to office-based analytical reviewer following the birth of her second child created new possibilities.
“I worked my jobs and asked for more work, doing more than was required,” she comments. “I was really hungry in this new playing field.”
Her attitude and abilities led to the Deputy Commissioner role and then to the top when the existing Commissioner retired. The official appointment by Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and subsequent Senate approval came in the spring of 2021.
In the midst of these more recent achievements swirled COVID-19, a mighty challenge further encumbered by ice storms and hurricanes in areas related to Mississippi banks and banking.
“All I was thinking about was doing the job,” Kelly says. “I kept my head down and tried to fill all the gaps and holes, not just caring for the agency and the staff but handling what COVID was doing to the financial system, the banks, consumer finance companies, mortgage companies and the consumers.”
Seeing things uniquely from her new position, the pandemic, she says, “changed everything.”
“For instance, out of necessity the banking industry diverted to mobile platforms, which will remain,” she comments. “You can’t jump back to pre-COVID. The expectations have changed, and you can’t ‘unspill the milk,’ so to speak.”
Here’s where the solid leadership, that long-developed ability to observe and Kelly’s confidence join forces.
“Our agency’s vision is excellence in financial supervision,” she says. “This is what we do. As a leader, I lean on our vision and courage to carry out our mission. This has played into every decision I’ve made. That, and being consistent in what we’re doing.”
These lessons, valuable and road-tested, cropped up when the Commissioner visited her alma mater early in the semester to speak about banking (also to recruit for the DBCF from MSU ranks).
Standing before students, Kelly engaged her young audiences with “exciting stories of what we do” and talked about what’s required to work at the agency. Likewise, students at the University of Southern Mississippi, Ole Miss and other institutions learn about the possibilities of working under her leadership.
And, yes, this speaker is indeed the shy person who once occupied a seat in such classrooms.
“It’s easier now because I believe so much in what we do, so it’s not a hardship to get up and share,” Kelly says.
Those years as a student were full of variety and hard work beyond the classroom. There was that two-week period when she milked cows in the campus dairy barns. (“They had to be milked every 12 hours at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m., which didn’t fit into my schedule,” she chuckles.) She volunteered as a peer counselor and in traffic appeals court, hearing cases. By senior year, she was working at the Mississippi Educational Design Institute, a collaboration between the School of Architecture and the School of Education. Those jobs were an improvement on her earlier summer work in the foodservice industry and a gig as a furnace operator in a steel tubing manufacturing plant.
“Those were motivators to go back to school and do well in the fall,” she laughs.
Studying was instinctive, fulfilling her profile as a nose-to-the-grindstone student from the start and setting the stage for life-long learning.
“I didn’t have the typical college experience,” she explains quietly. “I lost my brother in a car accident the summer before my freshman year – and I think that experience played a role in some of the determination and the push I’ve found in myself the past 20 years. Some people don’t have the opportunity to go to college, so I felt that I wanted to take advantage of it. Classes were actually a good distraction and a driver to do something good and do something big.”
Box checked there – “something big” is exactly where Rhoshunda Kelly is today.
With her husband, a fellow Mississippi State alumnus, and daughters ages 11 and 13, not to mention the more than full-time job, she strives daily for balance. During downtime, you’re likely to find her baking, not banking, creating family birthday cakes, holiday sweets and anything related to sugar. She also turns to light reading as an escape from the world of numbers.
She has another, bigger family in Mississippi State. Kelly welcomes trips to Starkville, whether for football games or simply the chance to breathe in campus energy.
“It’s who I am,” she says. “I hold a special place in my heart for Mississippi State. I think it does so much for people who have aspirations to become something more.
“There are a lot of dreams on that campus.”