Building a Finance Career: Lessons from a VP at BNY Mellon

St. John's Alum Headshot, Duane Shippey
By Toni Critelli

Are you interested in a finance career where you can help people achieve financial empowerment? In this Q&A session, you get to know Duane Shippey '97A, a St. John’s University alumnus. As the current Vice President (VP) of Client Services at BNY Mellon, Mr. Shippey shares his journey of building a career in finance, the skills he has developed, and the challenges he has faced and overcome.

What inspired you to choose a finance career path—and why BNY Mellon? 

Finance wasn’t exactly planned, but it was a natural fit. The combination of financial concepts, client interaction, and growth opportunities drew me to the industry. My career path in finance took me from teller roles to client service at major institutions. Interestingly, BNY Mellon was a client during my time at Broadridge Financial Solutions. I was consistently impressed by their corporate culture.

These positive interactions stayed with me. When considering a new opportunity, BNY Mellon stood out. Looking back, it feels like a destined reconnection—and 10 years later, I’m proud to be part of the team.

How has St. John’s University positively impacted your career?

Attending St. John’s was a fantastic experience for me. I built strong connections with many people, which was crucial for my growth. Even today, I am in touch with many individuals and keep track of their progress and the businesses they have established or grown. 

Although I went on to attend other universities after earning my associate degree at St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I still consider St. John’s as the foundation for my success. It has helped shape who I am today.

Do you believe your educational journey has influenced your career and personal development?

My college experiences have taught me the importance of collaboration and teamwork, which have helped me socially. Overall, earning a higher education has had a profound impact on both my personal and professional growth.

What is your average day like as a Vice President of Client Services?

A typical day for me involves two main areas: client service and portfolio management.

On the client service side, I oversee insurance product payments for policyholders. My top priority is ensuring clients receive exceptional service for their chosen product. I strive to be a subject matter expert, but I leverage our team’s resources if something arises beyond my knowledge. Collaboration is critical—regardless of experience, everyone brings valuable pieces to the puzzle of exceptional client service.

Additionally, portfolio management involves overseeing my existing accounts, taking on new assignments, and potentially closing new deals. A significant focus is on retention, ensuring timely and accurate payouts. When errors occur, I analyze the cause and implement solutions to prevent them. We all make mistakes, but accountability and corrective measures are crucial.

Can you share any challenges you faced in your professional journey? How did you overcome them?

Throughout my career, I’ve encountered my fair share of adversity. Like many others, I’ve experienced layoffs. These setbacks were tough, but they also forced me to be resourceful.

While reflecting during one of these periods, I realized the importance of staying prepared. Since then, I’ve made a point to develop myself constantly, keep my network strong, and broaden my skillset to stay relevant. This proactive approach has helped me navigate challenges and positioned me for new opportunities that ultimately led to my current role as VP.

This journey has taught me a valuable lesson: there will be things outside our control, but focusing on what we can control—our skills, networks, and continuous learning—helps us bounce back stronger and build a fulfilling career.

What is a misconception about working in the corporate finance industry?

One misconception is that everyone works long hours. The reality is that work-life balance depends on your role and specific company. For instance, you might need to adjust your schedule for international calls in some client-facing roles. However, other positions offer more flexibility to disconnect and manage personal time. 

It’s also true that some individuals thrive in a fast-paced environment and welcome longer hours. Conversely, others prioritize family time and seek roles that allow for better time management. The key is understanding your preferences and finding a company culture that aligns with them. 

What have been the key factors contributing to your career success?

Two key areas have fueled my success: formal education and strong social skills.

From my education, I gained the ability to articulate myself clearly and the willingness to learn continuously. A successful career requires you to be a lifelong learner, not someone who assumes they already know everything. Active listening and respect for others are also crucial.

Beyond academics, I’ve developed strong social skills that are equally important. Reliability, punctuality, and teamwork are essential. While individual work styles exist, collaboration is often vital. Effective team players actively listen, value others’ input, and contribute constructive feedback to achieve shared goals.

If someone in college wants to prepare for a specific career path, what steps can they take to ensure success after graduation?

Building a solid network is crucial. Meeting classmates, especially those with similar career interests, opened doors I didn’t know existed. This network becomes a source of continuous learning and collaboration. 

Secondly, seeking mentors and sponsors is essential. Mentorship can be formal or informal. Professors can be excellent mentors, offering valuable guidance and experience. Don’t hesitate to reach out and build these relationships. Having a sponsor or someone who can vouch for your character and efforts can help you access new opportunities and open doors that might have remained closed.

Lastly, remember to take advantage of the resources available on campus. St. John’s, for instance, has a program called Alumni Insider's View...Day on Wall Street in collaboration with BNY Mellon. This program allows juniors, seniors, and graduate students at The Peter J. Tobin College of Business to visit major financial institutions in New York City to network and gain insights from industry leaders who are also St. John’s alumni.

Can you share a final piece of career advice? 

Stay the course, and don’t get discouraged. Sometimes, things take longer than you’d like, but you must stay resilient, keep doing the work, work on yourself, make connections, and build relationships. Eventually, doors will open for you. Once that happens, go in, put your best foot forward, learn, and do the work. Don’t stay complacent or stagnant. Keep developing and evolving so that you can consider your next step. 

What you’re doing is essential, but there’s always more to do. Keep building on yourself and don’t take no for an answer.

Young female professional

Toni Critelli

Digital Content Creator

Toni Critelli is a full-time staff writer for Johnnie's Blog. Through engaging content, she captures the essence of the institution, its students, faculty, and alums.