An interview with Sallie Krawcheck | CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest
Investing that’s just for women?
Yep, you heard that right.
Sallie Krawcheck is the co-founder and CEO of Ellevest, a digital investing platform that was designed by and for women. Ellevest’s mission is to close the gender investing gap by helping women take control of their finances.
Sounds incredible, right? It is.
When Sallie realized the investing industry was (to put it mildly) “by men, for men,” she made it her mission to unleash women’s financial power to help them achieve their goals.
Watch our interview above or read it below and see for yourself how Ellevest is changing the game for boss babes like you and me.
Become your most financially savvy self …
Sallie Krawcheck: You know, I worked in big investment firms for many years and when I was no longer in a big investing firm and I would walk around, meet with people and say “ I’m just too close to myself, what do you think I should do, what should I do? Give me some advice, what should I do?” And people would say “Sallie, you should start investing firm for women,” and I’d think “that is so stupid.”
Sallie Krawcheck: The “aha” came when I was in my bathroom, putting on mascara. The big insight I had was that the retirement savings crisis is actually a woman’s crisis. We don’t think of it that way but we women live longer than men do – five, six, eight years – and we retire with two-thirds less money. Once you begin to think of it that way, you say “OK, the solution is to actually get more money to women.” A lot of people are working on the gender pay gap and the gender work achievement gap but there is a gender investing gap! So that thing I said ‘no’ to for forever now I say ‘yes’ to, because clearly if women aren’t investing as much as men are, let’s figure out what women would need in order to invest.
Jen Hacker: So, you had that “mascara thought” and where did you take it from there?
Sallie Krawcheck: I was going to do a really stupid thing. I don’t come from the tech world. I come from the financial services world. I’ve worked at smaller companies but I’ve never started a company from scratch. The whole idea was just too overwhelming. So, I went to the CEO of a large financial institution and said “you need to do this.” I’d done all my homework. Women control 5 trillion dollars of investable assets, 90% of ys our money on our own at some point in our lives, etc. But we don’t invest as much as men do. There is a huge opportunity here. We were at breakfast and he said “that is so interesting, Sallie … but don’t their husbands manage their money for them?” I replied, “I just said 90% of us manage our money on our own.” I said no to a partnership with them. I met my co-founder in the nick of time to say, “that’s a bad idea, let’s actually build this thing from scratch.”
Jen Hacker: Content is a big part of the Ellevest brand. Can you talk about what role that plays and why felt that was important?
Sallie Krawcheck: Look I think it’s both. To back up a little, almost every investing firm or large bank has had a woman’s initiative. To my mind they’ve all tried to solve the wrong problem, which is “let’s market to women.” Content is a huge part of that. So maybe they wrote great articles, but they never actually went to the other part which is the product. What if the product doesn’t work for women? The product, historically, has been “hey, would you like a mutual fund or an ETF?” That’s not how our brains work. It’s been, “pick a winner, make more money.”
Jen Hacker: Which is a lot.
Sallie Krawcheck: It’s a lot. They didn’t go to the “let’s get both sides right” and that’s where we went. We started with the product.
Jen Hacker: What you’re really talking about is understanding who this woman is, and you’ve built a brand that she can identify with. I always say your brand can set you apart because it either allows people to connect with you or it turns them off. What was that process for you of actually understanding who she was and how to build a company that she would identify with?
Sallie Krawcheck: First of all, we are “her” to a good degree. I’m not “her” because of the career I’ve had on Wall Street, but we have a whole bunch of women who are “her.” But rather than saying, “we understand her,” we spent thousands of hours researching before we launched – in her wallet, going through her bank statements, going through 401K statements, putting cards in front of her, sorting out what mattered, with her on usertesting.com going through what we were prototyping, surveying her. So we spent a lot of time with her.
Jen Hacker: At what point did you realize, “I think this is it. I think we’ve got something in our hands?”
Sallie Krawcheck: There was a lot before that. I would sit with the team and we would draw out what we’re going to build, we would build a prototype, we’d go over the research. I just thought, “we might not be able to get this thing built and have it work.” I remember sitting with a pit in my stomach going, “I don’t know about this.” It was a year ago that we finally plugged it in and it worked! It worked! I remember sitting in my living room looking through financial plans. I’m sitting there going through them like “this does look right. You know, we may get there.”
Jen Hacker: And were there any other levers that you pulled that really helped things take off?
Sallie Krawcheck: So, I think you have to have a very good product. You have to really understand what your target is looking for and talk with them, not at them.
Jen Hacker: Was there any great business advice that you were able to gather from others along the way that you would like to pass along?
Sallie Krawcheck: I have been in business for a while so the one thing that really sticks with me is when we were raising our first round. I’m fortunate to have worked with a number of terrific businesspeople over the course of my career. I thought to myself, “I don’t know, I’m going to have to ask them to do me this favor. It makes me feel tense and nervous and what if this isn’t what we thought it would be, what if we lose their money, and so on.” My co-founder said “just wait a minute – do you believe in this business? Do you believe or you know where you’re putting your money in? Do you believe it can have an impact and be a great and successful…” I said “yes, more than anything.” Then he said, “we’re doing them a favor.” I never quite got to that ‘we’re doing you a favor’ but I really have gotten to that “we’re offering you an opportunity,” an opportunity that we’re not offering everybody to be part of this. I still have to practice it a little bit but that mind shift led to such confidence.
Jen Hacker: Well, thank you so much. I’m very excited that you made this available for women like me and for other women I know. Let’s toast to investing like a woman.
Sallie Krawcheck: Thank you.
Jen Hacker: Yes, cheers.
Sallie Krawcheck: Cheers.
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