#1 – She Invests: My Story and Announcing SmartPurse

As published on LinkedIn for the She Invests biweekly newsletter.

Welcome to She Invests, a monthly newsletter on women, money, and investing. I have been thinking about starting this endeavour for a while now, ever since I hit a professional reset two years ago to refocus my time and energy from philanthropic interests to investing. This first edition will serve as a context setting for those who are not familiar with my writing here on LinkedIn and on my blog, but be sure to stick around until the end for the big reveal! 

So, who am I and what credentials do I have to tackle such big topics? Going way back, my degree is in finance from the University of British Columbia. During my time there, I had the honor of being chosen for the University’s Portfolio Management Foundation, where a small number of students take part in a two year program of managing endowment funds. They also undertake summer internships in the industry, and have active mentorship by professionals in the field.

Upon graduation in 1988, I was hired as an analyst by Goldman Sachs in New York City in the mortgage securities department. I went on to enjoy a 14 year career at the firm, and 1996, I became the first female trader and youngest woman in the firm’s history to become partner at the age of 32. While at Goldman, I was very active in the firm’s diversity efforts, and I spent the last two years of my time there working in the Executive Office in human capital management. My job was to help ensure that Goldman was a truly meritocratic and inclusive workplace. I “retired” in 2002, and spent the next eight years learning as much as I could about investing, including general, impact, and early-stage investing. I also sought to learn more about family financial management, philanthropy, tax, and estate planning in a multi-family office setting at Circle Financial Group.

Even though I no longer worked at a large financial institution, my passion for advancing women’s careers in finance continued. To this day, I remain extremely proud of a seminal piece of research I sponsored in 2009 in partnership with the National Council for Research on Women. This report, Women in Fund Management: A RoadMap to Critical Mass and Why It Matters, asked the question, “Why are there so few women in leadership roles in asset management specifically, and finance more generally?” We looked at all the research that was available at the time that might explain why women were so dramatically underrepresented (less than 20% in leadership positions), and came up with a list of solutions to address this imbalance. My hope is that this newsletter might ignite new interest in the proposed solution set, as it needs a widespread industry buy-in for meaningful change to happen. It was only last week, for the first time ever, that a woman, Jane Fraser, became the head of a major US financial institution at Citigroup. And while this is such an important step, it is just one step along the path to create a fully inclusive financial sector.

Around the time of the report’s release, philanthropy became my main focus after becoming a member of Women Moving Millions (WMM) in 2009. WMM is an organization with the mission of mobilizing unprecedented resources towards creating a more gender equal world. The effort was sparked by a campaign that invited women to dedicate $1 million or more over 10 years or less towards organizations that were women-led and women-focused. Post-campaign, I was enthralled with the idea of creating a community around women and giving, and for the next nine years, that idea is what I lived and breathed. During that time, attention and awareness of the impact of gender lens philanthropy skyrocketed, but funding remains stubbornly slow to respond to this day. Just last week, WMM announced a newcampaign, hoping to mobilize an additional $100 million in funds towards women-focused organizations. Be sure to check it out HERE.

While most of my time and energy during that time was focused on identifying organizations to support in the non-profit space and engaging in philanthropic movement building, I always kept an eye on my investments. Specifically, I tracked progress in the emerging space of gender-lens investing. My family foundation made grants to the field building work being done by Joy Anderson and Jackie VanderBrug of the Criterion Institute, an organization founded in 2002 that has worked to change the power dynamics in finance in order to create financial approaches, products, and systems that work for the common good. In 2011, Criterion published a Gender Handbook for Investors, which quickly became my go to resource for how investment capital can be used to advance gender equity. Since then, Criterion has published many reports on both this topic and many others, all of which can be accessed HERE. It was also during this time that I became obsessed with reading, collecting, aggregating, and sharing research related to all things women and girls. You can find my most recent list HERE , which consists of 650 reports in 20+ categories, including robust sections on women and wealth, impact investing, and more. 

As a result of the progress being made in this field, I began to implement a gender lens in my own portfolio by working with a female-led investment manager (Circle Wealth Management), investing in female-led private funds, and picking public equity vehicles that included certain gender metrics. In addition, and in response to mind-blowing data that shows how female founded start-ups receive less than 5% of venture capital, I began to do angel and early stage investing.

The very first company I invested in was Tango, which at the time was a magazine founded in 2005 by Andrea Miller about love and relationships. I have always loved magazines, and in fact, I thought long and hard about starting one about women in business when I left Goldman Sachs. I still fondly remember attending the launch party for Tango’s premiere issue, where the celebrity guest was James Denton of Desperate HousewivesTango has now evolved into YourTango, an online platform that is still about love and relationships, and it is still led by Andrea.

It would be a few more years until my next investment, but it was a big one. LearnVest. The founder was an amazing young woman named Alexa Von Tobel, who had the brilliant idea of creating a platform to help young people, specially young women, with their finances. At the time of our investment, the company was little more than a business plan, but it had the vision, passion, and talents of Alexa behind it. Therefore, it was not at all surprising that Alexa and her team executed the hell out of her idea, and in 2015, she sold the company to Northwest Mutual for a reported sum in excess of $300 million.

A photo of LearnVest founder Alexa Von Tobel on the cover of Forbes magazine.

To date, LearnVest is my only exit out of the 16 companies I have invested in so far. You can check out some of the other companies I am invested in by checking out this link. Almost all are founded by women, including one, Translator , started by Natalie Egan, an openly transgender B2B software entrepreneur, which provides technology to create more inclusive workplaces. The success of LearnVest not only opened my eyes (WIDE) as to how financially rewarding angel investing can be, but more importantly, how when you fund amazing people with great ideas, the ripple of good that can be felt is immense. How so? Well, Alexa received funding for her business and then hired people to build it up. In doing so, she gave many of those people equity in her business, in addition to salaries. The company’s mission; to financially educate and empower people, hopefully resulted in positive outcomes for its customers.

Alexa was also relentless with respect to her media presence around money, and went on to write two books on the topic. In doing so, she was changing public perceptions as to what experts in finance looked like. When the company sold, Alexa, many employees, and of course the investors, made a lot of money. She broke the glass ceiling in terms of a sale by a femfintech founder (my term), inspiring countless others to follow the path she blazed. Upon leaving Northwest Mutual, Alexa is now turning her talents to investing in other founders through Inspired Capital, a fund co-founded with Penny Pritzker that was launched in 2019. Am I an investor with Inspired? Heck yes. I believe Inspired is the largest first time VC fund started by women. Alexa continues to be a trail blazer and a role model, along with being a mother of three under the age of five.

Of course, I know that not everyone has the financial resources to be an angel investor in the way I described above, but there are so many other ways to support entrepreneurs, and specifically women entrepreneurs. I will be outlining many of these in future posts.

The Big Reveal!

I chose to launch this newsletter today because it marks the announcement of my involvement, as well as my biggest angel investment yet, in a new company that I hope will be as successful as LearnVest. This new company is called SmartPurse, and it is a coaching and learning start-up that is aimed at making financial education both affordable and accessible to all women. Although SmartPurse is based in Europe, its goal is to reach and financially empower women at a global scale. The two founders, Olga Miler and Jude Kelly, had me at hello because of who they are and what they stand for. Olga is the former managing director and global program architect of UBS Wealth Management women’s programme, and Jude is the founder of WOW – the Women of the World Festival. They are both incredible champions for gender equity, and they bring enormous value and expertise to their mission of helping women build financial independence. Click HERE for the press release.

As Olga explains regarding SmartPurse, “We have created a model which makes accessing financial education as simple and as affordable as possible, understanding that all women have different goals, experiences and expectations. We believe that now more than ever, employers should recognize the importance of female-specific financial education as the workplace and associated benefits evolve with the external climate.”

Tools like SmartPurse are even more urgently needed now with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Jude says, “The long-term effects of the pandemic are still unknown, but what we can be certain about is that it will be women who feel its impact most. The disproportionate weight of job losses, childcare and home-schooling over the last six months risks widening this gulf even further. So far, this crisis affecting half of our population has been ignored by the government’s response to the pandemic. Women must now take control of their own future, with the first step being managing their money. SmartPurse is designed to help women do just that.”

I chose to make such a large investment in SmartPurse for the same reason why I invested in LearnVest over a decade ago. I want to help women, at scale, take charge of their financial lives. Yes, there are lots of books, websites, and experts on this topic, but data shows that nearly half of all women in relationships still delegate long term financial planning to their partners. As Olga notes, “Most [women] are time-poor, and don’t have the luxury to spend hours searching through tonnes of information that isn’t understandable or tailored enough for their personal and unique situations.” With the current COVID-19 pandemic hitting women disproportionately harder than men financially, there has never been more vital time for women to have the right tools and resources to understand and take control of their finances, no matter what their financial situation. Investing in SmartPurse is one way that I can help to make those resources available on a global scale, and I will continue to do all that I can to help women on their money journeys.

There are countless ways we can use our financial resources in alignment with our values in the buckets of spending, giving, and investing. The goal of this newsletter is to help you do just that, but with a particular emphasis on investing. By sharing my stories, as well as those of other experts alongside their resources and ideas, you can expect to not only learn, but do. I am a woman, and I try to apply a gender lens in all that I do. Therefore, you can expect my editorial choices to reflect this bias. I hope you will think that is a good thing!

So welcome to She Invests, a financial newsletter with a gender-lens. I am glad you are here.

Have thoughts on topics you would like me to write about? Feel free to post in the comments below.

It’s Time for Women’s Networks To Do More

A photo of the Utah Women 2020 Mural in downtown Salt Lake City
Utah Women 2020 Mural – Unveiled August 26th 2020

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on August 28th, 2020.

Seven years ago, I was a relative newcomer to the state of Utah. I had moved to Park City three years prior to that, and I had spent most of my time in those early years with my two school age children. I was also traveling quite a lot on behalf of Women Moving Millions, championing for gender lens philanthropy, and all this left very little time for local networking. However, it wasn’t for lack of desire, and three years after moving to Utah, I was desperate to meet the women leaders in my new state. The hardest part about leaving my life in New York and Connecticut had been leaving my female friends who were attached to my heart. Of course, I had hoped that my relationships would transcend distance and time zones, and many did. However, inevitably, not being able to see each other face to face meant relationships were lost.

Our Utah Wonder Woman Screening of the film Wonder Woman in 2017. Photo with Jennifer Danielson, Amy Rees Anderson and Geralyn Dreyfous.

Thankfully, I met the incredible Geralyn Dreyfous early on in my my new life in Utah, and she quickly became a close friend. Geralyn is what you might call an uber-connector, and she has a heart as big as the great outdoors. Professionally, she is one of the most accomplished documentary film producers in the world. Check out her IMDB page if you think I’m exaggerating. Through Geralyn I met David Parkinson, founder of Method Communications and an all around great guy. As a public relations expert and business owner, he was constantly meeting amazing female professionals, and he saw an opportunity to create a network wherein these women could meet each other. He reached out to one such women, Jennifer Danielson, and together, the four of us founded Utah Wonder Women. Our mission was to bring together successful women to connect with each other, and to inspire the next generation of women leaders.

For seven years we held numerous events, including book launch parties for women such as Tiffany Dufu and Pat Mitchell. Our invite only mailing list grew to over 400 members and included some of the most influential women in the state. Looking to do more, in 2017, we hosted a full day women’s leadership conference alongside a full day conference for girls in partnership with SUREFIRE Girls that brought together nearly 200 young women from all over Utah for a full day of sessions that were designed by girls for girls. As with most women’s networks, the primary purpose of Utah Wonder Women was to offer connection, information, and inspiration, and our message was always women supporting women.

And then COVID-19 hit. The ability to meet in-person disappeared overnight. Our organization, like so many, was not built to live in a virtual world. While we may have been more of an informal organization than a formal one, the arrival of the coronavirus meant that we were effectively out of business. The irony is not lost on all of us that this happened precisely when we most needed to come together. So we evolved, and I offered to transition the community to more of an online one, via mighty networks, and renamed it TheShePlace-Utah. The network is now open for all women in Utah to join if they share in the community commitments and guidelines. As the lead host, I have been busy posting content, sharing events, and trying to create a place of value for others, and I have quickly seen how hard this really is. Frankly, I have questioned if it is worth the effort. After all, aren’t there a lot of spaces and so many other places that share similar missions? And to what ends? Is any of this women’s networking stuff making any difference at all?

Before I answer that question as it relates to my efforts in Utah, let me give you a few quick facts around the status of women in this state. Utah is one of the worst states in the United States to be a woman. According to the Status of Women in the StatesUtah ranks 37th in the country on reproductive rights, 44th in employment and earnings, and 50th (50th!!) in both political representation and work & family. Overall, Utah ranks 44th in the country. In a 2014 article titled “5 Places Women Shouldn’t Spend Their Travel Dollars”, Utah was listed alongside Turkey, Indonesia, El Salvador, and Saudi Arabia, in large part because of these statistics. And just earlier this week, a study by WalletHub ranked Utah as the worst state in the US for women’s equality. As a women in Utah who is passionate about women’s rights, this is simply unacceptable to me, and I find I am called to do something about it. Utah Wonder Women, now TheShePlace-Utah, is something I can do to make a difference. Are there other things I can do? Of course there are, and I will do those as well.

So on this 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, whereby women were given the right to vote in the United States and the right to have their voices heard, it is time to rethink and recommit to using the power we have as women to continue the unfinished business of equality. Women’s networks are an under-utilized and under-leveraged organizing tool to achieve positive social change. While I could easily make a list of reasons why I think this is the case and what are ‘best practices’ in terms of trying to make a given network an impactful one, instead, I am just going to try to do it. So if you are women in Utah and want to join me, please do. You can find more information here. And if you are not in Utah, but are a member of a community or two, think about what you can do to serve this greater purpose at both a micro and macro level. And if you need a little inspiration, just remember the words of one of my favorite quotes: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

The photo above is of the “Utah Women 2020” Mural by artist Jann Haworth and her incredible team. It was unveiled on August 26th, 2020 at a special gathering hosted by the Mural sponsor, Zion’s Bank. It is over 5,000 square feet, and is located on the side of a historic building in downtown Salt Lake City. Over 250 women leaders in Utah, past, present and future are featured. I am honored to be included.

Below are links to the press coverage of this inspiring event.

https://www.abc4.com/news/local-news/utah-women-leaders-honored-with-new-mural-but-point-out-existing-inequalities/

https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/8/26/21402835/mural-celebrating-influential-utah-women-womens-equality-day-downtown-salt-lake-city

https://www.deseret.com/opinion/2020/8/20/21376011/a-scott-anderson-new-salt-lake-city-mural-inspirational-utah-national-womens-suffrage-month

https://www.fox13now.com/news/local-news/new-mural-honoring-utah-women-unveiled-in-downtown-salt-lake-city

https://kslnewsradio.com/1920965/utah-women-sgt-pepper/

A Big Step Forward For Gender Lens Investing

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on July 19th, 2020.

One of the biggest buzzwords in philanthropy is impact. And it’s easy to understand why. It’s human nature to want to know that your time, work, and resources are having a positive impact on the communities you’re trying to serve. Impact based philanthropy is nothing new. However, it’s only relatively recently that this idea of impact has taken hold in the financial sector beyond a simple measure of ROI. In fact, it was only in 2007 that The Rockefeller Foundation first coined the term impact investing, wherein social and/or environmental impact was sought alongside financial return. Two years later, this idea was applied to gender, and in 2009, the term gender lens investing was officially coined.

Since then, there has been an explosion of research in this area. Last March, I published my latest top reports list, which includes robust sections on both impact and gender lens investing. Additionally, Jackie Vanderbrug and her co-editor Joseph Quinlan published Gender Lens Investing: Uncovering Opportunities for Growth, Returns, and Impactin 2016. Jackie, as well as Joy Anderson of the Criterion Institute, have both been pioneers of gender lens investing for over a decade now. I am honored to call these women friends, and I was proud to have provided early philanthropic support for their groundbreaking work.

So what exactly is gender lens investing? This term is constantly evolving due to the relative infancy of the movement, but in general, it refers to an examination of financial investments through a gender lens. Let me give you a couple of examples. Is the company/investment run by or founded by women? Does the company/investment use gender equitable practices throughout its organization? Do the products or services that are funded result in a positive impact women and girls? The list of questions goes on, but in short, what will be the impact of an investment on women?

The why of this approach is that “incorporating a gender analysis into financial analysis will lead to better outcomes. Through the creation of financial products and vehicles that reflect an understanding of the gendered nature of our world, innovations with the field of gender lens investing will create a new set of investment opportunities.” A fair criticism of this framing is that gender does not exclusively mean women, and I agree. The good news is that in the more recent past, this field is evolving to be more inclusive with acknowledgment that gender is a fluid spectrum.

I firmly believe that finance is feminism’s next frontier, meaning that if we truly want to achieve gender equity, we, royal we, need to be putting our money where our values are. It is not the point of this article to make the case for gender equality, and I firmly refer you to the aforementioned report list if you are still searching for evidence that inequality exists. Otherwise, last time I checked, there were three things we can do with our money: give it away, spend it, and invest it. To date, only a tiny sliver of investable assets are deployed with a gender lens, but that is changing, and this week, a new resource was published to make this strategy even more easily accessible.

Project Sage 3.0: Tracking Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Private Debt With a Gender Lens is a groundbreaking overview of the current landscape of gender lens private investing. It is also a review of how far the field has come since 2017 when the earlier version of the report was launched. The results are encouraging, with 138 identified funds deploying capital with a gender lens, and over $4.8 billion in total capital raised. Furthermore, only 38% of the funds in this year’s report listed North America as their target geographic location. In 2017, this number was 80%, so it’s safe to say that gender lens investing is officially going global.

The list of findings in this report goes on, but one stat in particular jumped out at me. The number of gender lens investing funds has increased by over 58% from just one year ago, and 138% from 2017. While this is good news, there is a downside to this statistic, in that many of the funds are micro-funds, meaning small, and they have incurred challenges while fundraising in the current environment. Due to the barriers to investment by institutional investors, most of these funds rely on individual investors and family offices to get them up and running. The challenges and opportunities faced by emerging managers, especially those started by women and/or people of color, will be the subject of a future post. For now, let’s just celebrate the many, many funds that are up and running and are made visible by this report. And better yet, if you have capital to put to work, let this report serve as a guide for where to look. Embedded within are people who, with our support, will become the next wave of investment leaders. Like it or not, we are a country and a culture that lifts up investment professionals for their expertise and guidance, and we would all benefit from having a more diverse set of voices.

This report happened because of the incredible and ongoing leadership of Suzanne Biegel. Suzanne is the founder of Catalyst at Large, a leading think tank in the arena of gender lens investing. She also serves as a senior advisor to the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, a cross-disciplinary research center specializing in impact investing for social good and the publisher of Project Sage. Once again, I am honored to call this woman a friend and mentor. You can learn more about Suzanne HERE, and find more of WSII’s research HERE. And huge thanks to her project partner Sandi M. Hunt and project manager Alyssa Matteucci.