The Wall Street executive once dubbed by Forbes as the last honest analyst wants to have a serious conversation with female investors.
Sallie Krawcheck, whose digital platform Ellevest began accepting investors in May, sees digital disruption as a possibility when it comes to creating a sea change in investing.
She’s got the résumé to prove she’s up for the challenge but also that her approach might be different from the traditional advisers.
“I’m the only woman on the planet whose been fired on the front page of the Wall Street Journal,” she told a room of mostly female bloggers and other influencers this weekend on the final day of the #BlogHer16 conference in Los Angeles.
The New York start-up Krawcheck cofounded, made up of about 20 employees, began in 2014 and raised a $10 million Series A last year in a round led by investment research firm Morningstar.
Krawcheck referenced her very public dismissals, the first of which came in 2008 when she was chief executive officer of Citigroup’s wealth management business, at a time when she went head to head with then-ceo Vikram Pandit and other executives to partially reimburse clients who lost money during the downturn on investments sold by Citi as low risk. The next was in 2011 when she was heading Merrill Lynch’s wealth management business in a position that was cut as part of what parent Bank of America called a restructure.
In 2013, she bought former Goldman Sachs executive Janet Hanson’s 85 Broads women’s empowerment network and later renamed it Ellevate Network.
Digital was the way to go for Ellevest, she said in an interview with WWD.
“It’s the future. The future is now,” she said.
Ellevest’s female investors, which make up approximately 85 percent of clients, prefer to use the platform at night and on weekends. They also like, what Krawcheck described as, the privacy and “the room to play,” which doesn’t include an adviser sitting across the table from them. That doesn’t necessarily rule out physical spaces in the future.
“We don’t have any immediate plans to do [brick-and-mortar],” she said. “I am a big believer that technology improves investing and that we have built very powerful planning and investing algorithms off of massive amounts of data. Four patents pending. Think about that as opposed to me trying to sit there and figure out how to invest a portfolio. We may one day have brick-and-mortar, but when the women tend to start through the process, they tell us they need somebody. We even set up times and they [later] say, ‘You know what? I’ve got this. I didn’t realize it, but I’ve got this.’”
What is ruled out is an investment arm for Ellevest, which Krawcheck called “too far field” from the company’s main focus.
“There is such a big opportunity and challenge in getting women simply to invest that thinking about then telling them to invest in other women’s start-ups is a great business, but it doesn’t belong with this business,” she said.
Although the firm’s outward facing conversations target a mostly female audience, it’s open to any investor. Krawcheck and her team simply saw a hole in the market to speak to a group of investors they see as having long been ignored — some might say patronized — by legacy firms.
“Something I hear a lot is ‘but there’s so many competitors out there.’ There’s so many other offerings so why is Ellevest needed? And you could put it another way. With all the legacy guys, why can’t they go after this opportunity?” Krawcheck said. “The truth is if there weren’t a problem, there wouldn’t be an Ellevest. If there weren’t a gender investing gap, I’d be doing something else right now.”
She went on to say there’s no shortage of legacy players rolling out initiatives aimed at women, but they’re flawed from the onset.
“They typically are refracted through the brain of a middle-aged, white guy,” she said. “‘What is it that women want?’ says the middle-aged white guy. ‘They want chardonnay. They want cocktail parties. They want to talk about their emotions, around investing. They must want to talk about their children. Maybe puppies.’ They’re patronizing. The old ‘Don’t buy shoes, Carrie Bradshaw; invest in the stock market,’ and it has turned women off.…I’d be happy for a traditional adviser to solve the problem, but they haven’t.”