Real Talk is a series of candid conversations with women leaders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Sallie Krawcheck says that in a male-dominated industry--finance--she has been one of the very few women "allowed" a seat at the table. Because there are few available slots at the top, Krawcheck says, women have had to fight one another rather than support one another. Now Krawcheck, years after having served as CFO at Citigroup and as head of Bank of America's Merrill Lynch, says she wants to do something to enable all women to move forward. She's the co-founder and CEO of Ellevest, a financial investing platform and roboadviser designed specifically for women. During a recent interview, Krawcheck talks about how Wall Street has failed women, the difficulty of hiring a CMO, and raising capital while female. 

Are you the same leader at Ellevest that you were at Bank of America and Citigroup?

I'm the same in that I'm research-driven, collaborative, and execution-oriented. But I've been able to be a lot more creative. Maybe that's because we don't have a CMO.

Are you going to hire a CMO?

Honey, we've tried. The job is a really difficult job. It requires brand creativity and data analytics. As a CMO, you have to go from multitouch attribution analysis to "Should we have this billboard in Times Square?" You have to be able to manage both, and generally people can do one or the other. So right now, a few of us internally get together to do the marketing. Sometimes magic happens ... and sometimes we drink a lot of wine.

You've had this very impressive career in finance. Did that help you raise venture capital for Ellevest?

No. Well, of course it did, and it was still terrible.

What happened?

I went in to meet with a brand-name Silicon Valley venture capitalist and his band of merry men. It was me in the room and 18 guys. I'm like OK, I've got it, I've seen the movie. We were talking about social media and he let me know I didn't know anything about it. Now, Ellevest has the largest social following of any financial services company in America today. We have 2.5 million followers. He begins to give me chapter and verse. Then I talk about our cost of acquisition, and he begins to tell me that I know nothing about this. Our cost of acquisition is one-quarter of the industry's, thanks to that big social media following.

Then we begin to talk about hiring financial advisers and I swear to god he mansplains it to me. It's the one time in my life I ever wanted to say, "Do you know who I am?"

Given your experience raising venture capital -- you did eventually raise $45 million -- what advice do you have for other women entrepreneurs?

Grow some thick skin. The very first thing you should do, is decide who, in an ideal world, you would raise money from. Who has invested in companies you don't consider direct competitors, but are adjacent?

We looked for VCs who had invested in companies run by women and for women. There are VC firms that will tell you they'll invest in women CEOs, but when you look at their portfolio companies, there are none. Don't waste your time, because you're not going to convince them that you're going to get the first investment.

Why do women need their own investing platform?

Women invest much less of their money than men do; we keep 71 cents of every dollar in cash. So women are not getting the returns on their money that men are. We're talking about quit-your-job money. Start-your-business money. #MeToo money. It's life-changing. It doesn't matter if you don't think women need their own platform, or even if I don't think women need their own platform. Women are not investing. Therefore, there is a problem.

Why don't women invest on par with men?

Financial advisers are 86 percent male and overwhelmingly Caucasian. Women feel condescended to, they feel talked down to, they feel misunderstood. It's all about outperforming, and beating the market, which our customer tells us is not important to her--and by the way, she understands that few people achieve it. And of course the industry symbol is a phallic symbol--a bull.

The financial services industry speaks to her in the language of "Would you like a mutual fund or an ETF, large cap value or small cap growth?" And she's thinking in terms of "I want to buy a house in six years, so how can I get from here to there?"

What are the long-term effects of women's reluctance to invest?

Although it hasn't been articulated, #MeToo and #TimesUp are in part about money. Because it's about equality. And money is equality in a capitalist society. For us to break through, we need to have as much money as the guys do. One of the underlying things about all this is we've got to get women more money. This is a way to do it.

Do men and women have different investing styles?

Yes and no. When women invest at Ellevest, they do not take on less risk than men do. In fact, because of their longer live expectancies and the portfolios we put together, in some cases they take on more risk than men, because they should.

We put together an investment portfolio that shows how you should track toward reaching your goals. We give you a band of possible outcomes, and if you're within the band, you're OK. We have also promised our customers that if they fall off their track to their goal, which means they no longer have a 70 percent chance of reaching it, we send an email that says, "You fell off track because we didn't foresee this market downturn. You can deposit another $1,000, retire three months later, or live on 89 percent of your income instead of 90 percent." See how concrete that is? 

With a traditional broker or adviser, if the market goes down, I know I had $15,000 last week and now I have $14,000--holy cow, let me trade out of it. Men tend to panic more in downturns than women do. We saw that in real time when the market was volatile early this year. Women just tend to stay the course more, which is why women tend to be better investors than men.

You have remarkably few people from your prior Wall Street career on your Ellevest team. There wasn't anyone you wanted to take with you?

Look, the people I worked with are managers, not doers. There are not many people willing to do what I do. I write all my own stuff. On Sunday morning, I'm writing that op-ed.

And they get paid too much. They're coaches now. I sort of giggle. They're like, "I used to make $4 million a year, now I make $2 million, but for you I'll make $1 million. And I'll be upset about it." We're not paying $1 million to anybody. There's such a disconnect.

Published on: Oct 30, 2018