Start-Up Life: Why I Traded Wall Street for Fintech
Boardrooms, suits and hierarchy, or graphic tees, free snacks, and coffee with the CEO? These visuals are at odds with each other, and no two worlds seem farther apart than Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Needless to say, it was a shock to many of my ex-colleagues when I gave up my role with the world’s largest asset manager to join a tiny, mission-driven Fintech company in the heart of SOMA, San Francisco.
In this neighborhood, you’ll get a glimpse of hoodie-clad employees strolling to work in for companies that are disrupting the status quo in every industry. People are encouraged to let their personalities shine, embrace their differences, and adopt rapid-response attitudes to help generate ideas.
Even though I grew up in the Bay Area within spitting distance of the start-up world, I didn’t consider myself tech-savvy and was determined to pursue a career in finance. I felt like finance was the intersection of politics, economics, and human emotion, and would be a great way to experience each.
With this goal in mind, I studied economics in college and, once I graduated, started working for Blackrock in corporate governance voting ballots at public company shareholder meetings during the heavy season (proxy season). It was a unique role that allowed me to work six months at a time, and spend the remainder of year obtaining my MBA and traveling. Earlier in college, I spent one incredible semester abroad in Spain, and developed a serious case of wanderlust. Over the next 8 years I traveled everywhere from Sri Lanka to Colombia, working in between my trips. Here are a few pics:
After my MBA and this period of traveling and working during proxy season, Blackrock hired me full-time as a LatAm iShares Associate. For the first two years, I loved my role. I worked for one of the most respected financial firms in the industry, with intelligent folks, and learned to refine my executive presence. As a LatAm Associate, I worked in both San Francisco and Latin America which allowed me to travel, enjoy exposure to different cultures and interact with the largest financial names in Latin America.
Despite all of this, I had a nagging feeling that I was climbing the wrong ladder. As I pictured the road ahead, I knew deep down that it wasn’t the work that I wanted to be doing. Ironically, through my travel in college and while working for Blackrock, I realized how much need there was in the world to improve people’s lives. I had friends who were therapists, artists, and entrepreneurs who were having a significant impact on the community through their work; something I suddenly felt I was missing.
It can be hard to make a difference within a large corporate enterprise, through layers of leadership entrenched beliefs. I wanted to work in a less restrictive atmosphere where my ideas were valued, and innovation was the norm. The start-up world has a reputation for being all of these things, and as I began exploring this space I discovered Fintech; companies that were focused on simplifying and improving people’s financial lives. It seemed like the perfect bridge between my finance background and my desire for a more impactful career.
As I continued to research Fintech, I was shocked to learn about the state of retirement in America. I read about a retired 79-year-old, who had returned to the workforce to work at Walmart; he’d been depending on a pension that was terminated right before he retired due to his prior employer’s cost-cutting efforts. I heard about employees of small businesses who paid excessive investment fees on their 401(k) plans, which left them with diminished retirement assets at age 65. It was hard to imagine my own parents in this position, let alone fathom that millions of people will be in the same spot because they don’t have access to affordable, easy to understand 401(k) plans. The overall gap between people’s savings and what they will need to meet their basic retirement needs is estimated at $6 trillion dollars.
This led me to discover ForUsAll, a company focused on fixing this precise problem. Their goal is to make retirement savings more affordable and easier to understand for employees of small to medium-sized businesses, and therefore make retirement more attainable for average Americans. I was invigorated by their mission, and it was clear that they were focused on solving a major societal issue.
I was also drawn to ForUsAll because of its small size, and my belief that I could have a role in driving the direction of the company. Prior to starting ForUsAll, the founders managed over $50 billion in assets for Fortune 500 company employees at Financial Engines, a Fintech company that they helped take public. When I interviewed with them, it was clear that despite their experience in the industry, they were looking for creative people who wanted a seat at the table when it came to shaping the company’s strategy.
In the last year, I’ve been promoted to Senior Retirement Consultant and I’m leading our client engagement efforts. I’ve seen my ideas come to life and the impact that they’ve had on our customers. Through consulting with customers, and offering more affordable and easy to understand 401(k) solutions, I’ve been able to help 18,000 employees get closer to retiring in comfort. Our team is a group of smart, highly motivated people who believe that collaboration across every role in the company is the key to success.
So far for me, Fintech has been the intersection of economics and human emotion, but also of the heart. I hope my journey inspires others in finance who are considering making the leap. And if you’re interested in fixing retirement in America, ForUsAll is hiring a ton this year. Check out our open opportunities here.
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- Start-Up Life: Why I Traded Wall Street for Fintech - January 25, 2018