In the latest edition of our Between Two Fools interview series, Industry Focus host Jason Moser sits down with Ellevest CEO and co-founder Sallie Krawckeck. Then, Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, tells investors what they need to know about the latest Federal Reserve meeting and why bank stocks have been dropping ever since. Finally, you'll hear which two stocks are on our watchlists this week.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on March 25, 2019.
Jason Moser: Welcome to Industry Focus, the podcast that dives into a different sector of the stock market each day. It's Monday, March 25th, and that means we're talking Financials. I'm your host, Jason Moser, and on today's show, we're going to talk about the Fed's latest comments from last week, what that means for investors. We'll of course have One to Watch for you. But we begin today with a new installment of Between Two Fools.
Sallie Krawcheck is keeping busy these days. Among other things, she's the CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, a digital-first mission-driven investment platform for women. She's also the chair of the Ellevate network, a 135,000-strong global professional women's network. And, oh, yeah, she's also the best-selling author of Own It: The Power of Women at Work.
I recently got to sit down and speak with Sally about everything from her work as an analyst on Wall Street to the great thing she's doing today with Ellevest and The Ellevate Network.
Moser: OK, Sally, you went to University of North Carolina. You were a Morehead scholar there. You got your degree in journalism, which I think is really interesting. MBA from Columbia. Neat educational background there. I feel like this is a relevant question for you to start this interview. Do you feel like journalism today is in a better place or a more precarious one, given the explosion of social networking?
Sallie Krawcheck: Interesting question! As a producer or consumer of journalism today?
Moser: Well, I would say, let's look at it from the perspective of a producer first. If you're a journalist, where do you feel like the world stands today as opposed to 20 years ago?
Krawcheck: I'm not in the industry. I was a journalism major at UNC and then promptly dropped it the second I got out of school. I went to Wall Street instead. I always wanted to get back into media, [laughs] and couldn't get a job at Time magazine, etc, etc. So, I'm not in the industry today, so I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it, but, buuut, jeez, there are a lot of layoffs right now. I don't think I've ever seen an industry convulse the way the media industry is convulsing currently. While one thinks it is coming simply from the big, mature, traditional media companies that are being eaten alive by the New Age ones, in fact, we're seeing significant layoffs at the newer media companies, as well. Not that a career on Wall Street was ever easy, but every once in a while, I think, "You know, maybe I made a good choice."
Moser: [laughs] Yeah. I think it's also fair to say, from the consumer's perspective, it seems like there's a lot more responsibility on our shoulders as consumers to dig around and find the more valid takes in regard to journalism. I guess anybody with a blog essentially can call themselves a journalist it feels like these days, but that doesn't necessarily make what they're saying true.
Krawcheck: Yeah. It is an interesting time as a consumer because there's so much more of it. That is, there's an embarrassment of riches, and then there is the need for a critical eye. But it's very difficult as a consumer of media to know how to have that critical eye, particularly when these things scroll past you on Twitter (TWTR 2.57%). I find myself increasingly saying, "I read such and such and such and such." "Who published it?" "I don't know." How do you judge the quality of what you're reading? That's one thing.
The third perspective of it is, as a businessperson who has what she thinks, what I think, is an important message to get out. Back in the day, if I wanted to get that message out, OK, Wall Street Journal, New York Times (NYT 0.45%), Washington Post. If you're global, maybe The FT. One of the three networks, there you go. You'd try to get a reporter to report on it. That was really hard, to get their attention. You'd write an op-ed, and maybe it would get published, and maybe it would get published six weeks from now, and maybe you see a couple of comment letters later. Today, the ability to get an idea out is so much greater. At Ellevest, the company I co-founded and run, we are engaging with individuals on content every day in a way that just wasn't available to us even a handful of years ago.
Moser: Now, you mentioned your work as an analyst on Wall Street. I wanted to talk about that for a second. A lot of our listeners are investors. I personally am an analyst here with The Motley Fool, I've spent almost 10 years trying to hone that craft. Looking at your experience in the field, what was something that you did during your time as an analyst that you felt like gave you an edge?
Krawcheck: Worked really, really, really, really hard? [laughs]
Moser: [laughs] Yeah, that's acceptable.
Krawcheck: Refused to give up? Didn't let the down days affect me for too long, though I do remember having to go home one day, I was so upset about something, not getting a stock right or getting a piece of research wrong, and actually having to leave the office because I was just devastated by it. Then, picking myself up the next day and coming back in. I remember my director of research telling me early in my career, "It's big calls on big stocks. Big calls, big stocks." Find the two or three things that will make a stock go up or down a lot and be all over them. Spend your time where it matters. Some micro-cap stock, some detail isn't going to make or lose people a lot of money. Big calls, big stocks.
Moser: Very good point there. I've learned one thing at least as an analyst: It certainly makes you embrace the mistakes that you make, because those really are the best teachers at the end of the day.
Krawcheck: And, good news, you get to do it in public!
Moser: In front of everyone! [laughs]
Krawcheck: In front of everybody! [laughs] Amazing! What a great learning experience!
Moser: [laughs] It teaches one humility, I would guess too, right?
Krawcheck: Mm-hmm! [affirmative]
Moser: You mentioned Ellevest. I want to talk about Ellevest and The Ellevate Network. You're the co-founder and CEO of Ellevest. You're the chair at Ellevate. Tell our listeners, who may not be familiar with those names, what they are and why they're so important.
Krawcheck: Here's the underlying concepts behind both of them. It is to get more money in the hands of women. Typically, if we were in a group, I'd say, "OK, everybody, tell me all the bad things that happen when women have more money." And of course, the answer is, there's nothing bad that happens, only good things happen when women have more money for our families, for ourselves, for society, for the economy, for nonprofits. I could reel off all kinds of research about the ripple effects. But bottom line, good stuff.
Both of these businesses approach this in different ways. Ellevate Network is a professional women's network. Networking is the No. 1 unwritten rule of success in business. Women tend to figure it out later than men do. So, it really is a platform for women to connect with each other in order to help them advance at work. The results have been terrific.
The other business, of which I am a co-founder, is Ellevest. Ellevest is an investing platform for women. One might not think women need their own investing platform since, of course, money is gender-neutral. But the research tells us that the investing industry has fallen short when it comes to serving women for decades and decades, despite lots of women in investing initiatives. They've all missed the mark, A lot of money has been spent and wasted on it. Women keep the substantial majority of their money in cash, which means they haven't been earning the potential market returns that men have. So, we put in thousands of hours of research here at Ellevest into what is keeping women from investing.
By the way, it's nothing you think. It's not that women are risk-averse, it's not that women don't like math, it's not that women aren't great investors, it's not that women need more financial education, believe it or not. We've done a ton of research into the things that keep women from investing, any research into the things that motivate women to invest, which are much more around achieving their goals and achieving them with the least amount of risk, not outperforming the market and therefore wanting to have more risk. I could go through 37 other things, but suffice it to say that Ellevest is really the first initiative, and certainly the first business, that has been successful in truly engaging women in investing.
Moser: You mentioned risk-averse. I think that's a really interesting phrase. It makes me think of what you were talking about in your book. I want to jump into your book now here. You were talking about in the book, risk-aware vs. risk-averse. That's what made me think about that. I'm a father, I have two young daughters, they're 14 and going on 13. Given what I do for a living, it's been easy for me to teach them about investing. But the fact of the matter is, they are investors, they have portfolios themselves with 11 or 12 stocks.
Moser: They do have that awareness of being an owner of a stock and what comes with that. Risk-averse is such a misconception. I hate to ever see that label fly out there. I think you've done a good job of combating that in the book.
I want to talk a little bit about the book. Listen, I personally got a real kick out of reading it. I thought it was really well done. It's called Own It: The Power of Women at Work. The first thing that struck me in reading this is the title. Probably 99% of guys out there would look at the title and say, "Oh, that's not a book for me."
I would actually push back on that and say, "This is a book that probably every guy needs to read in order to get the perspective that they don't currently have." Hopefully you can give us a couple of nuggets here that will tempt some folks out there to go buy this book and read it.
Krawcheck: [laughs] Yeah, I've got it. I've got a feeling that not many of your male listeners are going to read it.
Moser: Well, I'm going to work hard to see if I can change that, how about that? Let's at least see if we can't tempt them. There was one part of the book I thought was really cool, "the best career advice no one is talking about: invest your money." Here at The Motley Fool, our biggest challenge is working with people to teach them about investing, getting them to invest, recognizing that the greater risk is not investing at all. So many people out there feel like the market is too risky. Given your time on Wall Street, given your time with Ellevest and Ellevate, what's the disconnect there? How can we combat that misconception?
Krawcheck: There's so much to talk about here. First of all, you mentioned risk awareness vs. risk aversion. Let's just tie that off. "What's the difference," listeners may be thinking. They sound alike. What we've found with women and investing is, it's not that they don't want to take risks. It's that they won't take risks they don't understand. And they will retreat if you start talking about risk as standard deviation -- the second you bring out the Sharpe ratio, they're out. "Oh, I'll go buy a book, I'll figure it out," or whatever, and then life gets in the way.
So, what we found at Ellevest is, women need to want to understand risk in plain English. How much money could I lose in a tough scenario or worst-case scenario? When you answer that for them, they are then willing to take on that risk, if they feel that's a risk that's appropriate for them. So, that's No. 1.
No. 2, the best career advice, to invest. The equity markets, you know better than anybody -- up, down, crash, up a lot, everybody thinks it's going down, it goes up, who knows? Trump gets elected, everybody stays up all night to talk about the market crash, and then it goes up. Nobody knows. Nobody knows. Warren Buffett doesn't know. Nobody knows.
That being said, the equity markets have increased on an annualized basis 9.5% since the late 1920s, including the crash of '29 and '87 and 2007, etc. So, putting money in and fighting the urge to look at it or do anything about it, even when things are tough, is important, and fighting the urge to think that you know whether the market is too high or too low, is going up or down. That's just a fool's game. Just a fool's game. We talk to women -- and everybody -- about keeping your money in cash vs. investing it, not all in the equity markets, diversified investment portfolio. Not investing it can cost you hundreds of thousands, for some people millions of dollars, over the course of their lives. Every day you wait tens of dollars, hundreds-plus dollars for an individual, all because we think we may have some insight, or we overweight a memory of 2007 and 2008. That really costs us. The other mental mistakes we tend to make is, we tend to think about investing as investing in equities only and watching that stock market like a fiend as opposed to taking a step back, diversify that investment portfolio, including in non-equity investments.
Moser: Yeah, I think that's a great point, the diversification part. It's funny, we get that question a lot, as an analyst, what's your best investment? It seems like my answer is always not stock-related. It tends to revolve more around time and something with my family at this point. So, yeah, I think it's being able to look at investing in a much bigger picture term can certainly help you understand the bigger-picture implications there.
In the book, it seems like, at least, you felt like it was a controversial position to take, but I actually agreed with it, to be honest with you, about women being put on company boards. It's not to say that you don't think women should be put on company boards. It seems to be that though companies think the answer is, "Well, let's put a woman on the board, and that will start to take care of this situation of getting women more involved in the workplace." I think that your position more was, that really isn't nearly enough at the end of the day, it's almost just lip service.
Krawcheck: Yeah, it's not even close. Not even close. In fact, I think it's almost the end of the sentence, rather than the beginning. So much attention is being paid to it. If we want to have a greater impact, if we could do one thing within companies, board vs. leadership team, put more women in leadership team because they can make the micro-decisions that affect individuals. A board can set policy. "Oh, we have this family leave." But if the boss within the company looks at you cross-eyed when you want to take that family leave, then you might as well not have the family leave. So, between management team and board, I go with management team all the time.
P.S., one thing we didn't mention is, I am a partial owner of the Pax Ellevate Global Leadership Fund -- whew, mouthful -- which invests in the top-rated companies for advancing women as determined by percent of the board that are women, percent of leadership team that are women. It's outperformed since we relaunched it, restructured it, four-plus years ago. When we look at the factors that have driven the outperformance, it's been more women in the leadership team than it has women on boards. So, that's No. 1.
That being said, take a big step back. If there was one thing I could do to help women advance in business, it would be for the United States of America to have a mandated paid maternity leave. We know that we are the only developed country in the world that does not. It's effing nuts. We are one of two countries in the world that do not. That's effing effing nuts, and just sort of cruel, quite honestly. We're the richest country in the world. We say we love mothers. We say we want the economy to grow. And yet we have no mandated paid family leave. No wonder we've seen a decline in the percent of women in the workforce over the past few decades, which hurts our economy, keeps us below the growth rate that we could achieve. All for the view that this is some unbearable expense, that we will have women out of the office for X number of weeks when they have babies. But wait, there's research from KPMG that shows that a family leave policy, specifically a maternity leave policy, pays for itself within a year because if you're giving a break to people when they have a newborn at home or a family event, they are more likely to return to work and, therefore the company doesn't have to pay to replace them and pay to train their replacement.
It's not an expense. It's an investment. Businesspeople, we would invest in anything that would pay back in a year all day long. Not even think about it. All day long. And yet, as a country, we have not managed to raise awareness of this issue or affect this change, which is just crazy to me. It's just crazy.
Moser: I could get behind that legislation, having seen what my wife went through having two children. Anybody who's been through that process understands how trying it is, how difficult it is. And then to see how they can play on the workplace, not fair in a lot of ways. Certainly, I think your use of the word investment there is a very good one. Companies that can look at the bigger picture, take the longer-term view, would view that as an investment, creating a lot of good will and a valuable employee and associate that would likely return a lot on that investment over the course of her lifetime with that company or even in another job that she takes.
Krawcheck: I'll take it even one step further. Ellevest, despite the fact we are a start-up and you think we just can't afford this, we actually think this is so important that we not only have paid maternity leave -- or, put more accurately, paid leave for the primary caregiver -- we also have it for the non-primary caregiver. It's 12 weeks for each. The reason that we do that is one, we want people to want to work here. We want to honor the family. And if you have the leave for just one gender -- the primary caregiver is typically female -- then you have a mommy track. But if you have it for both, then you can have a mommy track for your whole company. We think it's one of the reasons that Ellevest was recently named by LinkedIn as one of the most sought-after start-ups to work at, and the second most-sought after start-up in New York City to work at. So, again, we believe this is an investment, not an expense.
Moser: I can tell you, working at a place where, I think that general consensus here at The Motley Fool, a lot of people have worked here for a very long time -- I mentioned I've been here for over nine years -- we've got a very similar workplace in that just because there isn't a mandate out there doesn't mean that companies can't take it upon themselves to do things to create a better work environment. We definitely see the power of that playing out here, and it sounds like you're seeing it playing out there as well.
Let's think longer term. Let's look 10 years down the road. 10 years from now, where are Ellevate and Ellevest? What does success look like for you? Or are you even thinking in that context as a start-up?
Krawcheck: [laughs] No! As a start-up? Gosh, no! I'm thinking about how I can't sleep tonight because there's so much on my plate to be done that I need to pull an all-nighter like I haven't pulled since I was at UNC to get it done. Look, what I would say, and I hope you picked up on this, we're really very mission-driven. At Ellevest, we are venture capital backed. Our investors understand that we are, first and foremost, about, we call her Elle, who is our user. We are all about helping her become financially stronger -- not, of course, financially independent, but financially stronger. We're doing that through helping those who can invest, who are ready to invest, invest. We are also doing that for those who aren't through making an enormous investment in our content. We try to be as helpful to as many women as possible. Success for me is, are more women investing?
And, by the way, totally OK if they choose to invest with someone else. I'm going to prefer that they invest with Ellevest. But part of what we are doing, and that we're proud of, is that we started a conversation around the gender investing gap that simply wasn't there a handful of years ago. Every once in a while -- there was one company that came out with an initiative, and they used all of our words and all of our stats. I think they even use one of my jokes. I was irked for a minute. [laughs] Like, "Could you quote us, at least, or just mention us? Maybe a link to our website? Might be interesting?" But part of me said, that's OK. Actually you know an idea is taking hold when it goes away from you and other people are talking about it without referencing you. It's becoming part of the culture. So, for me, that's it, first and foremost.
Of course, we hope, on the heels of that, to build a valuable business, and believe that we are building a valuable business. It is always, though, first about the mission.
Moser: Yeah. Mission-driven is extremely powerful. I definitely picked up on that, no question.
You mentioned earlier one of your portfolios, a leadership portfolio that I think you're invested in. I wanted to bring up the idea of your impact portfolios for a minute because that is part of what you're doing, the impact portfolio, solving the problem that women feel underserved by the investment options that are out there today. I know it's early in the game. You have a number of these impact portfolios. How are your investors responding to them? It seems like the returns are going pretty well. Do investors seem like they're responding positively as well?
Krawcheck: They asked for it. Here's another place where the traditional investing industry has not served women well. It depends on which research study it is, but in some research, 86% of women say they are at least interested in learning about impact investing. Just a single-digit percentage of financial advisors have ever even spoken to them about it. From my experience -- and I have some good experience in the industry -- so many folks are caught in 1997 of, impact investing by definition means giving up returns. It just isn't any longer true, in my opinion, or from the research that I've seen, more strongly than my opinion.
When we were doing the research, women were all about this, all about the option of it, and all about wanting to at least learn about it, which isn't surprising. The research also tells us that the No. 1 reason that women accept a new job is mission. They don't want to be paid less. Money is important. They don't want to accept less money for it. But they really think about mission. Whereas for men, it tends to be more about the money, how much you can learn, and who you're going to work with. I think this idea of women as multi-taskers, which we all know exists in our society, really bleeds over into what they look for in their work and what they look for in their investments.
So, for us, what's been a lot of fun is, a part of our impact is not just super important, investing in things that are good for the environment or good for society. We also have a gender lens aspect to impact investing. "Hold on, hold on!" you might say, "Gender lens impact?" Well, let's back up to what touched on a while ago. When you put more money in the hands of women, when you are providing them with business loans, when you are investing in their companies and they build well, there's a positive trickle effect into their family, their daughters are likely to earn more, they give more, they donate more of their money to nonprofits. We've all heard the statistics around women putting the majority of their wealth, say 90%-plus, back into their community. So, gender lens investing can actually be impact investing as well.
The final thing I would note is, you and I talked earlier about diversifying. When we talk about diversifying, we're always talking about, "You should have bonds and real estate. Don't just be in the U.S., you should be in emerging markets. You shouldn't just be large-cap, you should be small-cap." Except, if you think about it, the one place we're not diversifying is one of the most fundamental differences: we're investing mostly in men. We love men, right? Men are great! I'm married to a man. I mean, they're amazing! And, we invest in companies mostly run by men, despite, again, the research that tells us that diversity of leadership teams, etc, drives superior performance. So, if that's the case, then it only makes logical sense that you don't want all your money going to men, you want to diversify to investments going to women as well.
Moser: Makes perfect sense to me. Listen, I want to be respectful of your time. We're going to wrap this up. I love to wrap up my interviews with a book recommendation. We love to read; our listeners love to read. I'm going to ask you for a book recommendation, and you cannot cheat, because I feel like I've already recommended your book. No cheating, you can't recommend Own It. But, in all seriousness, is there a book that you've read recently, one that you feel like our listeners might enjoy?
Krawcheck: Yeah. We're going to go back, we're going to go a little feminist here. To your point, for everyone to better understand some of the gender wars that are going on in our country right now, which we saw with the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and to try to understand both sides of it, a book I would highly recommend is Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger by Rebecca Traister, who's at New York Magazine. You may or may not agree with any or all of it. But for me, who considers myself to be a feminist, it was an eye-opener and I learned a ton. So, for those individuals who are listening who might be more of feminists with a lowercase f as opposed to an uppercase F, or who still think of feminism as being a synonym for radicalism, in order to stretch your mind a bit, I really would recommend reading this. I'd read it before I read my book.
Moser: You said a key phrase, I think, that really brings it all home, and it's understanding both sides. At the end of the day, that's what it's really all about. Keep an open mind, understand both sides. You can only get better from that.
With that, Sally, I'm going to let you get back to changing the world. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today! This was a real treat for me! I thank you and wish you all the best with Ellevest, Ellevate, and everything else you're doing!
Krawcheck: Great! Thanks for having me! I really appreciate it! Take care!
Moser: Joining me in the studio now via Skype is certified financial planner, Matt Frankel. Matt, how's everything going?
Matt Frankel: It's 80 and sunny right here. I really can't complain at all.
Moser: [laughs] Spring is in the air! Yeah, it's getting a little bit nicer here, too. A little bit nicer here. Looking forward to at least some spring before summer hits.
OK, at the top of the show, I mentioned last week, the Fed offered some more insight as to how they're viewing the economy, things they're focused on and whatnot. What do investors need to know about the Fed's latest comments?
Frankel: As expected, the Fed didn't change interest rates at all. But they did make some other significant changes, specifically to their future projections. The Fed was previously expecting to raise rates twice this year. My bold prediction was for three times, so I was completely off. I was right on some of my predictions that I made on our New Year's episode, but this is not one of them.
Moser: It was a bold prediction, so we're going to cut you some slack.
Frankel: It was. And technically, it could still happen.
Moser: Yeah, you're right.
Frankel: The Fed now is not expecting to raise rates at all this year and just one time next year. It sounds on the surface like a good thing for investors, but you have to look at the reasons behind it. If you read the language in the Fed statement -- the Fed statement, if you're not familiar, is one of the most dissected and overanalyzed documents in the world. They change a word, and the market could go nuts. This time, that's kind of what happened. They put in there that the growth of economic activity has slowed from its solid rate. That is not what a lot of investors, particularly bank investors, wanted to hear. Bank stocks are down about 10% since the meeting. It's been by far the worst-performing sector of the market.
A couple of reasons. One, yields dropped. Bank profits can tend to go down when yields go down. Banks want higher interest rates in terms of profitability. Not only that, but banks thrive in good economies. When economies are strong, consumers are borrowing money, they're making their payments on time, they have money to put in savings accounts, things like that. When the economy gets weaker, all those revenue streams and revenue drivers for banks tend to suffer. And that's what it seems like the market's anticipating right now.
Just to run through a few of the numbers briefly. The Fed sees inflation a little bit slower than it previously did. It sees unemployment actually ticking up from where it previously saw unemployment. GDP growth, they were projecting 2.3% in 2019. Now, they're projecting 2.1%. Generally speaking, the Fed sees things a little bit weaker than it did before, and it's giving bank investors especially a reason to take a step back and see what the next step is.
Moser: Gotcha. I was going to ask you, what's the next action here for investors? What should investors take away from all of this? But, you know what, I have an idea that maybe your advice here is going to lead into your One to Watch this week. I'm going to go ahead and ask you now, as we go into giving our listeners One to Watch for the coming week, what is your One to Watch?
Frankel: I am looking at my favorite big-bank stock, Bank of America (BAC -1.50%). It's been a staple of my portfolio for a long time. I've really just been waiting for a chance to add more because it's been doing so well over the past couple of years. This little [dip] -- like I said, a little over 10% over the past week -- has given me a reason to look at it again. I think, yes, the Fed statement does give us a little bit of caution; I don't think the bank is worth 10% less than it was a week ago. I think the selling has been a little overdone, and that one's on my radar, especially if it continues to go down.
Moser: Yeah. I noticed a question on our Industry Focus Twitter feed about banks feeling the pinch. Really, it's not any one bank. The sector on the whole, after this news came out, it's been a little bit of a tough go about it. But as we've talked about on shows before, higher interest rate environments mean these banks can make a little bit more money. When interest rates are staying pat, that means we're going to prolong that path to more profitability. So, it makes sense, but given the way we invest here, I like that call. I like your long-term thinking there.
I am going to go with Markel (MKL -1.57%). We talk about Markel every so often on the show here, the insurer. Every time I see Markel creeping back, I wonder if I shouldn't add a few shares. But a couple of things I think worth noting. Their shareholder letter came out recently. We'll tweet a link out to that on the Twitter feed because I really do think investors all would benefit from reading their shareholder letter. It's a good read for a lot of reasons. But I think there's a segment in there this year on insurance-linked securities that's a really good one. It gives, I think, investors in the company a better understanding of what they are and why Markel is entering that market. Also, you read that letter, and I tell you, you walk out feeling really good being an owner of those shares. Truly one of those companies I hope to still hold 20 years from now.
With that said, Matt, thanks for taking the time out to join us today! Appreciate it!
Frankel: Of course! Anytime!
Moser: We'll look forward to next week. As always, people on the program may have interest in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Today's show was produced by Austin Morgan. For Matt Frankel and Sallie Krawcheck, I'm Jason Moser. Thanks for listening! And we'll see you next week!