When it comes to gender equality, few playing fields are as notoriously imbalanced than the personal finance industry. While there has been some encouraging progress made and better recognition of the issue in recent years, dispelling the misconception that men are just somehow innately better at understanding and managing money than women is still going to be an uphill battle.
A key component in reversing that notion is by empowering women, both on the institutional front as well as at the retail level, to take a more active role in making financial decisions—especially when it comes to their own investment portfolios. That’s the whole idea behind DyMynd. Founded by veteran trader and investor Carolyn Leonard, experienced venture capitalist Tomer Yogev and Chief Strategy Officer Monika Black, PhD, DyMynd’s vision is to revolutionize the financial industry by helping women to feel financially empowered.
Equities.com contributor Silvia Davi had the opportunity to catch up with Leonard to discuss financial empowerment, overcoming historical challenges and social gender investing norms, as well as DyMynd’s unique approach to the market.
Carolyn Leonard, CEO & Co-Founder, DyMynd
EQ: After years of being a successful trader on the floor of the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), you founded DyMynd to focus on financial empowerment. Can you explain why you started this new venture?
Leonard: The idea for DyMynd came about after the 2008 meltdown in the market when my girlfriends would bring their boxes of statements from brokerage firms to my house to review. They had many different accounts with numerous firms because they didn’t have a trusted advisor. They would be introduced to an advisor by a friend, and after a couple of meetings, they would decide that this wasn’t the person for them. But they had already set up an account and invested a lump sum, which wasn’t doing badly, so they let their money sit with that advisor.
They were busy and they weren’t paying attention so long as the market was trading within a range. When the investment landscape changed in 2008, they were down about 50% in the various accounts because they had the same asset allocation and risk profile with different products, ETFs or mutual funds with all the different advisors. They had about $3.5 million in investible assets in 2007 with most accounts having between $300,000 to $500,000. By the end of 2008, they were down about $1.5 million. I began to understand the difficulty women were having finding a trusted advisor. In most instances, they felt they were not being listened to, were talked down to and not valued as clients.
EQ: As the only female trader at the CBOE for a number of years, what skills did you learn and how are you leveraging your background to guide women on better managing their money and financial future?
Leonard: As an independent female market maker, I was often the only woman actively trading every day from opening bell to closing bell in the pits. I learned that there are many different investment strategies or trading styles, and different ways of thinking about money. It’s important to understand your own money style. For instance, my money style is as an “asset manager”. I learned that by investing my money as a trader, I could grow my account. Money was the seed, so to speak, which allowed me to grow my trading account.
I needed to tend to and carefully monitor the trading landscape and nurture my trading investments. DyMynd is working to build women’s confidence as their own CFOs and to better understand their money style. We are helping women understand how many financial decisions they are making every day and [understand] that they know MONEY! Since women live longer than men, they need to save more to last longer and take more risk to insure their future.
EQ: What are some of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to women and money?
Leonard: My experience as a trader made me keenly aware of risk. I think the industry believes that a woman can’t handle risk, and it is wrong! I believe women are put in less risky, and therefore less potentially profitable portfolios, because it is assumed that they are more risk averse. I believe that women who understand the product and what it is supposed to do would make the same decision as men–sometimes maybe even better decisions. Women are more cautious because they feel they don’t have a good enough understanding of the investments being offered. This is why the work we do at DyMynd is so important.
EQ: Are you solely working with women? Who are yours customer and what are your most popular solutions?
Leonard: We believe “diversity done well” benefits all, so we do work with male financial advisors as well as female financial advisors. However, for now, we are working with the female clients of FAs. We also provide men and women advisor training to help advisors understand the conversation that their female clients want to have. We spent a year holding our Money & Merlot and Dough & Donuts roundtable discussion groups with women 25-78 years of age to understand what “she” is looking for in a relationship with an FA and the institution. DyMynd’s most popular solutions are Money is Always In Style because we know it is, and I Am My Own CFO. Our programming builds on one another so that a woman can feel more confident and comfortable with her financial decisions.
EQ: Options trading can be intimidating to many and, as a result, you designed an educational course called All Women Want Options. Can you explain the format and key outcomes?
Leonard: I love options! I mean all options, not just the derivatives traded on exchanges. We know from the DyMynd research that women fear out-living their money, no matter how much they have. Option strategies offer a woman who owns individual stocks the ability to “write calls” on the stock to generate additional income. If she employs that strategy, she can boost her returns by several percentage points over a year. In today’s low interest rate environment, the covered call can be a girl’s good friend. Also, portfolio protections–like any insurance–can help us sleep at night. Women who are using options feel that they are informed, educated, sophisticated investors and that they are employing strategies that, although there may be risk, it is tolerable.
EQ: Lastly, what does Women’s Month mean to you?
Leonard: Women’s Month means a lot to me! Finally, women who have contributed to society are being recognized after years of being ignored for their achievements. Now, if we could get EQUAL PAY, I would be celebrating.