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Meet the badass woman taking on the male-dominated industry of Wall Street

It’s no secret that Americans love numbers. You watch any sports game and you are guaranteed to observe commentators and analysts running through an extensive list of stats, agonizing over every number and detail, with a Draftkings ad punctuating the commercial breaks.

Likewise, when many of you turned on your television set or opened up your laptop to weigh in on the live results of this year’s midterm elections, the energy was analogous to a nail-biting sports game — each electoral vote seeming like a point guard just sunk that much-needed three-pointer to close the margin.

In addition, we are told to vigilantly watch the stock market. When stocks fluctuate and drop, we will see news headlines scream “DOW PLUNGES 600 POINTS” accompanied by the image of an animated, cartoon-like and distressed stock trader on the floor of NYSE. Then in a matter of days, the points rise and the panic of the economy reverting back to 2008 recedes, and life goes on until that same news headline resurfaces.

While the world of finance figures itself as devoid of emotion, as Priya Malani, the founder of financial planning company Stash Wealth stated in our interview last week,

“Money is very emotional. The way people treat their money, value their money, use their money, don’t use their money, is a very emotional experience. It is not always rational.”

Malani’s astute observation was gained during the early years of her financial career at Merrill Lynch. Admittedly, entering the Financial Services Industry was not a calculated career move for Malani.

In speaking to Kulture Hub, Malani described that she fell into the world of finance, as her college internship at the big-name bank ultimately turned into a full-time position.

Nonetheless, her time at Merrill Lynch provided a fertile training ground where she learned the mechanics of finance, wealth management, investing, how to work within a team and navigate a heavily male-dominated industry.

Recounting her time at Merrill Lynch, Malani commented,

“I was very lucky in that my first job I was working for two very intelligent men with low to no egos. One had been at the firm for 43 years, the other had been at the firm for 3 years. That was the team I was learning from. I was getting experience from someone who was a legacy, who had been in the industry for decades and decades, and a newbie. I actually attribute that dynamic and that juxtaposition to Stash, because we bridge old school and new school in serving millennials.”

In short, she learned what to do, and what not to do.

It was during her time at Merrill Lynch that Malani also identified how the Financial Services Industry was bypassing an entire generation; millennials. Plus, even if the big banks did express interest in working with millennials, Malani described how she knew their concepts wouldn’t resonate because Wall Street didn’t understand the needs of the demographic.

Recognizing the need to cater to her underserved demographic, Priya Malani left Merrill Lynch in 2009, to start Stash Wealth.

In the years between leaving her Wall Street and founding Stash, Malani dedicated her time to researching, figuring out logistics, and determining the appropriate infrastructure to configure the company. At the same time, she was committed to offering a financial planning service to 20 and 30-something-year olds that went beyond creating an app or a computer program.

Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Girlboss Media)

Citing the rise of Fintech in our interview, Malani described how she and co-founder Rob Kovalesky (who joined Stash full-time in 2016), wanted millennials to have access to the white glove service that is only available to the ultra-rich and elite,

“We didn’t just want to build some technology. We wanted Stash to be a place for millennials to go to be able to talk to real humans and be treated with the respect, the time, and the attention, that the really really rich people on Wall Street get. We always say at Stash, we treat our clients like they are millionaires, before they are millionaires, because they are the future millionaires.”

These clients Malani describes are, H.E.N.R.Y.s™ (High Earners, Not Rich Yet). In other words, 20 and 30 something-year-olds who earn good money but don’t quite have something to show for it.

When I asked Malani what the biggest challenges millennials encounter in trying to achieve the lifestyle they want, she said,

“We always joke at Stash, that it is our job to protect you from being your own worst enemy. We want our boozy brunch, avocado toast, rosé frozé, Soul Cycle, Uber lifestyle. We [Stash] are not going to ignore that. But Millennials simply don’t realise the power they have by starting to get their financial shit together, now. The sooner you get your financial shit together, the less you will have to compromise.”

Malani described how another challenge she has identified is changing people’s mindset around financial planning,

“I think a lot of people approach financial planning and are like “I don’t want to do that, they are just going to tell me what I can’t do, I shouldn’t buy a latte. I always tell my team to remind clients, financial planning is not about telling you what you can’t do. It’s about showing you how much more you can do when you get your shit together.”

Admitting that the world of investing has come along way from old-school investment products (often limited to stocks and bond), Malani noted how today, Wall Street can sell people a slew of products from mutual funds to insurance products, annuities, and more; all of which have high commission rates embedded within them.

Reorienting young people’s thinking around investing has proven to be a difficult venture, as Malani claimed,

“When it comes to investing, Wall Street has really fucked up the message, they treat and talk about investing as if it is gambling, and it is not. Investing is a way for your money to grow over time, not overnight. But they want you to sell in and out of stocks because that’s how they earn their commission.”

When I asked Malani what she thinks accounts for the success of the kind of speculative economy that has developed recently, she says,

“Think about it. Buying Bitcoin, Tesla or Amazon stocks are sexy. That’s what the attraction is. Sex sells. It so much fun to go in and be like “Oh yeah I just won a couple of thousand dollars buying bitcoin.” No one wants to be like, “yeah I have a diversified portfolio, I’m ignoring it for fifteen years and in fifteen years it’s going to do what I need it to do.”

Like me, you may be wondering, so what does it mean to be money-savvy right now? So given that I was in the presence of a financial planner, I asked Malani and she replied,

“You shouldn’t budget. You should automate your financial life. You should know what your goals are, even if you don’t have you entire life figured it, it’s okay because no one does, it’s going to change. You should have a sense like, “yeah I wanna spend $3500 on a vacation every year” and automate that shit. And whatever is left in your checking out, is yours to blow; guilt free.  At Stash we are anti-budget. We call what we do the reverse-budget. Save first, blow the rest.”

On her advice for entrepreneurs like herself, she emphasized the need to build a strong personal financial base before starting a business, stating,

“The pain point for most entrepreneurs is that they get obsessed with their business and often their personal financial life falls to the wayside. We all know the statistics around startups and entrepreneurship, in that most businesses do not make it past 5 years. At Stash, we really help people create a roadmap for themselves, so they have a solid personal financial foundation and then we help them on the business side — figuring out what kind of structure they should have, how they can be efficient with taxes, figuring out how to pay yourself a predictable income etc. Most entrepreneurs are like, “I got a contract here, a couple of hundred dollars coming in here…” but how do you know what you afford in rent if your money is not consistent?”

In addition to running Stash, Malani provides her expertise on a number of publishing platforms. She serves as the resident financial expert for Refinery29 and is a featured expert on numerous sites including Girlboss, Brides, SHAPE, Bustle, PureWow, Gawker, The Coveteur, Cheddar, CNBC, and Forbes.

Plus, Malani has done speaking engagements for businesses and universities around the country and has been invited to speak at Cornell, Harvard, New York University, Yelp, Twitter, Cole Haan, IBM, Blue Apron, Ernst and Young, Vox Media and more. She also appears regularly as a Millennial Money Expert on SiriusXM.

Evidently, one of many things that are so admirable about Malani is that she isn’t trying to confuse her clients, readers, or listeners with financial jargon. Malani and her team at Stash approach things from a lifestyle perspective.

Cutting straight to the point, Malani and her team insist that people should stop watching the stock market, stop spending and throwing away money they don’t have. Instead, people should make thoughtful moves to manage their wealth and get their financial life in order because in the long run you will be more successful and won’t have to compromise later on.