While there is plenty of quantitative study in schools, I’m always surprised that there aren’t required investment courses at the high school level. I would start by providing a required course on financial literacy that would cover everything from creating a budget to the basics of investing. At the high school level, students have the math skills necessary to grasp these topics and I think it would help set them up for success as they become increasingly financially independent in their late teens and early 20s. Additionally, I’m a huge fan of investing clubs where students get a chance to manage stocks themselves to get a real life taste of how powerful investing can be.
Asa part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Kwiatkowski, CFA. Caroline is currently the director of strategy at a $14B alternative asset manager. Caroline received her undergraduate degree in Commerce from the University of Virginia, graduating with distinction, and then went on to complete her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College while also earning her Chartered Financial Analyst designation. From there, she spent time working as an investment banker before moving to a private equity fund focused on buying emerging market microfinance banks. Four years later, she took a role at Northern Trust, where she held a strategy role in a recently acquired business, before moving into their Outsourced Chief Investment Office. She joined her current employer as the head of strategy in 2018.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Caroline! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Iwas always interested in business but didn’t figure out the banking/finance part until I was graduating college. Candidly, I thought women in business were supposed to be in marketing or HR roles and it took a professor at UVA to call out my quantitative skillset and encourage me to find a career that leveraged it. I’m forever grateful.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
As a young(ish!) female in finance, I’ve been mistaken as the receptionist on multiple occasions. The funniest was when a small group of men came to our office for a meeting and gave me some lip as I was walked through the reception area for not offering them coffee (they assumed I was neglecting my reception desk duties). It turned out the meeting they were there for was with me. That certainly shifted the energy in the room!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the most exciting parts about my day job is exploring the new geographies and investment adjacencies that we are pursuing. The eternal quest for alpha means that you are forever learning about the world and where investment opportunities are developing, then figuring out a way to participate in that opportunity. Recently, that has included opening an office in India and funding a joint venture with an insurance firm, to name a couple examples. Getting capital to the areas of the market where it can earn its best return it a critical function — our investors include endowments and foundations and public pensions, so providing excellent returns is critical to the funding of their charitable activities, for the former, and providing for retirees, in the latter.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company was founded by three individuals in the early 90s, two men and one woman. To have a female founder in finance generally is rare but in alternative investments, it’s especially rare. I believe the inclusive, meritocracy that was present at our founding is still alive and well today, carried on by the men and women who have worked there since. It makes for a culture where high performance is rewarded and employees are able to bring their whole selves to work.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
There has been a substantial effort to build the pipeline of diverse talent in the finance industry. You have to work “up the chain” to reach diverse high school and college kids, encouraging them to consider a career in finance and then helping prepare them to succeed by developing the necessary quantitative and qualitative skills sets. The core training ground, the major banks, have made a huge push to hire diverse talent from undergraduate programs, which is helping prepare the next generation of diverse leaders in finance. By investing in and preparing the pipeline of talent, you are beginning to see more diversity trickle down throughout the industry.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
- For individuals, I think supporting organizations that provide education opportunities to kids is key. I’d never push someone into finance just to be in finance, but I would want them to feel like it’s an option they’ve considered and would be prepared for if it was of interest. Providing more equal education opportunities for all is something we can all support.
- For companies, continuing to hire diverse talent, especially at the more junior levels to build the pipeline of talent. If you’re not investing in the next generation of talent now, it will be extremely difficult to increase diversity in the medium to long term.
- For society, continuing to address bias, whether unconscious or conscious, in the workplace. This can be done through increased awareness, training, and more broadly acknowledging the value of diversity. There are a multitude of studies showing that diverse teams earn higher IRRs than non-diverse — there truly is value in diversity in every sense of the word.
Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
While there is plenty of quantitative study in schools, I’m always surprised that there aren’t required investment courses at the high school level. I would start by providing a required course on financial literacy that would cover everything from creating a budget to the basics of investing. At the high school level, students have the math skills necessary to grasp these topics and I think it would help set them up for success as they become increasingly financially independent in their late teens and early 20s. Additionally, I’m a huge fan of investing clubs where students get a chance to manage stocks themselves to get a real life taste of how powerful investing can be. Overarching all of this is the change from defined benefit pensions that our parent’s generation enjoyed to defined contribution retirement that our generation will be responsible for creating. We have shifted the responsibility from the employer to the employee and yet I don’t think adjusted our education system to prepare kids for this eventuality.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to say my parents. Both were lifetime civil servants before retirement, working in a variety of government posts. While a far cry from the world of high finance, I saw that they loved their work, found great satisfaction in doing a job well, and weren’t driven by earning the highest dollar. Instilling a love of work not coupled with financial gain is one of the greatest gifts they gave me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My Christian faith is very important to me and there are many verses that pertain to servant leadership. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” is one that resonated from an early age. To me, it meant never losing sight in business that we’re all people, deserving of love and understanding from those around us. Being great isn’t about increasing yourself, it’s about increasing others.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I know this may seem terribly pragmatic, but I’m worried about the lack of financial literacy and the potentially disastrous impact it could have as people reach retirement age and realize the government and/or a life time employer aren’t going to provide them a pension. It is so hard to catch-up financially later in life so I’d love to create a “hip” movement around committed saving and investing for the younger generation.
Thank you for all of these great insights!