Stop focusing on women as the solution. Women are graduating from college and business school at much higher rates than men. They are eminently qualified. We need to stop putting all the responsibility on women’s shoulders. Instead, we need to focus on what men should do. Men need to be held accountable for changing cultural norms. Men need to take paternity leave to help destigmatize taking time off and put an end to the so-called mommy track. Men need to speak up and speak out on behalf of women.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Tescher, President & CEO of the Financial Health Network.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Growing up, I was motivated by a combination of curiosity about the world around me and a passion for social justice. I started my career in journalism as a way of combining those two interests, but I quickly realized that I didn’t want to just write about issues of inequality; I wanted to do something about it. I had never envisioned myself entering the banking field, but a graduate degree in public policy led me to an internship at ShoreBank, the nation’s first bank created to make money as a result of the financial success of its customers and communities. I was so taken with the business model that, after eight years there, I wanted the rest of the financial services industry to learn from it. I started the Financial Health Network (then called the Center for Financial Services Innovation) in 2004 and have since worked with hundreds of leaders across financial services and beyond to establish the field and practice of financial health.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that happened to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I had many different jobs and internships during grad school as I tried to figure out other ways to channel my energies beyond journalism. Nothing quite stuck. I was ultimately offered a research job with a local firm after graduation, and I was given a week to respond. On the day my response was due, the firm left a message on my voicemail machine rescinding the offer, leaving me with no other job prospects. That led me to inquire about a full-time job at ShoreBank, where I had been an intern for a few months — and the rest is history. While painful, the experience of having a “sure thing” turn out to be not so sure was a great lesson in the value of being nimble and flexible. Sometimes, what seems like the right path is a dead-end. That’s life. It’s how we react when we find ourselves staring at a dead-end that matters.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people? This is an incredible time to be in the field of financial health. And frankly, it’s exciting because it’s not just about financial services. Financial health cuts across a range of sectors, and in the last year or two we have come to appreciate just how many companies have a critical stake in the financial lives of their customers, employees and communities. We are hearing from employers focused on the financial health of their workforce, hospitals focused on the financial health of their patients, universities focused on the financial health of their students. What these industries all have in common is that they understand the importance of measuring the financial health of their stakeholders in order to diagnose the challenges, design solutions in response, and understand whether the fixes are really working.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The Financial Health Network is a unique resource for industry leaders who are committed to improving financial health. We run a membership organization, but we are not a trade group. We invest in early-stage tech startups, but we are not a venture fund. We advise, but we are not a consultancy. We produce research, but we are not a think tank. We stand up a competitive and compelling proposition, where the sum of our capabilities far outweighs the individual parts. It has resulted in the development of an incredibly dynamic ecosystem of business leaders, policymakers, innovators, and academics who are developing ways to work together for the common goal of improved financial health.
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?
I honestly don’t think it has changed much at all. There may be slightly more women at higher levels of large companies, but the absence of female CEOs is a stark reminder that we have a long way to go. It’s a vicious cycle in that I believe it’s culture that got us here, and yet without women in the driver’s seat it is less likely Wall Street will develop the culture it needs to cultivate and embrace more women leaders. Silicon Valley has largely adopted much of the same culture, and that’s a huge issue for the long-term development of female leaders and influencers in yet another critical arena.
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?
I can tell you what I think we should stop doing: Stop focusing on women as the solution. Women are graduating from college and business school at much higher rates than men. They are eminently qualified. We need to stop putting all the responsibility on women’s shoulders. Instead, we need to focus on what men should do. Men need to be held accountable for changing cultural norms. Men need to take paternity leave to help destigmatize taking time off and put an end to the so-called mommy track. Men need to speak up and speak out on behalf of women.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
Spend a day in someone else’s financial shoes, someone with fewer resources than you. The less money one has, the better a manager one has to be to make the money stretch to the end of the month. Not only will you learn a lot, you will realize how much you take for granted when you have a financial cushion to fall back on. Beyond that, know what you don’t know and hire someone you trust to guide you in making smart money decisions. I have two graduate degrees, and I still hire a lawyer when I buy a house and use a financial planner to help manage my money.
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?
In my experience, there is often a great man behind a great woman. In my case, my husband, Jonathan Eig, is that great man. He is extremely successful in his own right as a journalist and biographer. He is my greatest fan. He is a true parenting partner. And he makes our family’s life work given how much I’m on the road.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes, by Leonardo da Vinci, hangs on my bulletin board at work: “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” With the exception of my first job as a reporter at the Charlotte Observer, I have created or heavily shaped every professional role I’ve ever had. No one sends out invitations to fight injustice in the world. You just have to make it happen.
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. 🙂
Financial health is that movement! When you ask people to talk about their financial lives, they end up talking about their lives because the two are so deeply intertwined. When nearly 40% of people in America can’t come up with $400 in an emergency without borrowing or selling something, that’s a crisis. In a country where consumer spending accounts for 70% of GDP, business leaders have a stake in working to improve financial health in this country. So let’s get to it!
Thank you for all of these great insights!