I would love to see financial literacy be something that is baked into the curriculum for middle and high school students. It’s insane to me that in 8th grade I learned how to operate a jigsaw, but was never taught how to budget or invest my money.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Perry.
Katie Perry is VP of Marketing for Public.com, a social investing app on the mission to accelerate all people’s prosperity by making the public markets accessible to everyone. Prior to Public, she was VP of Corporate Strategy at Comscore. Before that, she ran her own consultancy advising early-stage startups on marketing strategy, and served as head of brand marketing for an agile market research company. Katie was also on the marketing team for 360i during a period of time in which the agency grew from 100 to 1,000 people and was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in the World.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the backstory about what brought you to the finance field?
I’m an outsider to finance, joining Public.com after building my career in corporate and brand strategy at agencies, startups, and eventually at a publically-traded media measurement company. What eventually drew me to Public was the mission of accelerating people’s prosperity by making the stock market more accessible.
I was fortunate in that parents got me into investing early in my 20s, but I always knew there was something missing from the existing platforms and experiences. Half of all U.S. millennials are not investing, and while there are surely broader economic forces at work — like student loan debt — you have to believe that a lot of this is can be attributed to a lack of accessibility.
Investing is one of those things that is innately complex, at times unnecessarily so. And so when Public’s co-CEO, who I had worked with before, explained what Public was up to, I couldn’t wait to join the team.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I graduated from college smack dab in the middle of the last financial crisis. In December of my senior year, I signed a contract to work as a PR associate for a large, buzzy retailer, with a start date set for August. As the spring semester rolled on, the economy worsened. In early summer, I read a few articles that the retailer was under economic stress. I reached out to the recruiter who I had been in touch with throughout the process and he assured me all was fine.
Then, in July, I spotted a Wall Street Journal article about how the company had gone bankrupt. I emailed the recruiter again and did not get a response. I called and there was no answer. It was a week until I finally heard back with confirmation that my job, along with all of the other jobs, had been eliminated.
So, I was back to square one. After that, I was offered two more jobs, only to find out that there were hiring freezes implemented before I could even start. Finally, I landed a job at a search marketing agency I had never heard of before in Feb. 2009. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, as the company was on the precipice of becoming one of the pioneers in digital marketing. I ended up meeting my mentor there and staying 5+ years. During that time we grew from 100 to 1,000 people and were even named one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies in the World.”
The experience taught me the value of tenacity and also helped me improve the story I was selling about myself to potential employers. A tougher hiring market meant I needed to up my game from cover letter to in-person interview, and these were skills I was able to build upon for future job searches.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Public.com, we just built a fun tool to help people better understand how long-term investing works. It’s called the Ticker Time Machine, and it’s a calculator that allows you to see how much an investment you didn’t make in the past would be worth today. Given the recent market volatility, it’s a helpful reminder that while the market will have ups and downs, the historical returns for the S&P 500 have been 10% on average.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’re a tech company that is all about connecting humans, and I love the interplay between those two things. On one hand, we have a sophisticated technology that makes real-time fractional investing possible (this means we slice stocks into tiny bits, so people can invest without purchasing an entire share). On the other hand, we have a best-in-class CX and community team that is focused on ensuring the people who use our app are getting the support they need and understanding how to leverage the social aspects of our app to connect with other investors and exchange ideas.
We also elevate transparency as a core principle. We always want to be straightforward with our community, and we even list out the ways our company makes money on our homepage.
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?
A big part of it is that people are seeing that diversity, across the board, is good for business. According to McKinsey, companies ranked in the top quartile when it comes to diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry median. Diversity has also been shown to improve a board’s performance, per the Harvard Business Review. So, a lot of people are waking up to the fact that aspiring for diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also one of the best things to do to strengthen your culture and your business.
Additionally, in the finance world and other male-dominated industries (like media and advertising, where I spent the majority of my career), a great deal of credit goes to the people who have been pushing this progress forward long before it was widely embraced.
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 can be done to support this movement going forward?
Proactively addressing unconscious bias is huge. I think there are many instances where people fall into a habit of pulling from their own networks (like college communities or past work affiliations) and that can reinforce homogeneity over time, even in the absence of malintent. There are fantastic communities that exist for helping connect companies to more diverse professional networks, including Girlboss, Tech Ladies, and Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), which focuses on financial services.
I am also a big believer in “measuring what matters,” because at the end of the day, if you’re not measuring something there is little keeping you accountable for improving or changing the situation. Pinterest has done a fantastic job, in my view, of being transparent about their diversity objectives and reporting out their progress.
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?
First, I would love to see financial literacy be something that is baked into the curriculum for middle and high school students. It’s insane to me that in 8th grade I learned how to operate a jigsaw, but was never taught how to budget or invest my money.
Second, I think there’s a lot that can be gained from getting these types of conversations out in the open. Part of the philosophy of Public is that when people can freely exchange ideas within an open community, then you create an environment in which people can learn together. Discussing money used to be taboo, but younger generations of people are much more transparent about financial topics because they understand that there are benefits to the collective wisdom gained through friends and trusted experts.
Third, historically, conversations about finance have resided with certain groups of people, and have felt inaccessible for others. Women, for example, invest 40% less than men on average. (Interestingly, when they do invest, their portfolios consistently earn higher returns!)
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?
My family is the greatest source of inspiration in my life, and I strive to emulate their respective superpowers. My dad is the most collected person under pressure I’ve ever seen, and when things get stressful I like to think what he would do. My mom has an amazing ability to connect and find common ground with everyone she meets. I have two brothers: I like to mimic one’s passion and infectious energy, and the other’s insatiable quest for knowledge. Finally, my younger sister is the most mentally tough person I know, and she will out-hustle anyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s a Dale Carnegie quote that goes, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.” This sentiment was recently echoed in a tweet by Andrew Yang, who I admire very much for what he built with Venture for America and now with his new project, called Move America Forward.
The concept here is one I try to keep top of mind when navigating challenges personally and professionally. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. And while are there things that happen to us outside of our control, the way we respond to and ultimately confront those challenges is what (I believe) define us as people.
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 grew up outside of a declining post-industrial city (Syracuse, New York). As I’ve grown older, I’ve lamented that all of my childhood friends and classmates have since left. In the U.S. we’ve seen a boom in economic opportunity in large metropolitan areas, with smaller communities left behind. I would like to see more programs built to help bring modern jobs to places outside of the large cities.
Additionally, I would like to see strengthened financial literacy across the board, with more people feeling empowered by taking control of their finances. At Public, we believe that a significant way to achieve this, specific to investing, is to get conversations about investing into the open and create a safe and transparent environment for exchanging ideas.
(By the way, if you want to try out Public’s social investing app and get started with a free slice of stock, you can sign up via my Public profile here.)