You shouldn’t fix your car yourself; you also shouldn’t pick your stocks yourself. There is a reason the professionals go to school and have the certifications they do. Use them and their knowledge to help you and your wealth grow. Advisors also have access to platforms, like RobustWealth, that the individual investor cannot get on their own. Take advantage of this.
Asa part of my series about The 5 Essentials of Smart Investing, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Kerins, CFA, FRM. Mike is the Founder and CEO of RobustWealth®, an innovative fintech company and B2B digital wealth management platform headquartered in Lambertville, NJ. Prior to RobustWealth, Mike spent eight years at a large asset management firm, where he managed an investment team overseeing a global portfolio of assets equaling $40 billion. He also served as head of asset class research and has expertise spanning strategic and tactical asset allocation, portfolio construction, target-date strategies and liquid alternatives.
Thank you for doing this with us! Our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?
Ever since I was a child, I have always had a passion for math and numbers. I got into coding because I loved to build and create things. As I got older, I found that I was also fascinated with how the allocation of capital tied back to work. Whether you’re an investor or a business manager, you’re responsible for allocating work to employees and by doing so, you’re allocating capital. It wasn’t really a surprise when I pursued a dual degree from the University of Colorado Boulder in finance and chemical engineering.
Early on in my career, I spent two summers working on the floor of a pharmaceutical facility running a roller compactor. I was in a room for 10 hours each day running machinery, so when thinking about my love for analytics, finance seemed a lot more fun in comparison.
Soon thereafter, I started working for Stephanie Luedke at Fiduciary Trust Company. Stephanie was extremely influential in developing my love for finance. She taught me a ton and helped me establish my footing as a new analyst. From there, I landed a role at a large asset manager where I managed an investment team overseeing a global portfolio of assets equaling $40 billion. I also served as head of asset class research. There, I had the opportunity to learn from another terrific boss, Tom Nelson. Tom helped grow my understanding of multi-asset investing, always supported my crazy ideas and pushed me to grow my career. When you have a great boss, it really sets you up for success. Stephanie and Tom were both growing with their respective companies and trusted me to help them and the businesses grow as well. They both made a huge impact on my early career and continue to be a source of inspiration for me.
My time at a private bank really helped me see the need for a platform like the one RobustWealth offers. Building asset allocation models and working with the portfolio managers helped me understand the inefficiencies that come with managing portfolios manually versus automatically. We did customized investing for large institutions with lots of money, but we put retail investors into non-customized mutual funds. I believe that technology opens the door to endless possibilities for customizing investments for all people based on their needs and goals. Those observations sparked the idea to found RobustWealth.
It’ll come as no surprise that I’ve always had the entrepreneurial itch. Since I was in high school, I remember wanting to start my own company. In 2015, the timing was perfect to do so. I had experience from my position at the large asset management firm. My third child was on the way, and I decided it was now or never to go out on my own. I started RobustWealth with the mission to help people live their best financial lives. The first three years were beyond difficult. I lived, breathed, and sweated RobustWealth. There were times where I wasn’t sure if my idea had legs and people thought I was crazy for leaving a big company, but it was the best risk I ever took.
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?
I realized early on while working at a private bank that none of the folks I was working with knew how to write code on the investment team. I also noticed that the industry was lacking a solid private wealth projection tool for financial planning needs. I knew that if I could write code to make processes more efficient, then I could accomplish the work of multiple people at once. That’s what I did. I went and wrote the code by myself to create the tool. Everyone on the sales team started to use the tool, and I was able to double my salary through bonuses from the growing sales. I was both the product lead and the developer for that wealth projection tool that was in use for 8 years at that bank.
Through that experience, I learned that if you build it, people will come. You must find opportunities in your career to capitalize on your strengths. Contribute where no one else can, or where no one else is willing to put in the work, and you will make yourself invaluable.
I worked a ton of hours in the first 10 years of my career and, oftentimes, well over 16 hours a day with six-day workweeks. Around this time, I was pursuing my CFA and FRM while also raising two kids with one on the way. This hard work contributed to my success but also came with some sacrifices.
Working a ton when no one else was added sweat equity to my career that paid dividends down the road. As an entrepreneur, I now have more flexibility to spend time with my family and incorporate the activities I love into my day-to-day routine.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Through our relationship with Principal Financial Group, we have a real opportunity to do something big. We’re striving to help people manage their entire financial life in one place. In the next year, our platform will be moving to incorporate 401(k) plans into wealth advice. By building this one-stop platform, we have the potential to make it easier than ever for people to manage their finances and achieve their personal goals.
What’s happening in financial services is similar to what’s happened in retail: mass consolidation and customization. The fact that I have the opportunity to come to work every day and help financial advisors consolidate their workflow and deliver more value to clients is huge.
On the consumer side, technology is enabling financial services to become truly customized where investments reflect an individual’s personal preferences. In simple terms, an investor shouldn’t have to invest their money into a certain business just because it is part of a particular model portfolio. For example, if an investor is concerned about climate change, technology is making it possible for that person to invest only in companies that are working to protect the environment. We’re excited to work in tandem with Principal to make products like this a reality for all investors.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. 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?
The problem isn’t that Americans are undereducated. The problem exists in how the financial services industry is creating its offerings. These companies tend to make products and services way more complex than they need to be. When this happens, people don’t understand what they’re buying and, ultimately, they never make managing and understanding their finances a priority.
As professionals, we can’t possibly expect the average person to understand what to do with an investment portfolio. Most people can’t fix the engine in their car without the help of a mechanic, so why do we expect them to manage their finances by themselves? We need to stop delivering tools in bits and pieces and start delivering real solutions in simple terms.
This is exactly what RobustWealth seeks to do. Our goal is to consolidate all aspects of a person’s financial life into one platform. By doing so, we take the burden of implementation off the investors, so they can focus more on managing their finances to meet their goals. These goals include when they’d like to retire and whether they’d like to help pay for their children’s college education.
One project we’re developing with Principal that we’re really excited about focuses on simplifying the language in the finance industry and making it more relatable to the average investor. Rather than seeing terms like “Roth IRA” or “529 plan,” people will see language like “Save for Retirement” or “Save for College.” Money can be a taboo topic, but we as an industry need to do a better job of starting the conversation and speaking in terms that make sense for the consumer.
If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
1. Simplify financial products and services that will help people reach their goals. Fueling confusion with complex offerings only makes personal finance less approachable and scarier.
2. Educate consumers on the importance of having a financial plan. The best way to achieve a goal is to clearly define it and make it visible.
3. Make key financial information available front-and-center. It’s hard to stick to a plan without easy-to-use, digestible information. Understanding progress and the steps needed to improve can help provide peace of mind, so people can live their best financial lives.
Ok, thank you! Now to the main question of our interview: You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 nonintuitive essentials for smart investing, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
1. Always contribute to and match your 401(k) — It’s free money you’re leaving on the table if you don’t. Your future self will thank you!
2. As you earn more, don’t spend it — It’s easy for young professionals to succumb to lifestyle inflation as their income increases. At the end of the day, consider whether you really need that new car or pair of shoes. More often than not, you can carry on without it. An easy way to think about this is buying a cup of coffee every day. If your pre-work cup of coffee costs $5 a day and you invest that rather than spend it, you’ve already invested $100 by the end of the month.
3. Create a budget, include investments, and stick to it. Especially around the holiday season, it is easy to lose track of how much you are spending and what you are spending on. When life gets busy and expenses start to add up, saving and investing is one of the first things that gets pushed to the back burner. Check in and make sure that you are spending (and saving) within your means.
4. There are great platforms available to manage your assets digitally — use them. Not all of them are for everyone, so it is important to do your research.
5. You shouldn’t fix your car yourself; you also shouldn’t pick your stocks yourself. There is a reason the professionals go to school and have the certifications they do. Use them and their knowledge to help you and your wealth grow. Advisors also have access to platforms, like RobustWealth, that the individual investor cannot get on their own. Take advantage of this.
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?
My dad always encouraged me to explore and value my independence. When I was about 14 years old, he dropped off my brother, my cousin Chris and myself at the Port Authority in New York with nothing more than our backpacks. We hiked 10 to 15 miles a day for six days. After six days of hiking and camping alone, my dad picked us up in the Adirondack Mountains. This experience taught me how to operate independently at a young age. My cousin Chris, who was on this trip, is now RobustWealth’s Chief Technology Officer.
From a business perspective, my dad taught me how to write code in the late 1980s. He also did a great job of exposing me to computers and aspects of running a business throughout my life. I grew up going to the office with him and watching him work with other people. When I was 12 years old, I worked alongside the engineers in his office in the summer and entered data directly into the mainframe. Learning how to build things and take appropriate risks early in life shaped me as an entrepreneur. My dad supported some of my wild ideas and would always let me practice my pitch with him. Without my dad, my career path wouldn’t be the same.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Always say “yes” in life and in business. Even if you fail, you end up doing and experiencing a lot more than you would have otherwise. If you say yes to 100 things and fail 80 times, you will still succeed 20 times. Plus, you have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes to improve your success rate. I am glad that I said yes to working with a sales team early in my career. I went to every pitch that I could, so I could learn and understand what the end customer wanted.
If you only say yes ten times, you will only succeed half as many times — even if you’re perfect!
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. 🙂
As a society, we do a poor job of allocating capital to the neediest among us — children. Every child should have access to food, clothing, shelter and education. I was recently at the U.S.-Mexico border where we were giving food to refugee children. We need to do a much better job of helping children in vulnerable environments and providing them with their basic needs.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you continued success!