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Why Sallie Krawcheck Is Building an Investing Platform for Women

Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures joined an all-star group of investors to put $33 million into women-focused fintech startup Ellevest.

Sallie Krawcheck speaks at the 2019 Women & Worth summit in New York Sallie Krawcheck speaks at the 2019 Women & Worth summit in New York. Photo by Victoria Engblom

Wall Street legend and Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck announced a $33 million investment from former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett and Melinda Gates’ venture capital firm Pivotal Ventures, among others, on March 28. “We have a massive opportunity, and we’re off to, dare I say it, a fantastic first couple of years in business,” Krawcheck says.

Ellevest is gaining traction in the market. In December 2017, the company launched Ellevest Private Wealth Management, targeted at high net worth individuals, and it has grown to $300 million AUM. Krawcheck says the latest round of venture capital investors were drawn to Ellevest not just because of the potential for profit but because of its “mission orientation, which is helping women invest.”

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The injection of capital is a vote of confidence in the startup which explicitly targets a female customer base, and which faced early resistance in the venture capital industry. “When the status quo isn’t meeting women’s needs, it deserves to be disrupted, and that’s what this platform created by women, for women, aims to do,” Gates said in a statement. “Women’s lives and realities are different than men’s, and I think we’ll see more and more of a demand for products designed to reflect that.”

Krawcheck has been one of Wall Street’s leaders for years, but growing up in Charleston, S.C., she never would have dreamed of becoming chairman and CEO of Sanford C. Bernstein, much less CEO of Smith Barney, CFO of Citigroup, CEO of Citi Wealth Management, and CEO of Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust. By the time Krawcheck left Merrill Lynch in 2011, she had the kind of extraordinary run on Wall Street that would have led many to step back and write a book or teach a cushy class at a business school. Instead, she took on a new challenge.

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Women “rank the existing banking and financial services—the investing industry—33 out of 33 out of the industries that serve us,” Krawcheck said at the 2019 Women & Worth Summit on March 29. “The research tells you that women leave their financial advisor in the year after their husband’s death at a rate of anywhere from 70 to 90 percent.”

This dissatisfaction among women with the financial services industry represents a huge opportunity and was a key factor for Krawcheck in founding Ellevest. Yet building the company has not been without its difficulties, even for someone as steeped in the industry.

One of the biggest challenges was accessing venture capital. “The number one reason they turned us down for funding, as stated, was, ‘We’re worried a competitor will get in,’” Krawcheck says. It’s an unusual concern; the presence of a major competitor has not prevented venture capital firms from backing the likes of Uber and Lyft, for instance.

 “Venture capitalists tend to be male,” Krawcheck says. “And so they don’t tend to represent the underlying market we’re serving.”

For more about Sallie Krawcheck and Ellevest, please watch the video above.

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