Shaping a New Financial Industry for Women
Welcome back to our Women in Asset Management Blog Series , an ongoing discussion that features the unique perspectives of successful female advisors in this traditionally male-centric industry. Today we speak with Ashley Bleckner, Private Wealth Advisor at Ellevest.
WisdomTree: How did you decide to pursue this as a profession, and at what age?
Ashley: I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a financial advisor. I wanted to be a princess or something of the sort. What I didn’t know was that my dad was bestowing a very important skill set on me at a very young age by doing things like giving us the opportunity to invest our allowance in the “Bank of Dad,” which yielded 10% a year.
Fast forward 10 years. I found myself in college studying economics, then pursuing a master’s degree in economics, focusing on its intersection with psychology and sociology. I loved research and even did my thesis on gender pay discrepancies in academia. So I decided to pursue a career in that field. But the universe had another plan. As I was starting my career, my dad—who managed all the finances—was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. As a family, we needed to divide and conquer, and I took on the financial responsibilities. Step one was to find a financial advisor to help out, and we spoke to a number of them. What I kept seeing was that the advisors weren’t focusing on my mom, who was the client, or me, the actual decision-maker. Instead, they were addressing my baby brother. That was the moment I decided I could not let another woman who crossed my path go through the same experience. That was the moment I started to pursue a career in financial services.
WisdomTree: Today, you work at a firm that focuses on supporting women?
Ashley: Yes, and finding them was a turning point in my career. I started at traditional advisory firms and honed my skills, but I was always the only person focused on supporting women. Then I found Ellevest, a company whose mission is exactly that. Now I get to partner with an entire team that’s aligned on that value. It’s phenomenal. Every day we’re working toward a common mission: getting more money into the hands of women and supporting them to have clarity and confidence in their finances.
Sallie Krawcheck built a financial services firm that is by women, for women. We’re here because women told us they were tired of supporting the companies and institutions that didn’t support them. We are a group of advisors that understand women because we are women. The Ellevest Private Wealth team is made up of investment professionals, client services specialists and an all-woman group of financial advisors with decades of industry experience who weren’t willing to wait for the industry to catch up. And when it comes to making sure a woman’s future is on track and aligned with her values, our team really does make a difference.
WisdomTree: What are some specific or uncommon ways you actively help women investors?
Ashley: Let’s be honest, there is no such thing as “gender neutral” financial services in an industry that was built by men, for men. Ellevest was built from the ground up using real, hard data about women’s lived realities—they live longer, they pay the pink tax, they do more unpaid labor, they have to work harder to get fewer promotions, and so on. Those realities fundamentally change what women need to build their best financial futures, and we’re here to support them.
We also help them invest their capital into portfolios that support women and the issues that disproportionately impact them. Think climate change. Think venture funds that invest in women. Think femtech. Our goal is to build wealth for women while investing their money intentionally. Internally, we focus on the diversity of our team. We’re proud to share that we are 75% women, 47% BIPOC, 14% LGBTQIA+ and 2% gender non-binary. We are grateful for our diversity and find it to be a strength: research shows that diverse teams are smarter, diverse teams are lower risk and companies with diverse leadership are more successful.
Women in male-dominated industries often get advice on how to be “more like a man.” But what makes a woman advisor better than her male counterparts? Why should clients choose a woman as their financial advisor?
Over and over again, we hear that women are risk-averse, they don’t like investing, they just need more financial education. Name your excuse. The common theme is that they all blame women. But what if it isn’t our fault? What if it’s acknowledged that the current financial industry isn’t designed for us?
As kids, our sisters are told to be careful, budget, don’t dirty their dress, while our brothers are told to take risks, be aggressive, climb the monkey bars. It doesn’t get much better from there. Male money media is a game about chasing alpha and beating the market, presented by the outspoken likes of Jim Cramer (literally inspired by ESPN). Meanwhile, women’s money media typically includes budget tips or patronizing quizzes.
But what if we aren’t risk-averse but rather risk-aware? What if we just want to understand the risk before we act? Supporting this hypothesis, research shows that women tend to be better investors than men because when we create a plan, we stick to it rather than reacting to fear or FOMO (the “fear of missing out”).
So I propose: Women don’t need to change. The industry needs to change.
WisdomTree: Is there a blind spot or mistake you see clients making? And if so, how does an advisor like you help them correct it?
The biggest mistake people make is not exploring impact investing. Look at the data. Eighty-five percent of people are interested in impact investing, and 79% of women say they want to invest for a positive impact. But only 14% of financial advisors have spoken to them about it. And many assume they have to forego returns when aligning investments with values. But that’s absolutely not true. The facts show that investing in companies with high ESG and diversity standards is an investing strategy—like diversifying your portfolio, for example—that can be used to help reduce overall risk.
As a sector, impact investing is growing quickly, and Ellevest and our Private Wealth clients are at the forefront of the shift. We’ve built a suite of opportunities that lets a client pursue her financial returns and invest for impact across her entire portfolio in all three major asset classes: equities, fixed income and private alternatives.
While others in the impact or ESG space have been in the news recently for greenwashing or providing only surface-level exposure, our impact equities portfolios are data-driven, customized and powerful, allowing clients to invest in companies that align with their values and move money away from companies with harmful practices. The Ellevest Intentional Impact portfolios have a gender and racial justice lens, and the Ellevest Climate-Conscious Impact Strategy has a narrower, environment-focused lens. On the fixed income side, the Ellevest Municipal Impact Strategy helps clients invest in municipal bonds specifically screened for their impact outcomes. Our private alternatives offer competitive financial returns, low correlation with equities and bonds, and a direct and positive ESG impact. For long-term investors, adding alternative investments like real estate, renewable energy, venture capital and other nontraditional assets can be a powerful strategy. Alternatives can reduce overall portfolio risk, enhance returns and generate income while creating positive social and environmental change.
I always say, “Every dollar you invest has an impact. Do you know yours”?