ach week, we present an influential woman whose career and style has inspired the Silkarmour team to aim higher and dress better. This week’s Silkarmour woman is LearnVest founder and CEO, Alexa Von Tobel.
According to Von Tobel, “the two hardest things to lose are extra weight and credit card debt”. Considering the skills we have to master to function as adults, personal finance is often left out in the cold. Having recognised this during her time at Harvard Business School and as a trader at Morgan Stanley, Von Tobel didn’t want to contribute to the financial cycle that was expected of a Harvard graduate-turned banker; she wanted to change it and with that, create "the Weight-Watchers for personal finance.”
LearnVest is Von Tobel’s pride and joy. A financial planning service built on a rolling subscription, LearnVest is a programme that educates as well as organises your personal finances, tackling the lack of financial security that 60% of 35-44 year olds face in the US. The perfect balance between man and machine, the programme provides the reassurance of a flesh-and-blood financial planner alongside online tools, classes and courses to help customers decipher financial jargon. In educating the next generation of adults on how to productively pinch their pennies, Von Tobel argues that time is your biggest asset in being financially aware; as "it's never too early to put money away towards an IRA.” She argues that setting your financial habits up early creates responsible foundations for adulthood and in widening your understanding of handling cash flow, a little saving “can go a long way towards building up a sizable nest egg."
The issue of women and money is something Von Tobel is also keen to tackle. She spreads her advice through a variety of channels; from writing articles for Cosmopolitan to hosting TEDTalks on Wall Street. "For people who haven’t yet developed a strong savings muscle, beefing up a rainy-day fund may seem superfluous” she says, “but what they don’t know is that if she loses her job tomorrow or has any type of emergency, she’s completely vulnerable to rely on credit card debt in order to keep her head above water”. Von Tobel also insists on bursting the bubble of pending parenthood and exposing the financial realities of the life-time commitment that is having a child. A parent herself, the debate of whether women can ‘have it all’ affects Von Tobel just as much as the next woman, but like everything, it boils down to your bank account. She highlights America’s lack of budgeting as the main issue for families in debt and has developed an arm of LearnVest for tackling this. Although the illusion of having it all is something she also strives for, she stresses that providing the finances to juggle both is a priority and that teaching children to have the same level of understanding is part of the responsibility of parenthood.
Developing LearnVest to have the all-encompassing influence she dreams of requires Von Tobel to live in a vortex of routine and discipline. “Since the beginning of LearnVest, I've never left the office for food. I eat the same thing every single day” she admitted to Fast Company, following in the footsteps of Obama and Zuckerberg in reducing her energy spent on small decisions. “My ultimate goal is to create an operating system for myself that allows me to think as little as possible about the silly decisions you can make all day long." Her argument on how living the life you want is “just a question of math” is applied here as she moulds the majority of her day to fufill the bulk of her to-do list to ensure the hours she puts in adds up to the results that she is aiming for. Eliminating time-wasting decisions is part of that; Von Tobel is never in bed before midnight, always keeps a notebook nearby and tries to do the “hardest things first” at the beginning of the day. No one could ever accuse her of not tackling the equation wholeheartedly.
The road to coast-to-coast financial security may be a long and winding one but Von Tobel is up for the ride. Having secured a staggering $72million worth of funding, LearnVest is reaching out to more people to help them discuss one of the more awkward yet necessary factions of building a stable future. But none of us are alone in this and she is keen to reiterate that. Of the thousands of people she’s discussed and worked with regarding personal finances, “I’ve never met anyone who said, ‘No thanks, I’m good with my money. ”
Career Golden Nuggets:
On staying hungry: “I always remind myself – tomorrow could be harder. Don’t relax.”
On keeping perspective: “Having money doesn’t mean you’re immune to money stress. Not for nothing did Notorious B.I.G. coin “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”
On facing fear: “Learning how to face fear makes you invincible because you stop being scared. For everything that scares me I think through the worst case scenario and realise it’s not that bad. At the other end of it, I’m still alive, I’m still healthy.”
On uncertainty: “The uncertainty doesn’t go away but being comfortable with that uncertainty is what matters”
On building a future: “Don’t follow the money. Follow the passion. Find investors who believe what you believe, who see the world the way you do, and who want you to succeed almost as much as you do.”