This is the fourth article in a series we are calling Winners of WealthTech, where I interview people who have made a name for themselves in wealth management technology and have a track record of innovation and success.
I'm proud to report that for this installment, I was fortunate to be able to interview Cheryl Nash. Cheryl is president of Fiserv Investment Services, a leading provider in financial services technology solutions serving the Managed Accounts and Global Institutional markets. Cheryl has been with Fiserv, or the predecessor companies that Fiserv acquired in the managed accounts space, for almost 30 years. She knows a thing or two about the wealth management industry having been in charge of Client Services, Product Management, Marketing, Strategy, and Business Analysis before being promoted to president of the division back in 2011.
I have known Cheryl for many years and I have a great amount of respect for her accomplishments. Cheryl is very active in outreach to college students and educating them on the career opportunities in our industry. She is a partner with the Envestnet Institute on Campus and is leading the Women in Wealth Management Initiative.
In this interview, we talk about what makes Cheryl's work with students so rewarding, what has become more important to her recently and what are some of her habits that help her to be more productive.
What has become more important to you in your personal life over the past few years?
My family is so important to me. I have three children in their 20's and out of college, all in the process of trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. I spend a lot of time in my work life mentoring college students. I talk to them about how great financial services is as an industry, explore the many options, what they should look for, and how to best approach each opportunity.
I realize that I need to dedicate as much time to my kids (ages 27, 26, and 23) in this effort too. They are all working but none have discovered their dream job just yet. My oldest son wants to be in financial services. My middle son is looking for something sports-related, and my daughter isn't sure, so I'm pushing her towards financial services, of course. Putting more focus into helping them get to their next place in life is important. It's good to let them figure it out (and occasionally fumble a little bit), but I want to make sure I give each of my children the same guidance. That's a priority for me now that they're out of college and in the real world.
What's recently become less important to you?
What has become less important to me in my personal life is maintaining a big group of friends. Being with really good friends and enjoying quality time with them in a smaller setting at my home or over dinner is my preference over parties where there are 50 plus people. I've learned over the years that you can always count on your good friends and these are the people with whom my husband and I like to spend our time. This being said, I very much value the network of relationships I've cultivated over the years and enjoy being out and about. I think I have achieved a good balance between intimate gatherings with close friends and those larger events that enable me to connect with other wonderful people.
What advice do you give most often to college students?
Be confident, ask a lot of questions, and do a lot of research. We work with many college kids, as well as Millennials and now, the next demographic cohort, Generation Z. I'm working with as well as learning from so many of them and even though they are around the same age, they're also very different. They all have unique interests and ideas on what they want to do, including as it relates to where they want to work. I think even when you're in a place you want to be, you have to evaluate if it's better to stay in your industry or more advantageous to make a change. There's so much research you can easily do today that wasn't as accessible in the past. I tell my kids to put the research in, ask questions, and importantly, capitalize on connections (including me!) to introduce them to people who can help
Recently, my son was going through a job search. I reached out to my network and was overwhelmed by the number of people who said, "I want to help." Kids today don't really ask for help and I think it's because they don't realize they can and should.
Do you find that kids don't ask for help very often because they don't know they can get it, or they don't want to, or they feel like they should do it all on their own?
I think it's all of the above, Craig. Because they're smart, they think they can figure it out on their own. They've been taught you can do it all. They grew up with Google, and other search engines that have enabled them to find everything they want on-demand, without really having to talk to people. When we were their age, our resources were libraries, encyclopedias, newspapers and magazines. If we were lucky, we could get an introduction to an industry professional who could potentially assist us or put a good word in on our behalf. Kids today don't ask for help like they should—and they have more resources today than what we had.
When they are given help, it's important they take it seriously and follow-up. I tell my own kids as well as the students I work with that when you knock on a door, don't just tap on it with hope that someone will open it, but give it a good solid knock. And when it does open, you need to walk through that door. Be resilient, don't even think about giving up.
What's is the biggest misconception among college students about working in our industry? We were talking before we started recording, you were telling stories. Do you want to repeat that for me?
I'll answer your question and then I'll go into that story. One of the things I find interesting in talking to college students is they really don't know what to do, where to go, or how to get answers to some of their questions. This is really where they get stuck. Students may go to their career counselor or their career center, but they also need to proactively seek out other important resources—people they know and trust who have knowledge and understanding of the industries or roles they are looking to pursue. Unless they have the benefit of a parent or other family member or mentor who can help guide them and explain the different career paths and options, these students don't have the means to fully understand the array of opportunities to consider.
I was recently invited to visit a college to talk to students in a nice open setting. It was a great conversation…and eye-opening. The career counselor was there and she asked me if I knew how much money investment bankers make. I asked her why she asked that question. She said, "Well, I think the students all want to be investment bankers." I said, "Why do they want to be investment bankers?" She said, "Because they make a lot of money."
I turned to the students and I asked, "Why do you want to be investment bankers?" They replied, "Because that's really all we know since that's all our career counselors talk to us about."
It's amazing to me the lack of understanding that many college students have about financial services, technology, and marketing. They all think they have to go down this investment banking road, which is not necessarily the right fit for everybody.
CI: Right, they could work at Fiserv.
Yes, they could find an opportunity at a technology company, like Fiserv. Or, perhaps, they can work as a consultant, like you, Craig.
CI: They could, but that's more difficult!
That could be true! They could also work in an asset management firm where there are many different options are available. There are a number of paths one can take including financial advisor, human resources, marketing, product management, etc. So many ways to go.
There are so many different career options available at Fiserv … relationship management and client services, product management, technology, sales, to name just a few opportunity areas.
Customer operations is where we tend to start a lot of the students because they get exposure to a wide variety of experiences including a glimpse into clients' wants and needs. This is an areas that provides a really good foundational training ground. For this role, we're looking for someone who's a real go-getter and is eager to learn a lot. Excellent communication skills are a must.
We also have opportunities for developers and quality assurance testers and have had success hiring developers straight out of college. We have a significant presence at Stevens Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, and other New Jersey colleges. We have focused effort on talking to these college students while they're juniors and helping them understand what it's like to be a developer or QA analyst. Both roles require two different skill sets that are in high demand.
What person comes to mind when you hear the word "successful"?
I think of my dad. My dad actually is the one who suggested I pursue a career in the financial services industry. He had his own business for many years, and as I was growing up, he spent most of the years in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and I learned all about M&A from him. My dad knew many people in financial services; he introduced me to several of them and that got me into this industry. He is the most honest and hardest working person and he's got great character…he's someone everyone wants to be around. Sometimes when you come across successful people, they're intimidating. He was not that at all. He was probably the best…he is the best person out there.
What is something you believe that other people think is crazy?
I believe that in 10 years or less, women will be at the same pay scale as men and will have more opportunities presented to them to lead financial services firms. Also, it will be natural for female students to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and wealth management careers and not think twice about it.
The data shows that (without significant changes) women won't reach pay equity with men until 2119, but with more women working full time, women's progress in education, programs such as Envestnet Institute on Campus that are educating college students, corporate diversity and inclusion programs, and men's wages rising at a slower rate, I expect that progress will accelerate.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff went on record in January to state he is erasing gender pay gap. Because of the 13 companies they bought since 2016, there were unexplained differences in pay. He spent $3 million to eliminate significant differences in pay in September this year. If more CEO's followed suit, the pay gap would be eliminated a lot sooner than the data would suggest
Right now, it's hard not to notice the small percentage of women at financial services conferences. The inside joke is 'there is no line in the ladies room'. I see that first hand with every conference I attend. But it's getting better and I'm confident it will continue to get better over time. We need to shout from the rooftops how great a career in financial services can be for a women.
What kind of things do you do to keep yourself motivated?
Craig, I think you see this as well and that is, this industry we're in doesn't sit still. It continues to evolve and change and that's what gets me motivated. It's the constant change and working with clients to help them strategically pursue where they want to go whether it's through digitalization, enhancements in financial advice, or enabling regulatory oversight. I've been at Fiserv for over 30 years and have never had the same day.
Each day is a unique experience. I have the privilege of knowing really great people and get to have thought-provoking conversations with them about where the industry is headed. I also believe I'm helping to make a difference in where the industry is going with the technology solutions we offer. It's all very motivating.
What is your morning routine? What do you do during the first 60 to 90 minutes a day?
First, I take my dog for a walk, depending on the weather. Then I check my emails, take a shower, get a cup of coffee and drive to work. When I get to my office, I eat breakfast, which is always something healthy I bring from home, often a smoothie, which is my favorite.
CI: In market share terms, Fiserv Investment Services has been among the top providers of outsourced managed accounts technology and processing services for decades. What is an aspect of the Fiserv platform that most of the industry is not aware of?
We're doing all we can to dispel this myth however, there are still some people who are not aware that our Fiserv Unified Wealth Platform (UWP) can provide the infrastructure for many of the new digital applications launching in the market today. The fact is, we have a solid high performing platform that is built to scale and offers customization to serve the industry. And to address the different features and functions needed by the industry as digitalization continues to advance, we are taking our powerful and reliable platform and enabling it to communicate with any other platform. If you have a really strong core legacy platform that performs well and is flexible, you can really do anything with the assorted applications and platforms that are out there. I truly believe that.
Have you seen any clients that have abandoned their platform and then suffered because of it?
Yes, unfortunately. I know of clients who were using a portfolio accounting platform to support their advisory business but decided to move to a different robo platform provider which diminished the client experience. Some of those clients have asked about our platform serving as the underpinning of that separate robo offering, so that ultimately, when a client or an investor decides to go from a digital account over to a UMA or an FMA, it's a very simple process. However, I have also seen firms who were intent on being the first out of the gate with robo move to a platform that isn't connected to anything else that they were doing. This is a mistake, in my opinion. Down the road, we'll see more and more firms come to the realization that that it is in their best interests to be connected to their legacy platform.
Is Investment Services doing anything with Blockchain?
Yes, we are doing some proof of concepts mostly focused around reconciliation, where we think there is good potential, particularly around one ledger for reconciliation. Fiserv, as an organization, has a focused Blockchain team that our Investment Services business unit is very plugged into. As a technology provider, we see the relevance and importance of Blockchain in wealth management and it appears our clients do as well; a couple have requested a proof of concept from us.
What is a favorite smartphone app that you've found recently to be helpful or make you more efficient?
My favorite app is Waze, by far. I drive a lot and Waze always comes through for me. Sometimes it takes me from home to work on back roads I never knew even existed to avoid construction or an accident – it's a tremendous time saver and very efficient. I use it all the time and everywhere I go.
What's interesting is Waze is really a form of automated advice. I think one of the really great things that the robos did was focus everyone on the importance of an excellent client experience. They made that client experience something that was far better than what was there before. I think financial services is moving toward leveraging advanced technology, such as voice-activated solutions similar to Echo and Alexa. In the not too distant future, we can all expect that one day, financial services will be as easy and efficient as Waze.
CI: Alexa, When can I retire?
Right. My advisor is my life coach. That's how he refers to himself. He has mapped a course for me. We still meet face-to-face and I still get a hard copy of my financial plan. I'd love to get to a point where it's more chat and it's a lot more automated, like Waze. It would be much faster than having to set up an appointment and meet in person.
I think that's where we're going to go. I think the advisor-investor experience will look very different over the next five years.
What book have you gifted most often?
My favorite book is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It's an awesome book. I re-read it just recently. There hasn't been a book like that written since.
What would your close friends say you are exceptionally good at?
Cooking. We have a lot of dinner parties and a lot of them at my house. They would say I'm very good at cooking.
CI: Do you ever cook during business hours or do you block out time at home?
I do block out time. Cooking is my stress reliever. My daughter is now realizing the same thing. On the weekends, or even if I come home from work and I need to relax, I'll go for a walk, and then I'll start cooking. That is my favorite thing to do.
What message would you send to your 25-year-old self? Or, your 35-year-old self?
I would say, "take more chances". I played it safe a lot when I was a 25-year-old. To my 35-year-old self, I would say, because I had three kids at that time, "Spend more time at home because work will always be there."
Is there a behavior or belief that you recently adopted or changed?
I've started to walk a lot more. I've always been so busy but I realized that you need to clear your head. Go for a nice, long walk. We have a walking desk here at the office that I use.
My desk is a stand up desk so really, I'm getting up more and moving more. It's easy to come to your office, sit down, and take phone calls. It's so easy to just do that. Fiserv is very focused on 'wellness'. Walking is one of the tools I use to clear my mind and figure things out. When you have to figure something out, go for a walk…the answer will usually come to you.
What is some bad advice that you hear begin given out all the time?
There are people who believe that they've got to be rough on people for them to get them to do their job. Creating a culture based on fear is really bad, counterproductive behavior. I think if you are inclusive and show people they are respected and highly valued, the rewards are happy employees and positive output.
Is there a quote you live your life by?
I have two. "Surround yourself with the best people" and "Attitude is contagious, is yours worth catching?"
I say both all the time and these are also some of my messages I offer to the college kids. People don't realize how their attitude makes or breaks a situation.
Disclaimer: Fiserv is a client of my consulting firm, Ezra Group.