In our series on Women In Finance, we speak of women who are leaders in the Finance industry. Wall Street and Finance used to be an all-white boys club”. Great progress has been made and this has changed a lot recently. Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to CNBC, less than 17 per cent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. The key question asked to all the leading Women in Finance is:
“In your opinion or experience, which 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and c) society to support the movement towards greater gender parity in the finance industry?”
In this article, we speak of Lule Demmissie, the President of Ally Invest.
As President of Ally Invest, Lule is responsible for Ally Invest Securities, Ally Invest Advisors, and API business lines. This includes the products and services delivered to Ally’s all-digital client base; the shaping of the end-to-end client experience; and the management of the P&L and growth strategy for the business. Lule has a passion for investor behaviour, agile product development and an appreciation of design thinking in shaping user-centric experiences. Prior to joining Ally Invest, Lule was the Managing Director of Investment Products & Digital Guidance at TD Ameritrade. During her tenure there, Lule leads the development and launch of financial guidance services, tools, and products for long-term-oriented retail investors. Her commitment to the firm’s Agile/Lean approach to product development resulted in the launch of many innovative firsts for the firm including the firm’s automated Investment Management Services — Essential Portfolios and Selective Portfolios (“robos”), the retail Goal Planning experience, and the firm’s first long-term investor-focused mobile application — TD Ameritrade Portfolios, to name a few. Lule is an advocate for empowering everyone to take control of their financial futures. She believes what we all have in common in our financial challenges and concerns far exceeds our differences, but there is no doubt that “financial wellbeing” is not the same among all groups. As a financial executive with a range of intersectional identities, a woman of colour and a member of the LGBTQ community to name a few, she has a perspective that is not often represented on the investment and financial challenges facing a variety of communities. Lule is committed to cultivating a culture with diverse perspectives and talents and was the recipient of TD Ameritrade’s 2015 Impact Award, a coveted annual award that recognizes a Managing Director who is paving the way in building, developing, and retaining a diverse group of associates — while continuing to foster a culture where all associates feel valued, respected, and challenged. She is a regular contributor to various blogs on topics related to goal planning and behavioural insights that can help drive strong financial choices among retail investors. Prior to working at TD Ameritrade, Lule worked for leading investment firms such as Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, and Merrill Lynch as a product manager, product developer, and financial advisor. She holds a B.A. in Economics from Smith College, an M.B.A from Columbia Business School, a CIMA designation from the Investments & Wealth Institute (formerly IMCA) and the 7, 66 and 24 securities licenses. While at business school Lule won both the coveted Toigo Foundation and Goldman Sachs Fellowships.
In her own words,
Diversity engenders better decision-making and a healthier company. Our success in this area will depend on how well we support and nurture diverse and inclusive teams, networks, and language within the company. The hard reality is that the potential for bias exists within everyone. The trick is to know how to put it in check and to always be aware of its presence in our circles and minds. So when we are recruiting, it’s essential to ensure that the folks who are doing the recruiting are also a diverse bunch, so we don’t end up just hiring people who look and sound like us.
Can you briefly tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Growing up, I always had a deep interest in news, books, and discussions tied to finance and economics; anything I could get my hands on. They were also the topics my family encouraged me to learn about. And as an immigrant from Ethiopia, I felt that having a strong knowledge of business would open more doors for me within the United States, now my adopted nation. It’s been quite an exciting journey to where I am now.
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 what you took out of that story?
Early on in my career, I was a financial advisor. A client of mine had sold their waste management business and had come into considerable wealth. They were a New York City, Italian-American family, and I could tell they were concerned that I might be prejudging them based on unfair stereotypes. It took them a little while to warm up to me, but eventually, they realized I prided myself in prejudging no one. I come from a diverse background, and it would be totally hypocritical of me to act otherwise.
Towards the end of my relationship with the family, as I was heading off to business school, they treated me almost like a daughter who knew how to advise them. It was heartwarming. Growing up in different places has taught me how to relate with a wide range of people, and it’s a skill I’m grateful to have and never stop exercising. It helps a person to lead with humility and open-mindedness. I remember how they used to struggle to pronounce my name correctly, but by the end of our time together, they took great pride in knowing how to pronounce it and teaching others how to say it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on several innovative initiatives as president of Ally Invest. It is exciting to be a part of a financial institution that is 100% digital. Our technological advancements are being made accessible to such a diverse consumer base. As the demographics of the United States continue to shift, financial services companies need to understand how to speak to our growingly diverse population and to design financial products and services that resonate with these consumers. For much of my career, this has been an industry that has catered to only a select few. It is exciting to broaden that tent, and Ally is eager to help lead that effort. That includes how we both design and speak about investment products and services. One of my first acts as head of Ally Invest will be to drastically reduce barriers to “trying out” these services.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Ally has had a long and proud history in the automotive lending business. And the company’s transformation over the last 10 years is a compelling story as well. Out of the ashes of the 2008 crisis, Ally had the wisdom to invest in a digital bank, allowing it to become an industry disruptor once again; one that has drastically changed the definition of what a bank is. My plan is to take the same approach with Ally to Invest. Ally is a company dedicated to putting the customer first and, powered by its digital model, it can afford to do so.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all-white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
I address some of this in my answers above. But additionally, much of what is driving this change is demographic shifts taking place in our nation. Like so many other sectors, diversity is bringing a sense of added vibrancy and relevance to the financial industry.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 per cent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
Yes, progress is taking place, but there is certainly room to grow. Diversity engenders better decision-making and a healthier company. Our success in this area will depend on how well we support and nurture diverse and inclusive teams, networks, and language within the company. The hard reality is that the potential for bias exists within everyone. The trick is to know how to put it in check and to always be aware of its presence in our circles and minds. So when we are recruiting, it’s essential to ensure that the folks who are doing the recruiting are also a diverse bench, so we don’t end up just hiring people who look and sound like us.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- A) Just because an Investment is valuable in your eyes it does not mean it is valuable.
- B) You are more likely to save if you spend some money on something that makes you happy.
- C) A penny can be more valuable than its worth as currency.
- D) If you keep an “out of sight” savings account, you are less likely to raid your 401(k) in times of financial stress.
- E) Just because a stock is cheap that doesn’t mean it is a “bargain”.
None of us is 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?
It is hard to pick just one person. I am so grateful for the many people who have helped get me to where I am today, and I try to pass on the favour to others whenever possible. One of my favourite mentors was an older Caucasian gentleman who belonged to a country club and loved to golf. I personally have little interest in golf, and I don’t belong to a country club. Yet, he and I had so much in common in terms of our sensibilities and outlooks on life that he opened many doors for me both literally and figuratively. It taught me that our allies and advocates can come in many shapes, colours and genders. We have to stay open to that possibility, both in terms of whom we open a door for and who opens a door for us.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
That’s easy, it was my grandmother’s saying… “Equity — be it your money, your skills or your political capital — is like manure. If you pile it up in one place it stinks up the joint. But if you spread it around it makes things grow.”
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.
- A) Tell your story out loud. You never know who it may inspire to reach for the stars and be brave.
- B) Seek out leaders, colleagues and companies who value courage & curiosity. They are the keys to a chance at a life of success and purpose.