To a similar cadence of Vice President Kamala Harris, women leaders in wealthtech are also ensuring that they are paving pathways for the next generation of women leaders to see the male-dominated financial services industry as an achievable career opportunity.
“We need the wealthtech industry to know we are in the succession planning business, we are in the people business,” said Focus Financial Partners Inc.’s Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, Rajini Kodialam. “This is the responsibility of any leader.”
With Kodialam at the helm — alongside founder and CEO Rudy Adolf and Lenny Chang, co-founder, senior managing director and head of M&A — the firm takes pride in being inherently diverse at its origin.
“I will tell you honestly, we never tried to look at diversity, gender, or ethnicity as a hiring metric,” Kodialam said in an interview. “Everybody’s talking about it today, but Focus is an extremely diverse environment of about 85 people without even trying — that is the way you should have diversity.”
What follows is an edited version of Kodialam’s conversation with InvestmentNews.
Nicole Casperson: Please share how your diverse background has shaped your role as a leading woman in fintech?
Rajini Kodialam: I am not just a woman — I’m a brown woman that did not grow up in this country and definitely speaks with an accent. I grew up in India, and came to [the U.S.] in the early 1990s.
Tech was always a big part of my background. It’s always been part of the DNA. My father, and this is one of my earliest memories, used to work for a British company in India and I remember going to work with him and seeing these gargantuan computers and they’d have little cards with holes that they used to code and ring bells and it would bring me joy.
So tech has been a big part of who I am, but my introduction to fintech came when I left McKinsey to join American Express, where I really started my journey. I am one of those people who’ve been blessed to grow up in a conservative state, but with a father and mother who never treated me differently than my brothers.
Maybe it’s an old notion, but a good education, a good life and doing what you want to do without having any preconceived notions is something that has been my foundation and helped with self confidence.
NC: How is Focus doing its part to create a more holistic environment?
RK: It may seem like an oxymoron, but wealthtech is an inherent part of the DNA of providing the human element to the industry.
Half of the world’s population is female, and there is a need for more women advisers, but there’s also a need for more men advisers that are good. I am part of an organization called 100 women in finance, and I serve on the board of the impact collective, which is really about empowering and encouraging more women to enter the industry. This is an incredible environment for women — it speaks to their skill set.
I focus on the wealth tech directive, which is the other side of the coin. At Focus, we very much believe that the human element is why you need diversity of advisers to cater to the diversity of the clients — both women and men. The human element is so essential to this relationship based industry, especially as you look to sophisticated ultra high net worth clients.
I know you’re writing from a U.S. perspective, but this is a global phenomena. It’s really been accelerated by COVID-19. I was thinking we’ve spent so much time looking at our digital infrastructures of all the tools and they’re amazing, I love it.
The next mixing is wealth management and hyper personalization. Data is how we are holistic, integrated, comprehensive value proposition because we all would love to be simpler, but at Focus and I personally believe that we need innovation in wealthtech. That’s going to be a necessary ingredient to create that superlative personalized, human enhanced customer experience. Along with enhanced advisor efficiency, it will come together. That’s really where I’ve been spending a lot of my time.
NC: What’s your take on women representation in wealthtech, overall?
RK: Look, there are more men, but the reality is, the world is made up of both women and men, and we need to work together to make this right. Because, look, there are women looking for female advisers, and there are so many advisers, but all men are not equal, and all women are not equal. I will tell you, I have a pet peeve, which is when people say, ‘I’m catering to women’ but 50% of the world’s population is not a segment.
NC: Looking forward, how can female leaders, like yourself, ensure they are creating a pathway for more women to follow in their footsteps?
RK: It is the responsibility of any leader to make sure that they encourage talent, the right talent, and encourage the next generation. At Focus we say we are in the succession planning business, we are in the people business.
So we believe encouraging the right people to come into this industry, helping them with career pathing, helping them with the right leadership talents, giving them the opportunity to prove that they can be successful, they can be next generation owners — that is what this industry is about.
The wealth industry is about helping people achieve peace of mind. That’s the business we are in. So encouraging next generation talent is inherently what we believe we do.
NC: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
RK: It’s an amazingly wonderful day and month of appreciation. I tell my husband and children on Mother’s Day that I am delighted to wake up with recognition, but I think these days are not not the only day recognition matters — everyday matters.
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