Sandy Kaul, Head of Digital Assets and Industry Advisory Services, hosted a panel of women changemakers within Franklin Templeton and its financial technology (fintech) partner companies. They discussed how they became leaders in their respective industries, the lessons they’ve learned along the way, and the exciting changes they are aiming to accomplish.
Who participated in the panel?
Franklin Templeton is a strategic investor for Lobus and Propel(x) through the Silicon Valley FinTech Incubator program. This program incubates, invests and partners with early-stage fintech startups to explore technology solutions that are complementary and offer strategic benefits for the firm.
This panel discussion showcases women at Franklin Templeton and its Silicon Valley FinTech incubator program who are changemakers in their field. They share insights about their journeys into their roles as female leaders and how to help other women to also succeed.
- Women in fintech are leading the way in using disruptive technologies to accelerate their business, democratizing access to wealth-generating assets to lessen the disparity in the world, and tokenizing real world assets to transform culture and cultural assets into an investible asset class.
- Being a changemaker entails believing in yourself, trusting your instincts, building your network, taking opportunities as they arise, continuous learning and following your vision.
- Women are seen not just as overall changemakers in their industries, but also specifically as changemakers for other women who may not have the relationships that they need to get access to capital.
- ChatGPT is a disruptive technology that can benefit creators and make everyone’s lives easier, and people can make themselves ready for this change through upskilling.
Sandy: Welcome to a conversation with women changemakers in fintech. Joining me are some women who are absolutely critical in helping to drive change in our industry. I’m excited to showcase them because women’s voices in this sphere are so necessary as innovation needs a diversity of viewpoints. I would like to start by asking them to introduce themselves and tell us a little bit about their organization and what they do.
Margaret: I lead Franklin Templeton’s fintech incubator program, looking at disruptive technologies to help us accelerate our business, particularly in asset management. Along with that, we also invest in great startups to help us with that journey.
Swati: I am the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Propel(x), an alternatives investment platform. We enable ordinary accredited investors around the world to invest in startups and hedge funds online using small check sizes. So as little as $5,000 to invest in a startup and as little as $25,000 to invest in a hedge fund.
Sarah: I am the co-founder and co-CEO of Lobus. We are tokenizing real world assets to transform culture and cultural assets into an investible asset class. We place the artist as a central stakeholder and demonstrate what it looks like when creators have equity in that economic transaction.
Sandy: What does the term “changemaker” mean to you and why is the concept of being a changemaker so important in the fintech field?
Sarah: I think women bringing original ideas to the table embodies this concept. In transforming culture into an investible asset class, for example, somebody could walk out of “Hamilton” and buy a share of that asset, while placing the artist at the center. That’s not just transactional behavior. It’s systems thinking—how the players interact, what the ecosystem looks like and what levers are needed for transformation. I believe women are uniquely positioned to step into this space. What this means to me is that this is a moment where women’s voices are really driving major economic change.
Swati: If we are able to change the world with a better outcome, that’s what I’m here for. The wealthiest people have access to different kinds of investments, which makes their wealth growth faster. People at the bottom, or even in the middle, of the pyramid don’t have access to the kinds of investment assets that could make their wealth grow a lot faster. So to me, being a changemaker is being able to democratize access to wealth-generating assets to lessen the disparity in the world.
Margaret: To me, both Sarah and Swati, and their respective companies, are paving the way for changes by taking risks. In Franklin Templeton’s incubator program, we are looking into how to take calculated risks to drive growth in a different direction from what we’ve always done in the past, which is mutual fund asset management. The changing environment requires us to change and take risks.
Sandy: How did you all get started in the industry and what were some of the challenges you encountered early on in your career that shaped your abilities to become changemakers?
Margaret: I don’t think any of us had planned our life to where we ended up today. All of us had to figure out along the way what we do really well and what perhaps is a challenge for us. We all have our strength and weaknesses. For me personally, I worked for some amazing startups and then also worked for a few that didn’t do well. These experiences were a great way to learn about where my strengths are and where I needed to improve. Challenges I encountered early in my career also taught me about great leadership styles, which included empathy.
Sarah: I started my career at Christie’s, the auction house. I was very lucky to have a series of incredible bosses, most importantly my then-boss and now partner and co-founder Lori Hotz, who saw me for who I was and gave me the tools to be successful. She understood that I didn’t really fit into one box or another. I was interested in art, but was also numerical and analytical, and could understand a go-to-market plan for a painting. She also taught me leadership skills. 10 years later we co-founded Lobus together. I grew up in Silicon Valley and entrepreneurship looks very different today—Lori and I are examples of this. I feel so lucky to be doing this side-by-side with somebody I respect and admire so deeply. I can’t understate how profound this experience is. To me there is no playbook. There is no prescribed way of navigating new waters.
Swati: I grew up in India and came to the United States for my graduate studies. When I came here, I had very little money and I did all kinds of odd jobs to make ends meet. I was here all by myself, so I got rid of the fear of being alone and learned how to be resourceful and do new things to survive. After I got my MBA, I started at Siemens Venture Capital, where I became comfortable with startups. I am passionate about finance as well as science and technology. So, I took the opportunity to move to San Francisco to work at a private equity firm. That is where my passion for startups really got ignited because San Francisco is a place where you get startups thrown at you from every direction. I visited various angel groups thinking I’d find something that would suit me, but they did not. So, I started MIT Angels (an angel investors group for alumni of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) specifically to invest in deep technology startups (businesses that develop new offerings based on tangible engineering innovation or scientific discoveries and advances). These companies—which have enormous potential for change with the tremendous technologies they’ve developed—find it very hard to raise financing in their early days. That’s why I launched Propel(x) as a way to connect deep tech startups with investors. Over time, we’ve expanded our mandate to all kinds of startups.
Sandy: What key lessons do you think you’ve learned that have given you the will, resources and influence to establish yourselves as leaders in this industry?
Swati: I think I had an innate confidence and strong belief in myself, because when you’re doing a startup, nobody believes in you except yourself. So, I think you have to try something new, and if you succeed that leads to greater confidence—and if you don’t, you learn something new. There are also a host of other factors that help build successful enterprises. I have been fortunate to have the support of Margaret and Franklin Templeton, among others, and am grateful to all of the investors who invested in the company and all of the customers are using the platform that have put their faith in us.
Margaret: In thinking about my career journey, the influence and experience that I attained came from learning. Not just from an academic setting but also from working with other people. And the appetite for learning continues even as you become a little bit more senior. You have to stay agile and listen to the challenges of whomever you’re working with. Active listening is very important.
Sarah: A critical skill in today’s world is being able to read between the lines and see what might be going on in the zeitgeist that isn’t immediately apparent. Additionally, the biggest thing for us is playing by our own rule book. While Lori and I were working at Christie’s—an established company in a very specific business—we saw an enormous opportunity of bringing new sources of capital into this asset class. This means technology and enabling an infrastructure to scale investment opportunities. When we left Christie’s to start a technology company, we had deep financial expertise, deep subject matter expertise, knew how luxury markets worked, knew how markets worked and understood the players, but we weren’t product technologists. We now have an incredible technology partner and having a presence on both coasts—with Lori in New York and myself in San Francisco—makes us a team that have learned early on to play by our own rules. I think you just have to step into your own power and own your unique vision of the future state of the world. Don’t try to pattern match against what you think you need in order to build the future. I think at this moment there are a lot of critical systemic issues around women’s access to capital and being in the room where the deals are made. Franklin Templeton is changing the game on all of this, and women are getting there. I’m really excited for other women to own their playbooks.
Sandy: One of my greatest learnings is that the more senior you become, the more you draw upon the network you’ve built. How have you built your network and how important is it to you in terms of being able to accomplish what you’re hoping to?
Swati: It is 100% my network. I’ve had a lot of education, but the one degree that really counted was my MBA program, which helped build my network and opened doors for me. Once the doors are open, you have to grab your opportunities. It’s also important to get comfortable being in the public eye and find opportunities to meet people. I’m a very private person and am a bit uncomfortable being at events as I’m not the type of person who works the room. But I love talking to people one-on-one and each time I go to an event, I come back with a very valuable connection. Additionally, you have to build your brand. Social media is one thing that’s a bit more difficult for me, but I have started putting myself out there at least. This has helped expand my network tremendously. I get a lot of calls and requests for meetings based on posts I’ve written. I think our network is the single most powerful tool that we have at our disposal, and we must use that.
Sarah: I think the whole concept of a network has been the foundation of my life. The art world has a built-in networking arm. It’s a very nomadic group where they travel together to art fairs and openings as well as to other entertainment events such as the Grammys, the Oscars, etc. I also sit on the board of museums and am active across different communities. I think when I look back, there are three things that stand out in terms of my network. First is my tendency to always say yes to an opportunity—sometimes to the detriment of my schedule—and I have to balance and gut-check these opportunities. I might not know the return on investment on these opportunities but 99% of the time they come back to me in a way I would never have expected. Second is confidentiality and being the kind of person that people can trust. I think as you build relationships, you have privilege to certain personal and professional information that is very meaningful to people. Third is always asking where I can use my relationships to build relationships for others and lift them up.
Margaret: When you get to a certain seniority level, and have impact and influence, you have to ask yourself how you can use your network to help build other people’s networks and empower them. And as a woman, not only are you a changemaker, you are seen as a changemaker for other women who perhaps don’t have the relationships that they need to build to get access to capital. The venture community is quite small, and we know who the investors are and what they want to invest in. My role at Franklin Templeton is to help build the network inside the organization as well as to provide opportunities for women or startups to deploy their product to market or insights like understanding the wealth management industry better so that they can create a great product that’s serviceable. However, access to a network isn’t enough. There also has to be an effort to build that relationship over time.
Sandy: Lastly, if you could, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self? If I had to give my younger self a piece of advice, it’s to keep my eyes open. Opportunity sometimes comes from very unexpected quarters and at very unexpected times. Some of the best opportunities in my career have come when I wasn’t looking for them and I wasn’t even paying attention. Sometimes we get very caught up in thinking we’re planning our lives and we’re on our path, and you have to sometimes take a step back and realize sometimes fate can intervene in a very positive way.
Margaret: Don’t be afraid to be more authentic. When you start on your career journey, you see everyone following the same path, and this herd migration of being like everyone else sometimes doesn’t work well. So I think one thing I would tell my younger self would be to take a little bit more risk.
Swati: Follow your passion without fear. Don’t think of what other people are earning, the jobs they’re getting and what status they’re at. If you follow your passion with dedication and commitment, you will achieve greatness and success. That’s what I would say to my younger self and to all young people.
Sarah: I think what’s integral is trusting your gut. The number of things that are playing out for us right now that we believe in deeply is enormous. A lot of what’s built into that is undoing consensus building, which I think is a female tendency. However, starting something new and changing the status quo is dramatically opposed to that quality. So, trust your instinct and continue to move forward.
Sandy: Shifting away from being changemakers to being change recognizers, any thoughts on ChatGPT (an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI)?
Sarah: I think it’s going to change everything. I know there are contrarian points of view, but from our perspective, we believe that cultural leaders and creators are going to be the central business leaders and owners of the 21st century. What you’re seeing with this technology is that it’s going to augment what we know about culture today. I think we’re going to see wild innovation on the basis of this. I’m an optimist always on all of these things.
Swati: We are using ChatGPT within our organization to make our work and lives easier. It is amazing and is going to change the world. People should be ready for that change and need to upskill themselves.
Margaret: For me, the way to think about chat is more around the generative artificial intelligence (AI) space. How do you use generative AI for the processes that Swati and Sarah talked about. I think it’s going to be disruptive, just like automation was very disruptive. Robotics was disruptive for blue-collar workers and generative AI will be disruptive for white-collar workers. First, it has the ability to create generalized content much quicker and with pretty good accuracy. Second is the translation of information—summarizing content and distilling information much quicker than a human can. So what we need to do is to upskill to a point where this delivery enables us to make faster and better decisions. I’m excited to try it and also figure out its limitations. Every new technology has some limitations, and in this case, it’s as good as the information you feed it.
Sandy: I think hearing your thoughts about how change is happening and what gives you the resources to drive that change is such a valuable conversation. I wish I had more of this kind of insight earlier in my career, and I’m happy to be sharing what we’ve learned with everyone.
Here is the replay of the panel.