February 25, 2013

Money, Power & Women: Elle Kaplan, a Different Face of Wall Street

Elle KaplanShe was young, fresh out of college, just moved to the big apple and had a dreama financial dream that landed her in the middle of Wall Street. But in pursuit of her goals, Elle Kaplan discovered some unsettling truths: Where were the banks that respected their clients’ needs more than their own? Where was transparency and honesty in business practices?  Most important, why weren’t women’s needs represented in the finance sector?

Kaplan decided to answer these questions herself, as the founding partner and CEO of Lexion Capital Management, the only 100 percent woman-owned asset management firm in the nation. At Lexion Capital, Kaplan says her firm is setting a new, higher bar in wealth management as they work to get people to re-imagine Wall Street.

And with a woman-owned and operated firm, re-imagine they should. Statistics show that the gender wage gap is higher on Wall Street than anywhere else, with women only getting between 55 and 62 cents for every dollar their male colleagues make. The national average is 77 cents (for every one male-earned dollar).

It comes as no surprise then for what a firm like Kaplan’s symbolizes. Take a look at what she had to say about women stepping up to bat in the male-dominated financial industry:

1. Why is being “100 percent woman owned” significant in terms of your company?

Women are very underrepresented in the banking and finance sector, especially in the C-Suites. There is not a single major bank with women in the C-suites, let alone as CEO. At Lexion Capital, we want the next generation of young women to consider Wall Street as a viable career, and we want them to aim high. We highlight that we are a woman-owned [company] to inspire them.

2. Why is representing women’s needs important in business?

Overwhelming evidence shows that having female leaders means businesses do better, period. Women bring a crucial perspective that often helps keep businesses in check, and shakes up the idea of “business as usual” according to the “Old Boys’ Club” standards. If women are not represented in business, then they cannot effectively reach top positions of influence for several reasons. We see a “drop out” effect at a certain tier of management where women disproportionately leave their positions because they don’t see any possibility for advancement. This problem trickles down to teenagers and young girls who don’t envision themselves pursuing top careers in business because they see so few role models who look like themselves.

3. In what ways does Lexion Capital Management hold true to representing women’s needs?

Above all else, we are inclusive. Our work and planning includes not only women but same-sex couples. At Lexion Capital we work very closely with each client to create highly personalized asset allocations and retirement plans based on their unique needs. We are a fiduciary firm, which means that we are held to the highest possible legal standards. Unlike a brokerage firm or commercial bank, we are legally obligated to act in the best possible interests of our clients at all times.

4. What challenges did you face when starting your own company?

The biggest challenge that I faced early on was a direct result of not setting my expectations high enough. Once I opened for business, the most challenging problem was having far more clients than I originally anticipated—I exceeded my goals for the first year on the first day I was open—which turned into a “reverse curse.” I was unprepared for the huge rush of business, and had to hire rapidly in order to expand enough to support the influx of clients.

5. Were you ever met with adversity during your entrepreneurial journey solely because you were a woman? How did you overcome?

As a woman on Wall Street, you are perpetually in a fish bowl. It is a harsh and isolating industry, and being one of the very few women means those affects are amplified. I made sure to separate my professional self and my personal self. I have always been a strategic planner: I kept my ultimate career goals in mind as my motivation and reminded myself that tough times last for right now, not forever.

Just over a decade later, I am the CEO of Lexion Capital and our goal is a lofty one. We want to recreate (and reclaim) Wall Street for everyone. We aim to raise the standards on Wall Street so that everyone’s needs are met.

6. Why is it important for women to own businesses, especially in the financial market field?

Women bring a perspective that differs from the typical or traditional standard in male-dominated industries like finance, and that perspective adds enormous value. A more diverse Wall Street is in everyone’s best interest. The financial industry interacts with and affects every individual and community, so it should include people of all those communities in positions of authority. A more inclusive standard will help ensure that everyone’s interests are better represented and better protected.

7. What advice would you offer women who desire to become entrepreneurs?

When it comes to your career, “no” is just someone’s opinion and nothing more. It’s possible to carve out a unique path on your own terms if you believe in your own success. You are your own best cheerleader—conversely, if you don’t sell yourself and your idea like you believe in it, then no one else will believe in it either. No one can advocate for you and make it happen like you can. When the right opportunity fails to present itself, you have to create your own opportunity.

Read more in Entrepreneurship

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
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