It’s never too late to get ahead in your finances. This is the summer where the money resides, and it resides with Ahead Financials, a digital banking platform dedicated to helping its users build better money habits. According to Anu Shultes and Kimberly Morgan, the CEO and COO of Ahead Financials, managing your money is simple, as long as you have the right tools that support building financial health. The company’s mantra is “Ahead for all” and they put their money where their mouths are in their inclusive belief in providing financial education for all generations. A new fintech company (financial tech), Ahead Money, is a digital banking and financial health platform that is designed for those that want to create financially secure futures. The dynamic duo of Ahead Money has planted themselves right in the middle of Rolling Loud for its first three-day festival since the pandemic.
Kim and Anu pride themselves on educating the Millennial and Gen Z generations. Unfortunately, most young people aren’t provided with the tools to manage their finances the best, especially after college. Both Kim and Anu want to change that. Earlier this week, we had the chance to interview these two boss women on how they got started, stereotypes they’ve faced in the industry, and advice they would give young women of color trying to break into the business world. Alongside the amazing advice, they educated us on what it means to be truly financially healthy.
How did you get your start in your career?
Kim: I am an accountant by trade, so I’ve always been interested in numbers as well as financial systems, so I was extremely excited to transition to the fin-tech sector (financial services tech)
Anu: I immigrated to the US to pursue my Master’s in Management Science. As an international student graduating in 1992, there were very few companies that were willing to hire non-residents due to Visa restrictions. I was hired by a company called Providian based in San Francisco. The CEO was an immigrant himself and a graduate of the program I was in. Providian was a pioneer in credit cards for the subprime market, and that is how my career in Financial Services started.
Did you have any internships that help shape who you are in your career? If so, where and how?
Anu: I did my undergraduate in Computer Engineering in India. I spent my summers in my Sophomore and Junior years focused on preparing for GRE and getting into graduate school in the US. One of the summers, I worked as a programming intern at BHEL – this was Indian government-owned engineering and manufacturing enterprise.
Kim: I interned for one of the “big” accounting firms and a traditional bank while I was in college as they were the typical internships offered for accounting majors. I am very grateful for those experiences because I learned very quickly that my career path was going to be non-traditional and unconventional, given my assertive and entrepreneurial spirit.
What do you do currently, and how did you get to this point?
Anu: I am currently the CEO of my company. It has been a long road to get here. 20 years ago, I made a goal to be a CEO someday. I didn’t know exactly what kind of company I would be CEO of – but I knew I needed to develop my skill set to get there. So I worked to get experience in all aspects of a business – from analytics, risk management, marketing, operations, and product. I went back to school for a second Master’s degree (MBA) to get trained in all aspects of a business. Eventually, I made it to a GM role before landing my job as a CEO.
Kim: I’m the COO of Ahead Financials. I’ve always approached each role that I’ve held at previous companies with a servant-leadership and entrepreneurial spirit to learn, grow, and develop people as well as the business space to help prepare me for owning and leading my own business one day.
What are some major projects you have worked on that have impacted your career? What projects are you working on currently?
Kim: I am currently working on some pretty cool cultural marketing and social impact projects to engage with communities and potential customers to learn and grow with them on their financial journey
Anu: In 2007-2008, I joined a company that focused on delivering financial services to the underserved. During the housing and financial crisis, many middle-class Americans lost ground, became underbanked, and lost access to mainstream financial services. This was a turning point in my career – I was shocked by how many millions of Americans were shut out of mainstream banking services. Since then, I have made it my mission to solve this program – how can we deliver financial services to all, and how can we help every customer get to better financial health?
What is your favorite part about your job?
Anu: My favorite part of my job is delivering products to consumers and hearing them give us feedback on how much we are/have helped them. At my core, I am a problem solver and a team builder. I recruit talented people and create high-functioning teams. When you have such a high-functioning team working towards a mission and solving difficult problems, it creates magic at the workplace!
Kim: My favorite part of my job is knowing that I work every day to make sure communities that look like me have the opportunity for financial stability and freedom. Financial stress is often the root cause of all stress in the home and being able to deliver an inclusive financial health platform gets me out of bed every day.
What Stereotypes do you think women, especially women of color, face working in the financial space?
Anu: The intersectionality of gender bias and bias due to skin color creates a significant disadvantage for women of color. I have been told I should consider joining IT because I am Indian. Becoming a mother and taking time 12-16 weeks off for each child put me behind at my jobs. As a society, we have a long way to go to bring parity to the workplace for women and women of color.
Kim: The first thing that comes to mind is that women, specifically women of color, are often labeled as aggressive instead of assertive or direct. I believe women are typically viewed as nurturers in the workplace which is a wonderful characteristic to have as a leader, but that doesn’t mean a nurturer can’t be direct in communication style. However, sometimes it’s hard for some people to digest from women of color.
What challenges have you faced in your career, and what did those challenges teach you?
Kim: I am often challenged indirectly about whether I have the skill set to hold some of my leadership roles and my authority to make decisions. Initially, I used to respond with the need to work harder, but now I look at it from the lens that it’s not me but more often insecurity in the person/evaluator. I have learned to own my confidence in my skill set and not let others’ unwarranted evaluations of my performance affect me.
Anu: In my 20s, I was told by an executive that I will never be CEO because of who I am. I have been told I am not good enough to be a General Manager. But, I have never let it stop me. Each time I was told I couldn’t do something, I simply proved them wrong by getting results and getting things done! What it has taught me is that I know myself best, and my sense of self-worth is not defined by someone else’s point of view about me.
How have you bettered your finances over the years as you continued to move up in your industry?
Anu: One would think that most people move up and to the right in life – be it financial, personal, or professional. But for me, the 2008 housing crisis was a life-changing year. I had just moved to California from Florida and went through a financial, health, and personal crisis all at the same time. I had to use up all my savings to navigate the crisis. In essence, I started over – this only made my resolve stronger to help others get to better financial health. In the last 12 years since the crisis, I have not only recovered from that crisis. I have learned to thrive. And now, I am so pleased that I can bring my passion for financial services and financial inclusion to the masses through Ahead Financials.
Kim: Financial wellness has been an iterative journey for me. I did not start with the best finances after college, and I had to quickly learn how to budget and understand the true value of money. The most important part is knowing the difference between saving and investing to make the money that I earn work for me instead of constantly stressing about how to make more money. If done correctly, financial freedom and security are achieved.
What is a motto or advice that you swear by?
Kim: It is cliche but quality over quantity. It helps with every major decision I’ve made about my personal and professional financial decision. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that sacrificing quality will often become expensive over time, so I try to focus on purchasing quality goods, producing quality products for customers, etc.
Anu: I do my very best in everything I do. I know that with hard work, we can get to where we want – it may take longer than we want but the key is not to give up. I also do not let other people’s opinions of me change my sense of self-worth.
What advice do you have for younger women of color trying to navigate their way up in the business world?
Anu: My advice to young women of color is to be aware of the challenges but not be fazed by them. Create clear goals for yourself and work hard to achieve them. Learn from your mistakes and constantly push yourself to get better. Along the way, pay it forward by helping those that come after you.
Kim: Trust your gut, own your voice and surround yourself with like-minded, goal-oriented people that will motivate you to be your best self. I firmly believe everyone can be extremely successful, but our external environment can often hold us back. Your network is your net worth, and you should constantly strive to be your best self which includes making wise choices about friends and mentors.
Financial literacy is important, and it is not taught enough, especially in the Black and Brown communities. Kim and Anu are creating spaces and resources for young people to grow their financial wealth and increase their knowledge of their financial well-being. These bosses are navigating their way in an industry that can seem male-dominated, however with these two Women C-Suite Executives, the FinTech industry is in good hands. MEFeaters, it’s time to level up, take an interest in improving your finances.
Powered by Ahead. Download the Ahead Money app. Build better money habits with Ahead! Open the link from your mobile device to download the app.