Starting a business is a big achievement for many entrepreneurs, but maintaining one is the larger challenge. There are many standard challenges that face every business whether they are large or small. It is not easy running a company, especially in a fast-paced, ever-changing business world. Technology advances, new hiring strategies, and now, political changes coming with the new administration, all add to the existing business challenges that entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives have to deal with.
Maximizing profits, minimizing expenses and finding talented staff to keep things moving seem to be top challenges for both SMBs and large corporations. We have been interviewing companies from around the world to discover what challenges they are facing in their businesses. We also asked each company to share business advice they would give to a younger version of themselves.
Below is our interview with Steven Wallman, Founder and CEO at FOLIOfn, Inc.:
What does your company do?
FOLIOfn, Inc. and its subsidiaries provide integrated brokerage, custody, and fintech services to large financial enterprises, advisor firms, and other financial technology companies under the Folio Institutional brand. It services more than 450 firms (including some of the world's largest), as well as some of the most innovative robo advisors and start-up firms. Through its Folio Investing brand, it also provides unique brokerage services directly to investors enabling commission-free, diversified, customizable, consistent, and tax efficient investing. FOLIOfn, Inc. is also the parent company of First Affirmative Financial Network, a registered investment advisor that has specialized in sustainable, responsible, impact (SRI) investing for almost three decades. Folio also owns and produces The SRI Conference, what we believe is the world's largest, longest-running annual forum for investment financial professionals engaged in SRI investing.
What is your role? What do you enjoy most about your role?
I'm the CEO and founder of FOLIOfn, Inc. Prior to that, I was Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. While at the SEC, I witnessed the negative effects of investors' lack of diversification, taking on risk for too little return, and their not fully understanding fees, costs, and taxes. My role is to encourage investors to become better investors, and enable advisors and financial firms to offer services that benefit investors. At Folio, we love to create and innovate while doing good by investors. We have pioneered many ideas. Some have been copied directly, while others are increasingly prevalent in the industry. Our creativity drives change and encourages firms to offer services that are not only more competitive for them but also truly advance investors' interests. For a small company, being able to inject significant and beneficial change into the financial services landscape has been very rewarding.
What are the biggest challenges in your business right now?
Gaining more notice, and of course, the issue of cyber security, which is a fast growing threat to all of us. Also, our clients who are advisors are challenged by a rapidly changing landscape, including increasing demand from their clients for their investment to do good in addition to doing well. Regarding getting our message out, this industry is dominated by behemoths. They can use their marketing strength, customers' inertia, cross-subsidization, and many other means to cast an anchor against progress that challenges their existing business models. Individual investors meanwhile take on too much risk, fail to diversify, try to time the market, and speculate instead of invest. Some of the industry's marketing encourages this, and that's a challenge. But, as more investors understand what works, and what doesn't, and as more and larger firms embrace the offerings we have pioneered, we see continuing change, and folks increasingly take note.
If you could go back in time, what business advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?
First, be patient. When Folio launched in 1999, we were way ahead of the market. We lived through the dot com bust and the Great Recession, and outlived some larger firms. Today, thoughtful investors and advisors embrace our services. The current start-up mentality is "fail fast." That may work well for venture capitalists, but it would have been sad to see our innovations evaporate when we went through tough times. Our patience has served us well. Second, diversify. The mantra here is "do one thing and do it well." But we followed our own advice serving not only individual investors, but also financial firms directly and with innovative fintech solutions available through APIs. We built a full stack clearing firm for vertical as well as horizontal capabilities. When one channel slowed, others picked up. Going against the grain was a fight a younger version of myself should find worth having.