Money talks, stress walks

Frank Cooper |Apr 16, 2019

Money is ranked the #1 source of stress in people’s lives. That’s ranked higher than physical health, work, or family. But it’s also surrounded by taboo. How can we turn this concept into something approachable and part of cultural conversation? 2018 offers a reminder that geopolitics matter. Our analysis suggests increasing uncertainty around rising trade tensions has been a major drag this year on equities, offsetting solid earnings growth, as tough U.S. trade talk turned into trade actions. We see geopolitics once again set to cast a shadow on markets in 2019.

Fun fact: Jogging used to be considered strange. In the 1960s, jogging wasn’t correlated to health at all, nor was it commonplace behavior. But then Nike made the connection. They turned something that was feared and doubted, into something that is part of the overall picture of our well-being. Today, you can’t walk on the streets of any city, or really anywhere, without passing by someone who is on a run. Decades later, the rise of gyms, countless types of classes and athleisure wear have made fitness something for everyone.

In our recent podcast, “Money talks, stress walks,” I sat down with moderator Mary-Catherine Lader to talk about why, like jogging, money should be part of our overall picture of well-being, and how we can make investing approachable, one small step at a time. Below are some highlights from our conversation.

MC Lader: Your background before you came to BlackRock was in consumer goods and entertainment, and well before that, in law. Now that you’ve been at BlackRock and diving into this question of what gets more people investing around the world, what have you learned?

F. Cooper: There is a common denominator to all of it. In marketing, what we’re trying to do is make change happen; we’re trying to change peoples’ perception and we’re trying to change their behaviors. And that’s what I’ve done my entire career; you can do that in food and beverage, you can do that in entertainment, you can do that in financial services. And I feel like there is no better time than now to actually be in financial services, because we’re at a moment in time where people are starting to awaken to the fact that their relationship with their money is important to their overall sense of well-being.

MC Lader: What’s been the catalyst for that change, and why now?

F. Cooper: If you look at just what is happening in culture, mindfulness overall has increased; people are much more conscious about what actually makes them happy. We saw it happen in food, and we saw it happen in physical exercise. People expect things that actually contribute to their overall sense of well-being. If it doesn’t, it’s put into the category of the mundane or a commodity. They’re not going to pay a premium for it, and they’re not going to pay attention to it. What I believe is that we’ve artificially separated our relationship with money from our sense of well-being. And now we have that chance to bridge the gap.

MC Lader: If individuals care more about the things in their life contributing to their sense of well-being, where today do money and investing stack up? It sounds like you think there is a lot of room for improvement.

F. Cooper: Well, first I’ll say money is definitely not a panacea; money is not the answer. The thought is, people need to reconcile their life goals with money. Larry Fink's letter to CEOs speaks to the idea of purpose. This in part is driven by employees who increasingly are demanding that the companies for which they work actually serve some higher purpose and that meets their own personal sense of purpose. But it’s not just about how people earn their money; it’s also how people save their money and how they give it. It’s easier to see money you spend, because that’s the most visible thing. When you save, you don’t see it, and when you invest, oftentimes, you don’t see it. The opportunity I see now is through technology and its ability to actually give people signals back from the things that were previously invisible. For example, if you save and something happens on your mobile phone that indicates that you’ve saved, those signals can help enhance peoples’ sense of accomplishment.

MC Lader: We conduct our Global Investor Pulse once per year. This year’s results show that people still feel a ton of stress when it comes to their personal finances. What actions would you hope to see in 2019, such that 2020’s results might be a little different?

F. Cooper: One action I’d love to see is to demystify the language of financial services. Can we speak in a language, and in a way, that is intuitive to people? Two, I’d love to make money part of the cultural conversation. It’s been taboo, but increasingly we’re seeing parts of the population talk about it. One of my jobs before had a really young population of employees; I think the average age was 24. And what I noticed is that they shared salary information with each other, they talked about money and renting in a way that I had not seen in other generations. Third, I think we need more relatable role models in our advertising. We can diminish this notion that investing is “not for me” by showing people that there’s someone like them who is actually doing it. And the last piece is technology. Are there ways in which people can start to advance through small steps by leveraging the knowledge and expertise that we have, but doing it in a way that makes it easy and comfortable for them? Small steps are meaningful steps.

Interested in the full conversation? Check out our podcast on Spotify or iTunes.

Frank Cooper III is the Global Chief Marketing Officer of BlackRock & Mary Catherine Lader is the Chief Operating Officer of Aladdin Wealth Tech, BlackRock’s fintech businesses serving wealth management.