“I also believe parents need to talk to their children about money and I think they need to be part of their child’s education. If parents are uncomfortable, find a family friend or relative who is willing to sit down with your children to explain how all this works.”
Carine Schneider, FGE is a prominent leader in the private market and global compensation industries with deep experience working in consulting, technology and financial services. She is the President of AST Private Company Solutions, Inc., an AST Company, based in Menlo Park, California. She was named one of the 100 Influential Women in Silicon Valley by the Silicon Valley Business Journal and one of 17 “Women to Watch” in 2017 by Brown Brothers Harriman Center on Women and Wealth. Carine is a Fellow of Global Equity (FGE).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Can you tell us the backstory about what brought you into the finance field?
I graduated from college with a degree in psychology and sociology with absolutely no idea what I was going to do. It was dumb luck that I ended up working for the Oracle CFO before their IPO. Back then, IPOs were not as common as they are today and no one really knew what they were doing, I was the right-hand person to the CFO through that entire process. I started working with investment bankers, lawyers, accountants and auditors to get everything ready. Once we were public, there were many people who profited from the exit and wanted to retire early. I was asked to take over the management of the employee stock plans for Oracle this is when I started to use my interest in personal motivation in the business world.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or a takeaway you took from that story?
I started as the receptionist in the finance department at Oracle. Back then, in the days before voice mail, I would write everybody’s phone messages on a little pink notepad. A couple of days into the job, the CFO came running out of his office, very upset with me saying, “I understand the bank called and we were overdrawn. Why wasn’t I told about this immediately?” I replied, “I wrote it on a little pink sheet of paper, but people take them to their desks when they return after lunch and don’t bring back the messages that weren’t meant for them.” I continued, a little flip “You know, if you’re that important to the company, why don’t you have someone to answer your phone?” So, the next day I got a call from HR and I thought I was getting fired.
HR told me that the CFO wanted to speak with me, I thought he was mad at me. During the meeting he asked, “Do you know anything about going public?” I was confused, thinking that he meant “Did I know anything about throwing parties or open houses for the public.” So, I replied, “Oh yes, I know a lot about that.” He told me that we were going public and he needed help. I think he likely knew I did not know what I was talking about but went with it anyway. He asked me if I knew anything about relational database management systems and I told him I did not know anything about technology or computers. However, I ended up getting the job and working for the CFO. He was one of the best bosses I ever had in my career and taught me a great deal.
My lesson from this story is — be ready for anything. I wasn’t qualified to do what he was asking, but he saw something in me and decided to give me a chance. I always tell people to keep an open mind. If I had said no and not taken the job or if I had clarified that my degree was in psychology, not finance, I would not be where I am today. I started my career as a receptionist and eventually became CEO of several companies!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
AST Private Client Solutions, Inc. launched a new software solution called Astrella last May. We are very proud of Astrella. We believe it is a solution that will help people understand life-changing wealth. We asked ourselves, “Why do people start private companies and why do they become entrepreneurs?” It is because most people want to change the world and they want to improve their financial situation. Astrella allows companies to manage and track ownership, understand what happens with an increase in investment money and what happens when you sell your company or decide to go public. This product helps people who are starting a new company understand and manage important data.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story, please?
I truly believe our people make our company stand out. I know many people say that, but I believe every person we hired is here because they are passionate and committed. Recently, we had a situation on a weekend when one of our client companies was going public on Monday. Our U.S. and international teams were on the phone all night coordinating with the client. You cannot pay or train team members for that kind of commitment — it is an inherent characteristic. Last week, a client told me that they love working with us because we are friendly, helpful and timely. All the traits that make people fun and helpful to work with are what make us stand out.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let us now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all-white boys club.” This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
When I started working on Wall Street in the ’90s for one of the industry’s largest wealth management investment banks, I was not allowed to wear slacks. I was high-level member of the team and I was sent home once to change my clothes because the men in the office complained that my maternity dress was made of denim. Things have certainly changed since then, but there is still a long way to go. I believe that our society has relaxed a bit and that has had an impact on where things are heading. Now, when I go to New York or San Francisco, people in the banking world aren’t wearing a three-piece suit or a white shirt with a tie anymore.
Certainly, the pandemic has had an impact on how we work, because Wall Street was always a conservative and restrictive work environment. You always had to be in your office, wearing the right clothes. I think that the pandemic, along with a shift in societal norms have had the greatest impact on this change. Companies are starting to resemble the outside world and less like golf clubs or country clubs. I work with women, people of color, people from diverse backgrounds, young people, older people, disabled people, etc. Many people who work in my industry now would not have had the opportunity when I was starting out in the ’90s. I am very excited about this change and I believe over time the industry will continue to change.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies, and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
A. For individuals, if you would like to see your career develop into a management position, then you must act and dress like you want to be in that position. I made the biggest strides in my career when I asked for it and I directly express my intentions and aspirations. When I joined PWC, I clearly stated that I would only join as a direct-admit Partner. Had I not said that, I likely would not have been invited into that position.
As I mentioned, you must want it, but I think it is okay if you don’t. I believe we should stop judging people who are not promoted every two years. I find that if you review promotion information at organizations, you see that in most cases, men are being promoted every one- to- two years and their peers and colleagues view this as their careers being on track. When women are doing a very good job and staying in the same role for four- or five-years employers interpret this as a lack of desire for additional responsibilities. This is often untrue. Individuals need to ask for what they want, and employers need to engage with their employees to understand their aspirations.
B. When I was at PWC, we found that not everyone wanted to be a Partner. I ran the Women’s Leadership Affinity Group (WLAG) in San Francisco and at the time 12 percent of our Partners were women. We asked women who were one step below Partner to see if they wanted to be become a Partner at the firm. Many women said that they did not want to be a Partner. The women were happy in their current position and others said that they really wanted to become a Partner. By asking, we were able to mentor and develop our team based on what they wanted. There is uneducated judgement when people do not wish to climb the corporate ladder. I think we need to find out where people fit and support them, either way.
C. Society needs to support this career trajectory, too. Many women have many responsibilities; taking care of a family, whether there are children involved or not, participating in their community and their profession. Many women handle the family finances, the household details, extracurricular activities and they also work outside the home. We need to support flexible working hours/part-time positions. In addition to childcare responsibilities, many women are also caring for elderly parents or have other caregiver responsibilities. Companies should provide benefit programs and flexible work arrangements. The pandemic has helped shape work schedules and I’m not the first to observe that work structure may have changed forever.
Let us now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans cannot pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience, what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend improving these numbers?
When I was in high school, I could have taken Calculus, but I am not a number-loving person. Instead, I took Applied Math. We learned how to compound interest, how to complete a tax return, how to balance a check book and how mortgages worked. None of these subjects are taught in high school today, so I believe that it is a lack of education. My children did not receive this education in high school, and I had to sit down and explain it to them. If I could change anything, I would make this a required course in high school, everyone should be required to understand basic financial literacy to graduate high school.
Banks and mortgage companies should also have more of an educational component. When I speak to mortgage brokers, they assume I know everything about mortgages. The lack of information sharing causes confusion and complications.
I also believe parents need to talk to their children about money and I think they need to be part of their child’s education. If parents are uncomfortable, find a family friend or relative who is willing to sit down with your children to explain how all this works.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each?
My daughter bought a house recently and the mortgage process was complicated for her. She didn’t understand property taxes. When the first property tax bill came she called me and asked what it was, so we had a long talk and discussed her tax obligations. We also had to talk about how insurance works and how there are different insurance products. My children both had questions about their tax returns, why they must be filed and when to file. Initially, they did not understand that taxes were being withheld from their paychecks.
Both of my children are college graduates and their mother works in finance. I cannot imagine how people without a parent working in this industry are learning what they need to know. So much of our financial system is not intuitive. We need to do a better job of educating young people, so they understand how these complex products work, when to use them, how and when to pay their bills, etc. I also see a lack of financial literacy with older people. I help my parents understand new products that are coming on the market. I frequently observe my parents and their friends confronted with cybersecurity and privacy issues like phishing. I would like to raise awareness on both sides of the age spectrum.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I was at Oracle, I felt lost most of the time. Our Treasurer at the time, Roy Bukstein, could tell I was a young kid and could use some advice. One day I told him I was about to have my performance review and had no idea what to say. Roy sat me down and helped me prepare some statistics to share with my boss, including the multiple millions the company had taken as a tax deduction due to my work managing the stock plans. I was able to sit down and present real numbers with my boss to validate my performance. That was the first time I really saw the power of numbers and why including statistics in your annual review was a powerful tool. Years later, I asked Roy to join one of my boards when I became a CEO. I am always thankful to Roy, because I know he will always be there to guide me and remind me of the subtle things that I sometimes forget. I did not need him to help me read a P&L — I needed him to help me learn how to advocate for myself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My children hate hearing it, but I always say, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be right now.” I think it is relevant because sometimes in that moment, you are depressed, angry or frustrated about why something is happening. When I look back, I always see there was a reason why I had an experience, especially the negative (and painful) ones. It was there to guide me, and it made me better. So, I always tell my kids, you might be ready to pull out your hair, but there is a lesson later. It will present itself when you need to learn from that lesson.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The theme of this interview has been around education and financial literacy. I talk to people all the time who do not understand what a stock option is or the value of working as an employee. Focusing on helping people of all ages understand their financial matters is very important. During the pandemic, I saw a story on the news about a woman who lost her job because of COVID and was going to be evicted. I tweeted about it and we were able to raise enough money in 24 hours to help.
As I kept thinking about her, I realized we only solved her immediate problem, but we did not solve her long-term problem. There is often a lack of understanding of how finances and budgeting work. How does rent work? How does a mortgage work? How does a bank work? How do checking accounts work? Why are paycheck lending services so bad? If we do not teach people to manage their finances, we will continue to have societal problems. If I could change anything, I would work on expanding access to financial literacy and education.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
An Interview With Tyler Gallagher
CEO and Founder of Regal Assets