Eryn Schultz is enjoying teaching a topic that others may find daunting: women’s personal finance. It’s a different career path than the 34-year-old Harvard Business School graduate intended — another case of lives changing in unexpected ways during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I switched industries and became an entrepreneur, all during the pandemic,” she says.
Schultz’s passion for assisting women with personal financial decisions developed accidentally. The native of Houston, Texas entered HBS in 2013 with dreams of starting a business in the food industry or working for a nonprofit full time after earning her MBA. She worked for a grocery chain out of B-school, then landed her dream job with Revolution Foods, a healthy school lunch company, where she worked not only with food but — to her surprise — finance.
With Revolution Foods, Schultz gained a reputation for being an informal in-house 401k adviser. It began with conversations with coworkers about retirement. She enjoyed assisting others, and gradually, through word of mouth, coworkers started to seek her help. She realized that although women generally are hesitant to talk about personal finances, the need is still there.
“People are very hungry for these conversations,” she says.
AN ONLINE FINANCE COURSE FOR WOMEN
As Schultz began to further explore the world of women and finances, she discovered many of her highly educated female friends weren’t comfortable speaking about managing their pocketbook issues. That’s a problem men don’t have, she says.
“Men talk about finances more openly — it is seen as much more societally acceptable,” Schultz says. “Money is such a taboo topic, but men are more comfortable talking about money management and are more likely to talk about it, so there’s more informal conversations about it in male vs female networks.” As a result, men become more educated on how to manage personal finances — leaving women at a disadvantage for managing their own finances, because they haven’t engaged in those conversations.
Schultz, pursuing her new passion, hosted a two-hour finance workshop for HBS women; afterward, she spoke with attendees and asked for feedback. And that’s how she learned they were longing for more discussion about personal finance management, and for a way to gain the confidence to be self-sufficient with their money.
In October 2020, Schultz made a big decision: She would leave Revolution Foods and become a full-time entrepreneur behind her own online course called pHERsonal Finance Day, launched earlier in the year, which serves a specific audience: high-earning female professionals. Her goal is to empower women to take action to improving their understanding of their personal finances, because “that’s who I am and that’s who I know best.”
Schultz has run her course three times this year. It was a timely launch, she notes, as many have had down time during the coronavirus pandemic, and some have made it their goal to get a handle on their finances.
ONE MALE STUDENT ADMITTED — ON THE CONDITION THAT HE NOT BE INTIMIDATED
Her first cohort was primarily Harvard Business School women. By her third cohort, which Schultz is currently teaching, the audience has become very mixed, and is mostly non-HBS women students. Her next course session begins in January.
Her plan is to have two courses running, separating those who have a strong background in finance from those who don’t. Her goal is to create an atmosphere of empowerment in her online classroom where women can openly discuss personal finance free from the discouraging pressure of societal norms. She does, however, have one male student who she agreed could take the course — as long as he isn’t intimidated by the women.
In Schultz’s 10-week course, students are expected to allot only one hour per week to the coursework to minimize information overload. “If you throw a lot of information at someone at once, it’s less likely they will take action,” says Schultz. Each week Schultz focuses on a different element of personal finance, with topics on personal audits looking at month-to-month spending habits, investing, and discussing retirement options, to name a few. Students are encouraged to communicate and discuss assignments with each other as well via Slack.
“This is only a financial education course,” Schultz says. She specifically educates her students on understanding and managing their personal finances and does not give advice on individual financial decision-making. For example, if a student asks what stocks they should invest in, Schultz will kindly remind them that is out of the scope of what she’s offering in her course.
A ONE-WOMAN SHOW
Schultz is currently a one-woman show running all aspects of the course. If her student base grows significantly, she says, she will bring someone else on to help. She built the curriculum based on personal finance books, interviews with financial planners with years of experience and interviews with women, gathering their most common finance related questions. She is continuously updating the curriculum based on feedback from her students as well, as any skilled teacher would.
Schultz doesn’t have a complex strategy to market the course; she has thus far gained students all through word-of-mouth. New students have discovered the course through recommendations of previous students or through Instagram where she regularly posts financial success tips. She currently has a sizable following of around 1300 people.
If anyone has doubts regarding her credentials as an educator, their worries may be eased after learning she’s passed the Series 65 exam that tests her knowledge of financial concepts. The exam qualifies her to give investment advice as well, although as aforementioned giving advice is out of the scope of her course. Schultz is also on track to becoming a certified financial planner in the next year.
Schultz is unsure why personal finance is hardly discussed in MBA curriculum. “There is a gap in education. You pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for this great degree and students are very well equipped to manage their company’s finances, but they are much less equipped to manage their own finances. If you have an MBA you know what a stock and a bond are but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what to do with it in your own portfolio.”
Why are universities shying away from teaching personal finance? Schultz believes it could be due to a multitude of factors, one being liability issues.
“If universities give students advice and a student comes back and says ‘I lost money’ they could potentially sue. Giving financial advice is a very heavily regulated space, so there is some discomfort with dipping toes into that water,” she says. Another factor is that there are many competing topics in an MBA that professors find to be of greater importance that take priority over personal finance. Schultz has been in touch with HBS’s career development department, and she hopes the business school will incorporate her course into their curriculum.
Meanwhile, she is offering Poets&Quants readers a discount; visit https://www.phersonalfinanceday.com/ and use the code POETSANDQUANTS for 10% off her course, normally priced at $350.