We overshare about almost everything. We talk about our dating history, our health conditions, religious and political beliefs, family, you name it. But the one thing we never talk about is money.”
— Nondini Naqui, President and CEO of Society of Grownups
Launched with support from MassMutual in 2014, Boston’s Society of Grownups provides a stress-free environment for young adults to get help with financial planning. Through one-on-one advice, classes, supper clubs, and online tools and resources, the organization helps its millennial clients learn about topics ranging from investments and debt to buying a home—or even a good bottle of wine.
As a 2015 Forbes article described it, “The concept is something out of a financially-conscious hipster’s daydreams but turns out it might be just crazy enough to work.”
Leading the way as President and CEO of Society of Grownups is Delight 2016 speaker Nondini Naqui. With a diverse background ranging from banking to social good, Nondini’s career path has been anything but traditional. Her latest venture offers the chance to combine her interest in mission-driven work with her skills in financial services.
“Today’s generation of adults faces major obstacles and competing priorities, but traditional financial services companies have struggled to keep up with this group’s specific and changing needs,” Nondini says. “So, we set out to be that change agent and tailor our approach to personal finance specifically for millennials.”
In her Delight talk, Opening the Conversation About a Taboo Topic: Money, Nondini will share insights on the Society of Grownups journey so far. This speaker spotlight will give you a sneak preview!
Helping millennials ‘find their inner adult’
Carmen: It seems like Society of Grownups really walks the talk of putting the customer at the center of everything you do—understanding and meeting real customer needs—rather than (just) trying to sell financial services. How do you go about gathering that customer insight? And what does it mean to “meet customers where they are”?
Nondini: I think you hit the nail on the head here— we do put our Grownups (that’s how we refer to our “customers”) at the center of everything we do. We are “for Grownups, by Grownups.” We built the company and the team from the ground up with Grownups who are deeply connected to the mission in order to help the millennial generation live life on their own terms.
When we first began conceptualizing Society of Grownups, we were very intentional about our research, especially when it came to our target market. We went across the country to talk to people in their 20s, 30s and 40s to try and understand where they were in their lives holistically. We realized that in a very short period of time, this group is experiencing a lot of major life milestones—things like buying a home, getting married, starting a family, taking a new job they’re passionate about. However, at the same time, no one is really talking to them about how to navigate those changes effectively.
The question became, “What if we focused on engaging with people in those moments when they actually need us?” What we mean here is being a trusted resource for Grownups when they are experiencing these milestones, almost all of which have financial underpinnings, and helping to guide them toward reaching their goals while keeping their values in mind.
Opening conversation & creating a community
Carmen: It feels like your approach has also been very intentional in building a real community, rather than just a customer base or market share. Why is that? And what is the nature of the Society of Grownups community?
Nondini: When we set out to create Society of Grownups, we asked ourselves: “How do we create community around this taboo topic of money?” We were absolutely intentional about building a place where we could help change and open up the conversation around money. We understand that our Grownups have a need for that sense of community and like the security of knowing there’s a judgment-free place they can go. We have an incredibly diverse group of Grownups that have engaged with us since we opened. What’s interesting is that we’ve never talked about demography, but rather we focused on behavioral and attitudinal segmentation. As you know, one 25-year-old can be very different from another 25-year-old.
If you’re talking about broadly opening up the conversation around money, there are lots of groups that could benefit from it. And while we never say no to anyone who wants to come here, we had to have a point of focus to develop the offering. We have clusters of people who come to Society of Grownups in their mid- to late-20s through early 30s. The median age of people we see is 30. But at the end of the day, what these Grownups have in common is that they are primed to take action—they understand they should be doing something, but they’re not sure what that something is. Our job is to help empower them.
Fostering financial literacy
Carmen: Why is money so hard to talk about? And how are you breaking through that?
Nondini: Society of Grownups is dedicated to fostering financial literacy. We wanted to build a place where people could come to talk openly and honestly about money. It’s interesting, because we overshare about almost everything—we talk about our dating history, our health conditions, religious and political beliefs, family, you name it. But the one thing we never talk about is money. I think this is rooted in the fact that there’s a fundamental sense of shame wrapped up in personal financial situations and a sense of judgment that gets placed on others and even on ourselves. How often have we thought, “He must be irresponsible because he has a lot of debt,” or “She shouldn’t buy that item, there’s no way she can afford it.” And then there are the times when we turn that judgment on ourselves.
So how do we get people to be comfortable talking about money and engage millennials in these conversations? That’s where Society of Grownups came in with a mission to democratize financial literacy, to make talking about money more comfortable and less scary, to deliver information in a judgment-free zone. With a unique approach to financial planning focused on values, we were able to step away from the traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach and meet Grownups where and when they need us.
Making money a little more fun & a little less scary
Carmen: Society of Grownups has such a great, distinctive brand. It’s the antithesis of a stodgy financial services firm. What role does that brand play in creating a delightful experience for your community?
Nondini: Thank you, we are proud of our brand. Everything about our branding is intentional. We have what we think is a unique and realistic view of the issues that young adults are facing today and when we set out to create Society of Grownups, it was critically important that we communicated that distinctiveness by maintaining a consistent voice across all branding and communications. The visual design of the brand, paired with our honest and bold conversational tone of voice, needed to strike a balance between approachability and aspiration.
We tested brand concepts, we experimented with our offerings, we thought through everything—all the way down to the pencils we were using. I’ll be the first to tell you that we didn’t get it all right on the first try, but that taught us to embrace the fact that success is born out of a willingness to try, fail and iterate. At the end of the day, our branding is meant to convey the fact that we are approaching the conversation around money, personal finance, and being a Grownup in an entirely new way. We’re here to help make the process of managing money and personal finances a little more fun and less scary.
About Nondini Naqui
Nondini Naqui, President & CEO of Society of Grownups , is an accomplished change agent who has worked within both large and small organizations to drive disruptive product and service innovation. Her experience within different industries ranges from financial services to nonprofits, including a start-up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Passionate about brand building and creating exceptional experiences within digital and physical spaces, Nondini says she took the road less-traveled to get to the financial realm, studying anthropology, Spanish, and business. After a tenure in consumer banking, she now serves as president and CEO of Society of Grownups. “It’s exciting to realize how much we can help people reach their goals by taking the time to meet them where they are,” she says.