Instead of an office, conference room or coffee shop, Priya Malani prefers to meet her clients for drinks.
Wearing a leather top and jeans with holes fashionably cut into the knees, the 33-year-old advisor and founding partner of Stash Wealth, a Brooklyn-based financial planning startup, says she knows her style won’t appeal to everyone. When it comes to financial discussions, some people need the suit-and-tie gravitas of traditional institutions.
But Malani isn’t interested in those clients. With Stash Wealth, she’s building a financial services firm for the young, hip and cool.
“We need to do and be what appeals to [millennials], and, quite frankly, since I am a part of that generation, it was kind of easy to know that I’d rather do business at a cocktail lounge than in a mahogany office in some high-rise in Manhattan,” Malani says over a gin martini. “This is more our style and it seems to resonate with our clients.”
Malani describes her clients as “High Earners, Not Rich Yet,” or HENRYs: doctors just out of their residency programs or young civil engineers, for example. Her average client is a couple in their early 30s with an average income of $175,000 to $225,000.
Despite all of the industry talk about reaching next generation clients, Malani thinks it will take a firm built by millennials to get it right.
“We’re a YOLO [You Only Live Once], FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] generation, so yeah, it’s going to take a bit of restructuring of the mind set, the philosophy and the delivery of the services.”
Her fluency in smartphone shorthand and emojis verifies her millennial bona fides, but Malani also has more than a decade of financial experience.
She started with a 35-hour-per-week internship at a Merrill Lynch wealth management firm during her final year at Agnes Scott College. Tasked with updating the client experience, Malani made client statements more visually engaging by turning dry spreadsheets into graphs and charts.
The internship turned into a full-time job, and it was around this time she first encountered the concept of HENRYs.
“It was a light bulb moment for me,” she says. “I was immediately, like, ‘this is the term I’ve been looking for to describe my demographic. This is exactly who they are: They’re young, ambitious, they work their butts off and they want something to show for it.’”
Next Gen and Traditional
Malani moved to New York in 2006, working her way up at Merrill to a vice president of wealth management and capital markets. In 2009, she left to figure out how to launch her own business.
The result is Stash Wealth, a firm that, like many other small businesses in Brooklyn, is both next gen and traditional. She opens accounts digitally but still walks clients through the process in person, or at least via video chat. And while she’s considered robo advisors, Malani prefers her own investment research and allocation strategies.
“We’re super new school, yet we’re a mom and pop organization,” Malani says.
Stash Wealth is also different in its approach to fees. The firm has no account minimum and offers a $197 “smart money debrief” to any young person looking to “get their financial s*** together.” Malani describes it as a blueprint for optimizing income and getting on the path towards a HENRY.
For HENRYs, Stash Wealth charges a one-time fee of $797 (or $1,297 for new business owners) to create their Stash Plan, a unique financial plan designed around the client’s lifestyle and goals.
Though the Stash Plan is designed for clients to implement themselves, clients can hire Stash Wealth as their full-time wealth manager for a percent of their assets. Malani says she originally didn’t want to charge a traditional AUM fee, but adapted to client feedback. She found HENRYs preferred having a fee taken from the back end of their investments to writing a monthly or annual check, even if it cost more.
But is it a sustainable business model? Like the HENRYs she services, Stash Wealth isn’t rich yet, but invested in potential. With more than 60 clients, she grew 50 percent last year and says she is on track to reach $5 million in AUM. There are four people on her team, and she is looking to hire another.
Malani expects to turn a profit in 2016, but the focus remains on building her base of young professionals who will, if all goes well, be wealthy investors in the future.
“The truth is, I couldn’t sleep at night if I was trying to profit off of people who are working their butts off and just trying to make student loan payments,” Malani says. “I just know that my clients are going to be killer in the future, and I’m willing to be patient enough to go with them.”
That client list started with family and friends, before expanding via word-of-mouth and financial education happy hours she hosts in Brooklyn. Stash Wealth maintains an active blog and social media presence, and Malani contributes articles and videos regularly to millennial lifestyle websites like Refinery29, PureWow and Bustle. After a recent article —where Malani offered advice to a young woman who kept savings in an empty tequila bottle—went viral, her inbox has flooded with requests for meetings.
That’s a lot of cocktail hours, but Malani is confident it will be worth it, “because all of our HENRYs will be millionaires.”