What Shareholder Engagement Looks Like In Action with Kate Barron-Alicante

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If Money Were Easy

Hosted by Mary Beth Storjohann and Neela Hummel

What Shareholder Engagement Looks Like In Action with Kate Barron-Alicante

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If Money Were Easy
What Shareholder Engagement Looks Like In Action with Kate Barron-Alicante

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Episode Summary

As an investor, you are part owner in the company you’re invested in, and therefore have the platform to use your voice and advocate for change within that company. But how? Today, Abacus Wealth Partners Director of Impact, Kate Barron-Alicante joins Mary Beth Storjohann and Neela Hummel to discuss how investors can be active owners and engage with the companies they’re invested in through shareholder advocacy. She’ll share some inspiring stories of when shareholder engagement compelled companies to do better and ways you can promote change and ensure your voice is being heard. 

What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • What shareholder engagement is and what it looks like
  • Other commonly used terms for shareholder engagement
  • Different ways to participate in shareholder engagement
  • The meaning of divestment and how that can influence companies
  • What proxy voting looks like and some nuances associated with it
  • Why you should care about proxy voting
  • How to make sure you’re continuing to be impactful as a shareholder 
  • Examples of when shareholder engagement enacted change
  • How to know your voice is being heard
  • Different strategies to implement as a shareholder
  • Recognizing the small changes you can make to create a larger impact
  • How to determine what’s being invested within each company

Resources Mentioned on the Show:

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Transcript of the Episode

Neela (00:14):

Hey there. Welcome to the If Money Were Easy podcast, the show where we teach you how to expand what’s possible with your money. We’re your hosts Neela Hummel –

Mary Beth (00:23):

And Mary Beth Storjohann –

Neela (00:24):

Certified financial planners and Co-CEOs of Abacus Wealth Partners. Today on the show we’re going to talk about what shareholder engagement looks like in action. But before we jump in, a brief disclosure from our Director of Compliance. This podcast is for educational purposes and is not intended as investment, legal, or tax advice. Any opinion shared is not the opinion of Abacus Wealth Partners.

Mary Beth (00:49):

Let’s jump in. So today on the show, we are very, very excited to have Kate Barron-Alicante as a guest. Kate is the Director of Impact, a board member and financial advisor at Abacus Wealth Partners. She’s a Certified Financial Planner and holds an MSC in International Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London, and a BA in International Relations from Boston University. Prior to finance, Kate spent 15 years in social justice and social change work and nonprofits in academia. Along with her clients, she shares a passion for leveraging money for climate and racial justice in this moment in history. Kate lives in Philadelphia with her partner and two children. Kate, welcome to the show.

Kate (01:33):

Hi there. Great to be here with you guys.

Mary Beth (01:36):

Thanks for being here. So Neela and I are both very passionate about this topic, shareholder engagement. There is so much nuance to it and there are so many levels of tangible action and performative action – as we were just talking about before we jumped on to record. So before we start, let’s go with a high level, what is shareholder engagement?

Kate (01:56):

Yeah, I’m not sure how many regular people know what shareholder engagement is, right? So I think high level –

Mary Beth (02:01):

Right, so break it down –

Kate (02:02):

The best place to start, if you think about the different roles we wear in our lives, there are different places where we get to ask questions or speak up or weigh in with our full self. And one of those is with voting. When you are a citizen and you have the ability to vote, you get an opportunity on some consistent basis if you wanna take it to weigh in. Same thing as a consumer. They’re out in the world. We’re making choices to buy things. And so that’s another place where we get to bring our full self to decisions that we make. And I would say shareholder engagement is another place where, when you’re able to be invested with your dollars somewhere, that can look differently. But if you are in that position, then you have another place where you can bring your full self to – that choice of being an investor. And that is shareholder engagement, big picture. I think shareholder engagement has two big pieces to it. One is basically a place where investors are seeking to understand the company better and get a little more information. That’s one place, one reason for it. And the second reason for it is, depending on that answer to the information that you sought, or the understanding that you seek, maybe seeking change as an investor. Because when you are an owner in a company, as in you’re invested in it through a mutual fund or you own an actual stock, you have – particularly as a stock owner – you have the right to use your voice and some would say a responsibility. So how are you utilizing that? So shareholder engagement is that work to bring your full self to being an investor and seeking to understand the companies – seeking to get more information and seeking change. And so that’s a very high level of what it looks like. And it’s been going on for a very long time. There’s a whole ecosystem of different types of organizations doing this work and different themes that come up over time and different methods that get deployed as attempts to seek the change or to get the information.

Neela (04:11):

Okay. So if we were to deconstruct that phrase, because I’m a grammar nerd, we’ve got two components. We’ve got shareholder and we’ve got engagement. And shareholder, you mentioned, it’s basically you own a piece of a company. So if you own a stock of a company, you are an owner, and you are one of the many owners of that company. And so that gains you the right to go to the second piece, which is engagement. And you said that is a way to engage with the company, either to gather more information or like you said before, to make your voice be heard. Do I have that right?

Kate (04:47):

You do. And we could go in further and talk about all the synonyms and other phrases that are used alongside shareholder engagement. I’ll throw some out there because it might be helpful, but we can stick with this phraseology. I mean, other terms people use besides shareholder engagement, or interchangeably, are things like shareholder advocacy, or stewardship, or active ownership. So how are you being more of an active owner? There’s a different sort of subgroup, especially in the ‘80s of shareholder activism, that was more about a kind of takeover – that’s a different thing here than the advocacy component, which is what we’re talking about. So yeah, it’s being an engaged and active owner and advocate as an investor. Bring all those together.

Mary Beth (05:29):

So you mentioned that there are different methods and ways to do the engagement and to participate. So give us an overview of what those look like.

Kate (05:42):

Well, before we get into the different methods, just to say there is another approach to try to influence companies as an investor, and that would be to just not own a company, right? And so there’s a lot of thinking and different schools of thought about the effectiveness and the power of just opting out of owning certain kinds of stocks and different examples of movements around that. And that’s called divestment. And so that is an additional tool, but for some people that’s something you get to after a long period of the engagement work. And for some people they would never divest because they would want to hold the power as the shareholder and try to influence. So one thing that happens when you’re an investor and you own that stock is that you are privy to the annual meeting. The company has the general annual meeting. And at that meeting it’s when the company formally communicates with its investors and goes through the earnings for the year and different issues and reflects on the past year and looks forward. It’s also a meeting where there is a ballot and there is voting for its investors. And there is a process of, well, what gets on the ballot and who puts things on the ballot. And the ballot is oftentimes – has some things on there like voting for the management, voting for leadership in the company, voting for board members. That’s common items on the ballot that are put forward, usually by the company itself. But then there can be things on the ballot, which are called resolutions that are put forward by shareholders. So there is a process of putting things on the ballot, which is a smaller group of folks and really a further step in the spectrum of the work. But everyone has the ability to vote on this ballot. And the phrase for that is called proxy voting. So every investor has a chance to vote proxies. And the way that practically ends up happening is most investors who are diversified and invest in lots of different companies are leaning on a service that might help inform how those proxies get voted. So just to keep it high level, there are different services that can recommend ways to vote on certain resolutions. When you’re picking maybe your method of investing, let’s say you pick a certain mutual fund company to put your money in with – name a mutual fund company, you know, those are the ones when you’re invested in a mutual fund – since you don’t actually own the stock, the mutual fund company is really voting on your behalf and they have come to a determination about how they’re gonna vote. So it’s another way to ensure that maybe you’re picking to work with mutual fund companies that are more in alignment with your values and you can see how they’re voting proxies on your behalf.

Neela (08:23):

What kind of things, you mentioned management of the company, but what are the things that people are voting on and why should people care?

Mary Beth (08:30):

What do the resolutions look like? Is that the question?

Neela (08:32):


Kate (08:33):

Yeah. Why should people care? I think we can start first with the “why should people care” is because we live in a capitalist society where companies have a lot of power, and are making a lot of choices. They are major employers, they are creating so many of the goods and services that we all interact with on a daily basis. And there’s also implications to the choices that they’re making and to the products that they’re creating and so on and so forth. So we should care because we live in a world where the choices of companies are impacting the air we breathe, or the governments that we vote for. It’s not strictly bound by walls, right? This stuff starts crossing over into all areas. So that’s why I think we should care and the more people care, the more attention is brought to these different decisions and the trade-offs that necessarily have to happen between a bottom line for a company and the impact of that choice of the bottom line. So the different topics can be things like environmental impact, the direction and leadership and kind of compliance of the company with climate goals that have been set at this global level with the U.N., where the rubber meets the road with individual companies and what they’re doing and the rubber meets the road inside companies with what their shareholders say they care about. So you can just trace that line all the way down from something the U.N. says to what an investor might require an answer to. But it could also be things about CEO pay or about who are the people that are in positions of power. Are they all representing one group of people? Is it a more diverse group of people in the halls of power in an organization? So different things like that, you know, environmental justice issues, pollution. And depending on the year, there are different themes that come up. So for example, in recent years, climate resolutions. So the things that come up on the ballots, climate is a really big one. So the number of resolutions that touch on climate continue to be high, like a high percentage of the resolutions themes, but also the approach that they’ve taken over time. So for example, the sophistication of the requests is evolving as well. So it’s not just making a pledge about climate, it’s what are the science-based and time-bound targets that a company is setting for their climate emissions.

Neela (10:48):

So less performative, more tactical, and being held a little bit more accountable – “Okay, you care about this, but now what are the steps that you’re gonna be taking to actually improve this?” Right?

Kate (10:59):

And I can give an example on the climate front of a proxy vote that was put on the ballot by an investor who owned a share of Microsoft, or enough shares because you have to have a certain amount of shares to be able to put the vote forward. So okay, they met the criteria. And what was interesting was this company, Microsoft was really a leader in the world of corporate America for climate targets, right? They did have those goals articulated and they were on a plan time bound. They were really putting themselves out there as the leaders, but where they were lagging was connecting the dots with what was going on inside their company’s 401(k). And so like many companies, they have 401(k) for their employees, and the employees when they come in, I think, they’re automatically enrolled in a target year retirement plan. So you come in, you’re a certain age, you have this one great benefit that you’re automatically enrolled. You didn’t even have to think about it as an employee. The downside was that particular choice inside your 401(k) had a terrible grade. The nonprofits that kind of grade the quality of climate investment mutual funds, this had like an F rating for climate. So if you zoom out, it’s this alleged leader in the climate space in corporate America who was doing better things, holding itself out there, but in its own house with its own people was just automatically channeling a pool of its employees’ investments into a plan that had no option for better climate results. And so the resolution was asking for them to sit with that reality and consider something different, right? And that went forward and it got a lot of support from the folks who voted their proxies. So it can look like many different things, including how a company’s internal behavior and their external voices may or may not be in alignment. So, sometimes, it’s just very helpful for the company. They’re, they’re not necessarily thinking about that. So it doesn’t have to necessarily be antagonistic. It could really be bringing attention somewhere where it hasn’t been seen before by the company.

Mary Beth (13:05):

So would you say that story with Microsoft, is that a full reflection of the shareholder engagement journey or is it the shareholder engagement journey? Is it more cyclical? Is there a start and stop point as an individual investor? Am I checking a box? So I’m voting the proxy, so therefore my work is done here? How engaged do I need to be or what questions should I be following up on or asking to ensure that my vote is, in fact, impactful or if the resolution passes that it is, in fact, impactful and happening?

Kate (13:36):

Yeah, that’s a good question because I think it depends on what kind of investor you are. So if you’re in your own retirement plan or you’re in some mutual funds in your own investments that you’ve made, it’s thinking about the managers that you’ve selected. So, a Vanguard, a TIAA, a BlackRock, take a look at what they’re saying that they’re doing with proxy voting. You can use some of these tools and I can name a couple of them where you can run your mutual fund through and get these grades that I’m referencing here. And part of that criteria, how they’re being assessed, is how the manager is voting proxies. So it’s not necessarily too much you have to do on an annual basis if you’re in a mutual fund, it’s really being done for you. But you can check in on this. And I would say this is a growing space where more and more people who are putting their money in investments are asking the question and looking and going to these managers and asking them, “What are you doing prior to that?” And they’re still on a journey, but a lot of the larger asset owner companies would just kind of default always vote with management and never really think much more deeply about voting for the shareholder sponsored resolutions. But that is changing and it’s changing a lot because of consumer pressure and investor pressure. So one thing is on the front end of the journey, how are you selecting where you’re investing in the managers that are doing it for you? If you are at a place where you’re able to own individual stocks, then it’s also a matter of are you on your own with that process? Are you working with an advisory firm or some other entity that can help you? Because it can get a little technical, a little complicated about how to navigate that. But you should have the ability when you reach a certain time of owning the stock and a certain level dollar amount. But you could join in this ecosystem coalition of other investors where they might have a need for an issue area you really care about, to have an investor who owns a stock in a particular company raise their hand and say, “I would love to sponsor.” And you go through that process that results in a resolution getting on the ballot that all the investors see, including the mutual fund managers that we just talked about, right? Like your resolution could be on the ballot and the level of work you have to do with that if you’re working with the team, you don’t have to do much work yourself, but what’s happening is you’re a part of a bigger cycle of this annual vote process. But also it’s not that you’re trying to get a certain number, you know, like a school grade. Like an 80% or higher is a win.

Kate (16:07):

It’s really like change happens. The research has shown that change happens with engagement at around 25%. So 25% of investors vote to support something, it is a win. And because it’s large enough and it’s particularly – when you think about there are some big block owners of stocks – these bigger asset managers, how they vote has a big influence on the whole vote result. But everyone else, if you’ve got a 25% and higher support of your resolution that you put forward, it’s gonna make a difference either because it’s gonna result in the company taking on board the request immediately or it’s going to lead to momentum for that to come back up again next year and have a higher vote. Almost like a snowball effect. And it’s not uncommon that a resolution just comes back with single digit support in the first year. And that’s still a win because there’s a longer play that the advocates are looking at, right? That they might anticipate to move this company over time is going to require a few things. It’s going to require conversations with the company in the rest of the year when a vote isn’t happening. And it may result in the company saying, “You know what, don’t even put that resolution up. We are already working on it. We’re on it. We don’t need to go to the vote. You can withdraw it.” The company may also say, <laughs>, “We do not want this to go in the ballot and we’re not doing it.” And they might fight it with the security and exchange commissions with the government, the SEC and say, “Please throw this out. We don’t want to have this be on the ballot.” And that might result in it going forward or stopping. Or it could be postponed if the company could say, “We’re working on it, give us a year. What you’re asking, like we just can’t do it on a dime, but we would rather this didn’t go up for a vote, so can you come back to us?” So there’s a couple things that could be going on in the background separate from the ballot process that’s all about this dialogue with companies. Like I said at the beginning, it’s about seeking information, trying to understand because a resolution on a ballot is pretty far down the road of trying to seek change. There’s usually been a lot of work behind the scenes over years before that happens. And the way it happens is usually strategic. So those are some examples of all the different cycles that are at play of what’s going on before this even becomes a resolution. And what happens when it goes to vote the first time, the second time, the third time.

Kate (18:20):

And then it’s, you know, the hope is that the engagement process focusing on certain companies is very strategic. So the focus on Microsoft is very strategic because it’s saying, hey, this is a leader in corporate America for climate, but look where they’re not looking, they’re not looking where their employees are putting their dollars. And so we’re gonna use them strategically because they are this kind of poster child, so to speak, for climate. But even they could improve on some things, which means that they, the company has kind of an identity wrapped up in being that poster child and they really would likely want to resolve it – as opposed to another company who’s so far away from their identity they’re not there yet.

Mary Beth (18:58):

So the resolutions in general, you’re saying there’s a couple things. One, that it’s almost like a branding or marketing message that can come through that as well. So companies don’t want the resolution to go up if they’re asking for it, because if the resolution goes up, it’s an even bigger spotlight on them and this issue at the firm. And so there’s more looking under the hood that could happen and it’s not necessarily a positive light that’s being shown if it’s one of these resolutions. Is that a correct assumption?

Kate (19:24):

Yeah, and what we haven’t said, and what we should say too is all of these resolutions that are not about board member votes, they’re non-binding. So yes, it is true that all this work could happen and a company completely ignores it. But from a branding standpoint and an investor relations standpoint, it is important, right? What happens, what these votes are, and what the narrative is.

Neela (19:44):

And even just what it is, like Mary Beth said, it’s like putting a spotlight on it where you don’t need 90% of people to say, “Hey, we want this.” But it’s saying, “Hey, you’ve got a subset of people who are looking at this metric or this data point, what are we doing about it?”

Kate (19:58):

Right. So I’ll give you another example, which is another company that most of us know, AT&T. And in recent years, like in post-2020, AT&T was one of many companies that got more vocal about its values in the world and they, like many companies, do lobbying with politicians and put their money into supporting certain electoral outcomes through how the company puts money into political action campaigns and employee PACs as well. So on the issue of reproductive rights, it came to light through sort of the shareholder resolution and engagement ecosystem that AT&T, while it had stated certain values as a company for its brand, it at the same time was supporting politicians who were trying to restrict reproductive rights and the language of their alleged values were not in alignment with those lobbying dollar choices. So this resolution that I know that came forward recently, actually – cause this time of year is the time – was calling on the company to grapple with this and the company requested that it be withdrawn so it didn’t even go to the ballot. And they agreed to do a study every year for the next three years that made visible where their employee lobbying dollars were going, which elections and where their company dollars were going, and then how that didn’t square with their values – with the promise that in three years they would revisit. So of course this puts another cycle on the process, which is the shareholder advocates keeping track of what’s going on in the three years. There’s a bit of a win. And yet, like we’ll see, right? Because the report isn’t a win, a change in action is a win. A pledge isn’t a win, a change in action is a win.

Mary Beth (21:54):

So this is an ongoing process, there isn’t an end, and I think that’s important to keep in mind. And also as an individual, how do I know my voice matters?

Kate (22:04):

Well <laughs>, I tell my children, “We make our beds every day, even if we’re gonna mess them up at night and get back in.” Like there’s something here about coming out to do the work. <laughs>, we don’t necessarily always know, right? Same thing for voting, you don’t know, but there’s something about the action that you take. We are in an era right now where greenwashing is ripe and that can be a level of where you’re investing, but it also could be at the level of these different companies and they’re very, very, very well resourced on the marketing and messaging side. But where the work is is seeing how this being implemented? And so shareholder engagement is playing a stronger and stronger role of accountability and it’s the way that people who have some of the most power in the capitalist system or the investors are using this right? But also this responsibility to hold the companies accountable to their own messaging, to their own marketing and messaging. It’s like you said this thing about your values and you’re doing this thing with your lobbying dollars. Like please tell us how that squares.

Neela (23:03):

Reconciles. Yeah, I love that.

Mary Beth (23:06):

I love the idea of the accountability, and I think that’s the most important part to keep in mind. Even as you mentioned, you know, it’s only a 25% vote as Neela said, just shining the light and spotlight because companies will take that, even if it doesn’t necessarily pass, the issue has been presented, it’s on their radar and then they continue the conversation. So I think keeping that perspective of your vote can matter, even if the resolution does not pass, you’re still signaling to the company that you’re looking for change as an investor. So I think that makes sense. And I want to go back because I think it was interesting – going back to Microsoft and their 401(k), and the strategy and thought that goes into spotlighting them as a poster child. And so not just affecting change at Microsoft, but seeing there’s this poster child that’s out there using their voice and here’s what’s happening inside – that signal is then sent out to these other corporations. That’s the whole idea behind it. Connecting those dots of using Microsoft and then other companies. What are you saying? How are you presenting your brand? And then what does it look like behind the scenes inside of your company, inside of your walls? So I really like the power that’s inside of that, as well as just spotlighting on Microsoft and the media that comes from it that then pushes others towards change. Or knowing that hey, you might be next on the list if you’re not taking a look inside your own home. There’s so much nuance and there’s so many different avenues and ways that it can play out. So the accountability is huge. And then it seems like there’s also just a ripple effect. There’s a ripple effect that can come from it.

Kate (24:32):

There are different strategies that get deployed, right? And I mean if I had my druthers, I would be in this space all day every day because I find it very stimulating, very exciting, and just very important work. But also, like you said, there’s a lot of nuance happening in here and I think it’s really important that this gets translated back to regular people. Like this is happening, this is work, you know, you can support this, but first people have to know what it is, right? But their strategy of whenever you’re trying to do kind of campaign work is who’s the closest to us that we could budge? Cause they’re easier, right? It’s like low hanging fruit. Do you want to invest your energy on the people furthest away or the people closest to you in the hopes that you can bring, move them first and then bring the next, right? It’s sort of the early adopter phenomenon. There’s another strategy when it comes to, let’s say like climate financing, where the ecosystem of shareholder engagement leaders will look at who are the banks that are funding most of these oil and gas pipelines and most of this infrastructure work that is in direct counter to what the U.N. says we need to do. We actually need to stop doing these things. But then there are a number of banks that are continuing to give loans to these companies. So it’s a different strategy to go after, not the fossil fuel companies but the banks. And then you figure out which banks are the most strategic banks to go for and that’s not a – which bank is closest to us and can we move quickly? It’s just in terms of dollar amount, which is the one, right? It is the JP Morgan Chase that is the bank that is, and has for a number of years, been the one to most invest. And if this is something that is getting in the way of global climate targets, then let’s have a strategy around targeting the company that’s most responsible for this work. So you end up picking a different kind of company because you have a different strategy.

Neela (26:16):

Different strategies, different paths. It’s funny you bring that up. I feel like I just read something about Patagonia looking at their banking relationships and Patagonia – shining example of corporate responsibility. They’ve literally given their company to the earth and then started asking questions about who does their banking and is that in conflict with what they have as a company purpose? So I like that you bring that up where there’s a number of different avenues to accomplish what you want. It makes me think of the concentric circles of your sphere of concern, and then one level deep is your sphere of influence, and then one level deeper is your sphere of control. And it’s almost what you’re doing is you kicked us off with our sphere of control, like where we spend our dollars every day, the decisions that we make as an individual consumer. But shareholder engagement is almost like going out one circle where you’re like, “Ooh, I don’t necessarily have control, but I might be able to influence a little outside of this circle that I have.” And it just sounds empowering. Frustrating, but also empowering.

Kate (27:16):

Yeah, it’s not an individual approach, it’s really being done with a bunch of other people. There’s a lot of people under the hood trying to do this work, identify the strategies, work together, find investors who have the stocks who are willing to raise their hand and do it right. It takes a village to do it. But also, sometimes I can imagine that some individual or entities in the position of, you know, they have a banking relationship with JP Morgan Chase and they don’t like it and they own stock in JP Morgan Chase. What could they do with one of the hats over the other? Just thinking about, “What role do I play inside this? Maybe I can’t do all the things right now. I can’t – maybe I can’t pull my whole company out of our banking relationship. That might take two years of a process for us to do. Maybe we will consider it and roll that through. But also meanwhile we might own stock in this company and how could we be supporting them to change at the same time? Maybe they would change and we wouldn’t have to change our banking relationship.” So it’s also recognizing all the different ways that our lives touch money in the different seats that we sit in.

Mary Beth (28:13):

Amazing. Before we pivot to our wrap up questions, is there anything that we’ve missed that we should have asked you that we didn’t?

Kate (28:20):

There’s one more example that I wanted to throw out that came to mind, which was, it’s still along the lines. I think it’s interesting this branding and image washing potential, but also the same potential exists for a company really rising to the occasion and to the moment, to Neela’s Patagonia comment. And there was an example of Nike who has been very vocal, you know, it’s got supporting athletes and athletes of color and the work that they’re doing in the world to speak out for racial justice. And at the same time inside its own house, there was some grumblings and noise about maybe, inside the pay scale in the company, there was some disparities happening along demographic lines, right? Race, gender, et cetera. And so there was a call through a shareholder resolution that Nike – calling on its better angels as it wants to be in the world, right – to say you need to take a look at what you’re doing in terms of diversity and pay equity in your company. And I think the framing of that as calling them to rise to who they are and who they want to be. And it also called a lot of investors forward to support that resolution. Really high numbers out the gate. It wasn’t one of those ones that started with a small single digit support. It just immediately was really supportive. And the company, you know, is on a journey of being more transparent and doing that research that it comes down to, and I’m sure you can appreciate this, is like you have to basically task humans and pay humans inside your organization to do this work because if it’s not getting done, it’s likely because it was no one’s responsibility to get. It wasn’t prioritized, what gets measured or matters, or what gets put on someone’s to-do list so they’re accountable for and paid for, it matters. So that also can help the company redirect resources when the investors are pushing for this alignment to happen. And it forces the internal resource shift to happen to get that work done in order to publish on an annual basis to your investors, your demographic pay data. Now someone’s gotta be collecting it, right? There needs to be a whole process inside a company to keep your eyes on that and then not just collect the data, but make sense of it and then implement any changes that need to happen as a result.

Mary Beth (30:27):

So would you say with that resolution that was more calling Nike in versus calling Nike out, is that where the support came from?

Kate (30:37):

Yeah, I think so.

Neela (30:37):

I love that.

Mary Beth (30:38):

Interesting. Love that story. That is a powerful story to end on. Let’s transition to our wrap up questions.

Neela (30:46):

You ready Kate?

Kate (30:47):

I’m ready.

Neela (30:48):

Alright. What’s the best financial advice you ever received?

Kate (30:51):

This will come as no surprise to you, but it’s follow the money. Today we’ve been talking about that from a macro level, follow the money – what is getting invested in or not? But it comes at a micro level, right? In personal finance it’s, I say, “I care about these things, where’s my money going? Is it really going to support these things or is it not?” Or follow the money could also just mean like, am I even paying attention? So for me, if all the money is a really good organizing principle about all the different levels of money in my life –

Neela (31:21):

Show me your budget, I’ll show you your values.

Mary Beth (31:23):

Mm-hmm. What would you say is your favorite money mistake you’ve made and why?

Kate (31:28):

Well, who gets to label the mistake is what I want to know <laughs>. But for me, when I was in my mid-twenties and I was done with graduate school, I got a job with benefits and a 403(b) at an Ivy League law school. And there were some loving elders in my life who just thought that I had hit the lottery. Like of course, I was set, here you are, you know, you’re like 26 and you got it. But the best mistake I made was quitting that job. I’m talking about my parents, right?

Mary Beth (32:07):

In case you didn’t know.

Neela (32:10):

Love you, guys.

Mary Beth (32:11):

<laughs> Love you.

Kate (32:13):

But they were at a different life moment, right? They were both in retirement or facing retirement and they also were looking at their generation. They have pensions and access to pensions and they knew that my generation didn’t. So given their positionality, it just did not make any sense. There was a lot of friction around this decision, which I don’t usually have friction with them around those decisions. But it was the best mistake, quote unquote, that I made because I really was called to do different work that actually required me to quit my job and move to a disaster area and be a part of disaster response and philanthropy and social change work and grant making. And that was a massive turning point for me professionally and personally and probably spiritually. You know, just so much that you learn when you’re helping people recover from disaster. That if I had just stayed in the comfortable job with the benefits I would never have experienced, right? And I think I would’ve missed out on a massive piece of life that I was meant to live.

Neela (33:07):

Ooh. And the world I think is a much better place, Kate, with you doing the work that you are doing. So we would agree with that. <laughs> Okay, final question. Fill in the blank. If money were easy…

Kate (33:20):

Then people would be, too.

Neela (33:23):


Kate (33:25):

On some level – and I, and I think there’s nuance in this – but on some level, money is easy because money is just a thing. What makes money complicated are the humans and how we behave with the thing and the systems we set up about the thing and who gets to have the thing and who doesn’t get to have the thing. So if money were easy, people would be, too. Like people are complicated and we bring history, we bring emotions, we bring biases, we bring fear, we bring joy, right? We bring abandon, whatever it is, we bring it to money. So that’s why I think people would be easy, too.

Mary Beth (34:00):

Well, I’m just gonna be thinking about that for the rest of the day. I don’t know, the week, month.

Neela (34:04):

I feel like Kate’s a closing question ninja <laughs>, is that right? Did I assess that right?

Mary Beth (34:09):

So we’ll just carry on to Part Two of this podcast. I feel a little bit like the emoji with the head explosion right now. Thank you, Kate. That was powerful. Amazing. Tell our listeners before we wrap up how they can contact you, where they can find you, learn more about your amazing work.

Kate (34:25):

No one else has my name now, it’s hyphenated. So Kate Barron-Alicante. Put me into Google. You can find me on LinkedIn or other places online and I’m always happy to connect. I love connecting with people.

Mary Beth (34:38):

Thank you so much for coming on the show. This really educational and wonderful conversation, I think it was so important and I love the stories and the examples given.

Kate (34:47):

Thanks, it was so great to be here with you guys.

Neela (34:49):

Thanks Kate. Most people have formed helpful and harmful habits around spending, giving, and investing. Head to abacuswealth.com/quiz to take our Financial Archetype quiz and learn your three dominant money types. You’ll receive personalized guidance that helps you have a healthier, more balanced relationship to money.

What’s your financial archetype?

Simplify your life with a plan

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