Five juniors have worked to bring Smart Woman Securities (SWS) to campus, starting a national chapter of the non-profit organization at Wellesley College. The organization works to educate women on personal finances and investing in order to promote financial independence and equality in a traditionally male-dominated field.
The national organization began at Harvard in 2006 and currently has 23 chapters, the most recent being Wellesley’s and Stanford’s. Cofounder and CEO of the Wellesley chapter, Diva Sharma ’18, had learned about the organization from a friend at Putnam Investments. The company recruits members of the organization. She then pitched the idea to four other juniors—Tatyana Johnson, Jacqueline Vazquez, Gloria Samen and Sydney Robertson—and the five of them worked to launch the organization at Wellesley.
“To us, the reason we wanted to start it here was that we think it’s really important for women to be financially independent, and that means knowing what a balance sheet is, knowing what an income statement is, knowing how to do your taxes, and if you see a stock quote, knowing the metrics behind it,” Sharma explained.
While other organizations such as Wellesley Women in Business (WWIB) and the Investment Society also focus on finance, the SWS co-founders were interested in promoting an organization that focuses on educating students from different majors and backgrounds in finance. Prior to cofounding the SWS chapter, Sharma was a member of the Wellesley Investment Portfolio Initiative (WIPI), which was funded by Fidelity and had an application process to become a member.
“It was a very small and exclusive group, there were only like 15 to 20 students accepted into the program and I wanted to have an org that would have a broader reach. WIPI was a lot of commitment as well,” Sharma said.
Becoming a chapter of this national organization required extensive planning and dedication. While multiple schools applied to become a chapter this year, only Stanford and Wellesley were able to complete the soft launch during the spring semester of the 2015-2016 academic year.
For the soft launch, the Wellesley organization held multiple lectures to gauge interest in the organization and sent surveys out to the attendees in order to understand what went well and what the organization could improve. The co-founders then reported the results of the surveys and the attendance records back to the national organization.
Official membership of SWS is open to all students able to make the commitment of eight out of the ten lectures this fall semester. Students will then break into teams and use what they learned in the lectures to complete an investment project in the spring, ultimately pitching stocks which the group will screen as potential investments.
“The educational component is really important because we want to strive for financial literacy, not just getting a job in finance. We want to emphasize that it doesn’t matter what field you’re going into, this stuff is important to know,” Sharma said.
The lectures will cover a variety of topics including how to balance a personal checkbook and how to invest in stocks.
What makes SWS unique for this campus is its educational component—the organization will be holding ten lectures during the fall semester, each building upon the last—as well as an investment project during the spring semester. As Fidelity sponsors the organization, the team with the best pitch for each chapter will attend an event and make a pitch to Fidelity.
As Samen, who is co-founder and Chief Development Officer (CDO) of the chapter, explained, the access to professionals in finance is one of the many benefits of becoming a chapter of a national organization.
“The resources and network together create the perfect umbrella of support for us to have a successful and productive chapter established. One of our goals is ensuring the longevity of our club and having National by our side every step of the way will allow us to do so,” she said.
Although the co-founders of the organization run the chapter independently, finding their own speakers and tailoring the educational component to the needs of the members on Wellesley’s campus, a relationship with the national organization allows members access to speakers and resources that they would not have had otherwise. One event planned for this academic year is a meeting with Warren Buffett.
The chapter will continue reporting their progress to the national organization and are hopeful for a successful first academic year.
“This fall semester is unique, in that students who join will be the very first members— the ones who establish what SWS is to Wellesley for the next 10 years. We don’t know what to expect and we don’t know where we’re going, but we’re certainly excited for what is to come,” Johnson, the Chief Operating Officer (COO), said.
Johnson, as well as the other co-founders, has found that the organization has already proven beneficial to her understanding of finance and has enjoyed being a part of the SWS team.
“It’s been such a pleasure to be a part of team of really knowledgeable women who have a single goal in mind: to educate women on the basics of finance and investments. These two skills are essential to any field of study and career path, so I strongly believe that the resources SWS has to offer are relevant to all students on Wellesley’s campus,” she said.