As a financial advisor for a major wall street investment firm during the ’90s, Pamela Ayo Yetunde noticed that women in the San Francisco Bay area showed a reluctance to discuss personal finance—even during a bull market. “What I found among the women I met was a lack of trust of financial professionals, a feeling of inadequacy around financial literacy, and feelings of inadequacy around the amount of money they had to work with,” Yetunde recalls.
She says she met so many women having problems dealing with money that it motivated her to write a book and team up with Tracey Scott, a 16-year marketing consulting veteran, to form a company to reach women who needed financial advice and investor education. The two founded Marabella Books in 1998 and it became the parent company for the SmartSisters Network, a movement to promote financial literacy among women. “We have taken an idea and created a business behind it,” says Scott, “but this is not motivated by money alone. It is really helping to empower black women in their dealings with money matters while raising financial literacy in our community.”
SmartSisters reaches its audience primarily through interactive seminars, listed on its Website, www.smartsis ters.com, which was created and is maintained by Scott. She believes the seminars offer women the chance to open up about their financial status without feeling intimidated. “I think the most important thing we offer in the seminars is a forum for people to talk comfortably about money,” she says. “In many cases, these women have never asked questions like ‘What is the Dow Jones?’ They’ve never explored what a stock is.”
To help women understand finance better, the site also posts information on retirement planning, long-term investing, asset building, estate planning, life insurance, and the importance of reducing credit card debt. SmartSisters offers free, moderately priced, and customized financial seminars to generate revenue, selling Ayo Yetunde’s two books, Beyond 40 Acres and Another Pair of Shoes and The Inheritance, for $14 each at all events and on the Website. Throughout a difficult 2001, Scott says SmartSisters averaged $30 to $40 per seminar attendee, held 14 custom seminars for the year, and offered two to three free seminars per week. The free seminars generally have 15 or more participants, while the custom seminars for corporations, churches, and other organizations have had as many as 500. SmartSisters has conducted seminars in cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., Houston, New York City, and Atlanta.
Indeed, the SmartSister approach of Scott and Ayo Yetunde exemplifies DOFE principle No. 9: to maximize my earning power through a commitment to career development, technological literacy, and professional excellence. These SmartSisters say there are any number of ways women can demonstrate financial empowerment.
START WHERE YOU ARE
Four years ago, Lula Flowers, a 58-year-old retired postal worker, met Ayo Yetunde at a seminar and spoke with her about her personal finances. It was one year before Flowers was to retire, and the only financial plan she had was the U.S.