Social Impact Heroes: “ Your money should, and can, reflect what you care about.” with Megan Schleck of COIN and Chaya Weiner
Everyone has a unique set of values. Your money should, and can, reflect what you care about. One percenters aren’t the only who should decide the future. All of us deserve to have a say in what happens next, and your money decisions make a difference. Finally, use your values as your guide. We are in the midst of critical social movements, like #MeToo and our current climate crisis, which are defining our future. In order to build the future we want, we have to know what we value and be brave enough to advocate for it.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Schleck, CEO of COIN. Megan is just as comfortable leading a boardroom meeting for her impact investment startup as she is guiding an expedition in the wilderness, building a mountain yurt (look it up!), or winning a three-day 444-mile canoe race with a team of amazing women. Her journey as a professional expedition leader, non-profit worker and eventually, analyst at John Hancock, left her with a strong passion for environmental sustainability and empowering people financially. When setting out to start saving for the first time, she experienced first-hand how difficult it is to understand and ensure that your savings are being invested in a sustainable and impactful way. She and a small founding team were inspired to build a platform that made it easy for any person to understand the impact of their money, and better align their investments with their values. Megan and the team launched COIN earlier this year to help people consciously invest.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to start on your career path?
I started working in the financial industry after guiding a 40-day expedition in Alaska. It was an interesting transition, but I was eager to learn how to help people save and grow their money. The first mutual fund I bought was made up of hundreds of companies, and as I looked closer at what I’d bought, I noticed that my money was supporting several companies making products that had serious implications for the environment. Talking with friends and family, I found I wasn’t alone. Not only was it difficult to know what my money was supporting, none of the product options available gave me a choice. Shortly thereafter, I brought the problem to a Hackathon held by John Hancock. We developed a tool that allows people to make investments that align with their personal values, and COIN was born. A portmanteau of “Conscious Investor,” we created COIN to help others know that money is making a difference. COIN is an investing platform that that helps people invest in a custom mix of companies making an impact in the areas they care about most. John Hancock decided to back COIN and bring the concept to market as a startup, which launched to consumers in March 2019.
Did you set out to start a movement? If so, what was your vision? If not, what did you imagine would be the impact of your work?
We set out to solve a problem and hoped to start a movement. We recognized that more and more people are realizing their money decisions are not just personal, they contribute to key issues in our society. We are experiencing revolutionary changes in the role of money in society, and our vision is to empower people to make a difference with their money. Whether you are passionate about protecting our environment, or ensuring access to better healthcare, we want to provide all people the power to place their values at the center of their investments. When we launched the COIN investment platform in March, we started by asking people what choice they would make: invest in progress or invest in the status quo?
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
From the beginning, we’ve learned how valuable it is to have customers represented and central in our decisions. In one of our early prototypes, we spent weeks designing an exciting new way to visualize impact in an investment portfolio, only to find that most people who saw it found it instantly confusing. The most ‘ah-ha’ moments have come from watching someone interact, and even break, something we’ve just built.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
First and foremost, we are raising people’s voices. Money is a powerful driver for change, and even more powerful when you connect it with a diverse group of voices. Voting with your dollars can be about more than what you buy at the store. Our goal is to help millions of Americans take action with their money in a way that reflects their values.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?
We are experiencing revolutionary changes in the role of capital in society, and I’m inspired by those who have helped redefine what it means to be a successful business. We are now looking beyond just the simple profitability of a business, and thinking holistically about what impact a company is having on society. When Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS, he introduced a business model where each shoe he sold was a one-for-one gain for society and for the company. His work popularized social entrepreneurship and helped start a new movement in building businesses that linked financial success to society’s success. That link is a key inspiration for how we think about investing. Historically, investing has been about managing risk while trying to maximize financial gain — like TOMS, we want consumers to know their purchase is having an impact. With COIN, investors know that while they are building a strong financial future, they are doing so by investing in companies that are committed to improving the future.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes! The simplest way is to start having conversations about money. Asking questions is the first step to being a conscious investor. The more we talk about money and ask tough questions, the more aware we will be about how money is having an impact. The second way is to recognize you have a voice. Everyone has a unique set of values. Your money should, and can, reflect what you care about. One percenters aren’t the only who should decide the future. All of us deserve to have a say in what happens next, and your money decisions make a difference. Finally, use your values as your guide. We are in the midst of critical social movements, like #MeToo and our current climate crisis, which are defining our future. In order to build the future we want, we have to know what we value and be brave enough to advocate for it.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is all about people, but also all about context. I believe leadership is about thoughtfully bringing the two together to set and achieve goals. Being a student of leadership is all about learning which leadership role is most appropriate for each situation. We each experience moments throughout our day where we are called to act as leaders. Even something as simple as deciding what to have for dinner requires leadership, and even that can mean something different each day. Some days may require owning the decision-making, planning or prep; other days, it may mean taking on a supportive role in helping to create a meal. In my work with COIN, I am constantly reminded of this. At times, I need to take an active leadership role and direct strategy. Other times, I need to step back and actively support the decision of the team, even if I may have other ideas.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
The task of being a creator is hard, and building something from nothing takes courage and grit. Change and growth are constant when starting something new, and I wish I’d known how critical it is to have the right structure and support systems in place when I first started. Professionally, hiring a coach was one of the smartest things I have done for myself and my team. Not only in helping to bring a fresh perspective, but to be a student of my own strengths and areas to improve so that I can become a better leader. Personally, learning to prioritize selfcare has been critical for fostering creativity and staying energized. This is still something I’m trying to master, but taking on yoga and spending time outside have been an essential part of my selfcare routine.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.” — Michelle Obama
Life seems to only get more complex, and it’s easy to let hope and possibility seem like youthful aspirations. I think this is a great mantra to keep in mind whenever you face a complex decision. I made the decision to pitch the idea for COIN at a hackathon, believing that people should be able to make investment decisions based on their values. I firmly believed the market needed this product. If I had ignored the possibility of a new, more conscious way to invest, COIN wouldn’t be helping people make conscious investing decisions.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Your work is making a massive positive impact on the planet, thank you so much!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.