In honor of Women's History Month, Cohen Circle held an intimate fireside chat with Co-Founder, Betsy Cohen, and CEO, Amanda Abrams, moderated by Emmy and Peabody winning journalist, Jan Hopkins on Friday, March 31.
Here are some key highlights from the discussion, followed by a full transcript.
Tips on making your voice heard
If you're sitting in a board meeting, you may not realize that people aren't soliciting your input as a woman, you may be the only woman in the room. And people may be participating, not calling on you, not asking your opinion. And in those situations, it's important to speak up, to be assertive, but assertive in the right way. Make sure that you are actually a part of the conversation at those types of meetings and in those situations. - Amanda Abrams [9:08]
Overcoming sexism in the workplace
I think each of us has to know ourselves. And we have to find our own voice. Just remembering what it is that you were trying to achieve allows you to slough off this ridiculous situation in which you find yourself and just move forward. I mean, you just keep going. - Betsy Cohen [11:11]
Thoughts on the current investing climate
People are looking for happy news. They're looking for a reason to invest. There's a lot of cash on the sidelines. There's a lot of uncertainty in the world. And although a small positive downtick in inflation is not the answer, it makes you feel that maybe the solution is on the horizon. - Betsy Cohen [18:41]
I think there are a lot of different factors that are converging now that makes [ESG impact investing] really interesting. You have a a significant transfer of wealth. That will be ongoing through this decade, and the transfer of wealth to this next generation that has a real vested interest in putting dollars to work and allocating money to investments that have an impact focus. - Amanda Abrams [25:26]
What's changed for women in the workplace
Everybody comes to the table with their own baggage. And you have to get many generations into the process before there's an acceptance of a new set of facts. - Betsy Cohen [43:42]
What I'm really interested in seeing going forward is for more women networks...to grow to also include men. So men and women are helping women move forward. I think that'll be an interesting next step. - Amanda Abrams [45:42]
On what is was like being a SPAC pioneer
We had to go into a meeting with a client and actually spell SPAC. I mean, we started there. We thought we had made great progress when they could spell it and had heard of it. So 45 minutes of an hour meeting would be talking about what was the SPAC and how did it work and all the rest of it. And then maybe phase three was talking about why we provided a better lens as we had deep, deep knowledge of the capital markets and the investors. -Betsy Cohen [54:12]
Words of wisdom for rising leaders
I would say that you can look at being in the weeds as being an opportunity, all of those very detailed things that you get into as a junior person. And all of those interactions you have with people trying to figure out all the little details, those are the building blocks that your career gets formed on. - Amanda Abrams [55:42]
Look broad, follow your curiosity and seek out new opportunities all the time. Stay curious. Stay curious. - Betsy Cohen [56:59]
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The transcript from March 31 has been edited for clarity, and included below.
Jan Hopkins 00:03
Welcome, everyone. I'm John Hopkins, a former CNN, business news anchor and correspondent. I won a Peabody and an Emmy when I was there and am also a former president of the Economic Club of New York, where I met Betsy Cohen. Betsy was the Audit Committee Chairman when I was the President. I now serve on a number of boards, Franklin Templeton Mutual Fund boards and also several SPAC boards led by Betsy, including the first all woman board that was listed on the NASDAQ.
So I'd like to introduce both Betsy and Amanda. We're going to talk about current events. We'll talk about careers. We'll talk about mentorship and leadership, because this is the end of Women's History Month and so we're looking at women leaders.
Betsy Cohen, is a legend. She was the second female law professor on the East Coast after Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She founded three banks, including Jefferson bank and also Bancorp Bank, which was the first virtual bank. She was on the 2022 Forbes Most Powerful Self Made Women list and is a serial FinTech investor.
Amanda Abrams is the CEO of Cohen Circle, where Betsy is the Co-Founder and Chairman. The two of them obviously work together. Amanda joined the team at Cohen Circle from CardConnect after she and the Cohens took that payments company public in 2016. Amanda was formerly a lawyer, Betsy also a lawyer, and moved into the FinTech and the entrepreneurial space. Amanda has been named a 2022 Inspiring FinTech Female Leader by New York City FinTech Women.
Welcome to both of you. I wonder how how you met? Amanda, where you Betsy's lawyer?
Amanda Abrams 02:36
Initially, yes. While I was a lawyer, I started working with Betsy in that capacity. I worked with various companies, including the Bancorp when Betsy was there. And one of the first major transactions I did with Betsy was the CardConnect acquisition. It was the first SPAC Betsy and Daniel [Cohen] had launched, I served as a lawyer on that transaction. And when that transaction closed, I switched sides.
So I left my position at a law firm and I joined the company that Betsy and Daniel took public, CardConnect. I always joke that it was my shortest lived job because the day after I arrived at CardConnect, they received a bid to be acquired by another public company. At that time, Betsy was on the board of CardConnect. And she and Daniel were really starting to build out Cohen Circle in a more institutional way. So after speaking with with Betsy, I decided to come over and join them and help them in this journey of building up the company. And it has been a fantastic journey so far.
Jan Hopkins 03:42
Betsy, what did you see in Amanda that you wanted her to not only be your lawyer, but also work with you on deals and managing a company?
Betsy Cohen 03:52
We say about the CardConnect sale to First Data that we not only got the money, but we got Amanda as well. What I think we all saw in Amanda was not only her enormous competence, but her ability to solve problems, and be a real force in terms of her conversations and resolutions of issues, not only with other lawyers, but as a negotiator in a business context. And that was what we were looking for.
Jan Hopkins 04:37
Amanda, Betsy is a mentor to you but also a boss, right?
Amanda Abrams 04:44
Betsy is both a fantastic mentor and a fantastic boss. When I joined Cohen circle, one of the things I was interested in doing professionally was transitioning from a lawyer to a business role. So Betsy, also having had that similar transitional experience was a great mentor in the sense of being able to help me take the skills I learned as a lawyer, but change the perspective I have and the lens I use to look at issues.
It is a bit of a process. And I actually still think it's an ongoing process. But it has been very helpful having Betsy as both a mentor and a boss in that capacity, asking me questions and leading me to think about something in a different way and make my own decisions.
Jan Hopkins 05:52
Betsy, how do you choose people to mentor?
Betsy Cohen 05:55
I really do choose people not to mentor, my standards are very high. Amanda is one of the few that met them. You just have so much time, Jan. And in order to create the kind of relationship that Amanda and I have now, in which just because of the duration of my opportunity set, as we say, I've been able to be in many more transactions than Amanda, I can bring something to the table. And so that I think is a value.
Sometimes I have the ability to step back, because I'm not as much on the front lines as Amanda is. That's the nice thing about being Chairman, someday Amanda will know that. It allows me to be both an onlooker, and a third person in the conversation, and therefore to be able to elicit from it some of the elements that when you're in the heat of negotiations get lost. So we each serve a role.
Jan Hopkins 07:26
Betsy, when you started, there weren't mentors for you. How did you make your own way? Were there were male mentors that were helpful?
Betsy Cohen 07:44
I would say the male mentors, were not all that interested in being helpful, and there were not any women mentors. So I just made it up as I went along. And so far, so good.
Jan Hopkins 08:00
There's something to say for that, the making it up as you go along. Amanda, you've had to do that too in your career.
Amanda Abrams 08:08
Yes. And even on the mentor side, prior to working with Betsy, I spent a long time as a corporate lawyer, there was a formal mentoring program in place where I was practicing. But what I've found throughout my years is that it's not the people that are assigned to mentor you that really matter. It's more important to find the people that you have a personal connection with, that you form a relationship with, where their best interests are really what they want to move forward. And I think that kind of making up as you go along applies there in terms of you don't have to stick with the program that's given to you, you have to find what really works for you on a mentor sense.
Betsy Cohen 08:51
I think Amanda told me and I'll just prompt her to this. Once that she had a very valuable lesson that came from either an assigned or unassigned mentor, about participating in conversations. I know everyone would love to hear that.
Yes. So as a corporate lawyer, and especially 15 years ago, it was a very male heavy practice. And my informal mentor, not the one that was assigned to me, that was also a woman I had a very good relationship with. As I started to grow in my career and attend more board meetings, more high level type negotiations, which were heavily dominated by men, my mentor gave me a really great piece of advice.
Be very aware of your situation and proactive in how you participate. If you're sitting in a board meeting, you may not without paying close attention, or realize that people aren't soliciting your input as a woman you may be the only woman in the room. And people may be participating, not calling on you, not asking your opinion. And and in those situations, it's important to speak up, to be assertive, but assertive in the right way. Make sure that you are actually a part of the conversation at those types of meetings and in those situations.
Jan Hopkins 10:12
Right. And make sure that people are are hearing you. Betsy, you certainly have had that experience where you've said something and then, you know, a male says the same thing, and they pay attention to him.
Betsy Cohen 10:23
It is emblazoned in my mind. I can see myself today sitting in the boardroom of a bank holding company in Western Virginia, where the rest of the board was made up of silver haired, Southern gentleman. And I would say something, and there would be dead silence. And then Bob next door to me would say exactly the same thing. And everyone would say, with enthusiasm, 'Bob, that was a great idea'. I mean, I can't even begin to tell you the number of times that happened. It's as if you were invisible.
Jan Hopkins 11:08
But you have to keep going, right? How did you overcome that?
I think each of us has to know ourselves. And we have to find our own voice. I think Amanda's story is an important one, because really what her mentor was telling her is to find your way to be part of it to have a seat at the table. But, I think that keeping one's focus on what the end goal is, which is to be, in a law firm, an important contributor in terms of the thinking process, in terms of business to be able to have, offer and execute on solutions. You know, just remembering what it is that you were trying to achieve allows you to slough off this ridiculous situation in which you find yourself and just move forward. I mean, you just keep going.
Betsy Cohen 12:16
You actually have another kind of funny story about going to a conference when you were CEO of a bank. Can you tell that story quickly?
Sure. I was named the CEO of a bank in Washington, DC. And there was a tri state conference for CEOs of banks in Maryland, Virginia, and the district. And I was invited, and I was really very excited. I thought, boy, are they going to just say, isn't this terrific? And so I went to the conference. And as I was walking into the hall, a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder, I thought, terrific, he knows who I am. And he's gonna say hello. Which would have been very helpful, because I didn't know anybody in the room. But when he tapped me on the shoulder, he said, would you get me a cup of coffee?
And I really was at the fork in the road. I could have said, What? What do you mean, would I get you a cup of coffee? But what I did rather was to say to him, how do you take it? And I went, and I got the coffee, brought it back to him. And I said, if I may, I'd like to give you something. And I showed him my card. At which point he almost dropped the coffee. But he said to me, Oh, my God, this is just terrible. And I said to him, I'll tell you, you can make amends. And there are two things that I would like. One is that I have a portfolio of loans. I'd like to participate with your institution. And secondly, I'd like a cup of coffee and I take mine black. So it diffused the situation because really, I wanted to connect with this guy. Because I did have a portfolio of loans that I wanted to participate and we became good friends thereafter.
Jan Hopkins 14:50
And being angry was not going to help you in that situation.
Betsy Cohen 14:55
No, it was not going to help me. It was not going to move my situation forward. And although it might have given me a moment of feeling good, it really wasn't a long term solution.
Jan Hopkins 15:15
So Amanda, have you had any experiences like that? Or how have we moved beyond that kind of thing?
Amanda Abrams 15:20
I think we've come a long way. I think there's still probably a way to go. But I have had a few more decades for society to develop. And for things to change. I had a similar situation to Betsy's when I was a very junior lawyer, where in a meeting, someone asked me to get them a cup of coffee. I had a very different reaction to say, why don't I introduce you to the assistant, I'm part of the legal team. But I think that part of my reaction is a reflection of the changing times where I think people expect when that happens now for women to be more assertive in explaining that perhaps the situation didn't pan out the way that that one would professionally expected it to.
Jan Hopkins 16:12
Interesting. Let's look at some of your experiences. Betsy, as someone who has started banks, then Chairman and CEO of Banks, let's look at the Silicon Valley Bank situation. And what do you see there? What did they do wrong, besides a mismatch of their assets and their liabilities?
Well, Jan, it's not a small thing. I mean, there are two basic principles that you're taught in banking 101, which they apparently failed. One is that you don't have concentrations of customers. And they were very concentrated in a single industry, which should have given them greater understanding of their situation than they seem to have, because they should have known that.
Companies were having difficulty raising their next round of capital, therefore, they would be looking to their current funds, which were on deposit with Silicon Valley Bank, to use to tide them over. But apparently, that did not penetrate. But concentrations, and also duration matching, they were in a situation where interest rates were low. They were reaching for yield, they weren't focused on the fact that their funding sources were short term and on demand, and their loans were 20 to 30. And they're not their loans, and primarily, their securities, the securities were fine quality, but they were all just too long. By the time they recognized the problem, which was 18 months into this a very steep rise in interest rates, it was too late and they had wiped out a substantial amount of their capital.
Jan Hopkins 18:28
The market now is moving higher. And maybe it's gone beyond that crisis. And maybe we're gonna see lower interest rates sooner as a result of it. What do you think of that?
Betsy Cohen 18:41
I would be surprised. I would not be surprised to find that interest rates inch up more slowly than they would have otherwise. But you know, it's a complex question, which involves the behavior of the economy, as well as anything else. And I think we saw in today's inflation report, that inflation had been lower than anticipated. People are looking for happy news. They're looking for a reason to invest. There's a lot of cash on the sidelines. There's a lot of uncertainty in the world. And although a small positive downtick in inflation is not the answer, it makes you feel that maybe the solution is on the horizon.
Jan Hopkins 19:41
Amanda, are you seeing any activity that's starting in the mergers and acquisitions space or the SPAC world or is it too soon?
Amanda Abrams 19:53
I think we are in a period now where people would typically refer to it as the IPO window being closed, meaning that it's just much harder to access the public markets for many companies. We think of reverse mergers, essentially SPACs as being a vehicle that gives us a unique opportunity to access the public markets or a unique route to the public markets in times when IPO windows are closed or open. It's a tool that's unique and very appropriate for some companies, beneficial for some, but doesn't work for all.
For those that are in this market, very close to profitability, and looking for a last round of capital to to get to profitability, and perhaps struggling in the private markets, which are quite difficult to fundraise in these days, it can be a good option. Especially if it's a business model that perhaps needs some incremental investor engagement benefits from a longer marketing process and more engaged discussions with investors, and benefits from a SPAC sponsor partner that knows the capital markets and can help a target company navigate the capital markets. And for companies that have those types of qualities and characteristics. I think it can be a route that allows them to circumvent that closed IPO window.
Jan Hopkins 21:16
Do you think it will open again?
Amanda Abrams 21:19
Everything is cyclical. I think, yes, we'll get there at some point.
Betsy Cohen 21:22
Yeah. But as Amanda was saying, the the outlook of CEOs of these companies is very different than it was 12 months ago, it's not only that the investor doesn't want to come in, but the CEO doesn't want to go out. And they don't want to go out because not only the valuations are lower than their wildest dreams used to be. But also because the volatility makes it unpredictable. And the SPAC vehicles that are currently in the market were designed, you know, a SPAC is only a legal vehicle intended to, as Amanda said, provide capital to appropriate companies with a lot of bells and whistles around it so that it's it's often more beneficial than an IPO in the traditional sense. But they were drafted, you know, 12-15 months ago with a very different external environment. So if you ask, are the existing vehicles that are currently listed all going to close? The answer is no. But if you look forward, as we try to do and think about what would be an appropriate vehicle today, and therefore provide you with an opportunity to engage with companies over the next 12 to 18 months? That's a very different answer.
Jan Hopkins 23:13
I've heard you say that you are there to help companies throughout the capital structure. So there are other vehicles that you're looking at at this point?
Betsy Cohen 23:25
Absolutely. As Amanda said, we have been investors over the last three years, up in lower ranges of the capital market. So we're up and down the capital market. Because we do companies, less mature companies. We too, are looking to what is the right thing as fiduciaries to do for the investor and for our investors. If it is to look for companies that are public ready, and therefore, both the investors in the company will have good experience, you know, we have one answer, and if it is to prepare that company, for that eventuality with a round of capital, that is, you know, meets their needs. That's another answer.
But people are much more realistic today. I mean, look at what Stripe did. Stripe moved its valuation from 95 billion to 50 billion. You might think--what are they out of their minds? Why are they raising money? They raised it for a very specific reason. But the fact of the matter was that they wanted good mid term investors in that business, not only so the investors could make a profit, which is certainly a motivating factor, but also so Stripe would remain at the top of their list when investment opportunity came at 75 billion or 90 billion, or whatever the number happens to be. So it's ever changing, you're always reading the tea leaves. And it's an always ever changing set of considerations. I mean, that's one of the joys of Cohen Circle. We specialize in thinking, we do a lot of thinking, and not always come out with the right answer, but more often than not.
Jan Hopkins 25:53
Amanda, what are you seeing?
Amanda Abrams 25:56
On the investment horizon, one area that has been of interest to us, and that that we think has a really broad opportunity set is the ESG impact investing space. I think there are a lot of different factors that are converging now that makes this really interesting. You have a a significant transfer of wealth. That will be ongoing through this decade, and the transfer of wealth to this next generation that has a real vested interest in putting dollars to work and allocating money to investments that have an impact focus.
So they're thinking more about the disconnect between intention and alignment and how to invest it in a way that corrects that disconnect. I think that push is something that will make impact investing even more mainstream in the coming years than it already is. On top of that all of the recent advances in technology, like AI, is making so many services and products more accessible to underserved and under resourced persons and populations, that it's really broadening the opportunity set just generally.
Jan Hopkins 27:10
But there has been pushback on ESG first. First, it was a wonderful thing that everyone embraced. And now there's opposition that ultimately, if it takes a different form, it's not as widespread. I mean, what's the result?
Betsy Cohen 27:34
There has been what they call greenwashing, right, to put a layer of ribbon around the not so attractive box. But I think that what we're trying to do is beyond that, it's not only helping younger companies with setting up their governance in the proper way, you're helping them to look at the environmental impact of what they're doing. But we're really looking for companies that can make a difference primarily in health and financial services, which are two areas that we know and find other companies to which we can be additive.
So we've always done this in financial services, where we will network with a company to broaden their distribution capacity, just because we know the field, we know the ecosystem, we know what will work and what won't work. And there are areas of impact that we can identify where we can actually be helpful. It's not only the capital, but it's really the experience and networking opportunities that we bring to the table.
Jan Hopkins 29:13
With Bancorp which was an Internet bank, you saw a lot of FinTech companies that were growing up. And you were able to tap them when you went to the next part of your career, which was SPACs, right?
It's really advising and mentoring, but very specifically coming out of your own experience.
Jan Hopkins 31:04
Talking about how one's career goes in directions that you maybe don't expect, certainly at the beginning, you didn't expect to be at this point and have done all the things that that you've done, right?
Betsy Cohen 31:19
I'm a person with a limited attention span, I guess. But I like to reinvent myself. And in this field, it's every couple of years, every 5,6,7,8 years. And it becomes possible here. Not only is technology moving, we're just in a field, which is dynamic, technology's moving consumers and small businesses are moving in their capacity to access that information. AI is taking over the world. You know, so there's so many variables, so many things that are changing the landscape that we had even a couple of years ago, that it's very possible to look at this field in a different way.
Jan Hopkins 32:15
Amanda, same question for you. When you started out, did you have any idea that you were going to be taking the road that you've taken?
Amanda Abrams 32:30
That's such a great question. No, definitely not. I think that if at any point in my career, you asked what I would be picturing myself doing 5-7 years from now, and I answered you, I probably would have gotten it wrong. So I think it's a unique perspective into the way your career can have twists and turns with the different opportunities that are presented to you. And if you're open minded and willing to kind of take advantage and shift with those twists and turns, you can end up in a really interesting place. So not only in terms of who you intersect with on a personal level, but also the way the market shifs and the opportunities that get opened up, and being able to identify those, kind of are what have directed my path.
Jan Hopkins 33:20
Also, using a skill set in different ways, the lawyer skill set as an administrator or an investor. So let me switch directions, a lot of people in the audience are concerned about how to balance work and life. And Betsy, you had children, and worked and a husband. And all of you, I mean, you and your husband, were both setting up companies. And now you actually work with one of your sons. I mean, how did you learn to balance? Or did it just kind of happen? Any words of wisdom?
I guess the only word of wisdom I can say is that if you think of your life in in phases, as opposed to thinking of it is one single linear continuum, or the same thing every day, I think you have an advantage. There was a time when it was very important for me and Ed, we set up a law firm together, to leave the house at 9:30 and get back by 4:30. There was no zoom, but there were two children under the age of three that required attention. But each phase is different. And you know, you really have to think about it. You have to think about what's up appropriate for maybe this next couple of years, and be able to say that there will be no moment in which it will all be perfect.
I remember I was Chairman of the board of this bank in Washington, DC, sitting at a board meeting and having a moment of panic that is with me today. And this happened probably 40 years ago. It was my day to do carpool. And there I was in Washington, DC, and carpool was in Philadelphia, these little kids who were depending upon me to pick them up at school, something would happen to them. I mean, you know, it's that kind of thing. It has to happen. It happens to everyone, and it happens more frequently, at certain points in your life. Things are complicated. And you just have to keep thinking about what you're doing and know that it won't be this way forever.
Jan Hopkins 36:12
Amanda, do you have any words of advice about how you're managing work life balance and what you've learned through the years?
Amanda Abrams 36:21
It's a good question. I think that my biggest piece of advice is it's always an iterative process. You're never going to say, I found the right work life balance. Things are always changing. Even with COVID and everyone being home, and now meetings being on Zoom, and people seem more accessible 24/7 has even changed the shift of how you think about work life balance, and how you think about maybe shutting things off more when you're at home. I think it's always just a moving goal, that you always have to be changing your perspective on how you're managing things, and never expect to actually reach that goal, just be happy that you're always improving.
Betsy Cohen 37:04
I think also, in addition to the goals changing, we change, our own needs change. And we get satisfaction out of different things. And our personal lives evolve. So finding the right connection between the two is, as Amanda said, an iterative process.
Jan Hopkins 37:33
Betsy, you work very closely with Daniel, one of your sons, and your husband Ed works with Jonathan, your other son. How did you decide which son works with which parent? Or did it just kind of happen?
Betsy Cohen 37:50
I think it more or less happened, but it was the right thing to happen. If I was working with John, who's very hands on, we would be at each other's throats every day. You know, there's just no question about it. Not that we don't have a good relationship, but we have many of the same characteristics. Ed and Daniel also share characteristics, which is that they're able to stand back and let us do all the work [laughter]. No. That they're able to stand back, and, you know, be thoughtful and have big picture and all the rest of it. Not that both of them don't work hard. But it's a different way of doing things. And so I think the match of having one each within each pairing was a good thing. And Daniel and I have always had a good relationship. I think we have a lot of mutual respect, and a lot of trust. And that makes a good partner.
Jan Hopkins 39:05
So Amanda, you work with both of them. What do you see about this relationship? And do you end up getting in the middle?
Amanda Abrams 39:14
I have the utmost respect for both of them individually, and the utmost respect for the way they work together as a mother - son team. I adore my family but I don't think I could work with them. A lot of people say the people that you're closest to are the ones that can often get under your skin. I've never seen that on a professional level between Betsy and Daniel. They both bring different perspectives, different ways of looking at things, in different working styles. And it works really well. I think they both have a a very high level of respect for one another and treat each other like partners instead of like with mother and son, when they are in a professional experience.
That blend of perspective and respect is something of a secret sauce. Relationships and strength of relationships is a really critical underpinning for how we approach everything, and Daniel and Betsy's relationship is really a building block on which the organization is built. And it's important to us culturally. It has set a really great tone for how we approach our business dealings as partners and partnerships rather than transactions.
Jan Hopkins 40:35
Betsy, are there some things that you depend on Daniel to do, because it's within his skill set, closing deals, for example? And some things he depends on you to do?
Betsy Cohen 40:53
Daniel has an an incredible depth of knowledge. Across the board, it is very deep, but he has a real depth of knowledge of the insurance industry, of complex transactions of capital markets in a way that I, because I was on the other side of it for many years and not in the field, really can't match. And you're right, that there are relationships that I might carry forward. And skill sets of that sort. And analysis not only on a technical basis, but on a non technical basis. So my EQ is pretty high.
Jan Hopkins 42:06
Amanda, how do you fit in? Do you rely on on Betsy for some things, and Daniel for other things?
Amanda Abrams 42:19
I think just as Betsy described, each of them has their own set of strengths. Betsy has an amazing affinity for understanding personal interactions and what motivates people. And if I'm thinking about how to handle an interpersonal situation, or how to even approach negotiations, I think many times Betsy is my go to for those types of questions. And Daniel has a different set of strengths. They overlap in many ways, but there there are certain topics where I would prioritize talking to Betsy or talking to Daniel, depending on the topic.
Jan Hopkins 42:59
Let's kind of look over time. And look at women's issues over decades. What's the biggest change that you've noticed in women in the workforce in the last 20 , 10 or 5 years?
Betsy Cohen 43:26
Even just real numbers are extraordinary. When I went to law school, there were six women in a class of 200. Amanda, when you went to Harvard, how many women were there in the class?
Amanda Abrams 43:39
I think we were probably pretty close to 50-50.
Betsy Cohen 43:42
So I mean, that's a measure. I think that women started out in maybe the 1970s and 1980s, making their way through. And I'm talking about the financial side, in financial industries, in areas that were measurable. So in Portfolio Management, in things where at the end of the day, you had an objective measure and you weren't measuring how good a woman was versus a man you were measuring whether the portfolio of X performed better than the portfolio of Y.
And then another step might have been around, I don't know another 10 or 15 years later, I mean, things just don't move along that fast. And women began to find their place in a broader sense and moved I think, in the early part of the 2000s into a much more strategic set of positions. And now we see emerging. I mean, one of the women that I mentored who's now the CEO of one of the Fortune 500 companies. So it's a long process. Because everybody comes to the table with their own baggage. And you have to get many generations into the process before there's an acceptance of a new set of facts.
Jan Hopkins 45:35
And Amanda, what have you seen over a couple decades?
Amanda Abrams 45:42
From when I started as a lawyer to now, I see many more women in more senior roles. As a junior lawyer, I could see a very significant drop off from the amount of women that were in junior roles compared to senior roles, and especially as women or women lawyers had children, it would really significantly narrow the funnel at that point. I think there have been a lot of movements towards more flexibility around work arrangements, more awareness of creating environments and flexible scheduling to help address that disparity at the more senior level, as well as many more networks and initiatives that have been put in place to help women advance to those more senior levels and qualified women, women that are as qualified as men in those counterparts.
What I'm really interested in seeing going forward is there's many women networks that are women for women. Women connecting with each other and moving them forward. But to see more of those networks grow to also include men, so men and women helping women move forward, I think that'll be an interesting next step.
Jan Hopkins 46:54
The reality is that it does need to be a team. And the team is men and women. Women can be supportive of each other. And, and often women are competitive with each other. I mean, it's not all a friendly kind of situation.
Betsy Cohen 47:13
Oh yeah. And as this was emerging, there was what used to be called the queen bee syndrome, which was a woman who had been the only woman in a position and now she's there's another woman, and she was in a competitive position, and she was not happy. But I think we move past that, because the numbers are big enough. No one expects to be the only woman doing X, Y and Z. You know, but it will take time. I mean, pay equality will take time. Today 80%. Now, I'd say it's another 100 years before it gets to 100.
Jan Hopkins 48:10
Well, and women on boards, same thing, that number is increasing. It's not at parity, but many of the new board members are women and minorities. You know, there's a real emphasis in that direction. I was on a board where there were three women, and that made a huge difference. I'm also on a board with two women. And on board with one, it's a very different dynamic. If you have half, or maybe even more than half the dynamic is gonna change. Anything to add to that, Amanda, that you've seen?
Amanda Abrams 48:57
I agree with everything you just said, Jan, I think we, as an organization have been and Betsy especially have been forward thinking in this respect. And I think we've seen a lot more people follow this type of dynamic where there have been pushes not only to have one one woman on a board, but to have more equal representation, multiple women.
I know you mentioned you are part of the first all women board SPAC. And that effort on our part was actually prompted by the regulation that came out around that time that said, public companies had to have one, one woman on the board. And we had set out really to show everybody that you could get not only one qualified woman, it was actually entirely possible and quite easy to find an entire board full of qualified women. And I think more people trying to push that forward, currently and that'll be important for equality.
Betsy Cohen 49:59
I'd say it was Daniel's idea, actually, give him credit for it. But I can remember the first meeting that he came to, that had an all woman board. I think he was terrified. I mean, it was very good on the theory, but when it came to the reality, it was a little bit testy.
[AUDIENCE QUESTIONS ARE TAKEN]
Jan Hopkins 50:41
The first audience question is: The Cohens pioneered US SPAC creation and fintech space. Was there any blueprint which was followed?
Betsy Cohen 51:09
Both Daniel and I come from a lot of public company experience. I took eight companies from an idea to the public markets. Daniel's been in the public markets for many, many years in very sophisticated ways. And for us, it was really a natural next step. It was a reformation of opportunities that we had been involved in before. So I think we benefited from the fact that we had this cohort of FinTech companies at the Bancorp and we could see their growth. But we did already have the public company knowledge.
So I think it was something that we thought very early in the game, I guess, maybe 2014, we started to think about this 2015 was the issuance of first SPAC. So you know, we've been at it a long time, and I think, came to it by building on skill sets that we already had.
Jan Hopkins 52:48
It's different, right? In the sense of not having an exact blueprint.
Amanda Abrams 53:00
I think that when we think back to that first SPAC transaction, there was a blueprint, in terms solely of structures, facts existed, there was a known way to set us back up. But what the team did and was really unique is it took that structure and applied it in a way and and executed it in a way that used all of those skill sets that Betsy just described. So this was the first SPAC that had ever even had a FinTech focus, the first FinTech company that went public via SPAC.
And I recall, in the early phases, people thought of that as very out of the box. SPACs had been historically used for manufacturing companies or companies that were in dire straits looking at a bankruptcy and used to restructure them. So taking this, this blueprint was only a small piece of what made that so successful, it was really all of those skills that were applied in a way of thinking about how to use that structure in a unique way.
Jan Hopkins 54:09
And you know, some of them haven't been successful.
Betsy Cohen 54:12
No, but we had the challenge of having to go to a meeting with a client and actually, spelling SPAC. I mean, we started there. We thought we had made great progress when they could spell it and had heard of it. But we then had to describe it. So 45 minutes of an hour meeting would be talking about what was the SPAC and how did it work and all the rest of it. And then maybe phase three was talking about why we provided a better lens for them as Amanda said we had deep, deep knowledge of the capital markets and the investors and all the rest of it, we just started with what is simply a legal structure. And so we're innovative to that extent. But I don't think we could have done it without the cumulative experience and knowledge that we had had previously.
Jan Hopkins 55:25
Actually, I'm going to close out with a question that kind of goes back about that knowledge. What advice would each of you give to your younger selves about building your career? Amanda, you first.
Amanda Abrams 55:42
I would say that you can look at being in the weeds as being an opportunity, all of those very detailed things that you get into as a junior person. And all of those interactions you have with people trying to figure out all the little details, those are the building blocks that your career gets formed on.
As a younger person, so many people are eager to leapfrog that stage and get to the more senior stage where they feel like they're really adding value, or they're doing something critical, and they don't realize that that's really the building blocks for your career, that that's where you're going to form a lot of the relationships that take you throughout your professional career and all of the knowledge and what makes you really good at what you do later on. I think it's hard to have an appreciation for it when you're in it. But once you're past it, you really, really can see that.
Jan Hopkins 56:39
So Betsy, what advice would you give your younger self
Betsy Cohen 56:43
Always continue to look for opportunities. Maybe not a career, a linear career, you know, but really opportunities and be flexible.
Jan Hopkins 56:56
And that's still the case? Is that right?
Betsy Cohen 56:59
It's still the case for me, because I'm ordinary, but I think it's even more important for a younger person to be willing to insert in their search for what they enjoy doing. Because unless you enjoy doing it, please don't do it. You know, the lens of going beyond their particular niche, and thinking broadly and having broad experiences, which they can bring to the table and enrich the conversation but also not to think about them as career ladders. I mean, going one step at a time, up and up. I mean, it's just, there are so many adjacencies. So look broad, follow your curiosity and seek out new opportunities all the time. Stay curious. Stay curious.
Jan Hopkins 58:18
Thank you both Amanda Abrams, and Betsy Cohen, and all of you who have joined us today for this webinar on women who lead. Thanks, and have a great day everybody.