Kathleen Murphy is fed up with the investment world being created by men in the image of men at the expense of women.
As president of personal investing at Fidelity Investments, she is in a position to do something about it.
For nearly a decade, Murphy has overseen the management of $2.5 trillion held in nearly 20 million individual client accounts.
From Murphy’s vantage point, women are underserved and often dismissed as irrelevant.
The United States is in the midst of a two-decade, $22 trillion shift in assets to women, who now make up the majority of the population.
Murphy wants more of those women to take command of their financial universes.
‘Fuel your dreams’
“I say to women, ‘You’re working pretty damn hard for your money, right? There’s a reason you’re working so hard. It’s to enjoy your life, to fuel your dreams. So get that money to work hard for you,’” Murphy said in an interview this week.
Her message to women: Break the intimidation cycle.
Nine in 10 women will be the sole financial decision-makers in their households at some point because their spouses die, get divorced or they’ve never married.
Under her leadership, Fidelity is changing the how it attracts, talks to and serves women. And Murphy believes that by doing so, Fidelity is also drawing in millennials, people of color and anyone else who feels slightly spooked by financial planning.
“Investing’s not hard, but the way we talked about it made it too complicated. Alpha, beta, quant,” she said, ticking off financial jargon. “This is not a way to engage people.”
Murphy — who goes by Kathleen in professional settings but is Kathy or Murph to colleagues and friends — attributes much of her success to her upbringing in Wallingford, Connecticut.
“My parents had pretty fundamental rules: kindness, loyalty, stick up for your brothers and sisters,” Murphy said. “We walked to school. It was such a nice, Beaver Cleaver life. But we didn’t have a lot of money.”
In 1984, she completed her dual-major degree in political science and economics at Fairfield University, a private Jesuit Catholic university in Connecticut.
“I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do,” she said. “I remember very distinctly being interviewed to be a manager for a local Dress Barn. I came out of that interview thinking, ‘OK, I don’t know what I want to do, but I know it’s not that.’”
At the suggestion of a professor, she went to law school at the University of Connecticut.
In her first year, Murphy worked for a professor’s small law firm that did everything from death-penalty cases to representing the local nudist camp.
“I didn’t even know there was a nudist camp in Connecticut,” she said, laughing.
That summer, she worked for Aetna, which had the largest law department in Connecticut with 150 lawyers.
The next summer, she interned at a big Wall Street law firm.
“I remember being in the firm’s law library late one night, and there were two lawyers who’d been out of law school for four years, and they were so excited because they finally got to do a set of interrogatories,” she said.
“I decided at that moment: ‘I’m not willing to pay this kind of dues.’ I decided to take a job at Aetna for half the pay and twice the responsibilities of the New York law firm. I got to do real interesting stuff real quickly.”
Zoe Baird, president of the New York-based Markle Foundation, was her boss and mentor at Aetna.
Now Murphy sits on Baird’s nonprofit board.
“Kathy started out working for me, but over the years, I have called on her counsel at critical junctures in everything I have done,” Baird said. “She’s been a wise board member, helping Markle understand the evolution of the labor market and the opportunities ahead.”
Fidelity came calling for Murphy in 2008.
“When Fidelity calls, you take the call,” she said.
She was drawn to Fidelity by the leadership of founder Ned Johnson, now chairman emeritus, and his daughter, Abigail Johnson, who is now Fidelity’s CEO.
“You get yelled at by Ned or Abby if your operating margins are too high, because it means you’re not investing in the value of the customer or the value of the long-term business,” Murphy said.