April is Financial Literacy Month, but research has shown that people often feel insecure when looking at their finances. Often, these feelings stem from a lack of understanding about finance and how to manage personal finances, leaving people to feel vulnerable and frustrated. However, instead of shutting down when the conversation broaches personal finances, The Financial Gym wants you to speak up, feel confident, and informed about your financial future. This financial services company takes a gym-based approach targeted towards women (they work with men too!) to get comfortable with personal finance, where members are able to work directly with their own personal financial trainers for a flat monthly fee. Founded by a former financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, The Financial Gym operates a physical location in NoMad and provides a web-based offering as well.
AlleyWatch chatted with founder and CEO Shannon McLay to learn about how The Financial Gym’s influence is empowering its members to develop a mastery of their finances.
Tell us about the product or service that The Financial Gym offers.
The Financial Gym is a personal financial services company on a mission to educate women about their finances and feel empowered to reach their financial goals. Taking a fitness-inspired approach, The Financial Gym members pay a monthly membership fee to work with a personal financial trainer, or “B.F.F.” (Best. Financial. Friend.), who helps them set goals, create a plan for accomplishing them, and support them along the way.
How is The Financial Gym different?
We’re the only business of our client that’s truly focused on financial health and wellness. We don’t use or need to sell products to help our clients. We’re truly the only company focused on financial inclusion.
Financial Gym is like a regular gym in that people of all physical shapes and sizes can workout at a regular gym, people of all financial shapes and sizes can workout at Financial Gym, so we feel as though our market opportunity is massive. Our core demographic is working women between the ages of 27 and 40; however, our clients ages range from 17 to 74, 65% are women, 35% are men, and we currently work with members in 47 states and the District of Columbia.
What is the business model?
The primary business model is a subscription service where clients pay a monthly membership fee to have access to their financial trainer and all of the planning and educational resources of Financial Gym.
What inspired the start of The Financial Gym?
While working as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, I saw a huge need for people who didn’t have $250K in assets to speak with a human being about how they could best financially plan for their lives. It felt unfair to me that all of the financial planning knowledge I gained at Merrill Lynch was reserved only for wealthy people. I wanted to create a place where people of all financial sizes could get trustworthy guidance that didn’t revolve around selling a product like a bank account, mutual fund, or life insurance.
Why does the company need physical locations? Can’t most of this be done offsite?
Just like Soul Cycle and CrossFit provide a place for a community of like-minded individuals to get physically healthy, I want to create a place where a community of people, who want to get financially healthy, can gather and support each other in their journeys.
Money is the ultimate taboo topic and creating a safe and open environment where people can speak openly about money helps us break that taboo. We can work with clients remotely, and we do; however, 95% of our virtual clients would like a Financial Gym in their community. They work with us virtually because that’s their only option at the moment.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
My goal is to expand The Financial Gym’s physical locations into markets outside of New York, providing access to more people across the country to help them on their financial journeys.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
Raising money will take two to three times longer than you expect and you will waste a significant amount of time with investors that will never write you a check.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
I would love to connect with Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, the founders of Soul Cycle. I frequently tell people that I’ve created the “Soul Cycle for money” and I admire the brand that they’ve created.
Why did you launch in New York?
I live in New York. However, beyond that, I know that I’m revolutionizing financial services, and the heart of financial services is New York. I love disrupting the old school providers right in their backyard.
I know that I’m revolutionizing financial services, and the heart of financial services is New York. I love disrupting the old school providers right in their back year.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
I don’t get out much, in fact, most of my dinners in the city are consumed via Seamless at Financial Gym; however, I typically love any restaurant where I can eat at the bar, it’s like having dinner and a show. I love a dirty martini and steak at Capital Grille on 42nd, margaritas and guacamole at Mexicue on 5th Avenue, or a glass of wine and pizza at Tappo on 24th.