Ulunma Onokala Izejiobi: Reducing Barriers to Achieve Financial Security
Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to learn how one person is tackling UN SDG #10: Reduced Inequalities. Ulunma Onokala Izejiobi is the founder and CEO of GuardianWealth, a company working to democratize access to wealth. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome, Ulunma, and thanks for joining me today! So why don’t you start by telling me what challenges you are addressing?
Ulunma: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Did you know that communities of color have contributed labor and resources that drive growth in the global economy, but have not benefited financially from that growth? I want to change that. Our mission at GuardianWealth is to democratize access to wealth. We seek to leverage artificial intelligence to reduce the barriers that hinder communities of color and immigrants from achieving financial security. We make financial planning services and tools accessible and affordable.
Spiffy: I want to hear how you’re going to do that, and more about what motivated you to provide accessible tools and services for financial planning!
Ulunma: I started GuardianWealth as I witnessed the negative economic impact of Covid-19 on my community. Meanwhile, the stock market rebounded and wealthy, educated, mostly white families became wealthier. Stock ownership disproportionately accounts for wealth created by US households, yet people of color are 2.3 less likely than white people to invest in the stock market. Covid-19 not only widened the income gap within countries, but also among countries, as most emerging markets have not recovered.
Spiffy: How would you say GuardianWealth is helping to create a more equitable world?
Ulunma: We are leveraging technology to make financial planning more accessible and affordable. We’ve built an all-in-one personal finance app that combines a digital financial planner with a comprehensive set of financial planning tools. With GuardianWealth, users can personalize their financial education, manage their finances, and save for financial goals with friends and family. Our app is great for first time savers and wealth builders, who face more challenges on their path to wealth creation. With us, they have a personal finance guide at their fingertips.
A screenshot of the GuardianWealth App. (Image courtesy of Ulunma Onokala Izejiobi)
Spiffy: Are there any recent milestones that you are particularly proud of? What kind of impact do you anticipate it will have?
Ulunma: As of this week, the waitlist for our upcoming beta launch has 170 people on it. This list has grown organically, suggesting that people are eager to try an app that makes personal finance more accessible. One of my favorite comments was from a member of a focus group who said that she was excited to finally have access to a financial product built by and for people of color. We are glad that our relationship to the communities we seek to empower makes our product and story more compelling to potential users. We are making an impact by giving people with a lack of financial security an opportunity to save and build wealth.
Spiffy: Can you share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up?
Ulunma: I worked at an investment firm and didn’t realize that I was paid less than my male colleagues despite having stellar performance reviews. When I discovered this disparity I was upset, frustrated and disappointed. At that moment I wanted to resign, but I decided that I was going to speak up since I had every right to the same salary. I went to the partner that was in charge of compensation and gave him an earful, demanding that I be paid appropriately. Unsurprisingly, that was futile. I had to change my approach. So, I spoke to another partner, someone that I had built a stronger relationship with and who I could trust to stand with me. I didn’t make the discussion about me, but instead focused on the importance of policies that ensure gender pay equity. This worked. I learned the importance of building strong relationships in the workplace, having a champion, and speaking to someone’s values.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything unexpected you’ve learned from someone recently that you’d like to share?
Ulunma: My daughter is at the age where she questions everything from why the sky is blue to why I have to work. Most of the time I respond, “That’s just the way it is.” She always gives me a look which lets me know she thinks my response is silly. She makes me wonder how many things in my life I haven’t questioned. She makes me want to live a life with more intentionality and purpose.
Spiffy: Kids have a way of putting it all into perspective, don’t they? And thank you for helping to put finances in perspective for people, Ulunma. It’s been an honor to talk to you today! Over and out.
Ulunma Onokala Izejiobi is the founder and CEO of GuardianWealth. She is passionate about leveraging technology to democratize access to wealth. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Ulunma was an investment officer at a private equity firm. She is a proud mother and has an MBA from Harvard Business School as well as a BSc, summa cum laude, from Angelo State University. (First published on the Ladderworks website on July 13, 2021)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.