The Boston Globe has launched a weekly Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses, conducting ground-breaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Edward Fitzpatrick at email@example.com.
This week’s conversation is with Margaret J. Hartigan, co-founder and CEO of Marstone, a digital wealth-management platform.
Question: What does Marstone do?
Answer: We create wealth management and financial planning platforms that enable financial organizations — everyone from family offices to registered investment advisers, community banks and credit unions — to affordably reach, acquire, and retain more clients. The platform can be ‘white labeled,’ meaning institutions can brand it as their own while Marstone powers it from behind the scenes.
Q: What gave you the idea to launch the company?
A: I worked at Merrill Lynch for 10 years, from 2001 to 2012, and I was client-facing during the 2008 global financial crisis. I was reflecting on it and thinking that there are three major challenges that we are facing. The first is financial literacy. Most people, regardless of their age, affluence, or education do not really understand investments, so I wanted to find a way to demystify and humanize finance and make it very user-centric. The second challenge I saw was institutions were still using complex legacy technology systems and they were hard to innovate around. Finally, in the wake of 2008, I could see money starting to move across generations from World War II to Baby Boomers to Gen X and now millennials. I wanted to create a solution that could be highly personalized for each individual user, helping to cultivate relationships across generations.
Q: When did Marstone open in Rhode Island?
A: We opened our first office in Pawtucket five years ago, in Hope Artiste Village. As we have grown, we moved into Providence’s Jewelry District. We are in an Opportunity Zone, which is a lucky circumstance, and we have been here almost two years. We have 30 employees, with about 15 in Providence full-time. The rest are in New York City and California.
Q: Why did you pick Rhode Island?
A: My practice was always bicoastal at Merrill, but I wanted to move back to the East Coast. I am from New Hampshire, and I graduated from Brown University in 1997. We picked Rhode Island because of its creative pool of talent. We believe as a company that what we are doing is really transformative. We believe that true transformation only happens when you can have collaboration between academia, the private sector, and government. And having gone to school here, I really felt that Providence was uniquely positioned. A lot of what we do could have benefits for financial literacy curriculum in school districts.
Q: What is one thing that Rhode Islanders could do to improve their financial literacy?
A: Introducing basic financial planning concepts -- such as budgeting and basic money concepts such as interest and the power of compounding -- to students earlier as part of the curriculum would benefit financial literacy tremendously. Too often, kids learn these lessons the hard way and on the wrong side of interest with debt. We are currently designing an innovative and intuitive financial planning platform that seeks to meet clients where they are in terms of language they understand and investment and planning goals that are personal to them.
Q: What is the biggest news at Marstone this year?
A: We are expanding and actively hiring in Rhode Island. We also have some exciting partnerships and new client announcements we are working on that we plan to announce over the coming months.