Money Stories: Eric Smith (Otterwize)

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Money Stories: Eric Smith (Otterwize)

BLOGBillie Simmons

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Money Stories is a new series designed to start the conversation about how being LGBT+ has affected our financial lives and hopefully help people feel inspired to talk more openly about money! Share your stories with me at billie@joindaylight.com.

– Billie

Eric has a wide range of experience in capital markets, private equity, hedge funds, and financial technology. His most recent position was at PwC, where he was Capital Markets & Investment Services Lead for the firm’s FinTech platform, DeNovo, focusing on fintech wealth management and capital market solutions. Before PwC, Eric was Director of Data Analytics at a NYC-based fintech start-up, developing data and analytics in the alternative-finance space. He also has a strong background in private equity, having served as Investment Manager-Private Equity for UBP (Union Bancaire Privée) in New York and London, and co-founding the private equity fund of funds investment group.

Eric is a forward-thinking writer in the financial services and fintech innovation space, and has contributed to the development of new fintech products. He also consults with fintech start-ups and financial services companies in topics from technology to user experience. Eric graduated from Columbia University earning a bachelor’s degree with distinction. He writes at Otterwize.

When was the first time you thought about money?

There are two main tiers to my early concerns about money. During my formative years, money served to acquire wants. If it wasn’t one’s birthday or a holiday in my family, then we had to work for the things that we wanted. For instance, I was never a big gamer relative to my friends, but if I wanted something like a Nintendo game (which went for $20 and seemed exorbitant at the time), I had to earn it—yardwork, educational workbooks, or a whole multitude of tasks (at sub-minimum wage rates). I think that taught me a very important lesson about the exchange of labor for goods. Also, after hours of working under the blazing Midwestern summer sun, you begin to question how badly you really wanted something. (Sorta like the apps that stop online ordering and make you wait to ensure that you really want something/prevent impulse purchases.) 

In college, I had a tight budget, so it was really about prioritizing. With food, clubs, bars, and dinner dates, things really add up if you want to be social in New York. (I was fortunate to have a parent pay for my college, but this didn’t mean I could splurge like many of my classmates on the non-essentials or order in/dine out every night.) I always erred on the frugal side, and if I knew that a night out was going to be at a posh bar that required exorbitantly-priced bottle service just to get in or something else extravagant, I wasn’t ashamed to say no/not go. I love a basic wardrobe, take care of my belongings, and don’t follow the most recent trends (as opposed to some in my generation fawning over high-end catalogues—yes, we ordered through the mail, I’m that old). It turns out that I have more of a stereotypical Gen Z mentality, prioritizing things differently than the elderly millennial that I actually am.

What was your “aha” moment with money?

I was raised by divorced parents: one super frugal and the other with the mantra that “you can’t take it with you.” I was always a big saver, but I think in college I had a few “aha” moments.

First, watching my peers get into debt for frivolous things always shocked me, particularly following the latest trends, whether it was going to Sushi Samba (any Sex in the City fan knows this place) or buying a Red Monkey watch, which quickly went out of style.

A second “aha” moment for me was coming home from clubs like Roxy alone late at night and thinking “wow, I would have had a better time in bed reading for free.”

The third was when I finally had to pay rent and do taxes. So many people want to keep up with the Joneses, but really the only magic is to live within your means, invest or pay off debt with the rest, and enjoy your life. There are so many pleasures that are free. Getting into unnecessary debt (like going out every single night or having a McMansion home that you can’t afford) is like going out in the rain without an umbrella and complaining that you got wet.

How has being LGBT+ impacted your relationship with money?

I think that in the LGBT+ community, wealth can make one feel more desirable, particularly as the currency of youth fades. I also think that the need (and the pressure) to look and feel “fabulous” can tug at the purse strings. There is something in the community about people feeling devalued or “lesser than,” and sometimes money is the way to feel accomplished or to let a full bank account fill an emotional hole. Also, as in any social group, the more you say no, the more likely you’re one day no longer going to be invited. (However, when it comes to peer pressure, I took a guy to prom my junior year of high school in a very conservative city, so I’m not really one to let my sexuality influence choices, including financial ones.)

I feel as though I have encountered some generalized discrimination in the workplace: because I “don’t have a family to support,” then somehow I “don’t deserve the same salary” . . . or a superior just didn’t like me solely on the basis of one of the communities to which I belong. Anyway, I’m still here and fighting, and the world is quickly shifting to “who cares.” 

In building a career, which in turn affected my finances and my relationship with money, I was fortunate to have various networks promoting and supporting LGBT+ professional interests. I aligned myself with many great allies—while working in alternative assets as well as at one of the Big Four (PwC)—who helped mentor me through my career. For instance, PwC hosts and participates in a group called “Out in Finance,” a conglomerate of the big banks and other financial/consulting firms that promote and support their LGBT+ employees and alumni through events and workshops. The LGBT+ community is getting there, but we haven’t yet arrived. 

What are your financial goals for the future?

This is a tough one. I don’t want to own real estate in New York City as it doesn’t make sense to me, given that I could just cross the river or live upstate (yes, Westchester to me is upstate). Plus, there has been an ongoing exodus from New York City as people age, get married, have children, or just realize that the cost/benefits of remaining here do not make financial sense, and this has been accelerated by the pandemic.

I don’t want children (I think I do, and then I see them and I’m like, hard pass). I would love to create a wealth plan with a partner so that we can afford a stable home, not have costs dictate our ability to socialize with friends (restaurants, theatre, etc.), and most definitely travel without worrying about a budget (while keeping one anyway). I also just want to be financially independent and secure, given the extending life expectancies, so that I can retire well (and have enough put aside for any health emergency or other unexpected expenses).

Favorite LGBT+ business (online or IRL)?

I believe that pink dollars have an importance and should be placed with intention. With soo many brick-and-mortar businesses closing (even pre-pandemic), I believe Julius’ Bar may top my list. It started a revolt against the liquor laws in New York City that expressly prohibited serving liquor to the LGBT+ community. The Mattachine Society helped pave the way for this reform.

I would also have to give praise to Left Bank Books and Three Lives & Company for managing to stay alive through the changing literary world where even megastores like Borders failed, and Barnes & Nobles has closed many stores.

In the online world, I would have to go with Scruff (these days, it’s a way to socially engage when IRL interactions during the pandemic are restricted) and the clothing and apparel company Swish Embassy, just because I like their cattiness. 

NB: Of course, there are also great advocacy groups and organizations like SAGE.

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Billie Simmons

Co-Founder, Chief of Staff at Daylight