Lex is a futurist and entrepreneur focused on the next generation of financial services. He directs Fintech Strategy at Autonomous Research, a leading research firm for the financial sector, helping clients understand and leverage innovation.
He is on the Board of Directors and previously was the Chief Operating Officer at AdvisorEngine (formerly Vanare), a digital wealth management technology platform that received a $25mm investment from Wisdom Tree. He was also founder and CEO of NestEgg Wealth, a roboadvisor that pioneered online wealth management in partnership with financial advisors, acquired by AdvisorEngine.
Lex is a contributor of thought leadership to the WSJ, CNBC, Reuters, Investopedia, American Banker, ThinkAdvisor, and Investment News, among others. He has spoken on the future of technology and achieving extraordinary growth at conferences for Techonomy, General Assembly, In|Vest, T3 Enterprise Edition, and the FPA.
Prior to NestEgg, Lex held a variety of roles in investment management and banking at Barclays, Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank. He holds a JD/MBA from Columbia University and a B.A. in Economics and Law from Amherst College.
For #YmazingPeople 33-years-old Futurist Lex Sokolin, gave us some exciting and informative insights about his life and career:
Why do you do what you do and how did you get to this point?
I believe in the power of creativity and innovation to help regular people live better financial lives. To achieve this mission, I use the toolkits of a financial professional, new media artist, and futurist to create stories and technologies that persuade and empower others. It’s been an adventure to combine these disparate skillsets, but it has given me a unique perspective about the world.
If you had a message for your 10 years younger you what would it be?
It is important to focus and commit to what you are doing, even if that activity is only part of the larger picture. If you want to help people invest and save better using technology, you may need to spend 10 years learning the technical background in finance without doing much art. If you want to use creativity to challenge how incumbents think, you may need to spend 10 years learning how creativity and innovation are fostered and practiced. There are no shortcuts, and the most important thing to do is to always plant seeds for the future. Opportunities are cumulative, so make sure to contribute well and be consistent.
If you had 1 question to ask the 20-30 years older you – what would it be?
What is the secret to keeping healthy and motivated to sustain a high-impact stressful career? One important aspect of working hard that needs to be considered is the physical toll that it can take. Burnout can be real, and people should be smart to manage it with good habits like exercise, sleep, mindfulness, diet and happy relationships.
What drives you?
I am wired as an artist and creator, but I like to apply that to technical problems in financial services. An artist looks at a blank page every time and designs both a story, and the visual language with which that story is composed. I try to live life in a way that treats hard problems as blank pages for which I have the freedom to design compelling, aesthetic solutions.
What routines do you have in your daily life?
I am a bit of a night owl by nature, so I have to be fairly disciplined to fit into a regular work day. That means coffee, keeping a tight and active calendar, inbox zero email management, and hand-written to-do lists. As technology allows, I try to automate as many repetative tasks as possible using tools like Zapier and IFTTT.
What was the biggest challenge for you to jumpstart your career? And how did you solved it?
There is no stepping around putting in the hardwork and grinding to learn a craft. My biggest challenge was learning how to pitch and sell the products of my first tech startup, NestEgg Wealth. Prior to that, I was always the analytical strategist. Doing a startup means that you are always pushing you concept of the world and persuading others. This skillset is one of the most important you can pick up, and takes effort to learn. But the good news is that it is acquirable.
Who is your role model?
I admire people who have courage, conviction and boldness of thought. I also admire those who can make beautiful, highly technical systems and objects. That would put the artist Robert Delaunay and the banker Jamie Dimon in the same sentence. In more recent years, I’ve tried to pursue the excellence of the Chief Innovation Officers and Fintech venture investors, of whom there are many examples.
Who mentored you, and why?
Along the previous dimension, I’ve had mentors both in the arts and in business. On the arts side, I’ve worked with teachers and directors in theatre, dance, painting, film-making and virtual reality. On the business side, there have been many influences who have taught me how to be analytical, strategic, and practical.
What was the best advice you have ever received?
What could young hustlers learn from you?
In startups, instead of death by a thousand cuts, it’s life by a thousand cuts. If you’re not getting hurt, you’re not playing. And hustling is only half the game, you have to bring real value and differentiation once you are past the door.
What have you learnt from GenX/Babyboomers and from the younger GenZ?
One of my close business partners was Gen X, and his perspective was invaluable. Most importantly, I learned technical expertise and the reasons for how certain structures and systems are designed the way they are. To break something apart and put it back together you need to know what the Lego pieces are in the first place. Gen Xers are experts and their experience is deeply important. From Gen Z, I’ve tried to learn authenticity. We are still in a place where the divide between corporate and personal worlds, and brands, is very wide. Gen Z does not have the luxury of privacy or a non-digital world, and so they must be professional social media managers from a young age. I’ve tried to incorporate that also in my work.
How do you influence society?
People have a very negative view of financial services, both because of the financial crises and the nature of financial products. It’s all homework. But it’s also amazing, finance is the lifeblood of society and can have meaningful impact in people’s lives. If I can make it more accessible by championing innovation and customer centricity at large financial institutions, many people’s lives will be better.
How should GenY/GenZ change worklife/education/leadership/career paths/ media…?
We are, I think, at a very dangerous moment. Technology and media creates winner-take-all oucomes. That means that the person with the most popularity on social media or the firm with the marginally better technology gets nearly all of the attention and profits. It is hard to be number 10, number 100, or number 1000. But there are billions of people in the world. So we must be extremely cognizant of the asymmetry that’s taking place in media, communication and economic outcomes, and design a world where we are generous and kind with each other.
From your perspective, what are the biggest differences between the young generations (Y (1980-1995) &Z born after 1995) in comparison to GenX (1965-1980) and Babyboomers (1950-1965)?
We are all people, just living in different circumstances. The main difference is the environment in which we are coming to the workplace, and the environment for younger generations is defined by artificial intelligence in the workplace, an over-networked world, and massive financial pressure. At the same time, this time is more prosperous, healthy, peaceful, educated and advanced than ever before. Gen Xers built this world for us, even though it does have deep and obvious pitfalls, and we should be careful to build an even better one for the future.
What will be the biggest challenge for humans in the next 10 years?
The automation of human intelligence and the disappearance of human knowledge jobs is top of my list. The impact of software on digitizing public opinion and having power in the real world is also up there. I think these two things can be unfortunately connected. Imagine software controlled by very few people designed to be both brilliant at manufacturing knowledge at scale, about say financial markets, and then using those financial resource to create more software that drives political opinion or other real outcomes. Staying human and grounded in that type of polarizing environment, with most people unaware of the depth of the challenge, will be difficult.
Thank you very much Lex for that #ymazing interview!