Catherine Flax '85 - Investing With Artificial Intelligence

  • Name:  Catherine Flax
  • Class Year: 1985
  • Major: Economics
  • Occupation: CEO of Pefin- the world’s first AI Financial Advisor
  • How long have you been in NYC?: Since 1998

What is the biggest milestone in your career to date?

Becoming CEO of Pefin- the world’s first AI Financial Advisor is by far the biggest milestone.  I have been really fortunate to have a lot of really interesting jobs- mostly on Wall Street- but this role brings it all together. I am making use of the skills I have learned over the past nearly 30+ years since I have been out of school, but I also am learning and being challenged in new ways every day.  I love that it is something that is bringing meaningful change to the world of finance, and is something that will truly help people in managing their financial lives in a way that has not been available before.

Interesting factoids about your current industry:

 AI is very “hot” right now, but I am finding that most people have no idea what it means.  From people being afraid that the “robots” will take over, to people thinking that it is so futuristic (without realizing that they interact with AI every day already), it is very misunderstood.  The reality is that we live in a time of tremendous change, and whether in financial services, medicine, agriculture, transportation- every aspect of life- will be transformed with technology and AI.  Why is this important in the world of personal finance? Because 1 in 3 Americans don’t have any retirement savings-and 2/3rds of Americans don’t have enough money to cover a $500 emergency. Americans owe over $1.45 trillion in student loan debt- about $620billion more than total US credit card debt. We have a crisis in this country of epic proportions in personal finance, and it is impacting people of all ages.  A huge part of the problem is that people don’t understand their finances and they don’t know how to make the changes necessary to fix their situation.  AI can help provide tailored financial solutions, including education, for people who need it- which is pretty much everyone.

Your favorite New York Memory;

It is so hard to pick just one.  New York City is like a part of my family- I truly love this city. One really happy memory was in 2003 when we had the massive power outage on the east coast.  Initially everyone was overcome with dread that it was another terrorist situation – and for those of us who were here, 9/11 was a very fresh memory.  But once everyone realized that it was just a power outage, tbe palpable sense of relief was everywhere.  I remember walking through the streets in the evening with my older two sons (who were then 13 and 15) and it felt like the entire city was outside- sitting on stoops or eating in outdoor cafes, and everyone was talking to strangers, sharing this happiness that we were all New Yorkers together – and it was all going to be ok.

Your current New York Wishlist:

I realize that this question is about what I want to do in New York, but having lived here nearly 20 years, there isn’t anything I haven’t done that I have wanted to do.  So my wishlist is really about what I would like to see happen in New York.  I really believe that New York is the greatest city in the world but the worst part about the city is that the income gap is greater in NYC than in any other city in the US.  New Yorkers have big hearts and there is a lot that is being done to address this- but it isn’t enough.  One of the most amazing organizations in New York is called Part of the Solution (POTS) which helps people and families move from crisis, to stability and self-sufficiency.  It is remarkable work that they do My greatest wish for New York is that all New Yorkers can find a way to, as Frank Sinatra said, “make it here.”    

One thing you wished you knew when you first started in New York:

That New Yorkers are super friendly.  I was pretty intimidated by the subway and I was afraid to get lost.  So, I walked a lot in the beginning because I could figure out more easily where I was going.  Once I learned that you can always ask someone for help, it was much easier. The other thing was I moved to New York with kids (they were 7 and 10 when we moved here) and I was really afraid of raising kids in the city.  I learned a lot – not all of it the easy way- but I now think NYC is the greatest place in the world to raise kids!