We recently met Maui Vang at a monthly Women in Business event that we attend and were immediately impressed with her sense of purpose and passion for helping others. Once we discovered that Maui is the co-founder of Tilly, Inc., an Asheville-based registered investment advisor firm that she co-founded with the mission of financial guidance for all, we knew we needed to share her vision with others.
What’s your birth sign, and do you think it fits your personality?
Interestingly, I’m not 100% sure what my birth sign is because I don’t have a well-documented birthdate. I was born in the jungles of Laos after the Vietnam War in the midst of political turmoil and persecution. My parents were fleeing from Communist soldiers when I was born. They chose a birthdate in December for the immigration paperwork, but we’re not sure how close the day is, although the year is accurate.
For those who aren’t familiar with what a financial planner does, can you briefly explain the work you do and how it can benefit ALL of us?
In my work as a Certified Financial Planner, I equip clients with the best strategies to achieve their financial goals and build wealth. I advise a wide range of people from new college graduates to retirees on saving, investing, paying off debt, earning more income, funding college tuition, buying a car or home, etc. Everyone has a different financial situation, but at the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to feel in control of our finances and have confidence in our financial future.
I believe it’s important for everyone to work with a professional instead of winging it on their own because modern finance has become so complex. Most of us weren’t taught financial literacy in schools and the financial industry can be heavily biased–even predatory–on uninformed consumers. Add to that challenging economic conditions, tedious tax laws and regulations, and swiftly changing markets, and it’s enough to overwhelm anyone. That’s why I believe financial planning is relevant and needed by everyone.
We LOVE the fresh approach that Tilly Financial Services takes when it comes to providing financial advice for people who need it the most – those with limited budgets. Can you share with us what makes Tilly Financial Services different from typical wealth management firms?
I co-founded Tilly a year ago because I couldn’t find a good solution to provide affordable financial advice to people who aren’t already wealthy.
Traditional wealth management firms work with households that have a large pool of assets to invest. They charge a percentage of that client’s portfolio for investment management–typically 1% of AUM (assets under management) annually–and sometimes bundle it with financial planning as a value-added service.
The problem with this model is that it’s just not profitable to work with lower net worth families who may require similar time and attention to service, but the fees earned by the firm are much lower. So firms usually impose an asset minimum threshold such as $500,000 to ensure they can be profitable, essentially shutting out over 70% of American consumers. I call it the “you have to be fit to get in the gym” model, which is counter-productive to helping consumers who need advice the most.
Tilly is different in that we offer comprehensive, objective financial advice for a very affordable flat fee. We don’t manage investments so we don’t need to impose a minimum. We also don’t sell products and remain 100% independent so we can offer unbiased advice. Our financial planners are all Certified Financial Planners experienced in helping clients tackle financial challenges to forge a path to better financial health and prosperity.
My hope in starting Tilly is that it can help bridge the wealth gap. Just like patients need a doctor, consumers need a financial advisor and advocate. If professional help is reserved for only a small subset of consumers, the rest are left to figure it out on their own. Financial mistakes can be very costly and misinformation can hinder a family from ever building the kind of wealth that can be passed on to the next generation. This dynamic perpetuates and widens the wealth gap, particularly within minority and disadvantaged communities.Maui Vang
As a financial tech (FinTech) enthusiast, can you share what you think are the most impressive advances within this space over the last couple of years?
There has been so much innovation happening in fintech that it’s hard to cover it all. Two of my favorites are alternative lending and robo-advising, because they both help democratize financial services.
In alternative lending, fintech companies use sophisticated algorithms to make loans to consumers who may not traditionally qualify. They incorporate non-traditional data in the underwriting process beyond what’s captured by the credit bureaus. For example, if someone doesn’t have a credit history and is applying for a mortgage, they may not qualify. But alternative lenders can use additional data points like rent repayment history and college transcript records to round out the risk profile of that borrower, increasing the odds of qualifying and lowering the cost of borrowing.
Robo-advising is also impressive because it allows the average investor who doesn’t have a lot of assets to invest in the stock market at lower costs than traditional investment managers. After filling out a risk tolerance assessment, the investor can start putting money into investment accounts assigned to automated model portfolios that make trades and rebalance periodically. They won’t get a human advisor or a financial plan, but they can start investing small amounts and earn compound interest without the traditional barriers.
The back story for your company name is great. Can you expand on it here?
Our name was inspired by James Joyce’s short poem, “Tilly,” which is an Irish term that means, “a little bit extra”. Milkmen in Irish villages would add a little extra milk to a pint for good measure, you know, a ‘tilly.’ Joyce’s 1927 book, Pomes Penyeach, offered 12 poems and Joyce added a 13th, “Tilly” a little extra.
Tilly is a fun word, and we thought its origin ties in nicely with our mission. We really go above and beyond for our clients because we care. We’re not just about building a huge portfolio of client assets or meeting sales quotas. We work each and every day to make a difference in clients’ lives. Just think about how many businesses are not started, how many children are not adopted, how many dreams go unrealized, how many families fall apart and divorces result from the strain of money. It’s the number one source of stress for most people. Tilly puts a dent in that.
Most inspiring career moment to date?
Failing to start a business, quitting, and having the courage to get back in the game.
What are your work-life balance hacks as a mom to three young children, an entrepreneur, and a board member for Hatch AVL, United Way of Asheville, and Mountain Community Capital Fund?
First, a rockstar spouse. I’m not the most organized or diligent person, but having a super supportive husband really helps. We both work full time from home and he really holds down the fort. My kids are also at a more self-sufficient age now. Since my husband Xam works in the tech industry, we heavily lean on technology to run our household. Now that it’s summer, the kids have a daily schedule, chore chart, and Google reminds them every hour when it’s time to read, play outside, or have digital screen time.
Life feels full and busy most days, but what drives me is why I do what I do. All the organizations that I volunteer with along with Tilly are different expressions of empowering people to realize their full potential. Whether it’s helping new entrepreneurs navigate the daunting startup world, increasing access to capital for under-resourced minority business owners, or supporting families of school-aged students to improve high school graduation rates, I get to play a small part in building a resilient and economically inclusive community in Asheville.
When you do get ‘me time’ what’s your favorite thing to do in Asheville?
I love dance fitness classes. I go to hip hop classes at three different YMCAs and attend multiple zumba classes a week. We have some awesome instructors in town and it’s so fun to burn calories by dancing.
Podcasts or playlists?
Some standard business and finance podcasts I subscribe to are The Daily, Wall Street Journal, Barron’s Streetwise, We Study Billionaires, and The Rational Reminder. Two inspiring podcasts for me are the Faith Driven Entrepreneur and Faith Driven Investor series that intersect faith with financial empowerment. I also like Freakonomics and Seth Godin’s podcast, Akimbo. Music-wise, I listen to loud hip hop and latin dance music in the car.
What’s the most important financial read that should be on everyone’s bookshelf?
Favorite local restaurant or go-to meal?
Posana (I’m gluten-free) and okra fries at Chai Pani
If you could share anything with your 16-year-old self, what would it be?
I would say embrace the seasons of life. There will be times of striving and of rest, times of abundance and of scarcity, times of success and of failure — Life is not always comfortable, but contentment can be found in all circumstances.
Anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t ask today?
Don’t go it alone. Get a mentor, find a co-founder, ask for help, show up to events, and lean on people. We all experience failure at some point, and it’s better to fail in a community than to fail alone.
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