From published author to professor to Managing Director based in our London office, Simona Paravani-Mellinghoff has built her career around her passion for financial education. Read on to learn more about her career journey…
Can you tell us a bit about your role as Global Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of Solutions within the Multi-Asset Strategies and Solutions (MASS) team?
At MASS, we have the privilege of helping more and more clients experience financial well-being by designing, advising on, and managing multi-asset portfolios, which can cover multiple geographies and asset classes – from equity and bonds to private markets and commodities. We customize these portfolios to the particular needs of our clients, who range from pension funds to sovereign wealth funds.
You can think of my role as similar to that of an orchestra conductor: I identify and cultivate the orchestra talent, ensure they have the best instruments, and create opportunities for them to play in the best theaters so that they can produce music tailored to audiences’ needs and tastes globally.
When you joined BlackRock in 2015, what made you decide this was the place for you?
The people and the culture; obviously the two are intimately linked. Every person I met through the recruitment process embodied the One BlackRock principle. It was clear BlackRock is a firm that values cooperation and teamwork, and where people genuinely care about and root for each other’s success.
It reminds me of an African saying I love: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.”
Seven years later and you’re still with the firm – what keeps you here?
The amazing people I work with and our culture of collaboration have empowered me to grow professionally into bigger and bigger roles within the firm. They have also enabled our business to experience impressive growth, with more clients entrusting us with their portfolios, and by extension, their financial hopes and ambitions. Beyond our business goals, I am also very proud of the focus the firm has put on advancing our DEI goals, including MASS’ work with minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned investment managers.
You also wear a few different hats outside of the firm – from being a published author to professor of Financial Analytics and Machine Learning. How have these outside activities informed or inspired your work at BlackRock, and vice versa
All of my outside activities tend to have a common thread: education. I passionately believe that lifelong education is key to fulfilling our purpose and potential on a personal, professional and societal level.
At BlackRock we believe in being a constant “student of the markets;” but teaching also plays a big role in my day-to-day job. When you teach, you realize that you really need to up your game as a communicator. You can be technically outstanding, but unless you can explain concepts clearly and intuitively, it is really hard to teach something to someone else.
Teaching is also a great way to stay connected with values and ideas motivating the next generation. For example, interacting with children and university students, I see firsthand how sustainability matters when it comes to decision-making. I was once visiting a middle school to talk about my book, The Kids’ Pocket Guide to the World, when a child raised his hand and asked me, “Do you know how many liters of water it takes to produce a t-shirt?” I went into total panic as I had absolutely no clue! The child not only gave me the answer but also illustrated how environmental considerations were already a significant behavioral driver, underscoring the point that environmental considerations represent both investment risk and opportunity. And of course, as both a professor and an author of children’s books, it is super satisfying to see students get passionate about your subject and want to learn more.
You’re closely involved with the Financial Inclusion Network (FIT). Why is this network important to you and what do you hope it accomplishes?
The FIT network invites employees to commit themselves personally and professionally to helping more people experience financial well-being, with a targeted focus on economic mobility and financial inclusion. As someone who comes from a relatively humble background and as the first person in my family to go to university, social mobility is something dear to my heart.
I hope that through FIT we can inspire people to believe that a career in finance is something for them. It’s also critical that we help dispel the myth that finance – or better financial education – is only for wealthy people. Finance – learning about money – is for everyone. Basic financial knowledge around, for example, rates of interest and compounding, can help people avoid ending up in a debt trap, which we know impacts the poorer segments of the population in particular.
My commitment to financial education is also underscored by my involvement as a trustee of the financial education charity Mybnk. Mybnk’s mission is to empower young people to take charge of their future by bringing money to life through the creation and delivery of innovative, high-impact and high-energy financial education programs.
You have received several industry recognitions, including Investment Week’s Women in Investment Awards Role Model of the Year in 2021. What advice can you offer to those looking to make an impact within their industry?
Make sure you are passionate about what you do. We spend way too much time at work to do something we don’t deeply enjoy. To me, this means that my work needs to align with my sense of purpose.
It is also important to be in roles and in a working environment that give you the opportunity to keep learning; this is why being surrounded by people you can learn from and who are complementary to you is key. Finally, take risks! One cannot grow personally or professionally without getting out of their own comfort zone. Of course, taking risks can be scary and it is totally fine to be afraid; courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability not to let fear dominate and limit our life.