Nondini Naqui ’02 and Society of Grownups Help People Figure Out How Money Affects Their Lives
“Sometimes, doing things differently, is doing things better,” reads a page from the website of the Society of Grownups, a company that is creating a new model for how financial institutions interact with young people. It may come as no surprise then that the company is led by a Wellesley graduate. As CEO and President of the Society of Grownups, Nondini Naqui ’02 is making a difference for many 20- and 30-somethings, helping them to figure out money and the role it plays in their lives, now and in the future.
Everything about the Society of Grownups was designed with that audience in mind. The company occupies a renovated pizza place in Brookline’s Washington Square, which is easily accessible by T. The space has a small coffee and tea bar, and feels like a cross between a community hangout and the workspace of a small startup.
Participants sign up on an à la carte basis for small classes, guest-speaker events, one-on-one meetings with a financial planner, and “supper clubs” that include dinner and a discussion led by a Society of Grownups financial planner and local expert on a particular topic.
No membership is involved, and the Society of Grownups doesn’t sell any financial products, not even from MassMutual, its parent company. “Our financial planners work on salary, not on commission,” says Naqui, who spent a year developing and planning the Society of Grownups concept before it launched.
Since the Society of Grownups opened its doors in October 2014, many classes have sold out. Topics have included paying off student debt, saving for a down payment, and navigating career changes in an ever-evolving economy.
Classes are discussion-based, so attendees benefit as much from one another as they do from the instructor. Naqui learned the value of that approach at Wellesley, where she majored in anthropology and Spanish. “Anthropology taught me to listen, to bring my own perspective and biases to the table, and to acknowledge that my perspective has its own blind spot,” she explains. “That allows me to learn from what I see around me and make adjustments.”
After graduation, Naqui worked in banking for five years and helped develop an online marketing strategy for her employer. She also spent a year volunteering full-time for a self-sustaining nonprofit that provides services to drug addicts and felons as they reintegrate into society. That experience, and a trip to Ethiopia to work with HIV-positive women, allowed her to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.
Society of Grownups draws on all Naqui’s skills and enables her to show people that they can have more or fewer choices in life based on the financial decisions they make.
That’s especially true in the current economy, says Naqui. “You can’t hold onto formulaic ideas. People need flexible solutions and holistic solutions,” she says. “We help people find the tools they need to live life on their own terms.”
As the Society of Grownups matures, it will continue to develop tools and curricula to meet the financial needs of its target audience. (Other demographics are welcome, too.) The willingness to change and experiment is something Naqui recommends for both clients and Wellesley students. “It’s OK to not know, to step off the expected track or make decisions that are lateral,” she says.
No one has all the answers, she says, and there’s tremendous freedom in that fact: “Wellesley students are smart and have the skills to do whatever is needed. Have the confidence to know that you will figure it all out.”