Maria Bartiromo: More ‘Money Hammer’ Than ‘Money Honey’

The Fox anchor talks to ThinkAdvisor about her advice for FAs, why business news is sexy and why good looks only get a journalist so far

Maria Bartiromo interviewing Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan. (Photo: AP) Maria Bartiromo interviewing Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan. (Photo: AP)

Her movie-star good looks did not make Maria Bartiromo a world-famous, award-winning financial television journalist. It’s her smarts, stupid! (Though the striking resemblance to a young Sophia Loren hasn’t hurt, she tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview).

Judge for yourself by catching the so-called “money honey” on her new live show, “Mornings with Maria,” 6 a.m.-9 a.m. (EST) Monday-Friday on the Fox Business Network, and on “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo,” live 10 am-11 am (EST), on the Fox News Channel.

A more fitting nickname than “the money honey” would be “the money hammer,” an admiring Bartiromo colleague once observed about her journalistic strengths.

She is best known as the first reporter to broadcast daily from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. That was when she worked for CNBC, a 20-year stint ending with her November 2013 resignation. In January 2014, she joined the Fox Business Network, where she was appointed Global Markets Editor and anchor of “Opening Bell with Maria Bartiromo.”

Two weeks ago, she took over the three-hour FBN timeslot held by “Imus in the Morning.”

“I jumped at the chance,” Bartiromo, 47, tells ThinkAdvisor. The three-hour program provides her with a wide berth to cover financial and business news globally, not just the securities markets short term. Indeed, she welcomes this.

In the interview, Bartiromo has plenty to say about that, as well as dishing out an abundance of advice for financial advisors on how to improve client relationships.

The Brooklyn, New York-born Bartiromo is known for her “gets” — one-on-one interviews with often hard-to-access folks. These have included former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke; Hillary Clinton; Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York; Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone Group chairman-CEO; and Barack Obama, when he was senator.

Thus far, from her new perch, she has talked with, among others, Bank of America Merrill Lynch media analyst Jessica Reif Cohen, presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, Bank of America chairman-CEO Brian Moynahan, presidential hopeful Rick Perry and analyst-turned hedge fund manager-turned analyst Meredith Whitney.

Apart from her informative interviews, “Mornings with Maria” is largely about breaking world news and panel discussions with experts — heavy on Fox News correspondents and other financial reporters, and there is Morgan Stanley vice chair of Wealth Management Gary Kaminsky as a regular — which the anchor adroitly leads.

Bartiromo came to CNBC in 1993 after five years with CNN Business News as a producer, writer and assignment editor. Her goal was to be an on-camera reporter. When she joined CNBC, she became one, full time. She launched “Squawk Box” —  reporting from the NYSE floor — and anchored “The Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo,” as well as “On the Money with Maria Bartiromo” (formerly “The Wall Street Report with Maria Bartiromo”).

A New York University grad, she has written several books, including “The Weekend that Changed Wall Street” (Random House 2010) and can be seen — as herself — in feature films such as “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and “Arbitrage.”

The daughter of an Italian restaurant entrepreneur, Bartiromo is married to WisdomTree CEO-president Jonathan Steinberg, a son of financier Saul Steinberg.

Since premiering “Mornings with Maria,” it’s been virtually 24/7 work for the tireless broadcaster. She rises at 3 a.m. and retires early at 8:30 p.m. — 7:30 if she doesn’t sneak in a daytime nap.

However, chatting by phone with ThinkAdvisor at the close of “MWM’s” first week and only 90 minutes after going off the air that Friday, she sounded as peppy as when she kicked off the show earlier that morning. Here are highlights from our conversation:

ThinkAdvisor: How can financial advisors be more effective with their clients?

Maria Bartiromo:  The best thing you can do is make them [understand] that you’re watching out for them, that you’re going to get them where they want to go and that you’ll get them there without enriching yourself first and charging the highest fees. These are very hard conversations to have, but they will differentiate you from [other advisors].

What else should FAs do?

It’s important to be honest with clients. Don’t tell me to buy a fund because [the reason is] you’re going to get [a big] commission on it. Tell me to buy a fund because you know it’s going to be cost-effective for me. Don’t avoid ETFs because you think you won’t make any money on an ETF and that you’ll make much more on another fund.

We’ll get back in a bit to your further advice for advisors.

I’m curious as to your thoughts on this: Many FAs and RIAs I speak with have a big beef with what they call “media hysteria”: They say reporters stir up things relating to finance, scaring investors, and that their theme is always short-term oriented. What’s your response?

I agree. There’s too much focus on the short term. That’s one of the reasons I left CNBC. I wanted to get away from trading and instead [concentrate] more on investing. A quick knee-jerk reaction is not the way to invest. It’s really important that the media recognize that their words and writing matter — and that  [information and views] should be [presented] calmly. I always tell people not to make important decisions when they’re stressed.

How would you assess your own “calmness level” as a news person?

I was there when the market fell out of bed in 2007-2008. I was there during 9/11. I was there during the boom days. I would like to believe that I was one who dealt with the news in a calm and clear-headed manner. It’s critical to maintain a calm stance and attitude when things are flying off the handle. That’s when [TV journalists] can be valued the most.

To what extent do you have the power to move markets?

When you’re on live television, anything can happen. And that’s the trick. I never know where a conversation is going to go. So depending on what the person says, if will impact people’s money, it will impact markets.

To change the subject substantially: Have your good looks helped or hindered you in your career? You do bear a striking resemblance to a young Sophia Loren.

Helped, chiefly. If I want to go to lunch with someone important, they might say they’d rather go with me than a guy in a suit. But you could be Brigitte Bardot, and that’s not going to help you in business information. You could be Sophia Loren, and that won’t help you either. A superficial thing like looks might help you get a foot in the door or an interview, but it doesn’t keep you [in the game]. If you don’t have the goods, you’re not going to make it and won’t advance in this industry because this is an audience of very smart people who are informed.

What else characterizes the audience?

These people are focused on something incredibly important: Their money, their livelihood. So unless you’re bringing them valuable information that they need and can use, you won’t have credibility.  Without the meat and potatoes — knowledge of what you’re talking about and credibility — you won’t excel and [have longevity].

What’s the most critical financial issue facing the U.S. today?

No. 1: Jobs. Where are the jobs? People don’t feel great about things, and it’s because they’re worried about their jobs, and jobs in general. No. 2: People don’t save enough. The whole student-loan debt issue is one of the more dangerous things out there. And a midterm issue is entitlements. We’ll run out of money for Social Security at some point. So without reconstruction of some entitlement programs, that could be a real stress.

During the financial crisis, what was the most difficult part about business reporting?

Probably the fact that a lot of people were nervous. The main players were nervous. So they weren’t willing to give out all the information on what was really going on. It was hard to keep track of things because they were moving so quickly. And, of course, when the people you’re talking to don’t want you to really know what’s going on, that’s tough. When you’re in a crisis situation, it’s tough to sort through the noise.

You once told The Guardian that “business news is sexy.” What’s so sexy?

It’s sexy because it affects us all. Very few types of news can change a person’s livelihood. If I’m giving you entertainment news about Kim Kardashian, it’s not going to impact your life. But if I’m telling you what the stock market is doing or providing information about the price of your home, that may change your behavior and your life. That’s sexy. Business and economic news are pocketbook issues: they impact the way we spend and allocate money. The way people have built something when they start from nothing is interesting and sexy. Where the stock market has gone – if only in the years that I’ve been covering it – is interesting and sexy.

Talk about your M.O. in interviewing CEOs and other VIPs.

I probably take 85% of my day preparing for interviews. That’s the bulk of my work. I try to study and understand the person and the company very well. When I talk with them, my approach is: “Here are the issues of the day. Here’s what investors care about. How are you dealing with them?” rather than “Why did you do this!” in a “gotcha” kind of way. I’m not coming at them in a hostile way. They know that I’m [approaching] them in a knowledgeable way, understanding their company and the issues, so they feel comfortable enough to open up and give us the facts.

What’s the key focus of your new show?

We’re covering markets; we’re covering breaking news. We’re looking at how these are impacting people’s livelihood, not just how they’re impacting their investment statements for the next month. We’re not trying to be narrow and tell you to buy, sell or hold in the next 10 minutes. We’re not trying to tell you what a company is going to make in the next three months.

So you’re taking a long-term view.

Yes. We’re looking at investors worldwide and what they need to know for their long-term financial health. I want to focus on broader issues that impact long-term thinking. We’re [targeting] a much bigger and broader audience than just a stock market and trading desk audience. One of the reasons I left CNBC is that it was very stock market-centric. [With this show], we’re trying to capture people who are not knee-deep in money issues but have an eye on money issues and understand that there’s an economic angle to every story. We’re trying to help people.

You’ve had the editor of The Wall Street Journal, Gerard Baker, and several WSJ reporters on the show. Will the WSJ’s presence be a staple?

Yes, 100%. We’re going to have The Wall Street Journal on regularly as my partner. Both our companies have the same chairman. We’re trying to get ahead of the news with the people who are writing the news.

How did you manage to be first to report from the New York Stock Exchange floor every day?

In 1995, we were starting “Squawk Box”; and we wanted to really think outside the box. One of my colleagues, producer Matt [Quayle] had the idea to do the show from the Exchange. But when we got there, we realized that the floor was where we wanted to be, not the balcony above the floor, from which other people had reported.

Did the Exchange agree right away?

I knew Dick Grasso [former NYSE chair-CEO] from when I was a production assistant at CNN, and I went to him with my colleagues. He didn’t like the fact that most newscasts showed only what the Dow, Nasdaq, the Opening Bell and the Closing Bell did. He wanted to demystify things. So he was a willing partner.

How did it go at the beginning?

Certainly a fair amount of people didn’t want me to be there. So there was a bit of fighting back to stand my ground.

I read reports that men were shoving you physically. Did they do that deliberately?

I can’t say they were shoving me on purpose all the time. There was a mix of reasons. Part of it was that they didn’t even know when I was on television because the camera was on the ceiling very far away. It would zoom in on what looked like a sea of guys and me standing in the middle as things were happening [in real time]. It was very busy back then. There were 5,000 people on the floor; now there are 500. They were using five rooms; now they use one room. So those traders needed to get from Point A to Point B in three seconds. Part of the [jostling] was that I was in their way. The other part was that it was new, and they wanted to be on TV and say, “Hi, Mom! Look at me!”

Let’s get back to the ways you think financial advisors can help clients.

It’s really important to have the client buy into what you’re doing or, at a minimum, make sure they understand what you’re trying to do. I used to get calls from my girlfriends: “Love that hair; love the shoes. Have no idea what you’re talking about.” I’d say, “Guys, that’s really dangerous!” It’s wrong for a financial advisor to know that [clients don’t understand] and to keep moving along anyway.

What should FAs do instead?

They have to explain: “I don’t want to make decisions for you without understanding what your goals are and that you understand how we can get to those goals. For instance, you [could create] three buckets: investments, retirement and savings. You lay out visions, and then come up with a strategic way to get to live that vision – and make sure the client understands that.

What’s the upshot for the FA?

You’ll have much better relationships and longer-term relationships because the client knows that you understand what the big issues are in their life. You can’t say to someone, “Invest with me, and don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything.” You’re not going to take care of everything unless you understand what you’ll be taking care of.

What have you learned as a broadcaster over the years?

That it’s OK to relax and give of myself a little, show the audience a little of who I am rather than being all business all the time.

You do show your sense of humor on the new program.

Fox is trying to draw that out of me. It’s nice because there’s not as much pressure as I felt early in my career to make sure that it’s boom-boom-boom business. It’s, like, I can take a breath and tell you how I feel about something.

Any other journalistic lessons learned?

When I was a young reporter, I thought I needed to know everything. But nobody knows everything. And what I’ve learned is that the audience would much rather see authenticity and you being you, an original, than you trying to be someone you’re not. The audience will like you more when they feel you’re a straight-shooter. I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously, that it’s okay to make a mistake and not beat myself up.

Do you think you’ve improved as a journalist?

I’m becoming a better one now because journalism is really important to Fox. I like that I’m not only talking about the stock market; now I’m talking about economic policy and foreign policy too. I’m more informed about what’s happening in the world. I’m a better journalist because I have a more complete understanding of that.

Did you ever have the yen to be a CEO yourself?

There have been times when I’ve wanted to start my own business. Once, I wanted to teach kids about money; but I was unwilling to give up my day job to do it. I’d work on the project during weekends, but it didn’t pan out because I needed to devote more time to it. I love what I do; so I haven’t had the urge to leave and change careers.

Joey Ramone, of the rock band The Ramones, wrote a song about you; and you’ve played it on your new show. Is there a story behind it?

Most people don’t realize that Joey Ramone was an avid investor. When we were in the dot-com boom, he used to email me and ask questions about stocks. I thought he was [just another] viewer, and I was trying to help him. Then he told me he wrote a song about me, and I said, “Oh, my God!” We planned to have The Ramones on the floor of the Exchange singing the song live. Unfortunately, Joey’s health deteriorated so much that he was unable to do that. And then he died [in 2001]. May he rest in peace. He really was a phenomenal investor.

Final topic: A race horse has been named after you.

Yes, it’s so funny. When they told me, I started following him, and he kept winning. It was so amazing: the night before we went on the air for the first time with “Mornings with Maria,” he won the eighth race at Belmont. We thought it was good karma: Bartiromo keeps winning!

--- More by Jane Wollman Rusoff on ThinkAdvisor:

                                        

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