When you think of Muriel Siebert, what initially comes to mind is that she is an ardent advocate for women in business, and woman of many firsts: first woman in the Bache & Co. research training program in the early 1960s; first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (1967); first woman to be Superintendent of Banking of the State of New York (1977).
Muriel Siebert & Co. Inc., “Mickie” Siebert’s discount brokerage firm, was founded in 1967 when she bought her NYSE seat and, according to her Web site, remains the “only woman-owned NYSE brokerage firm with a national presence.” The firm became a discount broker as soon as negotiated commissions on stock trades were allowed, May 1, 1975.
Of all the things Siebert has done, the one she thinks is her real legacy is her financial literacy program, now in New York City high schools. Funded by The Muriel F. Siebert Foundation, Siebert would like to expand the program to schools across the nation.
Siebert sat down for an exclusive interview with WealthManagerWeb.com Editor in Chief Kate McBride on June 18. The interview took place in Siebert’s New York offices, on the now infamous 17th floor of the tube-shaped “lipstick building,” just down the hall from imprisoned Ponzi swindler Bernie Madoff’s former offices. Siebert pointed out that there were still investigators going through Madoff’s files right there in his old office digs. She said they did not do business together.
WM: You’ve done a lot. What do you consider your most important achievement?
MS: The school program–personal financial literacy. [When I was] Superintendent of Banks in New York State, Tom Clark, the first black Deputy Superintendent of Banks, would bring young people in–17, 18, 19 [years old]–they were ready to go bankrupt.
[Then over the years], products became complicated–unfair with the fees. [The financial literacy program first started] about 10 years ago, slowly; it’s starting to pick up now.
WM: What about financial literacy for the people who never had this in school, or women who are out of school?
MS: [Maybe] when we redo the WFN site. [WFN is the Women's Financial Network, created by Siebert to help women invest and educate themselves about finances and investing.]
WM: You had wanted to talk about financial re-regulation…
MS: We’ve seen what the lack of knowledge has done–we wouldn’t have all these people losing homes if they had known how expensive a home they could afford–regulators should have seen what’s going on, realized the seriousness of the subprime mortgage mess. A couple would [apply for a mortgage] to buy a $150,000 house and the mortgage broker would say they could afford a $250,000 house…now it’s in foreclosure.
Electronic trading…dark pools; some new trading systems–you have to regulate them [but we] need international regulation.
[It] troubles me that regulatory reform is so partisan. We need bi-partisan cooperation–make a list of the important things that need to be addressed–the [financial] system is more important. We could get (hope it doesn’t happen) class warfare in this country. [Like the] vote on healthcare: anyone that’s a decent human being would say we need some kind of coverage for the people who aren’t covered…the votes were partisan–there something wrong about it being on a partisan basis. We should be looking on a global basis.
WM: What about the fiduciary standard for brokers who provide advice to investors?