On overwhelmingly white and male Wall Street, Lule Demmissie has prevailed as a Black woman, a member of the LGBTQ+ community and an immigrant. But she doesn’t wear it as a badge of honor.
“I'm constantly trying to change that,” she says of the fact that so many executives at investment firms and big banks look the same. “I want to be a farm horse, not a unicorn.”
Demmissie is not only breaking down barriers for those behind the scenes. The U.S. CEO of multi-asset investment platform eToro wants to improve access to investing for everyday people, too. It’s a mission that has been top of mind as no-fee trading and fractional shares have unlocked opportunities and fintechs like Robinhood and Coinbase have exploded in popularity. eToro itself gained 14.6 million users between the end of 2019 and the end of 2021.
There’s more work to be done, though, and Demmissie is determined.
She's certainly got the chops: Her resume touts J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, T.D. Ameritrade and most recently Ally. She’s focused on making investing easier for amateurs and newcomers — just like she was not too long ago.
“I'm tired of the victimization of outsiders, as though they don't know what the heck they're doing,” says Demmissie, who moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia when she was 16. “The outsider needs access.”
She believes that social investing can be a way for investors to learn and teach each other. Communities, she says, promote learning just like fun does.
Admittedly, companies’ attempts to make investing “fun” have gotten some into hot water. Robinhood, for example, axed a confetti feature that critics said was gamifying investing — a dangerous path to go down, considering users are investing (and potentially losing) their hard-earned money. And social media was front and center in 2021 when Redditors teamed up to try to take down big Wall Street names who were short selling GameStop stock. To this day, Twitter, TikTok and the like are go-to places for young people to get investing advice, despite those sites being rife with misinformation.
Investment products have to be responsible in how they engage with their customers, Demmissie says. In fact, she believes criticism can actually help make companies stronger. “Having diversity of ideas and thoughts and identity and professions is a really good thing,” she says.
eToro has a host of ways it aims to educate investors, like a virtual portfolio that allocates each user $100,000 of “play money” to practice investing and an academy full of how-tos and explainers.
Demmissie is well aware that eToro is also facing a wave of competition. In addition to the aforementioned trading apps, robo-advisors like Betterment and investment giants like Fidelity are moving in on crypto. Zero-commission trading has gone mainstream. Everyday investors have ample choices when it comes to platforms they can use to invest their money.
But Demmissie — who often holds court on the stoop of her New York City brownstone to teach her friends personal finance basics — likes going up against the giants.
“I love being David and not Goliath,” she says. “I love the idea of an underdog.”
The future of the financial industry may be better for it.