Michael Katchen interview
Wealthsimple's Michael Katchen on making money moves
Frank And Oak staff
In our Good Living interview series, we ask our most interesting friends revealing questions about how they design their lives, navigate today’s complicated world and, well, live the good life – whatever that means for them.
Michael Katchen was 12 years old when he made his first investment. Okay so it wasn't a real investment. I was a charity stock picking contest his sister entered him in. Several weeks later, he won! That was it for Michael. He began investing as a teenager and started on the path to what would later be Wealthsimple, Canada's leading digital investing service. It's goal is to make investing easy, accessible and low-cost for millenials employing a technology that most people use every day. Their smartphone.
"I grew up around people that loved to pursue big ideas, start projects and grow businesses," Michael says. "My grandfather was an entrepreneur who opened a meatpacking business out west and become one of the largest employers in Calgary, back when it was just a town of 10,000 people. My parents are also entrepreneurs and passed down that entrepreneurial spirit. My older sister founded her own company too, so it definitely runs in the family.
We chatted with Michael about money, work, success and what's on his bookshelf at the moment.
Where did the idea for Wealthsimple come from?
I started my career in consulting but always knew entrepreneurship was something I wanted to try. When a couple of my former colleagues got accepted into Y Combinator in 2010 and offered me a role, I jumped at the opportunity to move to the Valley and help build a company. My time in San Francisco taught me a lot about what it takes to build a company and helped me realize the potential of technology to solve some of the world's biggest problems. And the sale of that company lead directly to founding Wealthsimple: our team came into a little money for the first time, and there was no really simple, smart, accessible way to invest it.
Photo courtesy Wealthsimple
Everybody is trying to grow the money they have, but what’s your take on how much money is enough to be happy?
My take is that it's really personal — everyone has a different idea of what defines their own financial freedom. This idea of financial autonomy where you have the freedom to make choices and pursue the dreams you care about without having to worry about money is Wealthsimple's mission.
When they think about money, most people think of it in terms of not having enough, but what about coming into money and coming into it very fast. How do you keep it from overwhelming you?
For me, money is simply a tool. Personally, it lets you live the life you want. In business, it helps you grow. Choosing how to use that tool as efficiently and smartly as you can to achieve your goals is what matters.
"The financial services industry has historically made it seem complicated for its own benefit, and the result is that people get scared off, or pay too much, or don't get the advice they need."
What would you say the most common misconception people have about money?
I think the most common misconception is that it's complicated. Every day we're confronted with advice and information on what we should be doing with our money from all kinds of people — our friends, our colleagues, companies selling stuff, financial “experts” in the media. The financial services industry has historically made it seem complicated for its own benefit, and the result is that people get scared off, or pay too much, or don't get the advice they need. That's why we focus on making money really simple and accessible — it doesn't have to be complicated.
What are your thoughts on the connection between money and work?
Human capital is the most valuable form of capital. Figuring out what to spend your time and talents on, and how to invest in your skills and interests, is probably the most important financial and wellness decision a person makes in their life.
What are the pieces of clothing or accessories that are essential to your wardrobe?
Jeans, sneakers, navy sweaters. I keep it pretty simple!
Prime Minister Trudeau recently visited Michael and Wealthsimple at their Toronto HQ. (Photo courtesy Wealthsimple)
What are 3 books that you read in the last year?
I've got 5!
- The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath
- Alibaba - The House that Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark
- A Man for All Markets - From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market
- Wisdom of Finance - Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return by Mihir A. Desai
- Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz (I read it to my new baby!)
What is your definition of success?
Building a global financial services company that helps people all over the world achieve financial autonomy, while always staying true to our mission and our values. And being a good dad, partner, family member, friend, colleague, and member of the community.
If you enjoyed our sit down with Michael, check out some of our other interviews.