Spotlight: Meet Anita Knotts, Founder and CEO of the Lotus Women’s Institute

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After 30 years in the financial services industry, Anita Knotts founded the Lotus Women’s Institute in March 2021. Her mission is to help increase and support female representation in finance.

Spotlight Summary

Anita is an accomplished senior financial executive with experience in wealth management ranging from sales and marketing to business development. Her experience in financial services as a female Indian American immigrant propelled her to found the Lotus Women’s Institute. With Lotus, Anita strives to work with women and financial firms to change the industry landscape to be more inclusive and beneficial for all.



Resources 

To learn more about our On Purpose guest, please visit Anita's LinkedIn page. 

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Audio Transcription

Lauren Hong (00:03):

All right. Well, Anita, thank you so much for joining us. We have Anita Knotts, who is the founder of Lotus Women's Institute. We were just chatting a bit before this, a little bit about her background and I’m very excited to dive in and hear more about Anita, your experience within financial services. And more importantly around the bigger picture questions about business strategy and thinking not just about the short term of the industry, but the long-term planning and if you will, in a very broad brush strokes level. So I'll pass it over to you just to do a little bit of introduction before we dive into some of these questions here.

Anita Knotts (00:41):

Sure. Well, Lauren, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. You know, it's amazing where we are in life right now after the past 18, 19 months. And I think like a lot of women, I should say, but probably a lot of people in general, the pandemic gave us time to kind of sit with ourselves and become introspective and figure out what it is that we want from our personal lives, but also our professional lives, because now more than ever, they're both sort of intertwined. And I had the blessing of also turning 50 last year in the midst of the pandemic.

Anita Knotts (01:16):

So I say that because that, too, became a pivotal moment for me. And as we were just discussing, a lot of things happened last year. It wasn't just the pandemic, but it was a lot of the social justice issues that came to the forefront after some unfortunate events and all of these things combined with me saying, okay, I've been in this industry for 30 years. What is it that I want to do between now and when I exit the field? To put it simplistically, there is a lot of improvement to be had in our field. And I think anybody can admit that. And rather than just sit on the sidelines and say, okay, yeah, things do need to get better, I have always been the type of person to just do it, as Nike would say.

Anita Knotts (02:03):

And so this is my version of doing just that. I launched the business earlier this year because I think I have a pretty good handle on quite frankly what needs to be done. I'm an immigrant, I'm a woman, I'm brown skinned, and I'm pretty much the furthest you could find from the typical Wall Street person. So I want to kick off this business and say, listen, if somebody like me looking like this can do this and really create space for women to enter this field at this moment in history, let's do it. So that's really the background and what I bring to the table.

Lauren Hong (02:38):

Yeah. So what inspired you to launch Lotus was that experience in the financial services industry? What was kind of that turning point for you, and why this initiative? 

Anita Knotts (02:52):

A lot of times when I think to myself, gee, I could really benefit from using somebody as a sounding board, when I was going through this type of experience, I could never find that person. So it's fine, because you know what, everything that has happened to me brought me to this very point. So absolutely no regrets, nothing like that, but I certainly want to turn around and make sure that the women coming behind me don't have to have it that difficult. If I can be that person for someone coming up through industry now and say, okay, well, here's some of the experiences that I've had, I certainly want to be there. I also saw, let's just put the cards on the table, a lot of unfortunate things that I think don't have to happen.

Anita Knotts (03:41):

And I think when you look at what is happening to women and women coming into wealth, needing help, needing guidance, the industry itself has to evolve to meet their needs. The traditional way that we've done things as wealth management, as financial services, it just has to be a thing of the past. It is clear that the strategies are not resonating with women now. And I'm certainly not the only person to say it. This is pretty commonly known. It's just who is doing what about it? So I just figured who better than me to kind of kick off something like this and find other partners in the industry, whether they be male or female, to change the face of it, change the face of the industry at this point.

Lauren Hong (04:34):

And then just contextually for those listening who may not be familiar with the mission of Lotus and the work. Do you mind just giving the elevator pitch for what all you do?

Anita Knotts (04:44):

Yes. The mission of Lotus is to attract, develop, retain, and advance women in financial services. It sounds kind of a simplistic one-liner, but to get into the weeds and do it, this is going to take work. I always say I'm looking for women, individual women who are not just looking for jobs, they identify as change makers, right? They actually want to make a larger impact in this industry by entering. But on the flip side, I'm also looking to work with firms that identify themselves as change makers. They're not just out there trying to check the DEI box, right? Oh, okay, we hired the woman. Oh, we hired a person of color, done. No, they want to actually make a solid impact by implementing strategies that are going to be long standing. They don't view this as a topic de jour, you know, a trend of the moment to be diverse. They really do want to see and be involved in the change that is so desperately needed. So that's the mission.

Lauren Hong (05:50):

And that comes from such a place of authenticity. Because it's not just the check in the box, but how is that mission intertwined in the fabric of the organization. I'm sure what their values and company culture are and all of that. So that's right. And I’d love to hear more about how you are identifying these companies and individuals, and then helping to kind of do that matchmaking. 

Anita Knotts (06:15):

Absolutely. So the individual women, quite frankly, I've just dipped into my network and I'm absolutely astounded at how many women are out there, by the way, at all rungs of the ladder. At first, I thought when I launched this, okay, I'll be helping women coming in, but that's why I expanded the mission to be developing and advancing also, because a lot of these women have been in the field. They just don't know what that next step looks like. Or what does the conversation with their boss look like to even discuss what that next step might be? No one's having that conversation with them, which goes back to my earlier point that a lot of times women are hired and that's where it ends. No one is really focusing on what that next step or what the talent development path might look like. So I'm looking for individual women at all rungs of the ladder.

Anita Knotts (07:06):

A lot of times it's through if I sit on a panel event and I'll tell you, Zoom world has made it much better because my reach is so far. So sitting through panel discussions, somebody heard me and then they'll send my information to somebody. And it's always kind of a network thing, which is something that women aren't normally taught in the classroom. Hey, build a network. Well, this is the importance of it. I started building it a long time ago and it's bearing fruit now, now that I'm launching my own enterprise on the firm side. That's been pretty interesting as well, because over three decades I thought, oh, hey, you know, I know so many of the large firms because of the field that I've been in. Well, the interesting thing is that the firms that are really where I'm gaining traction are not the big firms, but the smaller firms, mid to small size RIAs, which is good, because those are the folks who are really, I'm finding, intent on making an impact strongly and quickly. So that's been happening as well. It's not that I'm not working with larger firms, but a lot of times what I'm finding is that the larger firms sometimes have their preferred recruiting vendors already. They have a lot of internal recruiters. So a lot of times they think, I don't believe it, but they think that they don't need somebody like Anita Knotts or Lotus, whereas I'm like, well, look, I've got the pipeline that you folks are so desperately looking for. So it's all about the network right now. Yup.

Lauren Hong (08:38):

Makes sense. Right. And making those connections, those trusted connections and everything. So and then are you actually helping to coach these individuals as well and work with them on a recurring basis? Or is it more of the matchmaking that you're doing?

Anita Knotts (08:54):

It's a little bit of both, Lauren. When I first meet them, I don't jump right into recruiting because I want to make sure. And I'm trying to say this in a diplomatic manner, but she's gotta have what it takes. Not everybody does, right. Some of them, if all you're doing is trying to find a job that pays the bills, I don't believe Lotus is for that person. As I mentioned earlier, I'm looking for women who truly do identify as change makers. They want to come in, they see the opportunity that lies before them working in financial services, working to empower themselves financially and then ultimately help empower other women financially so that we can really see a tidal shift in this industry for that person. I would love to meet you. And then what I do is talk through the things that I think a lot of women aren't taught in a classroom or in training sessions when they first entered the field, topics like negotiation, like how to take methodical risks in your career, topics like self-advocating. And then there's also a few courses that are specifically designed for women who want to become advisors, topics around asset allocation, investing, you know, career paths in wealth management, just all around the board. 

Lauren Hong

Do you do coaching just for firms, kind of consulting at large? How does that interplay, I mean, as you're talking, I'm thinking such great training sessions or that sort of thing.

Anita Knotts (10:32):

Well, and it's interesting, again, I'm learning so much on a daily basis as an entrepreneur, because for 30 years I've been a corporate person. Right. And now as I'm kicking this off, when I first started, I thought, okay, I'll coach women and I'll recruit. I'll help firms recruit, that's what I'm going to do. Well, as I'm talking to these firms, they asked the same question that you just asked me. Hey, yes, we do have needs to hire people and people of color. However, do you also work with firms on talent development for high potential women? Of course I do. I designed those programs myself when I was working for the firms that I was working in. So it's not like I have to start from scratch. It's all up here. It's all in materials that I'm just kind of repurposing. It's the same concept, right? Professional development is professional development, no matter where you go. So these topics, especially the ones that I was just mentioning, are of massive interest to these firms, whether they bring in women who are on the financial advisor path, I can help those women, whether they are bringing in women who are on a leadership path, I can help those women. So it really can be customized. 

Lauren Hong (11:45):

Yeah, it’s fascinating. And just looking ahead, you've got so many great stats on your website, too, that address a number of, I don't want to call them trends, but just trends where things are going. And just taking a step back, you know, so many women that are going to college are dabbling between work and motherhood and all kinds of things. And I would anticipate that, especially in the RIA space, that there's not only advisors that are needing that mentorship, but are working with more and more women as heads of the household. And so that's gonna, I would assume, become more of a need as we look into the future. Just where, where things are going. 

Anita Knotts (12:33):

Yeah, in fact, I didn't know if you were going to ask me something that, on that very point, which is an excellent point. On my website, I talk about this concept. I call it the Lotus triangle, right? You've got women who are coming into an enormous amount of wealth. And if people don't believe me, you're exactly right. The stats are out there. This is not an Anita Knotts statistic. There’s divorce. And the fact that women tend to outlive their male spouses, the great wealth transfer, all of these factors are contributing to the fact that women are really the client of the future. And I always say the future is now. I always follow up by saying don't wait for the future, as in some other point in the future; that time is happening now. And if you don't staff your firm up to deal with that client of the future, meaning do your frontlines look like that client?

Anita Knotts (13:28):

Because if not, there's no way you can serve that person. And there's no way you can be competitive. So it's really important to make sure that those things are in place. So I always say the Lotus triangle, one group is this woman investor, right. But she's looking for that woman advisor who simply doesn't exist. Only 18% of all advisors are women. So then you've got the third group, which is women leaders. That kind of cycles back to what you were asking me on the front end, which is what brought this about. Well, I'm a woman leader in the industry. What can I do, right? What is it that I can do to help women coming into wealth that are going to need money? Because I'll tell you what the ultimate thing and why this matters to both men and women is that when women hold wealth, they don't just kind of hoard it and keep it under their mattress. They turn around and they reinvest into the broader society. So we all benefit from it. So this is all interconnected, right? And that's why it makes so much sense whether you're male or female to really subscribe to this philosophy.

Lauren Hong (14:38):

Yeah, that makes sense. I feel like especially the RIA space has changed. I mean, it's a new concept, right? And in general, if you kind of look at the large picture, it's changed and it's evolving. And I think it's also evolving as we're evolving as a society. And so it's interesting to hear the angle that you're coming at it from. And then I'd love to hear, if you were to coach younger women that are entering the workplace and wanting to get into financial services, what would be your message to them? How would you help encourage them to succeed?

Anita Knotts (15:15):

First thing I would say is take a bet on your stuff, risk yourself, put yourself on the table, you know, have that faith, because honestly the one thing I've learned in my career is that unless you take that risk, unless you've put yourself in a place where you're uncomfortable, you're never going to grow. You're never going to evolve the way to build that self-confidence muscle. So many people feel that women lack the way to build that self-confidence muscle—to take that risk. But when you come out on the other end and look back and you say, wow, I did that. That's the way you're going to develop it. Not by just thinking and hoping and praying, but you gotta do it. You’ve got to get muddy, you’ve got to get dirty, get scuffed up a bit and come out on the other end. Risk is the first thing I always tell the young women I'm mentoring and it comes in several different forms. And I customize that message depending on who I'm talking to, but oh my gosh, it's so necessary.

Lauren Hong (16:19):

So true. And then on the flip side, for those that perhaps are in their advancement piece of their career. Where they're looking to help to bring up and mentor younger individuals, what advice would you give to them to help to bring up that new leadership? 

Anita Knotts (16:36):

It's interesting you asked me that, because in recent weeks, I've noticed that even though I've been in the business for 30 years, I'm certainly not the oldest person in the industry. As a female, there's many women who were growing up in this industry, let's say, even in the ‘80s, early ‘90s, and what I have found, and this might be a huge generalization, a lot of them feel that they went through a hard time getting scuffed up, so to speak. They really built up a tough exterior, so I feel some of them might think, what are these young women complaining about? We made it easy for them. You know, you can do it. I did it. You can do it. My advice would be, don't be so hard on the people coming up now.

Anita Knotts (17:27):

Wouldn't you have wanted a hand to be led to you as you were growing up in this industry? Put yourself in that young woman's shoes. If you can do anything to make it just a tad bit easier for that person, do it for the love of God, do it just because you had to pay a price doesn't mean that everybody else does. I would hope that somebody like Lorius Dine, who grew up in the 1960s, in the ‘70s, doesn't want each of us right now to be going through the hell that she and her counterparts did. Every generation should have the ability to carry the baton just a little bit further. So what I would say, and hopefully it doesn't come across as a harsh message, but help, do what you can to help them, whether it's a shortcut or mentorship or being a sponsor for them. Speak well of them when they're not in the room. So that would be my message.

Lauren Hong (18:25):

I love that. And I also love the specific example of speaking well of someone else when they're not in their room; it's the small changes and it's the appreciation and recognizing others. So more of a tangible takeaway.

Anita Knotts (18:39):

That's the one thing I always say, there's plenty of room at the top. This is not a zero sum game. If you make space for others, there will be space for all; the pie just keeps getting bigger. It's not like the slivers of the pie get smaller and smaller. The pie is getting bigger. So we have to reframe the way that we think about this so that we're helping everybody.

Lauren Hong (19:00):

Yeah. That makes sense. Makes a lot of sense. I love that advice. It's fun to hear it from you. Cause you're talking specifically with firms and individuals. So it's interesting to hear those conversations that may come up or how do you help to bring people up and encourage people to lean in? 

Anita Knotts (19:18):

And the one thing I would also say to women, because I keep telling you that I'm getting some surprises, right. Throughout these months of launching the business, one of the biggest surprises is the number of men who have been absolutely amazing advocates. So there are a lot of men out there who actually completely subscribe to what we're talking about, but they don't know where to start. And you know, it ties back to who the firms are that I'm working with closely. It's men who are running these firms that are like, yeah, you're right. Look at our website. And you know, all you see is a bunch of white guys. Hell. You know, and those are the people that I'm drawn to. So there's a lot of folks out there in both genders that really do see a need for this change.

Lauren Hong (20:01):

And I think that’s authentic change here. I mean, sometimes I talk with leaders within our space that say, well, we want to hire a woman or someone with this background or what have you, but they're not finding the talent. And so I think that's a potential challenge. But then how does that hiring and process and all of that feel authentic, like you were saying earlier, it's not just a check in the box, but how so it's intrinsic to the longevity of the firm and even getting down, I would assume, to just brass tacks, its day-to-day operations. Well, that's all impacted, too. So very good. And I feel like we could keep going on, but I want to be mindful of time here, too. I know there's a lot on your website, there's a number of stats mentioned earlier and other resources as well that you've called out. What other publications or podcasts or things do you listen to, or conferences you attend just to stay relevant and to ensure that you're making those connections, you're building that network, right. You're pointing out that in the latest data. So I'd love to hear more about that, too.

Anita Knotts (21:14):

You know, I'm still a bit old school. I like to read a lot. I'm a book junkie, I'm a newsletter junkie. You know, I'm that person that gets up early in the morning with a cup of tea and starts reading a lot. But I don't just narrow it down to financial publications. But since we're talking about that, there's a newsletter, I think it's called Feed Spot. It sort of aggregates financial blogs particularly aimed at women. And it gives you the quick and dirty, right? Here's the important stuff you need to know for today: various articles by various blogs. And I like that because all I can do is read the headline. If the headline looks interesting, I click on it, if it doesn't, I blow past it, it's very simple. I'm also a big political junkie. So I read things like the New York Times and Fortune, of course. Fortune is fantastic because I'll tell you what, if you dig in, they have specific newsletters depending on what your interests are. One that I would recommend for women especially is the broad sheet for anybody and everybody, that their CEO, Alan Murray, sends out daily. 

Lauren Hong (22:26):

Oh, dang. I think I get that, actually.

Anita Knotts (22:29):

I love it because it ties in everything. It ties in business. It ties in politics because you know what, none of these are mutually exclusive topics. They're all connected. So and then I am a podcast maniac for women in finance podcasts. There's a recent one that Dax Shepard's wife, Kristen Bell, does with an Indian woman. So of course I was very drawn to it, because she is talking to women leaders from all different industries. So everybody from Abby Wamback to Reese Witherspoon, to Sheryl Sandberg—just phenomenal. So then if you want the quick and dirty Ted daily, Ted talks daily, quick, 10- to 12-, 15-minute snippets, random talks, neuroscience, women in leadership, you know, something that's happening in the Pacific islands. It's just all sorts of different things. So if you're one of these curious people I would strongly recommend that.

Lauren Hong (23:34):

I love that there's so many good resources. I also like how you opened with the fact that they don't always read financial services or financial publications. When we talk internally with the team, you don't just look at what your competition is doing, but you look outside of the industry, not just within financial services, but within, you know, e-commerce or product based. And you can learn so much about application of a theory or the way that things are done can also apply in different ways, even though it may not be a one-to-one. And I think you can be smarter if you're understanding more of what's going on at large. So I think it's important to your point, too, to just not be so siloed within an area of expertise, but to try to scope outside of the lines to stay sharp in other ways.

Anita Knotts (24:23):

Well, and to connect it to what you asked about what to say to young women coming into the industry, when I'm trying to convince them to come into the industry. One of the things they say is, oh my God, I already sit around reading the Wall Street Journal or watching CNBC. This industry has nothing to do with that. Or my success. And I was an advisor for the first half of my career, and I was a leader managing teams for the second half of my career. I never enjoyed reading that stuff. I never enjoyed watching Jim Cramer on CNBC. God bless the man, but that doesn't draw me into the field. What I describe it as more about having that intellectual curiosity, as well as curiosity about the person sitting across the table from you, that's what makes you successful. This is a relationship business, right? At least from where I sit. And once I start talking to women about the career in that manner, it appeals to them. It resonates with a lot of them.

Lauren Hong (25:26):

True. Yep. Here, here. So you're right. And we all have those conversations, too, right? About how different people can have the same office service offerings, but part of the differentiator is the person. And the company values and how that comes out and everything. So I better stop myself or I'll get excited and start talking and I go on forever. But well, thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to share a bit more about not only your background, but the mission behind Lotus and the great work that you're doing. We'll make sure to include some of those links to resources. So thank you. Thank you for the great work you're doing. And if there's questions, I'm sure we'll be able to link to places where folks can reach out. 

Anita Knotts (26:13):

Absolutely. Well, thank you for the opportunity. Wonderful to meet you.

Lauren Hong (26:16):

Absolutely wonderful to meet you as well. 

Anita Knotts (26:19):

Take care.