By |Published On: May 24th, 2019|Categories: Women in Finance Know Stuff, Basilico and Johnsen, Interviews|

Today, we are interviewing Perth Tolle, Founder and CEO of Life and Liberty Indexes, a provider of the world’s first freedom-weighted Indices.

I met Perth during the first Alpha Architect Democratize Quant conference in Spring 2018. I immediately sensed her high energy and positive attitude. We met again at the March for the Fallen Event together with 100+ other #fintwits and I had the privilege to spend a lot of time with Perth in the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania. We talked about her passion for freedom and investor education.

Both Perth and I pride ourselves as being active contributors on twitter (see @Perth_Tolle and @ebasilico) where we share investment and life experiences with younger generations and hope they embrace a career in quantitative finance and investing. Like her, we are committed to increasing the level of female representation in this fascinating field.

This article is another step towards our common goal!

Perth Tolle (center) pictured with me (right) and Liqian Ren (left)

What Contributed to Perth’s Success?

We asked Perth to tell us the things that contributed most to her success. She conveyed three basic themes that characterized her professional career:

  • Theme #1: FREEDOM
  • Theme #3: BE OPEN MINDED

Perth graduated with a degree in finance and marketing at Trinity University with a stint at graphic design during a summer in Pasadena. She quickly realized that advertising was not really for her but finance was in her blood. In fact, I learned that her father, an investment banker in Hong Kong, played a major role in her career development. This is interesting to me and confirms research that having a STEM father increases the probability that a daughter becomes a CFA member. Although Perth is not a CFA, she did steer her career towards finance thanks to her dad, despite the fact that their time together was extremely short.

Perth was born in China, came to the US when she was 9 years old and returned to an Asian lifestyle when she moved to Hong Kong after college to spend time with her dad. Going back to Asia had a huge impact on her life and what was to come next. She realized how different her life would have been had she not lived in the US. She was gifted with “freedom”, something those who live in western developed countries take for granted.

After returning from Hong Kong, she started working for Fidelity as a financial adviser in Texas and California. These were great experiences and full of accomplishments.

In California, she was the only female adviser in a top branch by several metrics. California tends to be a more open-minded place and she did not feel any gender bias towards her, either from colleagues or clients. A recent article highlights research by Morningstar showing how firms with the highest share of female portfolio managers are located thousands of miles from Manhattan, many of which on the West Coast.

In Texas, she did face some gender bias from older generation clients but found ways to overcome it, like bringing a senior male colleague in for meetings to reinforce her credibility. This is an important lesson that Perth would like to emphasize: it’s important to appreciate one another’s comparative advantages, whether male or female, in order to overcome gender bias. One solution is to simply surround yourself with supportive managers and mentors, both male and female. Don’t limit yourself, value the differences everywhere, including gender.

Perth’s next frontier: Life and Liberty Indexes

When she lived in Hong Kong, Perth traveled to the mainland often, and there she met her friend “Maggie,” who became an inspiration behind Life and Liberty Indexes. Maggie and Perth are of the one-child policy generation.  They are the same age and have many similarities.  But Maggie does not exist on paper (birth certificates, school records, benefits etc.) in China, because she was born a girl, and a second child. As a consequence of the one-child policy, Maggie’s parents chose to register her brother for societal existence!

After acknowledging Maggie’s situation, Perth realized the huge impact that policies and governance can have on the future of a country and its financial market. Maggie’s story among others, inspired the birth of Life and Liberty Indexes, an innovative smart beta solution applied to emerging markets. The Index allocates to emerging markets without allocating to autocratic regimes. For example,  the mainstream emerging market indexes are all invested around 30% in China. The Life and Liberty index currently has no allocation to China because of how this country scores in terms of civil, political and economic freedom. Of course, it is Perth’s hope that one day China will be included in the Index. This would mean it has become a more free country. This is the ultimate goal of impact investing!

The core values behind this initiative are as follows:

Every individual has intrinsic value and purpose. Therefore they deserve to be free and equal under the law to seek their purpose as they see fit and be rewarded with the fruits of their labor. No central authority should have their power over individual choice.

Closing Thoughts from Perth

Back to some personal tips for our female audience who want to pursue a quantitative finance career.  Perth recommends starting young with math and coding, and to not underestimate the role of dads in directing female career trajectories!

Thank you, Perth: it has been a great pleasure and we wish you continued success!

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About the Author: Wesley Gray, PhD

Wesley Gray, PhD
After serving as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps, Dr. Gray earned an MBA and a PhD in finance from the University of Chicago where he studied under Nobel Prize Winner Eugene Fama. Next, Wes took an academic job in his wife’s hometown of Philadelphia and worked as a finance professor at Drexel University. Dr. Gray’s interest in bridging the research gap between academia and industry led him to found Alpha Architect, an asset management firm dedicated to an impact mission of empowering investors through education. He is a contributor to multiple industry publications and regularly speaks to professional investor groups across the country. Wes has published multiple academic papers and four books, including Embedded (Naval Institute Press, 2009), Quantitative Value (Wiley, 2012), DIY Financial Advisor (Wiley, 2015), and Quantitative Momentum (Wiley, 2016). Dr. Gray currently resides in Palmas Del Mar Puerto Rico with his wife and three children. He recently finished the Leadville 100 ultramarathon race and promises to make better life decisions in the future.

Important Disclosures

For informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as specific investment, accounting, legal, or tax advice. Certain information is deemed to be reliable, but its accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. Third party information may become outdated or otherwise superseded without notice.  Neither the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) nor any other federal or state agency has approved, determined the accuracy, or confirmed the adequacy of this article.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Alpha Architect, its affiliates or its employees. Our full disclosures are available here. Definitions of common statistics used in our analysis are available here (towards the bottom).

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