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Coffee with your investing? At Society of Grownups, a cozy twist to financial planning.

Shift in thought

Society of Grownups is one of the latest financial services startups attempting to make the stiff formality of investing and financial advice more accessible to a Millennial clientele with shifting financial needs. 

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    Tara Valcimond, a Boston resident who works at a startup, receives advice from instructor Steven Taylor during his class, The Basics of Investing: Level I at Society of Grownups headquarters in Brookline, Mass. The Society of Grownups is both a cafe and a financial wellness center that offers workshops and individual checkups to help Millennials manage their finances.
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From the outside, the Society of Grownups headquarters looks like a trendy cafe, complete with stylishly cluttered bookshelves, wood paneling, and plenty of coffee. But inside, it’s all business.

At this financial wellness center just outside downtown Boston, young professionals sip refreshments, mingle, and attend a wide array of workshops – many of which blur the line between fiscal instruction and basic life skills: “No Cereal for Dinner,” for example, explains how to plan meals in order to save money. Customers also can sign up for financial checkups to discuss life goals and spending plans with certified planners. The overarching objective is good personal finance, but no one talks about budgets.

“We don’t like the term ‘budget,’ because it can be constraining,” says Steve Taylor, a certified financial planner at Society of Grownups. “We like terming it as ‘spending plan,’ because that is geared specifically toward your goals and values.”

Backed by MassMutual, the start-up is one of the latest attempts to make the stiff formality of investing and financial advice more accessible to a younger clientele with shifting financial needs. Adults born between 1980 and 2000 are the biggest generation since Baby Boomers and thereby a large, crucial demographic for the financial service industry’s future. But providers have lagged in courting them. A 2014 Wells Fargo report found less than 16 percent of that age group had seen a financial advisor in the previous year.

Additionally, Millennials face circumstances that would be unrecognizable to previous generations, including mounds of student debt, and an uncertain future.

“The retirement plan for Millennials is going to be very different than it was for their grandparents and parents,” says Forrest Wilder, an independent financial adviser. “Pensions have gone the way of the dinosaur, and even Social Security has questions around it.”

In response, financial firms are going after the Millennial market in two different ways. On one hand, tech advances have given way to a slew of accessible money-managing tools, including robo-advisers that offer impersonal, remote advice inexpensively through start-ups like WiseBanyan and Wealthfront. The other is through Society of Grownups’ more communal, individualized approach, which seems to have struck a chord. 

Following the success of its Boston-area location, Society of Grownups recently announced it will be expanding to 10 additional US cities in the coming year.

“You have this enormous need from people who are really coming of age, that are trying to live the life that they want,” says Nodini Naqui, CEO and President of Society of Grownups. “That’s why it’s so critically important that we build a place like this.”

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