Bill Harris, CEO of Personal Capital

Leverage Your Biggest Fears To Succeed

in Financial Planning by

Have you ever wondered what financially successful people are afraid of? If they’ve got a house, a car, plenty of food, loved ones, and enough clothing to stay warm, what’s there really left to fear?

I asked Bill Harris, CEO of Personal Capital, about his biggest fear over a drink one day, and he responded without hesitation, “Failure. More specifically, public failure.”

As the current CEO of a 140+ person financial technology company, Bill has a lot of responsibility to his employees and to his investors. When you’ve been in the public eye for a long enough time, people begin to watch and question your every move.

What will Bill do next after running Intuit for four years? After founding and selling PassMark Security for millions in just three years, what is Bill going to do to top that? How does Personal Capital plan to navigate the competitive wealth management landscape?

Bill faces tremendous pressure to succeed as loftier expectations are placed upon his shoulders with every win. It’s hard not to take every single skeptic and rejection personally having dedicated so much of his time and money to building Personal Capital into what it is today. Yet he soldiers on, taking weekly red-eye flights to New York City for just a couple meetings because he cares so much about building relationships in person.

At the age of 58, Bill is working harder than ever to make Personal Capital the finest technology-assisted RIA (Registered Investment Advisor) today. Fear of failure is a terrific motivator.

If you ever get a chance to grab a beer with Bill, I’m sure he’ll oblige and share with you his many stories of failure and triumph. In fact, I recommend taking any senior colleague out for lunch or a drink one day. It’s the greatest solution to avoid saying, “If I knew then what I know now.”

DISPLAYING YOUR FINANCIAL GOALS FOR THE WORLD TO SEE

When we’re young, we want to make our parents proud. As we get older, we still want to make our parents proud, but there’s also our colleagues, friends, and perhaps children we want to impress as well. We can’t help but want to succeed for the people we care about most. A healthy dose of wanting to vanquish the competition doesn’t hurt either.

The more we put ourselves out there for the public to critique, the higher the chances we will succeed in our objectives. For example, I’ve published my annual passive income figures on my blog for the past three years. Each year comes with more pressure because I have a five-year target to generate a certain amount of income and I’m not on pace. I know my readers are expecting progress in the next update, so I’ve done my best to create more passive income all throughout the year.

I don’t want to publicly fail, so I do everything possible to succeed even if I do come up short.

The “portable financial scale” analogy that UCLA researchers used to describe the Personal Capital app is an example of a private fear. Their findings show that by using our app, users save on average 15.7% more over the course of six months. Some realize they are simply spending beyond their budget. Others are motivated by fear from the Investment Checkup feature that shows a massive financial deficiency if they don’t save more money.

Now imagine how much more users would save if the Personal Capital app publicly showed their spending amounts. Maybe users wouldn’t buy those silly $500 shoes anymore. Maybe users will cut down on all those $15 unhealthy cheeseburgers that taste so good. Or maybe some users might go cold turkey and not buy anything extraneous again because they don’t want to be judged.

My biggest financial fear is ending up broke and alone. It’s more OK to be alone if one is rich. It’s more OK to be broke if one has the love of their life by their side. But to be broke and alone would be an unbearable situation to be in, so throughout my life I’ve saved, and saved, and saved.

A great way to save more is to create a financial circle of friends who will each agree to publicly share their financial progress. An even crazier step would be to start a public blog to document all your spending and let strangers judge your spending. Surely we’d spend much less and save much more. Here’s a snapshot of my October and September personal credit card statements.

CC-statement

Hmmm, not bad actually for the first two weeks of October. A low grocery store bill, some Coppertone sunscreen and Tasco coconut juices at Walgreens, and my monthly USAA auto, home, life, and umbrella insurance bill on auto-debit. The month is not done yet, but I basically try and keep all personal credit card expenses under $1,000 every single month. My credit card bill accounts for 70% of all my spending, with the rest cash.

FS-Credit-Card-Statement

For September, the biggest bills are $60 for drinks at a great French Bar called Amelie on Polk St and $63.20 for art supplies at Michael’s as I’m decorating my house with some acrylic over canvas. Finally, I’ve just started on Dexter Season 3, so I can’t lose my Netflix account until I get through the entire series!

If I had to publicly display every credit card statement to you for the next 12 months, I’d probably eat and drink out less and not buy anymore $185 Air Jordan retro sneakers at Footlocker. That’s $2,000 in annual savings right there for everything.

EMBRACE YOUR FEARS AND CARRY ON

Bill’s fear pushes him to do everything possible to create a successful company. Being able to raise $50 million dollars recently from fantastic investors such as Corsair, BBVA, and USAA is a testament to Bill’s vision of creating the best digital wealth manager on the planet.

Fear of failure motivates Bill to succeed and should motivate the rest of us to build a strong financial future as well. People who aren’t a little paranoid and fearful are often the ones who end up wondering where all their money went in the end.

Readers, what motivates you to save and succeed? Does fear of failure resonate with you? Imagine if the world was watching your every move. How could you ever fail due to a lack of effort?

Photo: Bill in the background watching the Creating Capital event in NYC. 

Regards,

Sam

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Financial Samurai

Sam is the former Managing Editor of the Daily Capital blog. He worked in finance from 1999-2012 before deciding to focus full-time on his online endeavors - FinancialSamurai.com and the Yakezie Network. Sam is an avid tennis fan who loves to travel. He received his BA from William & Mary and his MBA from UC Berkeley.

2 comments

  1. Larry

    Insightful piece about Bill! I’ve always wondered what the motivators are for people who seem to have everything. It just goes to show that no matter how far you go, there is still always more to go.

    Congrats on the $50 mil fund raise!

    Reply
  2. Joceyln

    I’ve noticed this similar theme among people in the upper echelons of organizations. Fear of failure is so powerful that it keeps people going, even when they have more than enough.

    The question is therefore: When is enough, enough?

    I guess it is a personal decision each person must come to grips with.

    Reply

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