Catha Mullen Olympic Training

What We Measure, We Can Improve

in Financial Planning by

Training for the Olympic Trials marathon, I used to key in on a few stats: miles logged, pace, elevation gained, and heart rate, to name a few. I used to keep a log in a Google spreadsheet that I shared with my coach so that she could analyze and keep track of my progress. I was just as religious about entering my data into that spreadsheet as I was about completing my runs in the first place.

Image Source: My Training Log

I learned the power of tracking my running data at a young age. My high school coach was something of a legend in high school running. Coming from a town one-square-mile in size, he produced a team that set a national record in the most grueling of relays: the 4×1 mile. Over a thirty-plus year career, his athletes earned over 150 All-American awards. Such success had to be more than luck.

After every track workout and race, he would record the results in the journal he carried around. The data in the journal dated back to the ‘80s. It was his secret weapon. He could tell you the specific training regimen that led runners to achieve certain targets. Say you were looking to run a 5 minute mile: he could point to the exact sequence of workouts that made that feat possible for different runners over time. Granted, many factors besides workouts influence race performance. But if we were able to hit the times of his journal, we’d come to the starting line with confidence.

At Princeton, my coach introduced us to heart rate monitors. My heart rate monitor enabled me to make the important paradigm shift to effort-based running. Easy, moderate and hard runs all play an important role in our fitness. With a heart rate monitor, you can understand exactly what type of effort you’re giving. For instance, on a moderate run, a typical threshold for a college female is 165bpms. If you go above that, you’re in hard effort territory. Our monitors were programmed on moderate days to beep when we went higher than that. As a freshmen, that often meant a few embarrassing beeps as I tried to keep up with my senior teammates. But by listening to the data and training intelligently, I eventually developed the fitness I had been impatient for.

Fast forward many years later, while training for the Olympic Trials, I got what all runners at the time had at the top of their Christmas lists: a Garmin watch. Not only do Garmins track your miles logged, but they track your pace, your elevation gained, and your route. You could even get one with a heart rate monitor.

The first time I synched my Garmin watch to my computer, it was both awesome and awful. The big elevation gain I had imagined on mile two was a mere twenty feet. But considering the terrain on mile six, the pace was blistering!

Source: PopularMechanics.com

Whether the story was encouraging or depressing, my new access to data was game-changing. With a sync of my USB cord, I could see a complete picture of my runs. Suddenly, the data that I had manually entered into a spreadsheet was captured automatically in electronic form. It was pictured to me in beautiful maps and charts. I’d pore through these data visualizations with unquenchable thirst. After a decade of competitive running, in a moment, I understood myself better as a runner.

Personal Capital’s Value Proposition

After finishing up my Olympic Trials training, and subsequently finishing business school, I had the opportunity to join the team at Personal Capital. The decision was a no-brainer. I understood the value proposition in a heartbeat.

What Garmin is for your running data, Personal Capital is for your financial data. By linking your accounts from different institutions – checking, savings, credit cards, mortgages, investments – you can see a complete picture of your finances in one place.

If you think about it, all of our financial data already exist in electronic form. Consolidating that data in one place enables us to get a true picture of our financial selves. And whether the data tell an encouraging story or a discouraging one, there’s no denying that Personal Capital’s presentation is beautiful. The interface is elegant, uncluttered, and intuitive. The data display focuses our attention the metrics that matter, like net worth, cash flow, and portfolio allocation.

I began my career as a financial analyst on Wall Street: but it was not until I linked my accounts to Personal Capital that I truly understood my own finances.

My first “aha! moment” with Personal Capital was the level of fees I paid in my old 401k. I was paying around 1.1% to be in a 2050 Target Date Fund, on top of whatever administrative fees came along with the plan. That was enough to make me decide to rollover my old 401k. ASAP.

My second “aha! moment” was seeing how much exposure I had to a few individual stocks and to a few sectors. Seeing that pictured – along with an explanation of how I could get an equivalent expected return with less risk by shifting my portfolio somewhat – inspired me to diversify. Take a look at our Investment Checkup feature to see for yourself.

Another big learning about my finances has come over time. Depressingly, I’ve been able to track how little my savings has contributed to any growth in net worth. The only rapid period of growth in my Personal Capital account has been when I opened a new credit card and hadn’t linked it yet. The untracked expenses gave an illusion of a higher net worth than reality. This story has encouraged me to save more proactively.

Whether you’re doing well or need improvement, you can understand who you are as a saver, spender and investor by using Personal Capital. And powerfully – potentially be inspired to improve your behavior. A recent independent study by a team of behavioral economists at UCLA equates the app to a portable financial scale and found that mobile users meaningfully save more after using the app on their phones.

On top of its free tracking software, Personal Capital offers a service that can help you invest. The advisory service was built by a team of experienced advisors who will work one-on-one with clients to build individualized, long-term investment strategies. Technology underpins and improves every aspect of this service: from asset allocation algorithms to data analysis to re-balancing and tax-loss harvesting software. Because the service is delivered virtually, there’s lower overhead. Savings are passed along to clients.

Personal Capital’s advisory service is unique in its combination of high tech and high touch. I believe it’s painting the picture of how the industry will look in the future.

Conclusion

Going to business school and running through the hills of Northern California afforded me the luxury to reflect on what matters to me most in a career. What it boils down to for me is being part of an organization with great people that has the potential to bring widespread and positive change in people’s lives.

It’s been an exciting journey to be working with the wonderful team at Personal Capital on our quest to improve people’s financial lives. Just as the data analysis and visualization has helped me to understand my money better and make some positive changes, I know it can empower others to be more mindful of their money and make healthy financial decisions. Who knows? You might have your own “aha! Moments” once you sign up a well!

Track your financial progress with Personal Capital today!

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Catha Mullen

Catha Mullen

Catha Mullen is passionate about helping people make healthier financial decisions, which is why she joined Personal Capital. Personal Capital helps people live better financial lives by providing technology-enabled advisory services, in addition to free financial software. She's got an MBA from Stanford and AB from Princeton.
Catha Mullen

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3 comments

  1. Financial Samurai

    Very inspirational Catha! The most I’ve ever run is 3 miles…. after that, I’m kinda dead and angry for running so much when I could have just biked 🙂

    This year is the year for fitness, like it is every year! 4-pack abs cometh again!!

    Sam

    Reply
  2. Catha Mullen

    Catha Mullen

    Sam – happy to write you a training plan if you’d ever like to break that 3 mile barrier 🙂

    Reply
    • Financial Samurai

      OK! I will try and break 3 mile barrier in under one hour! Baby steps.

      Reply

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