Shannon McLay, Founder of Financial Gym
When we went over to the Financial Gym, we did not expect to also sit down with the Founder and CEO, Shannon. While she was sharing her background on how she got started, all we can think of is, "Wow, she's so real!" No bullshit, and the reason why she shift gears in the financial world.
We ask every #Girlboss the same question: what did you want to be when you grow up?
When I was in fourth grade, my favorite aunt died; and her death transformed me. I developed an almost paralyzing level of anxiety, so my mom reached out to my teacher who engaged our school psychologist. The handful of sessions I spent crying and recovering in Dr. Denenburg’s office made me want to be a child psychologist. I laugh thinking about it now because my job is not that far off from it.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how the birth of the Financial Gym came about?
I graduated from college 17 years ago and began a 13 year career in financial services that ranged from working on trading floors, hedge funds and ultimately as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch. I chose to become a financial advisor because I needed one and in the process of trying to find the right advisor for me, I realized that 85% were men and they all seemed the same. I thought that it wasn’t fair that it was difficult to find someone “different,” and instead of whining about it, I decided to try to change it, only I became the worst financial advisor ever because I loved people with no money or at least not enough money to work with a financial advisor. The minimum assets a person needed to work with me was $250,000 and I was told to pre-screen all of my meetings to make sure people had the required assets, only I ignored that advice and took every meeting.
In the process of taking these meetings, I realized that there are so many people who don’t have the assets required to work with a financial advisor, but they want to talk to a human being and not have to work with an app or a website to figure out their finances. After taking a number of these pro-bono meetings, I met with a 27-year-old woman where I gave her my improvised basic financial plan on a Word document and at the end of the meeting, she looked me in the eyes and said, “You know you’re saving my life, right?” In that moment, I knew I needed to create a company for people like her. At the same time I had this realization, I completed a 50 pound weight loss journey and I thought about all of the options I had to get physically fit, but I wondered where people would go if they wanted to get financially healthy. The would go to a financial gym, of course! Four years later we have one gym opened in Flatiron and we’re opening our second on Long Island this fall.
Based on your experience with “decorating the floor” in this male-dominated industry, can you share why do you think women don’t dive into the financial industry?
The best analogy I can give as to why there aren’t enough women in male-dominated professions is the foreign travel analogy. Deciding to work in a male-dominated field is like deciding to move to France - you’re interested in what France has to offer, like the food, wine, etc., so you move to France only to realize that 80% of France is male and they only speak French. The problem is that you speak English, so one of three things happens. 1) You learn to speak French, but it’s not your natural language so you’ve changed your basic make-up. These are the women who look at other women as competition and are less supportive than men in the workplace. Looking at them you’d think they’re supportive, but they’re only interested in supporting their own agenda. 2) You get frustrated and leave. There are plenty of other work environments with less language and cultural hurdles. 3) You develop a colony of co-workers, and clients who speak English and make your work life more fulfilling and less of a struggle. The majority of the women I know chose option two.
Financial services companies do a great job of hiring women, but they do a crappy job of creating a supportive environment for them once they get there. It’s a very lonely experience if you can’t identify that supportive colony you need to survive.
You obviously are fully aware of your financial status, what were your fears when embarking your business, and did you risk of putting yourself in debt?
For better or worse, I actually had no fears when embarking on my business. After hearing that woman say that I was saving her life, I knew that I found my purpose in life and I saw the business so clearly that I knew it was something I was supposed to do. Two years into this journey, I started to develop fears and wondered if I should turn around and go back to working for the bank, but every time one of those fears struck me, I’d get a new client or text or email from a currently client sharing a financial success they never thought was possible.
These moments acted as my breadcrumbs to keep me focused on moving forward. I left Merrill Lynch four years ago and I’ve never made less money in my life (even as an analyst right out of college), but I’ve never been happier in what I’m doing with my life. Financially, like most entrepreneurs, I’m a mess. I have credit card debt and my retirement account is tied into the gym, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
I know how to fix my financial situation, thousands of people don’t know how to do it, but thankfully I’ve created a company that can help these people; and I’m motivated daily knowing that I’ve created a financial services company that actually cares for people.
What does “financial freedom” mean to you? And what advice can you share for someone to achieve this status?
Financial freedom is the ability to say “fuck you” to the man. It’s the freedom to choose to work because you want to and not because you have to. So many people are focused on retirement, and it seems like a far way off, but financial freedom doesn’t actually have to take that long. We have clients in their thirties and forties who are close to achieving it just by balancing their lifestyle needs with how much they can save. Financial freedom is the goal we give all of our Financial Gym clients and it’s something I think everyone should fight to have.
What’s next for you and the Financial Gym?
We are finishing up an equity raise and plan to open our second location on Long Island this Fall as well as hire new trainers to help as many people as we can get and stay financially fit.
To learn more about the Financial Gym, you can head over their website here, or find them on social media here and here. Also, if you use the word "CNNEKT" you will get a special somethin' somethin' (;
Introduction by Chary; Interviewed by Emily + Chary