Diversity & Inclusion at Golden Gate University Law School in San Francisco


By Justin McNealy
Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Student Affairs
Golden Gate University School of Law

At GGU School of Law, we want to make sure we continue to forge a path as one of the most diverse law schools in the nation. As Director of Diversity, Inclusion (D&I) and Student Affairs, as part of the Office of D&I, my role from one day to the next can be wildly varied. Ultimately, my role is to provide a framework for how each department can do more to foster D&I. This can mean Law Student Support providing more learning and development opportunities for students or Career Development providing more networking and mentoring opportunities for first-generation law school students who can be frustrated by a lack of guidance and resources. It is my job to identify the D&I need for each department in the law school and facilitate conversation about those needs, provide solutions about how those needs can be addressed, and move toward solutions.

The biggest impact that all of our departments hope to have is to ensure students from diverse backgrounds feel included in the law school environment. We also want to make sure they leave the GGU School of Law with a network of diverse attorneys who can help guide them through their first years in the legal profession and ultimately become lifelong mentors. Additionally, we want to identify and improve student retention, create programming geared toward student inclusivity and belonging, identify mentorship and job opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds, and work with admissions on student recruitment and matriculation efforts.


Fact: 62% of GGU School of Law students identify
as a racial minority, 64% are women,
and 11% identify as LGBTQ.


Why I became a Diversity and Inclusion Professional

As a gay man of color, I often see the inequity that exists for my community and other communities of historically underrepresented people. My own experiences in law school and the legal field helped build a basis for empathy for students who do not feel included or feel as though their concerns will not be taken seriously. Inclusion, especially in an environment as challenging as law school, is the essence of surviving those challenges. People naturally build communities as a means of support, and I always want to connect people to those inherent support systems. Also, I want to see the legal profession become as diverse as the communities in which they serve.

During my first year of law school, I was surprised that two of the professors teaching 1L courses were black. While it did not seem like much of a big deal to many of the students, which is in itself a mark of progress, it was a big deal to the other black students in the course. Those professors became de facto mentors to many of us — not just because they were black, but because they understood what it was like to be “the only one.”

We also want to make sure [students] leave the GGU School of Law with a network of diverse attorneys who can help guide them through their first years in the legal profession and ultimately become lifelong mentors.

Diversity and Law Schools

Law is one of the least diverse professions in the country. If we talk about barriers to access of legal education, whether it is the LSAT, or cost (or even self-confidence), those who have been historically underrepresented have the hardest time breaking through institutional obstacles. From the perspective of many law schools, D&I bridges the gaps and the destroys some of those barriers. A diverse legal education environment creates an opportunity for dialogue among people who may not understand one another. In the end, this dialogue and exchange of ideas foster not only tolerance but also a deeper level of understanding that makes for a more empathetic attorney.

There are many reasons D&I is important at law schools. It creates a classroom environment feels more welcoming because people see a representation of their group. Diverse faculty members are also more likely to approach a student of a similar background and can offer nuanced advice, from having gone through similar experiences as the student that they are trying to reach. For instance, Dean Niedwiecki of GGU School of Law is a first-generation law school graduate (and a gay man) so he can speak to many of our students who are also first-generation in a way that someone else could not. Similar background and experience makes finding common ground and creating relationships much easier, whether it is financial stress or the discomfort many students feel when they enter a room full of attorneys.

The ability of a faculty member from a diverse background to connect with students on a granular level cannot be understated. Having faculty from diverse backgrounds creates a sense of belonging in the law school environment. Even among students who may not be of that same background, it is powerful when faculty members understand what it is like to be in a field where they are historically underrepresented. The feeling of belonging is valuable because it goes a long way toward students graduating and becoming successful professionals.

The ability of a faculty member from a diverse background to connect with students on a granular level cannot be understated.

D&I in the Business & Legal Professions

The legal profession is built on relationships and is customer driven. Similarly, the business world has taken D&I very seriously ever since the argument for the practice moved from one about moral failings to one that was about “what is good for business.” Law firms have taken note of this shift and are now being pressured by their corporate clients to follow suit. In the past year, HP has threatened to withhold legal fees from firms who do not match or exceed their business expectations for D&I. Facebook has begun instituting a hard quota requiring 33% of an outside counsel’s legal team to be composed of gender and ethnic minorities. Even for a smaller firm, which is typically serving clients who do not have the economic power of HP or Facebook, it still makes business sense to put D&I initiatives in the forefront — both from a human resources standpoint and from a marketplace-viability standpoint.

A number of D&I studies have proven that more diverse and inclusive work environments reduce turnover, increase retention of employees, foster better decision-making among senior leadership, improve client relationships, and foster better talent.

From a law firm’s perspective, D&I programs boast many benefits to their bottom lines. Aside from the economic incentive, D&I build a stronger, more resilient, and happier workforce. This impacts everything from turnover to productivity. Moreover, areas as sensitive as client management are positively impacted when a more diverse workforce is recruited.

How to Get Involved in Diversity and Inclusion in the San Francisco Bay Area

There are so many organizations in the bay area that promote inclusion. Whether we are talking about La Raza, the Charles Houston Bar Association, Queen’s Bench, or BALIF, the organizations are numerous and represent many diverse communities. Many students are connecting to these organizations through the GGU Law Student Bar Association’s organizations. We are also actively reaching out to each of these organizations to provide mentorship opportunities for our students.


You can read Dean Niedwiecki’s related article in the Advocate, A Gay College Dean Takes on Betsy DeVos’s Transphobia, or check out Diversity Managers: 10 Key Job Skills, Salary, and Required Education on this blog.

More about the GGU School of Law >>

7 Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career & The Characteristics of a Winner

 By Terry Connelly, former GGU Ageno School of Business Dean

In my last blog post, I talked about running your career strategy like a business. Here I get down to skills you need in a finance or other business job – and how to be a true winner and leader.

The Skills

1.

Learn to think in non-US currencies. While business “language” is most predominantly English, globalization has made far more than one currency relevant to business strategy and financial practice. Regional currencies have survived, and trade in pairs, to some extent in a zero-sum game. Public perceptions of the US dollar’s purchasing power change with tides of global central bank policies and national trade policies, which are currently a preoccupation of every US taxpaying business with foreign operations and profits and intellectual property. Do this exercise: spend a week translating all your expenses and investments into Euros or yen.

2.

In meetings, if you are not chairing, always be ready (and even volunteer) to be the note-taker! It’s not demeaning; it’s empowering. Making the record of discussion flow can become a very important role. It often yields access to more senior executives and follow-up responsibilities. If there is a document under discussion, be happy to be the “mark-up master.” You will remember the important decision points in the meeting better and be a “go-to” person for the next draft. If you have ideas to contribute, train yourself to “draft in the air” (i.e., gather precise language in your thoughts before you even write them down on the shared document), so you are immediately prepared to defend them. Don’t rely on your “stream of consciousness” – get good and conscious before you stream!

3.

Read people acutely; don’t jump to conclusions. Always challenge your assumptions about others’ motivations. Truly keep an open mind, listen, and read critically before you respond (particularly in terms of texts or e-mail; the latter have solved the problem of immortality as well as ultimate transparency!) Don’t underestimate the usefulness of walking down the hall to chat, because you can’t read body language in print or even optimally in a video conference. Admit when you don’t know an answer without giving up the chance to go get the answer.

Know your authentic business ‘personality’ and stay true to it.

4.

Thinking outside the box can be learned. Try to focus on facts or nuances that others are missing or dismissing. Avoid the “not invented here” syndrome affecting many bureaucracies and entrenched lines of business. Pick your spots, however, when mounting a challenge to conventional wisdom – don’t become easily branded as a “contrarian.”

5.

Pay close attention to internal politics – then rise above it. Do not become trapped in other peoples’ disputes unnecessarily. When you are a party to a disagreement, always show respect for your adversaries. There are seldom permanent work enemies. If you are in charge of a working group or committee, be flexible enough to include, rather than exclude, those whom you expect will disagree with the group direction, or your own – unless it’s clear they would participate only to disrupt.

6.

Build others’ trust in your ethics and your judgment. Get known for fair and measured assessments of situations. Be the “sane one” in a room or workspace full of rancor. And never disparage your own proven abilities – it confuses people and makes them wary of your intentions. Don’t surprise colleagues too often; let them have a good general sense of “where you are coming from.” Let the surprise be the special insight –  not that it’s coming from you. Be neither “predictable” nor “unpredictable.”

7.

Treat any workplace relationship or interpersonal conduct not relating to business as though its essence could be disclosed on a major social media or another news site at any time – and act accordingly. When in doubt, disclose; if you can’t disclose, don’t act.


Those are the skills, but here are the personal qualities you want to develop to be a winner and a leader.

  • Know your authentic business “personality” and stay true to it. Play within your competence; and if that’s not enough to succeed, seek to expand your competence.
  • Be committed to getting to the bottom of things. Don’t settle for superficial agreement or avoidance because the issue is “too hard.” Do not keep a permanent “too hard” file, if at all possible.
  • Be sure of your facts. Be truly well-informed. Take care in all things – including the “little” things.
  • Be objective: Don’t fear to admit the strengths of another person’s position or argument. Remember the argument based on your authority is the weakest.
  • Be discrete in what to say, and when to say it. Keep legitimate confidences. Never agree “not to tell the boss” if the boss has the need to know, even as a favor to a close friend or mentor.
  • Be the first to define reality and the first to say thank you. Intelligence, integrity, and charm will take you a long way – integrity is the essential one, and the hardest one to fake in the long run.

About Terry Connelly

terry-connellyTerry Connelly is an economic expert and Dean Emeritus of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University. With more than 30 years of experience in investment banking, law and corporate strategy on Wall Street and abroad, Connelly analyses the impact of government politics and policies on local, national and international economies, examining the interaction of global financial markets, the U.S. banking industry (and all of its regulatory agencies), the Federal Reserve, domestic employment levels and consumer reactions to the changing economic tides. He holds a law degree from NYU School of Law and his professional history includes positions with Ernst & Young Australia, the Queensland University of Technology Graduate School of Business, New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore (corporate, securities and litigation practice in New York and London), global chief of staff at Salomon Brothers investment banking firm and Cowen & Company’s investments, where he served as CEO. In conjunction with past Golden Gate University President Dan Angel, Connelly co-authored Riptide: The New Normal In Higher Education (2011). Riptide deconstructs the changing landscape of higher education in the face of the for-profit debacle, graduation gridlock, and staggering student debt, and asserts a new, sustainable model for progress. He is a board member of the Public Religion Research Institute, a Washington, DC think tank and polling organization, and the Cardiac Therapy Foundation in Palo Alto, California. Connelly lives in Palo Alto with his wife.


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Envisioning the Digital Ethics Officer at Banks and Financial Institutions

risk-mgmt

As Regulatory Innovation Officer at Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group, Yvette Hollingsworth Clark responds to the impact of adopting emerging technology on banking and financial institutions. Working with other financial experts, strategists, coders, data analysts, risk managers, and lawyers at the bank’s San Francisco headquarters, she leads the integration of risk management requirements during the design stage of transformative digital solutions.

In a recent blog post, Hollingsworth Clark wrote:

“..the traditional role of a compliance officer or risk manager may evolve to a role such as digital ethics officer, or DEO. I envision a DEO being responsible for creating and maintaining a ‘responsible digital network policy…'”

You can read the full post on the American Bankers Association’s Journal.

Hollingsworth Clark is an adjunct professor in GGU’s Master of Finance degree program and was named to American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking: Women to Watch in 2017.


 

What comes after CFP® certification?

By Dr. Dave Yeske, CFP®
Director of the GGU’s Financial Planning Programs and Distinguished Adjunct Professor


According to Michael Kitces, it might just be our unique MS in Advanced Financial Planning.

Another appealing option is Golden Gate University’s “Masters in Taxation and Financial Planning” program, specifically for those who have already completed their CFP marks, who want to go deeper into both financial planning and income or estate taxation. What’s the difference between getting a graduate degree in financial planning, and “just” the CFP certification? Simply put, the Master’s degree programs go deeper into the subject matter (even for those who already have their CFP marks, as in the end CFP classes are the equivalent of “just” undergraduate-level coursework).”
Nerd’s Eye View

The MS in Advanced Financial Planning is available in the classroom or entirely online and allows you to earn an advanced financial planning degree while taking a deep technical dive into the areas of income taxation or estate planning. For those choosing the Taxation or Estate Planning concentration, this program is taught in conjunction with GGU’s highly ranked Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation, the largest tax school in the country and routinely named among the top 10 by tax professionals.

The MS in Advanced Financial Planning also offers a concentration in Financial Life Planning.


Watch the most recent webinar.


Beyond the core courses, you’ll also have access to cutting-edge electives that represent the best of 21st-century financial planning, including the following:

Our faculty’s commitment to the profession is unparalleled: we count three past national FPA presidents, five past national board members, two Foundation for Financial Planning chairs, five Heart of Financial Planning recipients, and a P. Kemp Fain, Jr. Award honoree among our professors. You truly learn from the best of the best, who become a permanent part of your professional network.

Financial Planning Association (FPA) members also receive a 10% tuition grant for all classes. Apply online now or register now for our next webinar.


About Dave Yeske

Dr. Dave Yeske CFP®, Director of the GGU’s Financial Planning programs and Distinguished Adjunct Professor, designed the new concentration. A Financial Planning Evangelist, he has made national TV appearances, led professional organizations, and published articles and books such as Evidence-Based Financial Planning: To Learn . . . Like a CFP.  The financial planning investment strategy he pioneered—The Yeske Buie Approach—has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal. The Financial Planning Association®(FPA) has recognized Dr. Yeske as one of the profession’s leading minds by awarding him their highest honor—The P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award (2017). He earned a doctorate in Finance from GGU in 2010.

Audio Meets Auditing: Careers for Music Majors in Tax & Accounting

What can you do with a liberal arts or fine arts degree? It is a question that many millennials (and their parents) are asking more and more since the crash of 2008. Recent statistics showing flat or declining humanities majors and rising STEM majors back this up. However, students that lead with their dreams may discover, to their delight, that their degrees lead them to good salaries and satisfying work. Psychology majors may not wind up seeing patients but love management, where empathy and encouraging employee growth are considered key skills. English majors become content marketers and painters can become web designers. Gender studies majors might find a mission in human resources. Musicians become … tax professionals or accountants? That’s right.

AJ Major, a partner in a California CPA firm, plays in a rock band and notes that he has run into a lot of accountant-musicians. In a blog post on music and accounting, he quotes a colleague who said: “I think there’s a connection between the left and right side of the brain. Accounting and music [are areas] where there can be that crossover.” It may be more than coincidence that audio and audit have the same Latin root that means “to listen.” Janet Jackson and Mick Jagger studied to be accountants, after all.


music-major-careers-accounting-tax
“You need some creativity and individual thought in both.
–Linda Weng, Assistant Tax Manager, The Clorox Company
and GGU student


From Symphonies to Schedules

Linda Weng was a top-notch violinist in the Shanghai Wanfang Symphony Orchestra, traveling to several cities in China to give performances. Playing Mozart’s music filled her with a sense of well-being and is her favorite composer to this day.  She calls herself part of the “professional audience” now, “because I know what I like. But music is a better hobby than a career path.” Does Weng draw a connection between her music background and journey toward a CPA designation? She says yes:

“You need some creativity and individual thought in both. The law is interpretive, like looking at a music score. You can listen to other symphonies, but each has its own way to understand a piece. We use software in tax and accounting, but there are different ways to solve problems. You don’t have to do like you did it last year. So it is each employee’s responsibility to solve a problem. My company encourages finding a way of your own.

Learning to adapt is important because in the symphony we are always learning new pieces. This kind of change keeps things interesting in both the symphony and my current field. You must learn quickly, or you get behind—especially with the recent state and federal tax reforms.

In a symphony, you must work together. You must be seamless in the business world too, as we always rely on another department’s calculations.

Weng is currently working as an Assistant Tax Manager at The Clorox Company’s world headquarters in Oakland, with a number of Golden Gate University Graduates who are in the senior manager and director-level roles.She has two classes left in GGU’s MS in Taxation program.

Music Majors in Tax & Accounting Schools

Weng is not alone in experiencing the “audio-audit” connection while getting a master’s degree in taxation at Golden Gate University’s Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation. The school’s Dean, Fred Sroka, says:

“Many of our successful accounting alumni have a background in liberal arts. In Taxation, laws are always changing and are subject to interpretation. Our graduates describe how they enjoy collaborating with executives to analyze situations and decide what moves to make. We have many music majors that have thrived in the GGU Master of Accountancy program, because musical literacy rests on an understanding of patterns and structures, along with a strong creative streak!”

In addition to musicians, The Braden School is populated by a good number of former history, psychology & sociology, and criminal justice majors. Accountants are not, as Sroka says, simply “math people.”

“One of the music majors in Deloitte’s education program wrote tick marks on working papers that were musical notes…This experience led Hurd to make non-traditional hires when he became Assistant Controller at a private company.”

Music Majors on the Job

When Rod Hurd first joined Deloitte in San Francisco in the 1980s, about a quarter of Deloitte’s new hires were liberal arts or music majors. Deloitte’s recruiter sought out graduates with these non-accounting degrees based on the firm’s experience with similar hires in the past. Deloitte sought graduates who exhibited strong critical thinking and communication skills with the expectation of drawing on these skills for auditing field work. “One of the music majors in Deloitte’s education program wrote tick marks on working papers that were musical notes,” Hurd says.  “He was one of the standout performers of our class.”

This experience led Hurd to make non-traditional hires when he became Assistant Controller at a private company.  Again, musicians proved to be top performers. Hurd has also been involved with a trade group, principally as the Chair of its Financial Accounting Committee, in the development of tax laws & accounting standards.  “Several of the top performers on that committee are non-accountants who bring unique insights and perspectives to the issues facing the industry,” Hurd says.

Rich Carson, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, was a professional jazz drum and trombone player who toured the US and Europe with his band as a young adult.  PwC, he says, has periodically refocused recruiting to seek candidates from liberal arts undergraduate programs. “In a way, varying tempos, meters, key signatures, chord orientations and progressions, pitch and volume discipline, and teamwork are critical and are transferable skills to the profession,” he says. People with other fine arts degrees also do well in the profession. A dance major who Carson mentored worked her way up to Assurance Partner: “I saw her grow quite nicely in the firm.  She was a very thoughtful and productive Partner and there are many more like her.”

Carson offers that computer gamers may be another non-traditional incarnation of the successful accounting candidate.  A student of Carson’s at GGU (and new Deloitte associate) reached the highest competitive rank League of Legends, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike and played with or against professionals. “This type of student,” Carson says, “might be more adept at the analytics and communication needed…even though he is not a ‘liberal arts type.’  He had a great capacity to recall, orient, and analyze data. I am very curious how his Deloitte internship will turn out.”

If you are surprised that musicians find a home in tax and accounting fields, you might want to look at the rest of Fred Sroka’s blog post that debunks accountant stereotypes or learn more about GGU’s tax and accounting degrees.


 

Which Financial Industry Designation is Right for Me?

SPECIAL EVENT PRESENTED BY CFA SOCIETY SAN FRANCISCO
Thursday, March 1st (12:00 P.M. – 1:30 P.M.)
Golden Gate University, San Francisco [Map]
Room 6208 (6th Fl.)

Whether you’re searching for a new career path or just curious about the different finance credentials, this panel will help guide you through some of the best known professional designations in the financial industry: Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA),  Financial Risk Manager (FRM), Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Finance (MFin). Each of these has a core career focus, and although their abbreviations often sound interchangeable, each designation gives you something unique. Join us for lunch* on  March 1st to discover what careers each designation typically leads to.

Register Now >>

Registration is free for Golden Gate Unversity Students. For the special registration code, contact David Kaczorowski Professor of Finance and Program Manager at GGU.


Speakers


Lu Cheng, CFA, CPA
Associate Portfolio Manager, BlackRock

Lu Cheng, CFA, CPA, is an Associate Portfolio Manager within BlackRock’s ETF and Index Investments (“EII”) group, currently responsible for the US iShares ETFs. Prior to joining BlackRock, Ms. Cheng was an Assistant Vice President at State Street managing the Equity Index Client Operations team providing fund accounting, custodial services and financial reporting for index equity and asset allocation portfolios. Ms. Cheng earned her B.A. in Economics and International Relations in 2009 from University of California, Davis.

Bryan Hasling, CFP, EASenior Financial Planner, JW Harrison

Bryan Hasling, CFP, is a certified financial planner and enjoys using his expertise to guide clients through their various financial topics, such as tax planning, investments, stock options, retirement, and more. Previously, he worked with firms in the Dallas-Ft Worth and Lubbock, TX areas, serving high net worth families and business owners. Mr. Hasling is Co-Director of his local chapter’s NexGen group within the Financial Planning Association – a group dedicated to helping young professionals with their personal growth and continuing education. Mr. Hasling attended Texas Tech University, receiving a degree in Personal Financial Planning and a minor in economics. In addition to his CFP® designation, Mr. Hasling also earned the IRS Enrolled Agent certification, which marks one of the highest degrees in tax education.

Jonathan Short, CMA, MBADirector of Revenue Management – Wine & Spirits, Constellation Brands

Jonathan Short joined Constellation Brands in 2008 to build out the company’s Grape Strategy capabilities. He was responsible for optimizing the $0.5 Billion spend on Constellation’s annual grape and bulk wine purchases and 12,000 acres of internally farmed fruit. Since 2014 Jon has worked in his current role where he manages pricing and promotional effectiveness for Constellation’s Wine & Spirits business. Mr. Short holds a B.A. in Economics from UCLA and an M.B.A. from UC Davis. He earned the Certified Management Accountant credential in 2016 and is the Director of Outreach for the San Francisco chapter of the Institute of Management Accountants.

Valerie Wong, MFinVice President, BlackRock

Valerie Wong, Vice President, is an Equity Index Strategist within BlackRock’s ETF and Index Investments group. Ms. Wong joined BlackRock from MSCI where she spent almost 8 years, most recently as a Senior Associate and part of the Index Client Coverage team supporting West Coast Asset Managers. Before MSCI, she served as a Financial Analyst at HSBC. She began her career as an Auditor at KPMG. Ms. Wong graduated Summa Cum Laude from the EGADE Business School (Tec de Monterey) with an MFin. She earned a B.Sc. in Accounting with a minor in Public Accounting and a B.A. in International Business with a minor in Economics from John Brown University. Ms. Wong passed Level II of the CFA Program.

Gene Yoshida, CFA, Senior Director of Enterprise Risk Management, Prosper Marketplace

Gene Yoshida is the Senior Director of Enterprise Risk Management at Prosper Marketplace and became a CFA charterholder in 2014.  Gene is a practitioner of operational, credit, and new product risk at the line and in an oversight capacity. Diverse background in asset management, insurance, real estate, and consumer finance.

Moderator

Dave Kaczorowski, CFA, MBAProfessor of Finance & Program Manager, Golden Gate University

David Kaczorowski has experience in the finance industry that spans both academic and industry practice.  He is a Professor of Finance and Program Manager at Golden Gate University.  He has also worked in both equity research and portfolio management.  His most recent industry position was as lead manager of a startup family office. Prior to that position, he spent five years as an equity research associate, covering technology companies.  Dave has both a CFA charter and an MBA in Investment Management from Yale University.

Price:

$15 Member/$25 Non-Member

This event qualifies for 1.5 hours of continuing education credit for CFA Charterholders.

*Lunch Provided.


Register Now >>

A Behavioral Finance View of Cryptocurrencies

By Rick Lehman, Adjunct Professor of Behavioral Finance, Golden Gate University

INTRODUCTION

We are in the grip of a social phenomenon like no other we’ve ever experienced. People are paying thousands of dollars for something that is essentially a reward for playing a computer game. It has no physical properties, questionable use, no regulation, and only exists when a sufficient number of other people’s computers say it does. It may already qualify as the greatest asset bubble in recorded history, yet may only just be getting started. National governments have been compelled to denounce it or restrict their citizens from purchasing it out of concerns for mass hysteria and the corruption of their youth. It exists on a software system that is maintained through a consensus of volunteer software engineers, and no one seems to know the true identity of the creator. If it were a futuristic novel, it would certainly be on the best seller list, but it’s a striking reality – a live theater performance unfolding before us in real time, and a financial, political, and social phenomenon of historic proportion. It may yet end up as having been a total farce or the beginning of a radically new global payment system.

Opinions on the cryptocurrencies are buzzing all over the Internet. Most, however, rely upon conventional financial analysis and historic comparisons, mixed with a stew of personal emotions and biases. Representative bias is rampant in these assessments, as people try to evaluate the concept of a cryptocurrency in the context of a stock, which is as grossly inadequate as comparing an iPhone to a dial telephone. While elements of conventional finance and economics do exist, they must be viewed as only partially applicable here and elements totally unique to cryptocurrencies must be considered. In sum, I contend that…

the cryptocurrency phenomenon is better understood from a behavioral perspective – one that understands the key behavioral groups involved and the motivations of each.

The intent of this writing is to add a behavioral dimension to the current discourse on cryptocurrencies and to raise awareness of the behavioral impact on financial markets. It should be viewed in the context that behavioral science is still a relatively new approach to financial markets and that there is extremely little empirical data to draw from regarding cryptocurrencies.

Nonetheless, I expect to provide insights I believe will be valuable to those involved, or looking to get involved, and I expect to build upon this foundation with future writings on the topic. References to other articles and contributions from others on the subject are welcome.


A MARKET DRIVEN ALMOST ENTIRELY BY BEHAVIORAL FACTORS

As a behavioral science academic, it is almost impossible not to be captivated by the cryptocurrency phenomenon, which is easily the most significant behavioral event to occur since the emergence of behavioral science and its application to financial markets (which the world is only now beginning to comprehend). For a behaviorist, this could be as momentous as a physicist witnessing the discovery of a new atomic particle. Bitcoin may be as pure a behaviorally driven market as we will ever see. Among other things, we are witnessing herding, fear of regret, speculation, envy, and anti-establishment sentiment on a grand scale. In addition, adopters are placing faith and trust in a radically new concept. Wherever it eventually goes, it will undoubtedly provide some of the most enlightening information to date on the psychological and emotional mechanisms that drive human financial actions.

A common view is that the bitcoin market is totally irrational and therefore simply a house of cards waiting to collapse. By historic standards, this would be true, but such an approach fails to see irrationality as a human reality, and forces one to treat events such as the market crashes of 1987, 2000, and 2008 as either never having happened or simply unexplainable, neither of which represent a constructive conclusion. Behavior has been proven to violate the principles of Rational Utility in many instances, and efforts to deny or ignore irrational behavior are therefore counterproductive. How humans should act is often different from how humans do act, and those who only look at the should part are simply altering reality to suit their own judgments. Evaluated on the basis of conventional financial fundamentals, the intrinsic value of bitcoin would most certainly be zero and the market value considered to be 100% anomalous. Where does that leave you? Evaluated on a behavioral basis, you can at least make judgments about the speculative value of a potential new world currency, the speculative value of a possible a gold substitute, the merits of cryptography for securing value, the effectiveness of blockchain as a secure and sustainable technology, and the value of supporting bitcoin’s anti-establishment mission. I find this to represent a far more insightful and productive approach.

IN OTHER WORDS, TO PROPERLY UNDERSTAND AND ASSESS THE BEHAVIOR OF ANY MARKET, ONE MUST APPRECIATE THE BEHAVIORS, AND THE CONSTRAINTS OR INFLUENCES ON THOSE BEHAVIORS, OF ALL MAJOR PARTICIPANT GROUPS.

This has rarely been done effectively for current, let alone historic markets, even by professional analysts. Market analysis, whether fundamental, economic, or technical tends to be far too limited in context and all too frequently tainted by the author’s employment, training, self-interests, or inherent biases to be objective or complete. In addition, most market assessments have paid too little attention to behavioral science to appreciate the full nature and scope of emotional and psychological influences.

BEHAVIORALLY DEFINED (PSYCHOGRAPHIC) MARKET SEGMENTS

Viewed through a behavioral lens, cryptocurrencies come into focus not only as an entirely new concept with unique characteristics, but as an item that has a different identity and appeal to different people. We know that people use cognitive shortcuts to simplify their purchase or investment decisions, often reducing the decision to perhaps only one or two key criteria or rationales. We can take these key purchase rationales and define arbitrary market segments around them. While this represents an oversimplification of the market, it can be very useful for establishing a high-level view of the key psychographic variables at work here.

People are purchasing bitcoin, for example, not just because it has multiple characteristics as a currency (costless transferability, cryptographic security, etc.), but different groups are buying it for entirely different reasons altogether. Using the cell-phone analogy again, a certain group of people purchase iPhones because they represent the next generation of telephones. Another group purchased because iPhones represented the next generation of music-playing devices. A third group purchased because iPhones represented a new type of personal data assistant, and a fourth may have purchased primarily to have hand-held access to the Internet. Of course, there is overlap in these purchase rationales, but the incredible popularity and acceptance of iPhones was at least in part due to its ability to appeal to different audiences for different reasons, and bitcoin has these same properties.

IF WE WERE TO ASK PEOPLE WHO PURCHASED BITCOIN WHY THEY DID (OR WHAT THEY PERCEIVED THEY WERE BUYING), WE WOULD GET A VARIETY OF ANSWERS, AND WE COULD USE THOSE ANSWERS TO SEPARATE THE BUYERS INTO GROUPS BASED ON THEIR MOTIVES, ESSENTIALLY DEVELOPING PSYCHOGRAPHIC MARKET SEGMENTS FOR CRYPTOCURRENCIES.

In the absence of empirical data, we can hypothesize that we would probably see segments such as these:

Bitcoin founders, insiders, and whales

Description: This is the inner circle of bitcoin developers, originators, miners and major backers. It includes Satoshi, the Winklevoss Brothers; miners; etc.

Insights: This group holds most of the largest positions in bitcoin and stands to gain the most from its success or lose the most from its failure. They are the insiders who are dealing most closely with the evolution and sustainability of the concept.

Behavior profile: These are the most ardent promoters and supporters. They are most likely to hold their assets for some time and see it through. They are also the strongest advocates of the bitcoin mission and they would likely act to preserve the mission before they would be tempted to sell out.

Bitcoin believers

Description: Large numbers of small players who support the mission and who view bitcoin as a political statement

Insights: These would be small players from around the world who bought into the mission during the initial years. They were likely making a statement of support rather than investing. Some might be tempted to take a profit, but most are probably going to support the cause for as long as they can.

Behavior: This group is likely to represent net buyers and holders rather than sellers for some time.

Techies, millennials & disruption hopefuls

Description: Young investors with a tech orientation who embrace digital technology as the driving force of the future and who buy into every new technology. This includes programmers, technophiles, gamers, etc.)

Insights: These are the early adopters who view this as a valid alternative investment and a worthy cause. Many thrive on the idea that they can use clever software to disrupt the global financial system and governments.

Behavior: This group is likely to hang on as well, and is likely still adding to its overall stake as more enter the market.

Currency players

Description: Those who see bitcoin as replacing fiat currencies as a medium of exchange.

Insights: These are people (or institutions) that trade the currencies or who make markets I the currencies and who will simply add new ones that come online.

Behavior: The traders will do pairs and spreads using bitcoin, mostly in the futures markets. Exchange players (banks & forex firms) will need to own bitcoin for inventory, but will likely hedge it to remain neutral.

Gamblers, speculators, day traders, etc. 

Description: Those who see bitcoin as a get rich quick or trading vehicle (these are people who day trade, buy small-cap stocks, etc.) Gold-rushers and gold-bugs.

Insights: This is arguably the largest and fastest growing group of participants now. These are small to medium-sized individual traders who are the ones propelling price into the stratosphere and creating all the volatility.

Behavior: These are primarily traders and they will hedge and short as necessary. They will create liquidity and will attempt to trade bitcoin in the short term along with the other cryptos. They will likely be net long as they accumulate trading positions.

Traditional Investors

Description: Broad section of mom and pop investors, many of which may already hold gold or other alt investments

Insights: This group is ripe for diversifying into any reasonable new asset class, just to augment their stock and bond holdings. Also included are those who (mistakenly) believe that they are essentially investing in blockchain technology. Little of this group is probably in yet, but they could represent a huge upswing when they do get in. When an ETF is available, this is the group that will be the prime market for it.

Behavior: This group will also be looking to execute long holdings, which will force the ETFs to buy. These people may hedge a little with derivatives, but will not short.

Professional traders & Arbitrageurs

Description: Hedge funds, big banks, exchanges, ETF issuers, Goldman Sachs, etc.

Insights: These are the professionals who are purchasing to establish market-making inventories, hedge derivatives, build ETFs, etc. They would love to get a shot at an inefficient market like this with lots of volume from non-professionals to exploit and they will jump in to the maximum extent liquidity allows. For arbs and market-makers, it will be like shooting fish in a barrel. However, there will have to be improvements in electronic connections and clearing before they can jump in whole hog. The derivatives will also be rich with arb opportunity, but few players are likely to short without hedging.

Behavior: Professional traders will primarily be scalpers, market makers, and arbitrageurs. They will improve the market tremendously once they can easily trade, clear, and cross trade. They may end up net long or short at different times, but they can make plenty of money just being neutral and making markets for others.

US financial institutions

Exchanges, banks, ETF issuers, broker/dealers, currency dealers.

Insights:  They want in, lest they be caught on the outside. Bank America received a patent for Cryptocurrency exchange already and several others have announced others are definitely working on participating.

Behavior: Banks are extremely defensive here as they have a lot to lose. They will likely look to provide exchange services and maybe even offer wallets. But they are unlikely to take net positions unless required for their operations.

THE SOCIAL COMPONENT OF BITCOIN

Importantly, there are new behavioral factors inherent to this phenomenon that transcend formal finance and economics, and which bear serious consideration.

The founders of bitcoin did not conceive it in a vacuum, nor was it put into effect frivolously. There are clearly stated goals that seek to remedy global problems such as inflated fiat currencies, mistrust of financial institutions, high payment transaction fees, and the impracticalities of using gold as an international store of value. These are unique rationales that can appeal to different audiences. This adds a non-trivial social component – a statement being uttered by (and on behalf of) a large and agitated segment of earth’s population. We have witnessed these statements through populist events around the planet and in elections in numerous countries, including our own. They convey highly charged emotions of mistrust and frustration regarding the actions and policies of governments and large financial institutions.

FOR MANY PEOPLE, THE PURCHASE OF BITCOIN MAY THUS BE THE  EQUIVALENT OF DONATING TO A POLITICAL CAUSE, EXCEPT THAT IN THIS CASE THEIR MONEY IS NOT JUST HELPING TO GET A MESSAGE OUT, IT IS ACTUALLY FUNDING THE PROGRAM.

By design (and as a direct snub to central banks), bitcoin has also been positioned as a possible replacement for gold as a long-term store of value. As the argument has both inherent merit from a practical viewpoint (easy storage and transferability, limited supply, etc.) and a healthy techno-appeal to the younger generations, bitcoin is experiencing a speculative rush, not unlike the dotcom rush of the late 1990s and the California gold rush of 1848. This introduces a behavioral group interested almost solely in making fast money. A few years ago, bitcoin was an interesting experiment that few took seriously, except for the usefulness of the underlying blockchain technology. But it appears to have hit a tipping point, arguably around June of 2017 when the price broke out of a long slow multi-year trend to go parabolic. This was likely caused, or at least aided by the addition of this speculation group.

AS A RESULT, SOME ASPECTS OF THE PHENOMENON ARE NOW SIMPLY FOLLOWING THE TRIED AND TRUE SPECULATORS’ PLAYBOOK, FUELED BY AN INTRIGUING STORY, SCARCITY, UNTOLD POTENTIAL, AND UNBRIDLED HERD INSTINCT.

It is also this group who is likely adding the most to price volatility, though that will abate as the bitcoin exchanges become more efficient and the professional market makers enter the fray.


This article was previously published on Lehman’s Bitcoin Blog, where you can read part II of this series: Millions Of Blind People And A Very Large Elephant. You can also subscribe to his blog.


About Richard Lehman

Richard Lehman teaches behavioral finance at GGU. His financial career spans more than thirty years beginning with an eleven-year stint on Wall Street with EF Hutton, Thomson McKinnon, and the New York Stock Exchange. An authority on options, Rick was named Top Broker in the US Trading Championships – Option Division in the 1980s and assisted in the launch of two closed-end mutual funds specializing in covered call writing. Rick’s first book with co-author Lawrence McMillan, New Insights on Covered Call Writing – the powerful technique that lowers risk and enhances returns in stock investing, was published by Bloomberg Press in 2003. Concentrating now on technical analysis and behavioral finance, Rick’s latest book, Far From Random, draws a link between these two disciplines, creating an entirely new avenue of opportunities to employ behavioral factors in trading and long-term investment management. Rick holds a BS in Management Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy New York and an MBA from the State University of New York at Albany.  He is also the founder of the San Francisco Behavioral Finance Symposium.

Looking at Risk Tolerance after the February 2018 Market Plunge–7 Tips to Lower Blood Pressure

After last week’s stock market drop, it’s fair to say that a few panicked emails landed in the in-boxes of financial planners and finance professionals. The writers of these emails may not have realized that their tolerance for risk was not what they thought it was, lulled by a multiyear bull market or an inadequate planning session with their advisors. For professional advisors, a more realistic determination of how much risk an investor can tolerate before a downturn can lighten their inboxes if the market dives and perhaps even prevent a few client defections.

“During stable moments in the market, you might say: I can tolerate X amount of risk,” says GGU Adjunct Professor of Behavioral Finance Richard H. Lehman. “They think they knew their tolerance for risk and then all of a sudden they are confronted with a 5 or 10 percent decline, and it is not always easy for them. They don’t know if there is another 10 percent drop coming or what’s next. Recency bias – a tendency for people to assume things will continue as they are – makes the drops even more shocking.”

A process for determining risk-tolerance that works a lot better than simplistic client surveys is needed. Says Lehman: “The advisor needs to be able to assess their clients psychologically in a way that clients cannot effectively do themselves. You cannot just ask people directly about their risk tolerance because it is a concept most people cannot articulate well.”

The Problem & Challenge

Advisory practices have by and large failed to take advantage of what academia now knows about financial behavior and the psychology of financial decision-making. The basic role of the advisor is to help tailor a financial plan and strategy for each client. The implicit assumption is that to do that, they need to fully understand the client’s risk tolerance, goals, and objectives — which is essentially their legal requirement as fiduciaries.

“The advisor needs to be able to assess their clients psychologically in a way that clients cannot effectively do themselves. You cannot just ask people directly about their risk tolerance, as it is a concept most people cannot articulate well.”

Lehman knows first-hand how challenging it has been to get the financial industry to embrace behavioral concepts. When he was at the NYSE more than 30 years ago, he managed a major study of investors that showed how psychographics are integral to the investing process. Like proper capitalists, however, Wall Street denizens couldn’t see much further than how much money their clients had to invest. The NYSE study told another story, though the results were way ahead of the industry’s thinking.

The challenge to make change happen brought him to roles as an author, teacher, blogger, and conference organizer. In 2013, he teamed up with a technical analysis and behavioral finance legend, GGU’s Hank Pruden, to create the Behavioral Finance Symposium. At the time, it was a new discipline with few courses available and almost no industry-targeted events. The Symposium, a first-of-its-kind, has been successfully held at GGU every year since.

How do you determine the real risk tolerance of an investing client?

How can Behavior Finance help clients (and their advisors) better understand their own risk comfort so that blood pressures don’t spike when the market goes down? Here are some of Lehman’s insights on risk tolerance that are part of his Behavioral Finance course at GGU’s San Francisco campus.

Differentiate risk, volatility, ambiguity, and loss.

Richard Lehman

People have misconceptions about the concepts of risk, volatility, loss, and ambiguity, frequently assuming they are all the same. They don’t fully understand risk (the potential for negative returns) versus volatility (the dynamics of up-and-down movement) and loss (the actualization of a negative return). Ambiguity is the sense of how much uncertainty one can deal with in terms of future returns.

Prospect Theory teaches us that when we evaluate the probability something is going to happen, we do it in biased ways. For example, consider the probability of a major earthquake in the Bay Area. It is so small on a daily basis that most people think it is essentially zero–but it is a finite number. On the other extreme, people overestimate the probabilities of winning the lottery, where the chances are infinitesimal–but people are willing to bet that it’s greater. Prospect theory also tells us that losing X amount of money feels roughly twice as bad as the pleasure of gaining the same amount of money. Understanding such ideas leads to much more realistic assessments of risk and reward.

Don’t sugar coat risk.

Even bonds can blow up, and people need to understand that. They also need to understand that occasionally companies do go bankrupt. It is better to understand and plan for risk than to be blindsided by it later.

Consider scenarios.

Investors need to appreciate all possible scenarios and plan ahead for how they might deal with them. For example, before the recent decline, people should have already had an idea what they might do in the event of a 10% decline.

Lehman knows first-hand how challenging it has been to get the financial industry to embrace behavioral concepts. When he was at the NYSE more than 30 years ago, he managed a major study of investors that showed even then how psychographics are integral to the investing process.

Examine trade-offs.

Investment choices produce numerous trade-offs between risk and return. Examining alternatives works well as a way of developing a portfolio that one is comfortable with. For example, you can construct model portfolios with various different asset classes and easily backtest them to see how they performed in historical periods.

Recognize downsides as well as upsides.

Clients will tend to focus on upside potential more than downside risk. It is important to change the focus to risk-reward or risk-adjusted return so that both are given proper emphasis.

Understand reference points.

A fundamental tenet of Prospect Theory, which informs much of Behavioral Finance, is that when we evaluate possible outcomes, we do it differently because we each have different reference points. When you are young, a $10K loss has much more impact than to a 50 or 60-year-old. Also, people who experienced a big negative impact from the financial events of 2008 are more sensitive to current risk than people who are older and who have seen several downturns. There are studies that indicate differing risk attitudes in different countries as well. Some Asian cultures, for example, will characteristically tolerate more or less financial risk than US investors. Investors in China, for example, exhibit a greater tendency to speculate; while Japanese investors are more risk-averse.

Consider Interactive games for assessing risk

A standout from the 2017 Behavioral Finance Symposium was Dr. Shachar Kariv, a well-known UC Berkeley Economics Professor and experimental researcher. He argues that interactive methods of assessing one’s risk tolerance represent a substantial improvement over classic risk surveys. Dr. Kariv shows that a simple computer game can reveal clients’ attitudes about risk much more scientifically than simply asking what they think they are. A company called TrueProfile is already using Dr. Kariv’s ideas in its profiling service.

More to be done

Lehman has made progress as an educator and continues to work at connecting industry with academia on the subject of Behavioral Finance. In recent years, more Nobel Prize winners in Economics (such as Yale’s Robert Shiller and University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler) are providing more visibility and acceptance of Behavioral Economics. However, Lehman says: “Human nature is very hard to change, and that will continue to challenge both investors and the financial industry for a very long time.”


About Richard Lehman

Richard Lehman has more than 30 years of experience in the financial industry, including eleven years on Wall Street with EF Hutton and the New York Stock Exchange. He later worked for financial data giant Thomson Reuters, startup Avenue Technologies, and the Wealth Management group at Mechanics Bank. Lehman has authored three financial books published through Bloomberg/Wiley and has been teaching Behavioral Finance and Options courses for three years at Golden Gate University. He is also the founder of the website BehavioralFinance.com and the San Francisco Behavioral Finance Symposium.

Know Your Brain, Grow Your Leadership

By Marcia Ruben, PhD, PCC

I have been learning about and teaching basic neuroscience principles for the past three and a half years. I use a brain-based coaching approach in my executive coaching practice. I have come to appreciate how much a basic working knowledge of our brains can help leaders function more effectively.

We all have finely tuned brains, exquisitely developed to quickly detect threats and also seek rewards. In fact, as our brains scan our environment every one-fifth of a  second, it is reassuring to know that we have five times as many circuits to pick up threats than rewards. It is especially comforting to know this when we are potentially faced with physical danger. When I am out and about and alone in a new and strange area, I am glad that my brain will alert me in a nanosecond if I need to call 911, run, or scream. I also know that cortisol will course through my body, signaling distress. And when someone gives me wonderfully positive feedback, my brain experiences this as a reward and I receive a dopamine rush.

One of the most important insights from the intersection of neuroscience and leadership is that a leader’s job is to create a psychologically safe enough environment so that employees feel empowered to express ideas and fully participate.

This same finely tuned brain is also helpful at work. We are social creatures and need other people. We want to feel safe. When we feel rewarded we are more creative, learn more, and contribute more. On the other hand, because we are so attuned, our brains can pick up the slightest negative facial expression that signals a threat. A number of research studies show that when people are shown a series of facial expressions, ranging from happy to angry, they much more quickly and accurately pick up those with even subtle angry expressions.

So, think about your organization as a network of executives, middle managers, and employees with finely tuned brains.

Each individual within this network is constantly and non-consciously scanning for threats and rewards. How do you know if your company is an environment more prone to rewards (hits of dopamine) than threats (blasts of cortisol)? If people are routinely coming up with new and innovative ideas,  praised for good work, and meetings are fun, productive, and everyone gets a chance to talk and be heard, there is a good chance that your network of finely tuned brains is working well.

On the other hand, if individuals engage in finger-pointing, blame, backstabbing, and worse, it is likely that some are creating threats at a biological level and others are shutting down.

One of the most important insights from the intersection of neuroscience and leadership is that a leader’s job is to create a psychologically safe enough environment so that employees feel empowered to express ideas and fully participate. On the other hand, there has to be enough productive stress so that deadlines are met, people stretch, and the company as a whole experiences success.

To what extent is your network of finely tuned brains aligned and working well in your company? How productive is your brain? Thanks to breakthroughs in the field of neuroscience It is now possible to optimize your leadership team. Learn more about the first and only scientifically validated brain assessment: MyBrainSolutions.

This article previously appeared on Marcia Ruben’s Leadership Tangles blog.


More About Marcia Ruben, Ph.D.

Marcia Ruben, Ph.D., began teaching full-time at Golden Gate University in 2012 and was appointed to the Chair of the Management Department at GGU in 2014. She was awarded the Judith E. Browning Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2015. She was awarded the 2016-2018 Russell T. Sharpe Research Professorship. In 2017, she was promoted to an Associate Professor. Marcia continues a private executive leadership development practice. Marcia earned the Certified Management Consultant designation from the Institute of Management Consultants USA in 2002. She is also an accredited executive coach and completed a year-long evidence-based coaching certification program. Marcia earned the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) designation from the International Coach Federation in 2010. Marcia earned her Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University. She earned an M.A. in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University and an M.S. in Counseling from California State University, Hayward. Marcia graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. from University of California, Berkeley. She has co-authored several articles that are recognized as thought-leaders in the change management and coaching industry. Her article, Untangling Conflicting Organizational Agendas: Applying Emotional Regulation, SCARF, and Other Neuroleadership Principles to a Case Study, was published in the 2015 Neuroleadership Journal.


 

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Dr. Dave Yeske Elected to Foundation for Financial Planning Board

The Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP) has elected Dr. Dave Yeske, CFP® — Director of GGU’s Financial Planning programs and Distinguished Adjunct Professor — as a new member of its Board of Trustees. Dr. Yeske joins fellow members who are leaders of the nation’s top financial services companies including AIG Financial Distributors, Fidelity Investments, Schwab Advisor Services, and BlackRock.

The FFP provides pro bono financial planning to wounded veterans, domestic violence survivors, people with serious medical diagnoses, and other vulnerable populations.  This charitable organization has delivered $6.6 million in grants to nonprofits to support financial capability programs, worked with partners to activate more than 15,000 volunteer financial planners to serve their communities, and acted as a leader and catalyst to embed a rich commitment to pro bono across the financial planning profession.

David Yeske
Dr. Yeske

“Dr. Yeske, who describes himself and his team as ‘Financial Planning EvangelistsSM,’ has made national TV appearances, led professional organizations, and published articles and books such as Evidence-Based Financial Planning: To Learn . . . Like a CFP.  The financial planning investment strategy he pioneered—The Yeske Buie Approach—has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal. The Financial Planning Association®(FPA) has recognized Dr. Yeske as one of the profession’s leading minds by awarding him their highest honor—The P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award (2017). He earned a Doctorate in Finance from GGU in 2010.

Jon Dauphiné, Chief Executive Officer of the FPP, says: “Our Board of Trustees represents the best and brightest of the profession – from individual practitioners to corporate leaders, all committed to giving back.” The contributions of the new trustees will be especially valuable as FFP continues to grow its Pro Bono for Cancer Campaign, which is fueling the development of programs that can help lower-income families navigate the costs of a serious cancer diagnosis.


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