Salt Lake City, Utah native Anthony Fallahi is the son of an Iranian immigrant father and an American mother. Between high school graduation and his freshman year of college, Mr. Fallahi served a two-year volunteer mission in Spain, where he grew to embrace all aspects of Spanish culture, language, and cuisine. Upon returning to the U.S., he attended The University of Utah and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Finance.
During his time at The University of Utah, Mr. Fallahi began working with a small non-profit organization that helped individuals and families achieve financial independence through education and debt reduction. “As a 22-year-old college student, I had a misconception that the folks that needed help must be irresponsible or ‘bad with money’, and that is why they had run up so much personal debt”, remarked Fallahi. “I was mistaken about that. I worked with some incredibly bright, successful people that were usually behind due to some unexpected setback, whether a layoff, or a health issue of their own or a family member, or a repair that wasn’t planned. It was truly eye opening to see how incredibly hard it is to dig out once you fall on the wrong side of the numbers. I was fortunate to learn early in life that my passion lay in teaching and effecting change – in building people up so they can build their own future.”
Anthony joined Fidelity Investments as an Investment Advisor in 2006. Through his 15-year career at Fidelity, he served in several leadership positions, working with the firm’s largest institutional clients to deploy financial education to millions of people throughout the world, and instill cultures of wellness and inclusion. Among his many achievements, Mr. Fallahi helped to develop Fidelity’s financial wellness offering: a multi-channel suite of resources that leverages AI technology to predict customer needs and build customized action plans. This offering is now available to 34 million workplace plan participants at 23,000 businesses and has been recognized multiple times as best in class by industry experts.
Fallahi returned to school in 2016 to earn his Master’s degree in Business Administration from Baylor University, graduating with honors. Today, Mr. Fallahi provides workshops to Baylor MBA students focusing on presentation and executive communication skills.
When he is not working, Anthony enjoys spending time outdoors and volunteers his time to teach youth about financial literacy.
Can you share a little bit about how financial wellness has evolved within the workplace?
The trend for companies since the 1980s has been away from the ongoing liability of a pension plan, and towards broader use of 401(k) savings plans. It’s hard to quantify the ramifications of this shift. Almost certainly it has been a major reason for the more transient behavior we see in workers now. There is no longer an impetus to put in 25 or 30 years at one place. As employers introduced matching contributions and new investment options to incentivize more participation, workers grappled with a new ‘fend for yourself’ retirement paradigm. Organizations responded by introducing retirement centric tools and education, which became the first kernels of what we see today. The term ‘financial wellness’ really began to take root within workplaces in the early 2000s, and gained steam with the housing market crash. In practice, this has translated into a greater focus on meeting the employee where they are, which very often is not at the point of preparing for retirement. It’s difficult to think 20 or 30 years down the road when you are worried about next week’s bills. Today’s leading benefit offerings include robust resources to help employees manage budgets, pay off student loans, and build emergency funds in addition to saving for retirement.
How can companies develop cultures of wellness?
Every organization is unique, but there are three elements that are crucial to creating cultural change. First, the organization needs to signal, clearly and broadly, from the highest levels of leadership, that wellbeing is a priority. This means modeling desired behavior, which can be particularly challenging to leaders who likely came up in cultures that valued personal sacrifice over individual wellness. Organizations need to support leaders with this shift. Second, listen to your employees. Engage in honest discussions and don’t shy away from asking questions that may have hard answers. This includes challenging standing assumptions. I’ve worked with many employers that were adamant about preserving aging processes because they were sure that their employees would reject more current tech solutions. By digging deeper, you generally find that nearly all employees are active smartphone users who would welcome time-saving options. The key is to support the technical enhancement with adequate education, and that only comes from listening to your people. Third, you have to create personalized experiences that align to the motives of your employees. End users have become accustomed to curated offerings that serve up content – think Pandora or Amazon. Make sure that the output is catered to the individual and is something that meets their unique needs.
What obstacles have you had to overcome?
The most common concerns that employers need to tackle when contemplating a financial wellness rollout generally fall into three buckets: financial, fiduciary, and scope. Said another way: Is this going to, at a minimum, recoup its costs in increased productivity and retention? Are we putting the organization in any kind of legal risk with the offering?; Does this pull the organization away from its core mission? Both the data and the marketplace are sending strong indications that these types of programs are not only revenue positive, but employees increasingly view them as an essential part of the benefits package. The thinking has evolved as employers realize that in a very competitive environment for talent you can’t afford not to provide this type of support to your people.
What drives you to succeed personally?
My passion is in building the builders. If I’m teaching something to a group or discussing a project with a client and we land on a shared understanding – a ‘lightbulb’ moment – I consider that a good day at the office. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to work with the same clients through years of development, well into the results and iteration phases. There is nothing more fulfilling for me than seeing vision become reality, new habits formed, new technology implemented – that is true progress.
How has your definition of success changed over the years?
I remember talking about career goals with peers during my undergraduate years. It was always about the money. What do you expect from a bunch of people studying finance! Like many, that has changed for me as I’ve progressed through my career and learned what money can, and cannot, do. Time takes on greater and greater value. Success for me is doing the things that bring joy, things that make me proud to have been a part of. Emerson captured it well: “To leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition… To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – This is to have succeeded.”
Do you have advice for others on how to be successful?
I’m certainly not the first person to say this – but there is no substitute for passion. Grit and intelligence will take you a long way, but no one truly excels at anything if there isn’t a part of them that is compelled to achieve excellence. The good news is that in today’s world, you can turn nearly any passion into a career. Love video games? Go into programming, or graphic design, or even esports. Those kinds of options haven’t always been there.