At age 28, financial reporter Nicole Lapin has covered breaking news for CNN, CNBC, and MSNBC. Lapin recently left her job as a CNBC anchor to found Nothing But Gold Productions, a multimedia production company that translates complex financial concepts for Generation Yers.
U.S. News recently chatted with Lapin about how she learned the ropes and what she sees as the biggest financial hurdles for her generation. Excerpts:
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What do you think is the biggest financial challenge Millennials face: student debt, unemployment, or something else?
I think those are big ones—probably a combination of those things. I think student debt is the underlying debt threat that we’re seeing around the country, and I think that we’re just now seeing the beginning of it. I felt a void in financial experts who were talking to a younger generation. They tell you all the time: “Do not buy a latte, buy a house.” And I don’t know if that’s the right message for everybody. Certainly it is for some folks, but it’s not for everybody, and it’s not especially for a young generation who’s coming up in this world with $300,000 of debt and very few job prospects.
I think we’re seeing a landscape that’s changing because of some of the problems with student debt and unemployment. And the voices in guiding young people need to change, and I wanted to do that.
There’s a lot of focus on that latte’s impact on personal finance, isn’t there?
I think looking at a latte is a really interesting example of how to look at personal finance for any generation. It’s a small indulgence, it gets you to work earlier, it gives you more energy. I think investing in yourself is going to pay most dividends in the future.
Instead of cutting out lattes, what should young people do?
I think it’s about not beating yourself up over small indulgences that may get you ahead in work, it’s about changing the kind of mindset of what the gospel is. I don’t think people stop to question it. I know it was really important for me to stop and question, and I had understood the ins and outs of Wall Street, and I wanted to democratize that information.
What is the ultimate goal with Nothing But Gold and your other projects?
I wanted to create accessible financial information across a variety of channels, and I think there was such a void in that. Money is not stocks and bonds anymore. Even celebrity news goes back to money. Money has changed, in the way people are making it and growing it into Twitter endorsements and all sorts of interesting new ways.
I think it was really important for me to tell the scrappy entrepreneurial stories that I think are the winner of this recession and give them a voice and give them a platform. Through the company, I wanted to create accessible financial content, especially starting out with women. It’s a new type of financial expert. I’m not going to yell at you. I’m not going to make you scared when you see the jobless numbers. I’m going to say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going and there are ways to navigate this recession. There are creative entrepreneurial ways to do it, and here’s how.”
You achieved a lot of success very young. What advice would you have for other young women who might be stuck in an entry-level job or struggling to be taken seriously as a manager?
Just go ahead and do whatever you ultimately had in mind. If you want to be a filmmaker, go and shoot video. If you want to be a writer, don’t wait for a publisher to say, “Here’s a big advance.” Do it first. Come to a publisher with a manuscript already done. If you want to be on TV, go start a video blog. Don’t wait for somebody to give you the opportunity because those opportunities are drying up, and I think that young people should look becoming their own boss in a smart, scrappy way.
And also play to your weaknesses. I think that time and again, we hear people say, “Play to your strengths, play to your work strength.” Well, I think actually play to the thing that you’re doing most. If you’re tweeting, don’t be mad at yourself about doing that, figure out a way to monetise it, figure out a way to be a Twitter ambassador. Or if you are potentially interested in a fashion brand, and you find yourself on their site all the time, don’t hate yourself for it, contact that company, and ask them to be a brand ambassador. I think having the right bit of chutzpah, and asking for things is the recipe to not feeling depressed by all the jobs numbers and student debt.
Has that chutzpah helped you succeed? Any stories you could share?
Yes, I think chutzpah is my middle name. For my first internship, I was shuffled around through HR because I was too young, and I finally showed up at Asa Aaron’s desk, and I said, “I’m your summer intern.” He said, “If you could get through NBC’s security, I’d say you’re a good intern.” So I cut through the red tape of everybody telling me no, that I was too young, and I just went and asked for it.
I didn’t have a Rosetta Stone for financial information, which I hope to be, but I had a lot of chutzpah. I was in high school and my boyfriend said that he wanted to be a hedge-fund manager, and I just smiled and nodded, and I was like, “That’s great, you want to be in gardening, babe.”
Obviously, you’ve come a long way since then. How did you learn about Wall Street and investments?
I begged a broadcasting company in Chicago to put me on the air in Milwaukee because I thought that was a big market, and I would take the train from Northwestern and do whatever I could do be on the air. They said there was a new business station they’d opened in Chicago. Did I know anything about business? I was like, “I will learn.” I was 16 or 17 at the time. And so I was thrown on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and there’s no way to fake it there. I learned very quickly. And then I came up to CNBC, talking about the wonkiest of wonky macroeconomic finances on a global show on CNBC. So I learned the language, I taught myself.
In my family, we didn’t grow up reading the Wall Street Journal. I grew up in an immigrant household, and we didn’t talk about that stuff. My girlfriends didn’t talk about money, so it’s always like a dirty little secret, a taboo. And so I wanted to break that, break the cycle.
What’s your advice for other young people on learning these concepts?
Join the conversation. Stop smiling and nodding. And I think to really be educated on some of the terms that are thrown around not only in business news, but in general news.