As a sought-after voice in global economics and investment, Sara Zervos has done her share of public speaking.
And in recent years, she began to notice a pattern emerging after a panel discussion or presentation. Audience members would line up to see her, ask her questions, congratulate her, pick her brain. All the women in the room, and even some of the men, would choose her rather than the male presenters.
“They would tell me that women are less intimidating when speaking about financial matters,” says Zervos, who holds a doctorate in economics.
So after a career that has included a stint as a World Bank economist and more than 15 years of managing investments at major international firms, the Class of 1987 Flinn Scholar from Mountain View High School in Mesa is branching out into new territory with a simple goal: Promote financial literacy in easy-to-grasp terms. Young women are her targeted demographic.
Zervos is the founder of BizzyChicks, which she describes as a social-media endeavor to improve financial literacy and promote career success.
Zervos, with the help of a network of professional women, began working on BizzyChicks full-time in May and moved west to a Los Angeles beach community in July.
“I had an agreement with myself that I would get to a state where I want to live, be in warm weather, and give this a try and see where it leads,” she says.
Zervos says she’s meeting fantastic people in her first startup adventure. As she aims to “demystify personal finance,” she’s becoming a filmmaker, web designer, marketer, and social-media expert.
“I enjoy being more creative – I had put creativity on hold when I was a finance person; it was a different kind of creativity,” she says.
Zervos said BizzyChicks is targeted to women in their 20s and 30s, although it is applicable to men and women of all ages. It covers topics ranging from why credits cards—when used properly—can be beneficial, to how “Brexit” will impact ordinary people, to how to get a car loan.
She recently traveled to New York for a video shoot, interviewing 18 women for about 20 to 30 minutes each, building a bank of footage for use on social media. Last month, she was also interviewed along with two other women in New York on Facebook Live by NASDAQ for a feature introducing BizzyChicks.
For now, Zervos is creating the infrastructure and content for BizzyChicks with her own resources. Her plan is to be able to monetize the company next year, getting sponsors, advertising, and producing webinars and podcasts.
A career in finance
When Zervos last year left Oppenheimer Funds, a New York mutual-fund company where she had worked since 2008, she was the head of the firm’s global debt team, managing international fixed-income assets totaling more than $20 billion. Because of the international focus of her work, she traveled frequently throughout her time at Oppenheimer, including to emerging African markets.
Earlier in her career, she also held roles as a trader and portfolio manager at hedge funds; at the World Bank; and as an economic and research analyst in investment banking. For one year, she taught financial economics at Brunel University in England. She has held seats on the Federal Reserve’s Foreign Exchange Committee, the UBS Research Advisory Board, and the board of the Emerging Markets Traders Association.
Zervos lived in London after graduate school, from 1994 to 2000 before moving to Connecticut, where she lived until this year.
Over the past several years, Zervos has been interviewed frequently about economics and finance news and trends on business-news television channels, including Bloomberg TV and CNBC. And this year she has appeared three times on CNN in discussions of the 2016 presidential election.
Off-screen, she has also written for the Huffington Post and Forbes. Her first Huffington Post article addressed the Greek economic crisis, and from that foothold she began writing regularly about investment and global-economic issues. Forbes then reached out to Zervos, and she started writing for its website—on topics including BizzyChicks.
“I am an economist at heart, and my favorite thing is global economics,” Zervos says. “I like to get other people excited about global economics and help the general population understand that whatever goes on in the world matters to you as well.”
The Flinn Scholarship
When Zervos accepted the Flinn Scholarship as a high-school senior in 1987, the program was only in its second year. She graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in economics in three years, meaning she left the program with the first class of Scholars.
“At the time it was definitely an unknown thing, but what the scholarship offered sounded spectacular,” Zervos says.
She entered ASU as a nuclear-engineering major and initially only took the required economic classes. But she later discovered economics was her true calling.
“Economics was a brilliant combination of psychology, human behavior, and incentive structures,” Zervos says.
When Zervos was 6 or 7 years old, growing up in rural Minnesota, she dreamed of being in France and living in Paris. Her desire to travel internationally continued through her high-school years spent in Arizona.
Thanks to the Flinn Scholarship, she finally had the opportunity to do so. She first went to France, and later the United Kingdom and Ireland. She was also impressed with having a senior faculty member as a mentor and being able to live on campus and graduate without debt.
“All of that wrapped up in one bundle was an awesome opportunity, and the other 19 Scholars were awesome people,” Zervos says.
She later went on to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees in economics from the University of Rochester in upstate New York.
Thirty years later, the Flinn Scholarship continues to offer these opportunities—and more.
Applications for the 2017 Scholarship are due Oct. 23.
—By Brian Powell, Flinn Foundation