Courtesy of Daphne Chen Matthews
Daphne Chen Matthews fell into her independent career reinvention at one of the most nerve-wracking financial moments in the 21st century: just as COVID-19 shut everything down, funds froze. Most if not all businesses entered into a longstanding season of uncertainty about what the future might bring.
Chen Matthews had no alternative but to stay the course and hatched a plan to utilize the skills she already had to craft the career she wanted as a consultant. Before striking out on her own, Chen Matthews, 45, spent two decades in the banking industry, where she last held the Senior Counsel position. Rather than spin her wheels in the fallout from COVID-19, Chen Matthews set to work and got her name and specialty out into the world. Her goal: to help clients “think like a bank lawyer” and put those lessons into everyday practice.
“I take the best company and bank practices and apply them to other industries that may have similar rules,” she says.
This past spring, she also became the newest board member at the Center for Art Law.
“My business gave me the platform to be on a panel about the ABCs of art law, where my segment was on applying best banking practices to art, in terms of fraud detection and money laundering prevention,” she says.
She wrote about reinvention earlier in the year and shared a few snippets from her journey. Edited excerpts are below.
“Once upon a time, my financial advisor pled with me to allocate more of my IRA into equity, and I crossed my arms and adamantly said it was “too risky.” As far as I was concerned, he could place half of it in fixed income. We landed on a portfolio that was “suitable for someone a little older than me.” That decision probably saved my retirement account from tanking in the last few months, but also did not move the needle much in the past few years.
I have never been a gambling person, being risk-averse my entire life. I even have a ceramic piggy bank. It is pink, with the words “Always a Princess” painted on it, and filled with quarters (come on, let’s be practical. I want my money to grow!). I began saving for the proverbial rainy day early on in my adulthood. I contributed to my 401(k) plan the moment I got my first corporate job. I made sure the allocations were conservative, and I sent a part of each paycheck into savings. I went to law school at night because I wanted to make sure I had a continuous income stream during the day.
In the fall of 2019, I unexpectedly left what I considered a stable lifetime career, in-house counsel for a large financial institution. It came as a shock because I thought the risky jobs were client-facing or ones slowly being replaced with automation, not legal or compliance. I took a few months to enjoy my free time, plan for the holidays, and prepare for my November wedding.
When the new year came around, I thought the jobs would be plentiful, and the search would be invigorating. While in a positive mindset, I decided to launch my legal and consulting business and look for my next opportunity. I attended conferences, networking events, and workshops. When the COVID-19 lockdowns started happening, I admit I did not know what to do. The stock market plunged. I was warned not to look at my investments. I was told, “now is not a good time.” “No one is hiring.” “No one is going to buy anything right now.” “The playing field has been leveled,” and that I ‘needed to stand in line.’”
I tell people to “Think Like A Bank Lawyer.” Each bank has its risk and compliance teams, legal teams, and various factors before deciding on a business piece. Risk management is about weighing the options. How can your business grow, taking into consideration the legal, commercial, and sometimes reputation risks?
I saw the economic devastation of 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, and I was lucky at that time to be spared any cutbacks. Both times I became remarkably busy at work, and I patted myself on the back for my career choice in a mid-level support function.
You are supposed to grow wiser with age. After my initial panic in March, I reached deep down and pulled out that version of me, ten years ago, twenty years ago, and have been repeating what I told others, “What goes down must come up,” and “There is opportunity in chaos.” I applied my banking lens to the situation. Now is the time to create my Personal Compliance Program. Turns out, you can have a Personal Compliance Program for any goal: saving for retirement, fitness, running a marathon, starting a business. An effective compliance program includes procedures, risk assessments, monitoring/accountability, and remedial actions.
My rainy day has come, but like most people, I am watching my budget, standing in line at the grocery store and exclaiming to the person next to me how the beef chuck is now as expensive as the sirloin. I keep online shopping to the essentials. My poor cats haven’t had a new toy in months. That is part of the procedure. I am my own accountability partner, although I reach out to friends to keep me in check. I have already done the risk assessment, so I am continuing to build the business. As for remedial actions, let’s say I’m still thinking like a bank.”