Ben Granje, CEO of The Flemish Federation of Investors, believes that success in non-profit is the combination of certain metrics, namely, audience reach, profit, – impact and empowerment. He is leading his team in the right direction to fulfill all these metrics and grow even further.
Journey to success
Ben completed classical studies (Latin & Greek) in Belgium before spending a year in the US as an exchange student. After graduating with a Master of Psychology, he started out in a consulting firm but quickly switched to -finance. He had excellent mentors that structured his path and pushed him to step into the world of investing.
He worked for Citigroup as an investment advisor and then joined Invesco Asset Management (a fund house). Soon, Morningstar offered him the chance to establish the company in Belgium and Luxembourg. He adds, “This company was the perfect environment for me: excellent values, a focus on the investor as well as the investment, plus great leadership.”
After more than a decade, it was time to take matters into his own hands and start his own consulting firm. In 2017, he established Beconomics Consulting & Research, where the B signifies Behavior, Belgium, Ben, and Better Economics.
Within a year, VFB invited him to the board to help design a strategy to reconnect with growth. He grabbed the opportunity and took the onus for the role of CEO of the company. He states, “VFB aims to give a voice to the non-professional user of financial services, ensuring their interest is not overlooked by the regulator and the government.”
Growing stronger with the obstacles along the way
Ben believes there is much more to be learned in failing and trying again and again than succeeding without any hurdles. Challenges are never easy, requiring the person to optimize one’s resources, knowledge, network, and creativity. One of the first roadblocks in investing that advisors must overcome is the desire to control the client and the illusion of certainty.
He adds, “I wanted to talk before I learned to listen. I was convinced of the solution before I understood the problem. As for many investors, the markets were a harsh teacher. For me, the 2003 tech bubble did the trick. I became a better investor because of it.”
Advising clients towards better investing with The Flemish Federation of Investors
Founded 40 years ago, the VFB is akin to the AAII in the US, a club for and by individual investors.
Ben states, “One individual would have a hard time getting access to corporate management, shifting through the noise, and being heard in the rooms where policy is made. We offer information, education, analysis, and background on investing, plus a network of peers where all of the above is discussed and acted upon.”
VFB acts as a gateway to companies, inviting CEOs or CFOs to speak at their conferences or organizing on-site visits to production plants and, in reverse, offer companies a channel to build a relationship with a target audience of retail investors. VFB is a lobby group of sorts as well, providing insight on the individual investor to the regulator and government or bringing financial service providers / listed companies to the table to help them improve their behavior.
Redefining financial and investment management
Ben suggests that in a non-profit organization, the pendulum swings between the social and the economic goals. He aims to reconcile both into evidence-based management, and he broadly carried this notion with himself everywhere he went. He adds, “In the books and articles I published, the message is consistently to stop, think and reflect before acting on a whim.”
He believes that transparency is the key to look beyond the current market and listen beyond the noise to find the evidence that warrants any investment decision.
He states, “Investor protection does not mean prohibitions or limitations, but a level playing field. No cartels, no backroom dealings or insider trading, no cheating.”
Having learned all these values in his past experiences, Ben instills them into his policies, ensuring integrity and innovation.
Using smart ideas to stay ahead of the curve.
The VFB was founded in 1980, and the operations were based on the means available at that time, namely, a printed newsletter and live meetings. A website and e-newsletter were added later, but because the membership was mostly on the older side of the pyramid, things like social media were ignored.
Having long experience in the market, he knew it was time to change some things to pave the way to the top. He says, “You cannot engage people if you do not reach them.” So, his first order of business was to upgrade the website to modern-day responsive standards. Next, build a social media presence and start using new communication techniques, such as webinars, podcasts, and online learning tools. Invite outside speakers to connect to underserved audiences: young adults, women, people with different backgrounds.
He expresses, “Our membership has quickly evolved from a gentlemen’s club (older, white -or grey- male) to a more representative sample of society. VFB tries to get a seat at any table where financial goals are discussed so as to listen, and when appropriate, to inform and guide. “
Life as the CEO of the company
Wearing the hat of the CEO, Ben likes to oversee everything. He likes to progress further by learning new things and helping others to improve by questioning what, why, and how.
He expresses, “My days at VFB are filled with questions and conversations, trying to clarify and pinpoint, to educate or challenge, and when needed to decide and direct. It’s a perfect job for me, as there is always something new to learn in investing. And if you believe like me that everything is an investment (of time, effort or money), there is always something new to learn about life, human behavior, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Knowing the potential of a solid team, he tries to keep them motivated by providing them with enough flexibility in working hours or remote working, a lot of autonomy in how they organize their work, and a lot of empowerments in how to reach their objectives.
He expresses, “I believe the team is proud to be part of our work and of their contribution to this great effort. That, more than anything, motivates us.”
Future prospects of the company
VFB currently serves an audience of approximately 15.000 people. Ben aims to grow this audience significantly and reach all savers and investors in Belgium.
He expresses, “Rather than passively waiting for people to discover the benefits of VFB, my vision is to make all members active promoters of our club through word of mouth. My aim is to inform every Belgian that surplus money on current & savings accounts is losing value, and to maintain wealth this capital should be put to work.”
There are certain things the team wants to achieve in the coming years.
- Reach a larger audience and help more people reach financial independence through investing.
- Grow the membership up to the point where the voice of the individual investors carries sufficient weight to influence regulatory policy and corporate management.
- Improve the services and make VFB a lifelong learning environment.
- Instill pride in their members to go out and talk about investing to their family, friends, and network.
- Live richly, meaning rich in experiences and happiness, in values more than in value.