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November 09, 2015

Society of Grownups will whip Philly's wallets into shape

Millennial money management startup plans expansion

Lifestyle Business
Society of Grownups Society of Grownups/for PhillyVoice

The exterior of Society of Grownups, which hosts financial advisory workshops, classes & advisory sessions, in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Whether you find them entitled and lazy or empowered and hungry, the millennial generation is undoubtedly facing an unprecedented economic climate. Many are facing loads of student debt, high rents and low employment rates where their parents experienced prosperity and opportunity. At the same time, they're being bombarded with staged social media images of their friends and celebrities jetting off on vacations, buying homes and seemingly living the good life. 

The tension between these competing interests is compounded by one very dirty word: money

No matter how many stories about the wage gap, the living wage, student debt or the housing bubble pop up in your newsfeed, money is still often a taboo topic among friends and family members. How are you supposed to learn about taking care of your finances if no one will talk about it?

That's where Society of Grownups steps in. Like an adult clubhouse full of financial planning workshops and advisors ready to help, Society of Grownups' Boston headquarters is an industrial-chic classroom and event space that's regularly packed with young people eager to take control of their bank accounts. Their mission is to open up a dialogue about money and teach adults how to handle their finances like, well, grownups.

Their programming includes formal classes in everything from networking to stocks and bonds; special events like happy hours and guest speakers; supper clubs where guests have a relaxed dinner with friends and a financial advisor; and informal chats to discuss grownup topics in a laid-back setting.

"We have this group of people that are coming of age and dealing with a lot of issues in a short period of time," said SOG CEO and president Nondini Naqui.

SOG interior
Inside Society of Grownups' Boston location. (Society of Grownups)

"SOG was trying to see if we could get people to engage and have those conversations and what would it look like to build a community around something as taboo as money."

In the year or so since they opened with the help of MassMutual, SOG has garnered 1,000 unique class registrants, 4,000 profiles created on, 4,000 newsletter recipients and 350 grownups signing up for one-on-one advisory sessions. (Though MassMutual remains their parent company, as a learning initiative SOG doesn't exclusively recommend any products or companies and they don't sell financial products.)

"You don’t actually know what’s going to happen until you open those doors," Naqui said. "We just had an amazing response."

Thanks to the success of their Boston location, SOG recently announced they'll be expanding to both Philadelphia and New York City, with locations opening in each by the end of 2016. 

Naqui, who previously lived in Philadelphia for a number of years both with her family and as an adult, said she is personally excited about the Philly expansion. The brand isn't sure which neighborhood they'll be moving into just yet, but they're looking for somewhere where they can really affect change in the community.

"We thought, let's choose a place that really has a need and has an amazing population of people that are facing a lot of those same challenges," Naqui said of the expansion. "We don’t want to look like another storefront."

SOG classroom
A Society of Grownups classroom at their Boston location. (Society of Grownups)

When the spot finally opens in Philly, it will have much of the same offerings as the Boston location, with a few tweaks made to best service the local population. 

"When we opened we had one calendar where we were testing 30 different classes, so we’ve slowly changed the curriculum in response to what grownups are really looking for," Naqui said. Class series that dive deep into one topic have been popular, for instance, so more of those have been incorporated into SOG offerings.

To hold you over until they enter the City of Brotherly Love, SOG has a series of online tools available in beta, like a home affordability calculator, for users around the world. They're also currently testing online classes and certifications which they're hoping to roll out soon. The SOG blog is chock-full of free finance info, too.

"I think though having this conversation, finding a way to do this in a way that matters, is something that is just imperative at this point," Naqui said. 

Considering Philadelphia's millennial population is the fastest-growing of the ten biggest U.S. cities, surely SOG will have locals lining up once they open their doors. The fact that they won't be alone, Naqui said, is the whole reason SOG exists.

"The most important thing to remember is these grownups, the reasons why they don’t have conversations about money is that they feel like everyone else has it figured out," she said. 

"If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year, it's that nobody does."