Cassandra Toroian: Don’t Buy the Bull
As a teenager, Rehoboth Beach resident Cassandra Toroian was the self-proclaimed poster-child for nerdiness. While the other kids were outside playing, Cassandra was tracking the progress of her cousins in medical school, and quizzing her bank executive uncle about variations in the company’s stock. She flirted with the idea of following in her cousins’ footsteps (until she saw the mountain of textbooks), but ended up taking advantage of a full academic scholarship by enrolling in law school.
Cassandra quickly realized that a career in law was not for her. So, with her parents squarely behind her, she dropped out and proceeded to earn her MBA degree. A tireless networker, she was soon hired as an intern at a highly regarded Certified Financial Planning firm in Coral Gables, Florida. Not long after that, she landed a job with Merrill Lynch International Bank, applying her skills to analyzing stocks for use as collateral by banks. As complicated as that might sound, Cassandra Toroian had found her passion. [At this point in our interview, she reminds me that she was, after all, a nerd!]
After a year and-a-half, she came across an article about a mutual fund located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She called the president of the fund and was immediately hired as a stock analyst. She pulled up stakes and moved, only to discover that the rural town was just a little too rural for her. Rather than continue to be unhappy, she took the initiative to set up a successful interview for a job as a stock analyst for a New York investment banking firm. Now firmly ensconced in the big city, it wasn’t very long until Cassandra was named head of Small Cap Banking Research.
Because there were so few female investors and day-traders (stock traders who actively buy/sell securities within the same trading day), she decided to construct a website to educate women about money management and investment strategies. The site would also offer an investment platform (similar to e*trade and the like) where women could try out their new-found skills. The 27 year-old entrepreneur joined forces with another woman (a client and a bank president), and together they made the idea a reality. She moved to Philadelphia where Business Week magazine named them “Top Women’s Financial Website.” Around the same time, the Wall Street Journal honored Cassandra as an “All Star Analyst”—one of the top five stock pickers in the nation.
In reaction to 1999’s stock market fluctuations, the women morphed the online firm into a “boutique” investment firm with a focus on the banking sector. The decision to offer these specialized financial services paid off, and by 2005 they had built-up over 50 billion dollars in assets under management (that’s 9 zeros, thank you). As the company expanded into other sectors, Cassandra decided that the time had come to do things her way. She sold her share in the brokerage firm she had helped create, and formed her own. This new company would eventually become Bell Rock Capital.
By this time, Cassandra had been “out” for a while and was enjoying partnered life with a young woman. Things at home were about to change, however, when she met Jackie Blue, the managing director of a competing firm. Jackie (a seasoned bank consultant in her own right) and Cassandra were instantly attracted to one another. They set up housekeeping outside Philadelphia where Cassandra continued to manage millions of dollars worth of her clients’ cash and securities. In 2006, they moved to Boca Raton and opened a second branch of Bell Rock Capital. Jackie became CFO, and in the spring of 2008 they closed the Philadelphia branch and relocated their main headquarters (and their primary residence) to Rehoboth Beach.
After the 2008 market crash, Cassandra was dismayed by the negative financial advice being espoused by TV “gurus” such as Suze Orman. “Not only is much of her advice flawed,” says Cassandra, “but as an admitted lesbian she has yet to do anything to enlighten and educate her own community about their particular financial issues.”
Cassandra knew that she could dispel some of these gloom-and-doom money myths, so she proceeded to write what she calls her “anti-Suze Orman” book. Never one for understatement, she entitled it Don’t Buy the Bull. In the book she encourages individuals—men and women alike—to not trust blindly in just any “money manager” who may (or may not) be qualified.
Cassandra and Jackie continue to make waves in the financial community. Bell Rock Capital was recently named as an official financial agent of the United States Treasury, and Cassandra makes regular television appearances on CNBC, Fox Business News, and CNN.
Innovative women are challenging the outdated “boy’s club” exclusivity of the stock market and banking. Equal opportunity comes in many forms, and, thanks to financial wizards such as Rehoboth Beach resident Cassandra Toroian, men and women are now more empowered to take charge of their own money.
Rehoboth Beach resident Bob Yesbek can be reached at Bob@RehobothFoodie.com.