Last month, Ken Braithwaite, a retired U.S. Navy admiral who later served as the Secretary of the Navy, joined the advisory board for a military-oriented financial education and investment app, Guild.
Guild was founded in 2018 by former Navy intelligence officers Sean Bonner and Michael Conallen, and Navy SEAL-turned journalist Kaj Larsen. The company launched its app to the public in November 2021. The app includes self-directed investing tools for retail investors as well as financial education course that cover the basics of investing and factors specifically applying to military members.
Braithwaite told American Military News he was inspired to join Guild Financial’s advisory board because it furthers his sense of mission in expanding financial literacy education to the military community.
“We’ve gone far too long without adequate financial resources and education,” Braithwaite said. “I’m excited to work alongside the Guild team to fulfill a need within the community and empower the military to obtain financial freedom. The platform is an innovative product making investing and financial education easily accessible for all.”
Braithwaite commissioned in the Navy after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1984. He served as a Naval aviator with Patrol Squadron (VP) 17 and then as a public affairs officer with assignments on the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66), Carrier Group 2 and Striking Force Fleet Six. Braithwaite served as the U.S. Ambassador to Norway from 2018 to 2020 before serving as the 77th Secretary of the Navy from May 2020 to January 2021.
During his time in a Navy uniform and later on as the top civilian official in charge of the service, Braithwaite said he adopted a personal mission to ensure military families receive a financial literacy education.
“It’s no secret that some institutions take advantage of our young troops such as pay-day lenders and some lease to buy stores,” Braithwaite said. “To be aware of how interest works, budgeting and the opportunity to save and invest appropriately can afford a young service member the opportunity to become financially secure at a much younger age.”
Braithwaite said the military faces the same problems as society at large when it comes to financial literacy, but maintaining financial stability takes on even greater importance for people who have to deploy regularly and trust that their families will be taken care of while they’re away for months at a time.
“The lack of financial readiness is the number one concern among military families before deployment,” Braithwaite said.
Braithwaite said financial literacy has added importance in the current economic environment.
“Inflation is hitting our military families particularly hard as food and energy make up a greater portion of their overall net income,” Braithwaite said. “They also suffer from the added burden of frequent moves with [Permanent Changes of Station] which makes them have to buy into or rent in inflated housing markets and experience higher overall moving costs. Transitions bring expenses and currently those expenses are the highest we have ever seen.”
Bonner said he’s honored to have Braithwaite join Guild Financial’s advisory board and said his goal is to provide $100 million worth of core financial education to the military community over the next 10 years. Over that same 10-year time period, he also hopes to see a core community of about 5 million military service members, veterans and their families raise $50 billion in personal wealth.
Bonner co-founded Guild with Conallen and Larsen after he also observed a “gap in the financial education” in the military at large. Bonner had worked as an investor on Wall Street prior to directly commissioning as an officer in the Navy Reserve in 2003 and serving with the branch until 2016. Throughout his Navy career, Bonner recalled helping his fellow service members with questions about their personal finances and investing.
Throughout his time in the Navy Reserve, Bonner continued to work on Wall Street. He was a senior trader in New York City for Deutsche Bank’s Global Equity Derivatives division from 2004 to 2008 and later founded Carne Capital. In his last assignment with the Navy, from 2013 to 2016, Bonner was a department head for a Naval Reserve unit at the Defense Intelligence Agency at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Guild Financial touts its ability to harness the collective intelligence of its users — the same strategy used by its founders in both military intelligence and Wall Street world — to inform their own investing decisions. In essence, app users can see a leaderboard of the top-performing traders on the app as they consider their own investing decisions.