We need to talk about FinCon

Since the pandemic I’ve had a hard time focusing on writing blog posts; they seem pretty out of touch for our current environment. That’s only increased since George Floyd’s murder (and Breonna Taylor! Let’s talk about her!) and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. I’ve been struggling with what to say that doesn’t sound flippant about what’s happening in the world right now.

I’m a very privileged white woman and have for my whole life been content to just be not racist. I, like so many other people, am currently coming to terms with the fact that that’s not enough and I need to be actively anti-racist.

I’ve been having lots of conversations with my (mostly white) coworkers: I work at an institution that on paper looks decent in terms of diversity, but in reality has a very stark divide between who works certain types of jobs. To its credit, I believe my company is seriously invested in changing how and who we hire, how we work across all of our departments, and the legacies we perpetuate. It’s been interesting watching a reckoning coming for the personal finance community at the same time, as well.

It’s long past time for us to talk about FinCon. “Where money and media meet.” Where a whole bunch of personal finance bloggers and nerds go to hang out with their friends once a year. Where I’ve been uncomfortable supporting the founder and CEO for years based on rumblings I’ve heard, but had ignored until now.

I tweeted about it, but not everyone is on Twitter and it turns out this blog I’ve had trouble writing for lately is actually my platform, not my social media accounts. So here we go.

No FinCon20 for us

I attended my first FinCon in 2018 and my partner and I both attended last year in 2019 (especially since it being local meant we didn’t have to buy plane tickets).

My partner and I bought tickets right after FinCon last year, even though we were pretty on the fence about going this year. It’s a lot of money and a lot of vacation time to commit, and that plus going to CampFI (just kidding not this year, thanks, pandemic) meant spending a lot of free time and money on blog-related activities. Not that that’s a bad thing. I’ve got more friends in the personal finance community than I do in “real life” these days. But sometimes a girl wants to take an actual vacation.

Me, in September’s spending post last year:

I also paid for next year’s ticket while it was on sale. I’m not 100% sure if I’m going next year, but I figure I’m better off buying the ticket now when it’s the cheapest it’ll ever be and therefore easier to sell to someone else if I’m not going than it would be to wait and buy a more expensive ticket later.

So yeah, it wasn’t really ever in the plan to go to FinCon20, especially after looking at the hotel block prices in LA. When the pandemic hit, I was kicking myself—we should’ve sold our FinCon tickets in February or earlier! An email about the event in May implied that FinCon might or might not be happening in person this year, tbd, but either way there would be an online component. Which also to me read “FinCon is happening online so there will be no refunds. Sucks to suck.

Regardless of FinCon actually happening in person or not, we sure as hell weren’t going to be traveling cross-country in the middle of a motherfucking pandemic to a conference to go hang out with a bunch of people. During a motherfucking pandemic. And an online event wasn’t at all something I was interested in; last year for sure, but even in 2018, I was attending the conference to meet/hang out with my online friends. I went to a lot of sessions in 2018 but hardly any last year. I don’t give a single fuck about “how I grew my subscribers to 50,000 in three months” or whatever.

But I was prepared to eat the $200 price of the ticket. Until I decided I could no longer support FinCon with my dollars.

Stop talking politics

FinCon is extremely white. I’ve known for years that PT has been unwelcoming of diversity and inclusion and any mention of those topics has been shut down. I have heard from friends who had their panel ideas rejected because they were “too political.” PT made it very clear in multiple ways that politics were not welcome at FinCon.

Which is ridiculous. A conference about money and media can’t not touch on politics.

It’s a conversation I’m having with my white coworkers now: is part of the reason we’ve been loathe to reckon with our shortcomings as an institution because we’re not allowed to talk politics at work? It’s absolutely NOT an excuse, but it’s probably a contributing factor. The complicating thing now that we ARE having those conversations is that it is political. Race (and gender and inclusion and equity and, to bring it back to this forum, money) and the systems we operate in is political. It’s a privilege to just “not be political” when the system is generally tipped in your favor.

It’s a fine line to tread between “here are all the ways we support and/or uphold systemic racism and inequality” and “our president is a straight-up racist” because any necessary conversation needs to go into “here’s how the US is deeply fucked and the laws/policies systems that we have today and have had in the past that have gotten us here. Including what’s happening thanks to this fucking racist administration.” Whiiiiiiich is political. But I digress. The vagaries of HR is not what this post is about.

I’ve known for years that PT supported Trump. But it’s not just about his personal politics. I’ve known for years that he has actively shut down any kind of mention of diversity and inclusion and the unequal systems we find ourselves in when talking about money. It made me extremely uncomfortable. But I ignored that and decided to go anyway for the sake of getting to hang out with my friends because I was privileged enough to be in a position where I could ignore it.

And then shit hit the fan on Twitter.

A pattern, not just one tweet

It started out with a bad tweet. And then doubling down on that tweet.

And then stories came out.

A diversity panel “wasn’t necessary.”

PT has a history of harassing women, like Melanie of Dear Debt and Mental Health and Wealth.

And Tori from Her First $100k spoke up about a truly chilling series of DMs she’d received from PT after a disagreement.

There’s the fact that PT tried to pay Tiffany from The Budgetnista way less than he’s paid white keynote speakers.

The worst thing about all of this is that I know there are more stories like this out there but people haven’t felt comfortable coming forward. But I don’t need to know everything that’s happened or know how many other people have stories they could tell. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that this is a pattern, not a few random one-off, unrelated events.

Also not an apology

PT apologized on Facebook, but honestly, the apology reads as a “I’m sorry you took my tweets out of context” non-apology to me. ESPECIALLY since PT didn’t apologize on Twitter when he was called out. He deleted his tweets and then ended up deleting his account.

not actually an apology

(for the record, not having your life affected by either a global pandemic or police brutality is quite a hefty dose of privilege)

I’m sure more has happened in the FinCon Facebook group that I haven’t seen screenshots of. I think I might be in the FinCon Facebook group so I could potentially have followed all of this myself, but I haven’t logged into FB in years and have zero plan to break that streak—FinCon certainly isn’t worth doing so.

(Edited to add: I did miss something since I’m not on Facebook. Apparently PT didn’t delete his account. He tried to change the birthday on his Twitter account to his blog’s anniversary (uhhhhh okay), which I guess is a flag for Twitter. And they shut his account down.)

Oh right, and there’s also the fact that people who have called PT out are blocked from the group.

Voting with my dollars

Let me be clear: it wasn’t a ridiculously inappropriate tweet or two of PT’s that set this off for me.

It was a pattern of women coming forward saying he’d harassed them and made them extremely uncomfortable and scared to speak out. It was a woman of color saying he offered her less to be the keynote speaker than he offered previous speakers who were white. It was a pattern of blocking people/banning them from the Facebook group if they spoke out. It was BIPOC saying they don’t feel welcome in the FinCon community. It was people only sharing their stories after others did because the FinCon community has silenced people and made them afraid to speak up. It was PT deleting his tweets and then his profile instead of apologizing. It was his “apology” on Facebook and subsequent statements I’ve seen that don’t convince me that PT has learned anything (other than that it hurts to lose money).

The tweet was only the tipping point.

The next day I emailed FinCon to request a refund. I knew the chances I’d get a refund were low, but I wanted my request for a refund and all of the reasons I couldn’t support FinCon in writing somewhere. In a world where making spending choices means supporting people, ideas, and systems every time you spend money, I wanted to make it clear that I no longer supported PT.

I won’t support FinCon with my presence but I also don’t want to support it with my money

I never got a response to my email, but a few days later I got an email from EventBrite saying my FinCon refund was on its way.

What now?

Supposedly there’s a panel of people who are working with PT to figure out where the hell to go from here. And he’s stepped down as the CEO of FinCon.

Personally, that’s not enough to make me attend FinCon anytime soon. If I didn’t want my dollars supporting him with my 2020 ticket even if I wasn’t planning on attending, that hasn’t changed just because he’s no longer CEO. PT still owns FinCon and still profits from it.

I’m also pretty dang skeptical that any real change will come of this. For one, there’s the secrecy in which it’s all being done. How many people are on this panel, who are they, and how were they chosen? A lot of people wanted to be involved and weren’t invited. Moreover, the lack of transparency around this panel and what they’re doing further reinforces the fact that this change is only welcomed from certain people and not others. There also used to be a page on the FinCon website with PT’s statement, but that’s conveniently now showing a 404 error when you go to it, which seems… well, I’ll generously call it another lack of transparency.

Secondly, it’s not like FinCon has been cancelled this year (despite the #cancelculture claims made by a recent article that completely misses the point). It’s still happening. Panels and speakers have already been decided, and at this point we’re a mere three months away from the event. How much is going to actually change during that time, especially since any “change” happening right now is happening invisibly?

I’d love to say I’m reserving judgment, but I’m not optimistic. Suffice it to say I won’t be attending FinCon until (if) I’m convinced actual change has occurred.

In the meantime, I donated my $200 refund to Sandy Smith’s Elevate Conference. That money is much better spent supporting an event built specifically for people of color in a space that’s still largely white, even if it’s maybe not quite so male.

Black lives matter. How we spend our money matters. And from here on out I am no longer spending my money to support someone who isn’t interested in making the world and the personal finance community a better place for people who don’t look like him.

I was actually working on this post before I saw the willfully oblivious post on Medium claiming that everyone who has decided to boycott FinCon is just an angry internet mob that’s out to get PT. First off, the personal finance community isn’t a monolith. And there are rifts: do y’all remember that horrendous racist “manifesto” from last year (that I refuse to link to) and its fallout? Second, FinCon hasn’t been cancelled. It’s happening either way, in person or online! Third, it’s not just about the tweets (although even on their own they were awful) and to not realize that is to completely miss the point.

And fourth, it seems like the author is married to the person who runs the FinCon blog, and if that’s not a ringing endorsement for the FinCon image rehab project, I don’t know what is!! (</sarcasm>)

6 Replies to “We need to talk about FinCon”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Erin! I’ve never been to FinCon, or ever had any real desire to go (because, Canada is far away lol), but now I definitely never will. It is incredible to me that PT has been able to build such a big event while having some pretty awful (and not so secret) beliefs about women and BIPOC. And the fact that he doubled down on everything, even in his ‘apology’, is beyond.

    1. It’s astounding to think about it. It’s not okay. How have we all let it be okay for so long???

  2. I am not a blogger, but gleaned bits and pieces from different social media accounts. Thanks for putting a clear picture together for those of us who aren’t in the know.

    1. So much got deleted/buried deep in various threads that I thought it was important to put what I could into one place!

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