Morgan Stanley MAKER Krystal Barker Buissereth uses finance to enhance people’s lives and empower their futures.
Krystal Barker Buissereth admits she “didn’t grow up having conversations around the dinner table about stocks, bonds and 401(k) savings plans.” But today, she spends her days teaching others about just that.
As Head of Financial Wellness at Morgan Stanley, the CFA® charter holder supports more than 1 million participants and 600 corporate clients in the program she helped launch to deliver financial education and planning programs to individuals across all demographics.
“When I came on board [in 2019], my mandate was to look at how we can take the same advice we give to our wealthiest clients and bring it to everyday individuals,” says Krystal. “That’s a mission that resonated with me.”
Growing up in Little Rock, Ark., reared by a hard-working single mother and self-made, career-oriented grandmother, her sources of inspiration are clear. “My mother was practicing financial wellness before there was a term for it! She went back to school, took on multiple jobs, and navigated the banking system alone to obtain her own mortgage,” says Krystal. “I knew I could make that process easier for others.”
In middle school, Krystal remembers working hard to earn straight A’s, only to be denied admittance to the advanced placement (AP) classes in high school. The young black student was told “it would be too hard for you.” Still, she persisted, paying a visit to her guidance counselor every day for weeks until she was allowed to enroll. “I knew these AP classes were the stepping stone I needed to get into a good college.”
When choosing a school (after graduating in the top percentage of her class), Krystal wanted a place that would push her the farthest out of her comfort zone. Bowdoin College in Maine, where she majored in math and economics, took her well beyond her Southern roots. “Everything was uncomfortable—the weather, the food, the trees,” says Krystal, who was also struck by the different lifestyles of fellow students. “It really highlighted the economic differences among us.”
It’s also where she discovered rugby—and a great community of women that weren’t afraid to “pick each other up—or tackle each other to the ground!”
When she landed on Wall Street after graduation—in investment banking at Lehman Brothers—she was looking to tackle something else. “I wanted to tackle finance head on, so I went to the center of the action.” It was a tough place to navigate, with “no playbook, mentor or support network that knew how to navigate corporate America.” Reflecting on her earlier days dressed in boxy Sears suits and decorated in jewelry handed down to her, “I was teased because of my hairstyles and Southern accent,” says Krystal, whose experiences made her feel isolated. Still, she forged ahead, knowing her presence was “doing so much for other women like me.”
Timing was not on her side, as the firm collapsed within her first year, at the height of the financial crisis. She transitioned to Barclays Capital, then to Deutsche Bank. After earning her MBA from The Wharton School, she was hired by Goldman Sachs and became a Private Wealth Advisor, a role in which she could finally help individuals and families make smart financial decisions.
She had already started to use finance to enhance people’s lives, having launched, with The Urban Assembly Institute of Math & Science for Young Women, a financial literacy program for young, mostly low-income, minority women. She taught them the basics of banking and savings and helped prepare them for opportunities, such as college and professional careers that might have seemed out of their reach. She also volunteered for High Water Women, to empower low-income women and youth.
Wanting to democratize finance even further, Krystal started to work with the firm’s digital team to develop investment products. With that experience, she found her way to Morgan Stanley and has been building out the firm’s financial wellness program ever since. “With technology, we can reach communities we’ve never reached before,” she says. “Everyone, no matter where they start along their path, can access good advice and a roadmap for success.”
Beyond helping people with their money, Krystal goes farther to be activist for change. For example, she serves on the board of the POINT Foundation, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ scholarship organization. “If you want to see change in the world, you need to be that change,” she insists. “We can actually play a role in creating the future we want to see for ourselves and those coming behind us.”
Though doing so, Krystal will tell you, is hard work. “People ask me why I work so hard. I thought that was just part of life, watching my grandmother and mother work tirelessly for my sister and me. What keeps me going is knowing that my work has ramifications beyond me. As a woman of color in particular, many young women might say, ‘If she can do it, well maybe I can too.’”
Recently promoted to Managing Director and named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a group of trailblazing women of accomplishment nominated by their peers, Krystal is grateful for the resilient women she’s had in her life. She says “MAKERS don’t stop until women have their rightful place in the boardroom, in the community and in society. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but being a MAKER means we’re at the center of that change.”