Just about a year ago, Springfield, Mass.-based MassMutual said it was committing $100 million to expand Society of Grownups, an independent subsidiary providing personal finance education for millennials. At the time, Boston-based Society of Grownups had been running for a year on seed funding from MassMutual. Its CEO, Nondini Naqui, said the new capital — which was to help the initiative expand into 10 cities over the next three years — demonstrated it wasn’t an “experiment anymore.”
But into its third year, Society of Grownups seems to still be in an experimental stage as MassMutual pivots the project away from classes and events at physical spaces to online learning tools. Sources told BostInno that employees have been cut and a spokesman confirmed that plans to expand its physical footprint to cities like New York and Philadelphia have been called off.
On Friday, MassMutual laid off about a third of the company’s approximately 40 to 50 employees, including Naqui, two sources close to the company told BostInno. According to one source, the insurance giant told employees it was closing Society of Grownups’ main event space in Brookline, where it had held multiple events a month on various topics related to financial literacy and money management.
A majority of the laid off employees were “completely blindsided” by MassMutual’s decision, one source said, adding MassMutual’s board was only expected to discuss funding levels in a meeting earlier that week.
In a statement provided to BostInno, MassMutual spokesman Jim Lacey confirmed that MassMutual has decided to “discontinue” the Brookline physical storefront “as a customer interaction location” to focus on digital and online financial literacy tools. With regard to the reported layoffs, he said the company “will not comment on individual staffing actions, or rumors or speculation with respect to staffing.”
“In an attempt to best meet the needs of the next generation of customers, we have found digital channels to be the most effect way to engage with this group,” Lacey said. “Therefore, we have made the decision to invest in and grow the Society of Grownups through delivering digital and online financial literacy tools to Millennials. Thus, we will discontinue the physical storefront as a customer interaction location.”
After this story was published, Naqui’s name and photo were removed from Society of Grownups’ “About” page on its website, though the line “CEO & president” had not been deleted yet as of 4:20 p.m. on Monday. Naqui did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We have found digital channels to be the most effect way to engage with this group.”
The Society of Grownups’ brand is expected to be absorbed into MassMutual, one source told BostInno, but it’s currently unclear what that will look like. The source said the layoffs primarily focused on people involved with the Brookline space, along with C-level executives. BostInno was unable to verify which other executives other than Naqui were laid off.
MassMutual’s decision to turn away from events is reflected on Society of Grownups’ website, which doesn’t have any events listed for the rest of the year. The last event happened on Oct. 4, according to its calendar.
As of last October, events were Society of Grownup’s only source of revenue, according to a Forbes report at the time. Forbes reported that Society of Grownups typically charged $30 for classes and $40 for supper clubs, with advice sessions with certified financial planners ranging from $20 to $90. The company was looking into establishing other revenue streams through corporate and university partnerships, as well as collecting licensing fees through financial products that were recommended through an online exchange, according to Forbes.
Update: This story has been updated to note that the name and photo of Society of Grownups’ former CEO have been removed from the company’s website since this story was first published.