Raiz Invest’s George Lucas opens up about living with high-functioning autism.
Business meetings can be a tricky affair for George Lucas. The founder and chief executive of micro-investing platform Raiz Invest never takes notes, which his counterparts can sometimes interpret as a sign that he is not paying attention or is not interested in the proceedings
Even without notes to prompt his memory, Lucas has been known to cite the content of meetings and promises made several years ago and point out what has – and hasn’t – been done.
“That can be very confronting to people,” Lucas says. “A typical person will be looking at me thinking, ‘Why is he expecting me to remember stuff which happened five years ago?’ ”
What they don’t always understand is that Lucas has never taken notes, even while he was at school and university, because he has never needed to. The businessman, who is now living in Jakarta to focus on Raiz’s Asian growth plans, has a near photographic memory.
No preparation required
On the upside, it means he never has to prepare for meetings.
“I don’t have to reread three years of notes before a meeting. I can just walk in and all the three years of notes will be with me [in my head].”
On the downside, Lucas has trouble reading the room and making connections, which can make negotiations difficult.
Welcome to the world of someone with high-functioning autism.
Lucas, who scores highly on the mathematical and abstract reasoning segments in IQ tests, was only diagnosed in 2017. He suffers from depression from time to time and that year sought professional help. After seeing the specialist twice a week for six to nine months, Lucas finally received the diagnosis.
“It is a little bit confronting when you hear it for the first time,” he says. “Two things hit me. One was that there’s never going to be a cure. This is just who I am. I’m always going to be different.
“And then I thought, ‘Oh my God. How much pain I must cause people when they talk to me because I’m not getting the social cues?’ ”
Lucas freely admits that he has always struggled to make connections. When he talks, he is actually scrolling through thousands of different conversations he has had in the past to help him interpret social cues.
Solace in work
Even so, he can be in a conversation and not understand that someone is asking a question. “So you’re expecting me to answer it, but I’ll just move on because [as far as I’m concerned] you’ve just made a statement.”
Understandably, Lucas, who has two adult children and lives in Jakarta with his partner, finds socialising exhausting.
“Socialising is probably not an activity of choice,” says Lucas, 58, who watched a huge amount of television as a child, partly because it did not require interacting with others.
To a large extent, he takes solace in work, often toiling 12 or 13 hours a day.
“It’s actually quite relaxing for me to work,” Lucas says.
Notwithstanding the lack of note-taking, business meetings are usually easier than parties and pubs.
“When you do business people, especially in your first meeting, it’s a very well-defined path in terms of what you do and how you interact. It’s not like you’re at a pub and it’s all free flow.
I can understand what the data is saying very quickly, and therefore get very good insights.
— George Lucas
“I’ve learned what to do in those situations. If I’m getting worried, I will just go quiet and listen a lot more than talk, which is quite acceptable in a lot of meetings. I’m very good at understanding the context, so that also helps me quite a lot.”
Still, during negotiations, tensions can sometimes escalate because Lucas has not understood when, perhaps, a counterpart is making a gentle, but veiled, threat.
He says starting Raiz has been “a bit of a godsend”.
Raiz is an online micro fintech that allows people to save their “loose change” and then invest their savings in exchange-traded funds of their choosing. It has about 400,000 active customers in Australia and employs 50 staff globally. Funds under management hit $1 billion late last year.
Lucas founded Raiz as the Australian incarnation of US micro-investor Acorns in 2016, before rebranding it in 2018.
Raiz “is computers, which I’m very good at”.
In addition, times have changed and marketing has moved from being a creative-driven field to data-driven.
“For me, that’s just a dream because I can see the data. I can understand what the data is saying very quickly, and therefore get very good insights.
“That’s one of the reasons why Raiz has the lowest cost of acquisition in the world for a wealth management financial services company. We have developed techniques that really utilise data off social media.”
The diagnosis was tough at first, but it has clearly helped.
“The diagnosis really just makes me more aware of the effect that I’m having on people. I’m quite happy with who I am. I don’t look back ever and regret anything.”
BOSS editor: Sally Patten edits BOSS, and writes about workplace issues. She was Financial Services of the Financial Review and Personal Finance editor of the AFR, Age and Sydney Morning Herald. She edited business news for The Times of London. Connect with Sally on Twitter. Email Sally at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Licensed by Copyright Agency. You must not copy this work without permission.”