What I Wish I Knew at the Start of My Career: Insights from Successful Women CFP® Professionals
While the world is experiencing an unprecedented disruption as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, financial planners around the globe are leaning in to support their clients and their communities during these trying times.
More and more, those planners are women. Recently, it was Women’s History Month; and the month before that, CFP Board announced that the number of female CFP® professionals had grown above 20,000 for the first time.
In commemoration and acknowledgement of the pioneering women in the financial planning profession who helped reach this milestone, several of our female CFP Board Ambassadors offered wisdom about what they wish they knew at the beginning of their careers.
Investors are drawn to advisors who can relate and share experiences with them, which is why it’s increasingly vital to diversify the ranks for CFP® professionals across the country, according to Marguerita Cheng, CFP®, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth.
“Even though I didn't necessarily look like most everyone else in the profession, I wish I realized then the power of being able to connect with someone who shares my background,” says Cheng.
“There are many people from different walks of life who could benefit from the services provided by a financial planner. And the personality traits that might appeal to one person or demographic, may not resonate quite as well with women or people of color.”
Jeanne Fisher, CFP®, CPFA, with Strategic Retirement Partners, says that women have a distinct edge. “Being a woman can be an advantage – not a disadvantage. Embrace it! Don’t try to ‘fit in with the guys.’ Our different approach, and the fact that we are naturally more empathetic, works in our favor.”
Women also provide a different view of the financial advice model, making them an attractive asset to firms, according to Elaine King, CFP®, founder of the Family & Money Matters Institute.
“Women tend to look at financial planning very holistically, which is why I was put in charge of launching the Success Stories campaign at one of my former employers. In this campaign rather than focus on how much we brought in for the client, we placed emphasis on the client, where they were in their life and how we [the firm] helped them achieve their personal, professional and financial goals.”
Lynn Ballou, CFP®, senior vice president and partner with EP Wealth Advisors, says that when she entered the financial advice field, she was not prepared for how underserved and under-represented women actually were at the time.
“As an advisor, seeing some of the most brilliant women I knew abdicating complete control and awareness about their financial situation to their husbands, was and still remains shocking to me.”
Relationships Matter: Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself and Show Empathy
“I wish there were people at the beginning who wouldn't dismiss the power of empathy,” Cheng says, speaking of the influence of the traditional sales model in her early career and how it overlooked empathy.
“Obviously, you need to be financially sharp. But when I was first starting out in my career, I felt like I was led to believe that I was deficient because I wasn't the best salesperson. Maybe I’m not the most aggressive salesperson, but if I really understand my clients and build those relationships with them, my client base will be more sustainable and grow more naturally because my retention will be higher.”
Laura LaTourette, CFP®, founder of Family Wealth Management Group, encourages her younger self to be authentic and genuine, which she believes leads one to the clients who are attracted to you and the business you want to lead.
“You don’t have to be someone who is more or different than who you are,” says LaTourette, referring to some of the pressures female financial planners often feel when working under certain sales programs. “I know now that I bring people into my practice and my business because they like me for who I am.”
“Our [women’s] motivation for generating new business is often driven by the heart,” she says, citing her own experience.
“Perhaps that's where we get into trouble sometimes because rather than pushing to make that extra dollar, we're pushing to build that relationship – maybe sometimes that dollar comes next. But the sustainability of our business models, the empathy we bring to our clients and the ability to become an extension of their family is a major strength.”
Creating Your Own Firm and Finding Your Niche
Burnout is a big problem for women in the financial planning profession, says LaTourette. As female financial planners grow in their careers and lives, they undertake an exhausting juggling act with their businesses and families.While some are inclined to drop out when the dual stresses become too high, LaTourette hopes more people recognize the wide variety of ways one can structure a financial planning practice.
“I wish I knew when I was starting out that you can design your practice to be around who you are and what your lifestyle is, rather than having your life be structured around your practice.”
LaTourette, who started her own practice in 1998 after working in the field for more than a decade, says, speaking generally, that the model of women-owned and led firms is inclusive and centered around family.
“We are still taking the kids to school and making lunches. We’re still doing a lot of the things that are nurturing to our families as well as our clients. We become natural advocates for where they have strengths and where they need education and guidance. We’re not mothers to our clients, but we do act motherly.”
Fisher encourages women to decide early on in their careers whether to be a business owner or an employee.
“These are two very different routes in the financial planning space. Moving from one to the other can be challenging for obvious reasons,” she says.
Fisher is also quick to point out that CFP® professionals know a lot about everything, so it’s important to differentiate yourself by finding your niche.
Ballou recounts that while many men in the 1980s were consistently supportive of female colleagues, there was still a culture of needing to conform to standards defined by men, and growth opportunities for women were limited by a glass ceiling. She is quick to note that that sort of culture has largely and thankfully been upended.
She recalls one of her colleagues whose now defunct financial services company required she wear only skirts hemmed at a certain distance above her knee, with her hair in a certain style. Not complying meant losing the job.
It was in this atmosphere, after initially working for an established planning firm for a few years, that Ballou opened her own tax and financial planning firm in 1986. She realized that in order to have the freedom to do the work she loved in an atmosphere she felt good about, she would need to find her own path.
Eventually a good friend and colleague, a woman, joined her as a partner. They became a dedicated comprehensive private wealth management firm focusing on women’s planning needs.
“Clearly there was a need, a niche, and we were considered pioneers by having a woman focused practice, becoming successful in fulfilling that need for women and their families. I didn’t see the defining moment this was until years later – I wish I had. I think I could have been more focused on the issues and the need earlier and been more impactful.”
King credits Ballou and LaTourette as essential predecessors in the financial advice industry.
“I am the benefactor of a generation of women who came before me in this profession who opened doors for me that I would otherwise may not have the option to step through.”
This generation of women paved the way for her to open her own firm, which focuses on providing financial advice as well as financial education and training for children and spouses.
“Finding this niche was incredibly important for me and provided me a career path after I chose to leave the corporate world. It doesn’t have to be hyper technical or arcane. I did a post-graduate program on family affairs because it was something I was passionate about, but it also offered me additional expertise to bring financial planning to families who needed it.”