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When Kristine Douglas, a CFP with Investment Planning Counsel, first started her career in 2000, she had to contend with a ruthless market meltdown. So when her fi rst child was born two years later she didn’t have the luxury of a maternity leave. She was back at work three days later—her recession-ravaged clients needed more handholding than her baby girl.

But the unconditional—and yes, unconventional—support from the two men in her life made sure she could do that without breaking down.

Her husband, Steve, a buyer with Sears, became the fi rst male in upper management to ever take parental leave. He took nine months off, extended that by another 12, and fi nally realized this is the way it was going to be. So he gave up his job and became Mr. Mom.

Douglas’s father pitched in too. He handled some of her clients to allow her more fl exibility. The good part was he already had long-standing relationships with most of them. A fi nancial advisor for 20 years, Douglas’s father sold her his book of business after she had worked with him for almost seven years.

Three years ago, Douglas had another baby girl.

“I wanted to be close to my kids, but needed to separate motherhood and practice,” Douglas says. To make that possible she converted part of her house into an offi ce. It took some discipline and ingenuity to keep the setup looking businesslike—the front half of the house was thoroughly soundproofed. “This arrangement allowed me to nurse both kids for a year each. It would have been impossible if I had my practice outside home,” she says.

But with business growing— and her girls getting noisier—last November, Douglas moved into an of- fi ce space that’s three minutes by foot from her house. “With a home offi ce, you need to keep the house looking very professional. Can’t have toys and strollers across the front yard.”

Even now, Douglas is able to pick up her kids from school, and come home for lunch. “In all this doom and gloom, some of us are happy,” she beams.

To other aspiring mothers juggling kids and clients, Douglas’s advice is: “Set up your plan well in advance, and then fi gure out how you want to achieve it.” When she joined the business she spent her initial years fast-tracking the CFP and insurance exams. “I took a lot of courses to the run-up of my fi rst pregnancy. I made sure I got one stress out of the way,” she says.

Meanwhile, Rosy Sandhu, an Edward Jones advisor who’s expecting her fi rst baby this June is still trying to fi gure out how much time she’ll need to take off. “It’s an independent decision. I’ll opt for one year and then depending on the circumstances and the baby, I’ll come back as soon as I’m ready to start—in six months, maybe eight.”

But for the time she’s gone, her firm has created an entire transition program, where another licensed Edward Jones advisor will serve the immediate needs of her clients. Further, Edward Jones has made it clear they want her back—her office, and more importantly her clients, will be waiting for her.

According to Veronica Ding, head of HR at Edward Jones Canada, the fi rm has a clear maternity leave policy, which allows the fl exibility of taking a full 18 weeks, in which case new mothers can avail EI, which after it is topped up by Edward Jones, allows them to receive 55% of the last six months’ average commission earnings until they return to work.

In the interim, a fully licensed transitional fi nancial advisor takes care of clients; and Edward Jones has a whole team of such advisors. While the stopgap advisor is free to welcome any new business, he or she is not required to actively prospect.

“The transitional advisor doesn’t take over in a competitive capacity, just to provide continuity,” Ding notes.

If, on the other hand, an expectant mother chooses not to take the full 18 weeks, and would rather maintain flexible hours after childbirth, she’s allowed to do so. In such cases, a branch office administrator (BOA) takes care of all non-licensed client issues and the advisor comes in to deal with licence-required business. This lets the advisor pocket 100% of commissions.

Ding credits the fact that nearly all of Edward Jones’s women advisors come back after maternity leave to this high level of fl exibility. “We are not clocking the hours; it’s totally performance and client service-based,” she says.

Mother To Be
In preparation for her maternity leave starting late May, Sandhu is holding lots of client reviews to prepare for the transition. She also plans to send a mailer, and personally call them. “As long as they know they’ll be taken care of they’ll be fi ne,” she says.

As with all expectant working mothers, Sandhu has her apprehensions. “I keep wondering how it would be when I get back.” With only a year in the business, Sandhu expects it will be like starting over. “Some of the prospects in my system will dry out on me,” she says. “When I return I’ll have to do a lot more prospecting; a lot more door knocking.”

Meanwhile, she’s making sure her bookkeeping and notes are all up-todate. “In this business, it’s your own effort, your own initiative. No one really tells you what to do or how to do things,” she says.

Kathleen Peace, CFA, CFP, Bennett March, IPC Investment Corp., has already started her maternity leave. Her little boy, Marshall, was born three months ago, and her schedule, she says, is very open these days.

She does, however, still see clients when needed. She plans to entrust her kid to a nanny, and come back to work full-time in September. And, Peace will continue attending monthly offi ce meetings throughout summer. “It’s diffi cult to be out of the picture for a whole year,” she says.

She adds her clients are totally cool with her going on maternity leave. “I started preparing them as soon as I was four months pregnant. I made sure they knew exactly who they’d need to call or contact.”

Calling for Backup
While women such as Douglas, Peace and Sandhu have backing from their families, staff and employers, there are others who might not have those kinds of options. That’s where Kristina Pearce steps in. She offers expecting advisors a stopgap financial planner to cover for them while they’re gone.

Pearce runs Workharmony, an employment solutions company, which offers non-traditional employment opportunities. It also provides employers access to an untapped talent pool of experienced professionals who are available to work on an as-needed basis and fill business gaps with contract, project work, and part-time employment solutions.

A former investment analyst with the Banc of America Securities Equity Research team in San Francisco, Pearce was at one time clocking 60 to 80 hours a week. So when her first child was born she didn’t have any choice but to resign. “It was all black and white,” she says. She re-entered the job market as an investment analyst at a large Canadabased hedge fund.

The birth of her second daughter made her shift her focus yet again, but it also sowed the seeds of her new venture, Workharmony. “Professional women are constantly having to make a choice. If I had the option to step back a bit, I would have been all over that,” Pearce says. “Flexible options are a winwin for both the industry and the candidates.”

Her company’s database currently has more than 1,000 candidates (a 70 to 30, women to men ratio)—with at least 20 CFPs, and many more CFAs.

Besides helping those seeking reduced work hours, her business allows employers to get seasoned, senior talent seeking flexible work hours for much less than they’d spend on full-time staff, and on a flexible basis. “You can hire a rock star for a three-day-a-week schedule. The industry didn’t realize there’s this whole group of professionals willing to work in exchange for more flexibility and better work-life balance.”

Her business seems to have taken off during the recession—everybody’s a lot more cost-conscious and while companies may have lost head count there’s still plenty of work to be done. “The downturn seems to have increased the currency for flexibility,” Pearce says. “Companies get talent in a way that’s right for them, and the talent gets to stay in the workforce on their own terms.”

For her part, Kathleen Peace says she’s looking to buy her book from Bennett March by early 2010, and the branch staff is willing to back her up through her maternity leave, and until she buys the book.

“I have a branch manager who has good tax knowledge and knows how the system works; besides, the clients know him. If there is some heavy-duty planning, I’ll step in,” she says.

And that, she says, is the beauty of this profession. It allows a lot of flexibility and most clients these days are busy and prefer to talk over the phone or communicate via e-mail.

“Now,” says Peace, “if we didn’t have e-mail, it would be a different story.”

Originally published in Advisor's Edge