An entrepreneurial spirit and a desire for work-life balance drew Terri Szego from a career in mining engineering to be an investment advisor and associate portfolio manager at BMO.

She took an interest in business at a young age and made the decision to go into mining engineering, noting financial outcomes are a driver of the discipline.

“A lot of it has to do with whether it makes economic sense to get the material out of the ground,” she says. “So there is a bit of business to it.”

But in 2003, she started exploring other career options, which led her to win a Women in Capital Markets Heather L. Main Memorial Scholarship. It included a paid summer internship that let her try out a job she’d been considering.

“I really wanted to try working on the trading floor. And it was tough to get a job on the trading floor as a summer student, so the scholarship really helped me with that,” she says. “It showed me that side of the business so I was able to compare it to what I knew about the investment advisor role.”

Szego did her homework and tried out several roles before finding the perfect fit as an associate portfolio manager. The flexible hours helped her balance family and work life; and also fulfilled her intellectual appetite for business while rewarding her entrepreneurial initiative.

Today she is part of the Szego Jones Team at BMO that her father, Bill Szego, started almost 40 years ago. She, along with her father and Doug Jones, both portfolio managers, manage $750 million in client assets.

Having just returned from a four-month maternity leave, Szego says it’s the team structure that allows them to manage such a large business while still having a flexible schedule. Although she took only half her maternity leave, she stresses she’s able to check out early and attend to family affairs, such as putting her two sons to bed.

Szego says sticking to a simple investment approach helps them manage a large client base. Their conservative investment approach generally includes investment products that are easier to understand, such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds. And the team of six provides sufficient coverage.

These days business development consumes approximately 40% of Szego’s time, but that wasn’t always the case. During the first three years she “worked her butt off” building a network of contacts.

Those contacts included people she’d met at previous jobs, her MBA program, her membership in Women in Capital Markets and Mining organizations. Each contact can be sent financial news e-mail blasts or invitations to events.

The contact base also let her launch a series of seminars called “What Every Woman Should Know” …that touched on various topics. Making the seminars exclusive to women creates a comfortable environment for them to discuss finances.

“The content isn’t all that different than an educational seminar for men, but what I find is that if you get ten women in a room together, they are a lot likely to ask questions and talk with each other,” says Szego. “Women can feel intimidated by men in the same room in an educational seminar because there is that perception that men might know a lot more and their questions may be considered silly.”

But, even in households where men primarily manage the finances, she says women sometimes choose the advisor.

“In a lot of cases I will start to work with the family and my contact becomes the husband,” Szego says. “So even though the introduction came through the wife, the ongoing relationship is with the husband and the wife is comfortable with me and knows that she’s in the loop.”

Doing a lot of business over the phone does present a challenge to asking for referrals, but Szego tries to offset this by actively talking about her business in various communities.

She notes the sales process can be long—up to three years—and sometimes she’ll find people whom she met at seminars or who were included in e-mail blasts inquire about her services. These connections can come years later after the initial contact is made. That being the case, she stresses it’s about keeping connected with people, and reminding them her business is still growing without being pushy—”so they’re not running away from you when they see you at a cocktail party.”

  • Rayann Huanga Toronto-based financial writer.

  • Originally published in Advisor's Edge