The paths women take to success in the advisory business are as diverse as the individuals themselves. Striking the right balance between work and family life is hard, but not impossible.
The women we spoke with consistently praised the flexibility of the financial industry—noting its client-centric nature lets them break free of rigid working hours, and that the practice of planning lets them better mingle their personal and work lives. Indeed, for these women, careers in fi nance offer the perfect blend of opportunity and equilibrium.
Deanne Gage | Welcome Ladies! To break the ice, let’s talk about our humble beginnings in the business.
Lenore Davis | I started with Mutual Life of Canada as a life insurance and disability insurance salesperson. The company was recruiting fi nancial planners and I liked the idea of being a fi nancial planner because I was a teacher and had done a lot of fi nancial work. Well, it was a bit of a surprise to me that the way to become a fi nancial planner was to sell life insurance.
MaryAnn Kokan-Nyhof | I was recruited as an agent to Investors Group, not unlike Lenore’s experience. I spent three-and-a-half years with them and then made a change over to Rice Financial Group.
Kathleen Wronski | I was at business school and liked fi – nance the best of all my business courses, so when Nesbitt Thompson came to our school looking for recruits in their account executive fi eld, it just clicked. Nesbitt Thompson kept morphing and changing its name. I was there for 22 years and when I left, the company was BMO Nesbitt Burns.
Deanne | How did you build your businesses?
Kathleen | I would call up a number of community centres, churches, different groups, and I would give seminars on fi nances. I did fl yers to affl uent neighbourhoods. Cold calling, of course, was the preferred method.
MaryAnn | I had an almost identical experience—fl yers, seminars and cold calling. My goal was 100 phone calls a day. I just kept calling, I spent hours and hours. I made my calls and appointments and it was the usual 10/3/1 ratio—10 calls, three appointments, one sale type of thing—and that was mostly how I built my book. In the late 1990s, we were getting into a strong bull market and I think people were more receptive to hearing from you than they would be in today’s environment.
Lenore | The story’s the same no matter what. Certainly if it’s a sales-oriented business you’re in, you’ve got to do the numbers and that’s what I had to do when I was at Mutual Life—cold calling; and I found door knocking useful too. I went into neighbourhoods that I thought were receptive, knocked and introduced myself and dropped off a card saying, ‘Sometime you might want to give me a call.’ I was a soft kind of salesperson. But you have to do it, even today.
Deanne | What are effective strategies for building a business today?
Lenore | I don’t think it changes. You have to be committed to some sort of prospecting program if you want to be successful. Anyone who didn’t succeed in the early stages, it was usually because they just couldn’t bring themselves to prospect at the level that’s necessary to get the numbers up.
Deanne | Do any of you have children?
Lenore | No.
MaryAnn | I have four.
Kathleen | I have two boys.
Deanne | Especially for younger women advisors, what tips do you have for maximizing family time while continuing to grow a successful practice?
Kathleen | Make your family a priority. After my fi rst son was born, I said to my work-mates, my branch manager and my clients, ‘I’m only working four days a week; I will spend Fridays at home with my son.’ And no one had any problem whatsoever with that. If you’re going to do more of [one thing], you have to do less of something else, so I hired extra help at the offi ce. That’s when I brought on a business partner and made sure my sales associate had all of the necessary licences.
Now that the boys are 12 and 15, I work fi ve days a week. I could be home, but no one else would be there with me! I’m there to show them out the door in the morning and then three days a week, I come home by 5 p.m. to make dinner and two days a week, my husband is home by 5 p.m. to make dinner.
MaryAnn | My kids are 15, 12, 10 and six. I’m fortunate I have a spouse who is 100% committed to the family. We agreed a long time ago that we needed a parent at home and he’s our parent at home. As a mom, it’s painful because when they hurt themselves they run to dad and there’s always this inner struggle and guilt going on.
I started this business after my third child. I had to juggle the demands of an infant with the demands of training. It was an interesting challenge for me personally. At that time, my income was the only one we had, so I had to put a lot of hours in at the offi ce and my family didn’t get the best out of me in those early years.
There were lots of days when they didn’t see me leave in the morning and they didn’t see me come home at night. But that’s what I had to do to get going and that’s how it had to be. To be successful, you have to put the time in at the front end and you can enjoy some of the fl exibility at the back end. In recent years, I’ve had much more fl exibility in terms of time during the summer with my kids. It’s all a balance.
Lenore | It isn’t always about kids and family, sometimes it’s also about balancing other activities that are near and dear to your heart. What I do is make a commitment to working fi ve days a week in the winter and three-and-a-half days a week in the summer. And that’s where I get my work/life balance, because I’m passionate about playing golf and in Victoria, golf season starts as soon as income tax season ends and goes to the end of September.
Deanne | Was work/life balance always important to you?
Lenore | Yes.
Kathleen | No, not in the beginning. I got out of business school and I wanted to make a success in this career more than anything else. I was young; I didn’t have any responsibilities; and so I actually worked quite a bit. There was seeing clients or prospects at night and people on the weekend, which I did quite cheerfully. It was only with the birth of my fi rst son that things had to change.
MaryAnn | Prior to being married with children, I was a workaholic. My day was work and my night was work; that’s all I did. I have the personality where everything I do is 110%. So I have to consciously, all the time, decide the balance because I go out of balance very easily. I can be so focused on family and kids and home that I don’t want to go back to work, and the opposite happens too. I get so focused and intense because that’s my personality.
Deanne | How do you manage your time efficiently?
Lenore | I have made a commitment to my retainer and fullservice clients that I will respond to them within 24 hours. Not necessarily solve their problem within that time but respond to them with a time frame of when I can solve the problem. Sometimes there’s lots of time in my life and sometimes there are lots of projects that need to be done in a short period of time, so managing time effi ciently is a question of really examining priorities. Those people who pay me on an annual retainer basis know they have priority and that makes it worthwhile to them to subscribe to the program.
Kathleen | I have lots of lists. I have my list for [each] day, what’s a priority and the sort of things that I get to if I can, and then the longerrange projects. Lists absolutely help me prioritize what I need to do; and the other is just having a very good team. I have two team members: My business partner and our technology and sales associate, and we’re pretty good about who does what—I try to get off my desk anything that should be on the administrative side and my associates need to handle. In terms of fi nancial planning, my business partner does that particular aspect so we try to be fairly clear about who will do what. On Mondays, we have morning meetings to determine what has been accomplished, what needs to be accomplished and what we will be doing for the week, just to make sure we’re on track with one another and nothing gets missed.
Deanne | What are you telling clients in these markets?
Kathleen | When I have review meetings, the fi rst thing is literally acknowledging someone’s pain. I’m in this business to grow people’s money. I have not grown people’s money over the last year. We go through the portfolio from the asset mix and literally go through detail by detail of what they own, why they own it, and where they are today. We do the basics: We look at the long-term charts; and we talk about the fact that this has been the worst year in the last 100 years. This is just like the high markets of 2000 when things were crazy on the upside; this is our fl ipside. We need to put it into perspective of where we are. We need to be comfortable with what we own. And there are some adjustments we need to make in terms of being comfortable about where the cash fl ow is. Sometimes I literally ask: ‘Where do we need to go to make you comfortable?’ We hold a lot of hands, including our own sometimes.
Lenore | That’s an interesting phrase: Where do we need to go to make you comfortable? That’s really been the focus with my clients. Remember, we’re the strategists—we start with sitting down with the client and revisiting the overall plan, the strategy, and what they were planning on spending over the next fi ve or 10 years. And if our plan is properly designed, right now they should be spending the reserve of fi xed income money that we planned to spend— the fi ve years’ worth of money—and looking at their priorities.
So how does all of this affect the longevity of the plan? We’ve been doing a lot of counselling, which is a major part of our work, and talking about our spending habits. We’re asking them to sort through their needs and wants. We’re trying to hold their hands and asking them to be patient because we’ve seen this before. We try to show the pictures going back to 2000 and 1987 and 1973. We show how we’re in a good position to hold on; we just have to believe nothing fundamental has changed in human nature and we’ll pull out of it.
MaryAnn | There’s counselling and reviewing of current spending habits. If a person’s in retirement and drawing on his or her income, and relying on investments for that income, the discussion is around the money that’s in the fixed income that is being drawn upon sooner and faster than they thought it would be. We look at what their needs are for the next few years and make adjustments as needed and revisit. Revisiting history always helps.
Deanne | What was your biggest mistake professionally?
Lenore | Staying in product sales for as long as I did and not moving into fee-only strategic planning earlier. The biggest challenge was finding a way to approach clients without compromising my internal ethics in terms of how I wanted to do business—I think I’m still working on this. I’m gradually getting stronger in my belief that what I offer is very valuable to people and if I had a stronger belief earlier, I would have moved to the fee-only platform prior to 1998.
MaryAnn | In the early years, I was permitted to put on public informational seminars. But I didn’t have the type of knowledge I should have had to conduct those seminars and ended up giving out incomplete information and advice. Who was I? I was someone who had taken a course for two weeks. It shouldn’t have been allowed. I overcame it by gaining more knowledge and experience. I got my CFP designation and evolved into a professional financial planner.
Deanne | What frustrates you about the business?
Kathleen | The scam artists who are coming out of the woodwork. I’m embarrassed for my business right at this moment. I know many people are honest, conscientious, they do the best for their clients, and then we hear about people like Mr. Madoff. It really casts a terrible light on our business and I find that very frustrating and embarrassing. There are some criminal people out there who have hurt the public very greatly and cast a bad light on all of us.
Lenore | The lack of transparency on a lot of advertising. You don’t know what it is a lot of the time. Is it a product or is it a process that is being sold? It’s frustrating trying to explain to clients that when they see an ad that claims 15% annual returns over the last 15 years, it’s just a good tagline; it’s not what they can expect.
Deanne | How, if at all, is it different being a woman in the business?
MaryAnn | I find it funny, when I go to a professional event and I’m one of a small percentage of women in the room. But there’s no wage disparity. We all have the opportunity to earn as much income, whether we’re male or female in this profession.
Kathleen | At my firm, our CEO is a woman and we have a lot of women advisors who either head or co-head their teams and so, it’s very evenly distributed. For whatever reason, we are definitely gender-balanced. I haven’t found being a woman all that different other than the fact that I don’t play golf. That’s the only time I’ve ever felt excluded from things.
Lenore | I refuse to do business on the golf course, which drives my male counterparts crazy. I say, ‘We’re playing golf, this is relaxation, let’s relax!’ I’m with Kathleen, I haven’t felt there are any major barriers to being a woman in this business. I don’t believe financial planning, as a practice, has anything to do with gender. It has to do with financial choices. And we all have choices.
Deanne | Is it easier for a woman to relay financial planning concepts than a man?
Lenore | No, I don’t think it matters. If someone is concerned about getting their financial planning act together, they will relate and they’ll get where they need to go.