TV personality and personal finance journalist Carmen Wong Ulrich considered many options over the past year and a half as she explored the possibility of opening up her own financial planning firm.
“I had opportunities to go to really big firms,” Wong Ulrich, 40, says. “I only talked to people I knew for a long time.”
However, after getting an inside look at multiple different planning practices, she decided she wanted to build something new and different, and that she was drawn to “the power of being in an all-female shop.”
Her new firm, Alta Wealth Management, was “built on top of” the Manhattan-based firm, DeFrate & Paavola Wealth Management with more than $50 million in AUM. Diana DeFrate and Katrina Paavola, both 43-year-old CFPs, are cofounders of that firm and Wong Ulrich’s partners in Alta. In somewhat of an industry anomaly, Wong Ulrich has chosen to remain uncredentialed at the firm, in order to retain her career in the media.
Though sufficiently knowledgeable to earn a CFP certificate, Wong Ulrich says, doing so would restrict her ability as a journalist to freely voice her opinion about planning issues. CFPs are subject to restrictive compliance standards that, in her opinion, prevent planners from speaking extensively about their work. She prefers to remain “unmuzzled.”
“My thing is how do I build a business and continue to be in the media?” asks Wong Ulrich. “I can Tweet on my own through my own account. Diana and Katrina cannot.”
During her time hosting CNBC’s personal finance show Your Money, she says, she thoroughly enjoyed the process of working directly with people and their finances.
“I’m one of those people who loves to solve peoples’ problems,” she says. By running a firm, “not only am I solving peoples’ problems, I can instantaneously see results…. I really believe this is a transformative business. That’s what I’m in love with.”
Back in 2010, Financial Planning featured Wong Ulrich on the cover with a story she authored about the changing face of financial planners. In the piece she argued that more planners of color are needed to serve the growing ranks of wealthy minorities.
“There is no doubt that we need fresh, diverse talent,” she wrote. “The recession has been especially hard on wealth building in the African American and Hispanic communities, but it hasn’t erased the growth and advancement of both groups during the past decade.”
Wong Ulrich describes herself “proudly” Latina, close to the African-American community and a stepdaughter to an Asian step father. “So I represent a lot of minorities,” she says.
Her partner Paavola, a native of Finland, is also an MBA and former media professional. DeFrate, a former executive at Time Inc. and Primedia, is also a CPA and wine expert.
As a journalist, Ulrich Wong has an exceedingly wide platform, which has included serving as special projects editor for Money magazine and as a financial columnist for multiple publications including Good Housekeeping and Essence. She has appeared as a finance expert on shows including ABC’s The View, CBS’s This Morning, The Dr. Oz Show, Piers Morgan Tonight and The Rachel Ray Show, among others. She also has written two best-selling personal finance books. Her title at Alta is president and director of business development.
As of yet, the new firm’s website does not contain information about its advisory orientation or investment practices. However, Ulrich Wong says the practice is fee-based with no minimum AUM for new clients. A few days after opening up shop, she said six new clients had joined. Most were leaving wirehouse advisors, she says.
Ann Marsh writes for Financial Planning.