So you want to be an FA? 10 tips from women in the industry

Gender diversity falls short in wealth management industry 9/13/19

ORLANDO — Getting more women interested in financial planning careers is a recurring topic at industry conferences and an ever-expanding initiative across investment firms, brokerages and custodians.

The numbers aren’t great. There are 44,513 financial advisors who are women — only a little over 14% of the profession, according to the latest Cerulli Associates data from year-end of 2017. What will give?

Awareness is a key hurdle, according to advisors, executives and operations officers who spoke with Financial Planning at Raymond James’ annual Women’s Symposium. Young women don't realize that financial planning is a profession, and there are misconceptions about what working on Wall Street entails, they say.

“When you say that someone's going to be a doctor or they're going to be a nurse, in your mind, you know exactly what that means, because every single person goes to a doctor. Every single person goes to a nurse,” says Jodi Perry, who leads the IBD division at Raymond James. “But when you start thinking about the financial industry, it means something different to every person.”

Educating young women about the financial services industry is happening too late, according to Lori Keith, portfolio manager of the Parnassus Mid Cap Fund. Even reaching out during college isn’t enough as many students have already picked their majors, she said on a panel at the conference.

“I think we've got to go earlier,” she said. “Maybe it's volunteering in a middle school — getting them early with the idea that they can do this job.”

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The stark figures show that only about one-sixth or fewer of the sector’s financial advisors are women.

While women in the industry are already investing time and resources into driving up interest in the field, young women still need to put in the legwork to become financial advisors and relate to clients.

“This is a hard industry to get into,” says Julia Reichard, an advisor at Dean & Masloff Financial Group, an RIA affiliated with Raymond James.

However, it does pay off, as it has for advisor Kayla Walter, who started working as a client service associate at SPC Financial in 2016 and is now a CFP and member of the firm’s financial planning team.

The advice she’s been given throughout: Stick with it, and it will be a great career path.

While women may be a minority in the field, they reiterate they’re here to help one another.

Here’s some of the advice women have for young women looking to get into the industry:

Get on a career path
“The hardest thing is getting on a track where you have consistent income,” says Sherri Stephens, president of Stephens Wealth Management Group in Flint, Michigan. “You want flexibility with families, some security of salary, benefits and no glass ceiling.”

Joining a team can help, and can be a great opportunity to find a mentor, Stephens says.

“If you work hard to make the right connections, I think you can go far,” she says.
Buy an advisor a cup of coffee
“Find 45 minutes with someone, and just have a good conversation,” says Reichard, the independent advisor at Dean & Masloff Financial Group in Charlottesville, Virginia. As an Air Force spouse, Reichard says she didn’t have the opportunity to meet with someone until later on in life and had no idea how to get into the field.

When she sat down with an advisor, she received clarity and direction for how to go about it.

“Find people who are willing to have a conversation with you and be ready to do whatever it takes,” she says.
Don’t be scared of ‘the math’
“It's not about the math — it's about the relationships and the differences that you can make in people's lives,” says Michelle Lynch, who has led the women’s network at Raymond James since 2015 and is now a division sales manager at the firm. “I think that's one of the biggest hurdles that we have.”
Start with a salary
Relying on commissions and cold calling at the beginning of a career can be stressful and offers little security, says Jill Carr, a CFP at Stephens Wealth Management.

“Start at a place where you can control your salary and work your way up,” she says. “The nice part of the business is that there is a lot of room to grow.”

Be comforted that it’s a good time to enter the industry, she says. There’s a lot of demand for women in the field.

“Women want to work with women advisors and there aren’t enough,” Carr says.
Get your credentials
“Do your research. Go to school. Get your credentials,” says Walter, the advisor at SPC Financial who earned her CFP this year. “It gives you a leg up,” she says.

Walter says financial planning classes will provide clarity as to whether or not this is the career you want to pursue.
Sit in on meetings at professional organizations
“I think the most important thing is to go to professional organizations and learn a little bit,” says Kathleen Miller of the eponymous firm in Kirkland, Washington, that custodies with Raymond James’ independent advisory division.

She recommended sitting in on meetings at the Financial Planning Association and checking out the career path resources at the CFP Board.
Realize you have choice
Not all women realize how many options there are in the financial industry and that it’s a flexible career path, says Renée Baker, who is head of Advisor Inclusion Networks at Raymond James.

“You have an opportunity to own your business. You have an opportunity to be able to navigate your life. You can be successful, you can have a family,” she says.
Get an internship
It’s important to see how an industry works before you jump into it — make sure you can handle it, says Rani Pemmarazu, who works in operations at SPC Financial.

Young women looking to enter the field need to get a feel for the business, she says. “They don’t know what the clients’ needs are, what kind of risk they can take, how they operate, how compliance works,” she says.

“Go get it, get a feel for it, and go from there,” she says.
Start at an established firm
It’s important to work at a place where you can focus on becoming a financial advisor, says Kim Waldman, who is the chief operations officer of Stephens Wealth Management Group. “Otherwise you have to learn how to run a business and how to be a financial advisor all at the same time.”

Internships are where you learn “a lot of the nuts and bolts of the job,” she says.
There are multiple opportunities within the field
“I always try to tell young women: There are all kinds of ways that you can be involved in this business,” says Jodi Perry of the IBD division at Raymond James.

For women who don’t want to give advice, there’s opportunities in marketing, management and sales, too.

“When I sit down and talk to young women, I just want them to understand how many different opportunities there are within the industry and try to overcome some of the stereotypes that our industry has unfortunately picked up,” she says.

It’s not about just picking a career, according to Perry.

“It's such a noble profession,” she says. “I think that your health and your financial well-being are the two most important things that any person has in their life, and without one or the other, your life gets very unstable.”