What are the most valuable skills for an investment advisor?
Elizabeth’s note: RIABiz covered Dorie Rosenband’s breakaway story last year. In the months since, we’ve kept in touch. This piece grew out of our conversations about women RIAs.
It’s easy to talk about women’s initiatives (as Rosenband notes toward the end of her piece). It is still an unequal world for women, but changing the deep-rooted attitudes that maintain the inequalities requires an honest discussion about much more complicated issues. (See: Should men control retirement accounts? ERISA rules say yes.) For instance, why is it that in business, the skills traditionally seen as masculine are valued more highly than those traditionally seen as feminine? Rosenband asked just that question on her road to becoming an RIA — and her answer is truly empowering.
An unlikely resource
In a meeting not long ago, a well-intended 60ish CPA tried to help me by imparting his wisdom about ways to attract new clients. In a “this is how it’s done” type of meeting, he shared his point of view about how to best support women of a certain age whose husbands have passed away. He spoke about his views on how to provide guidance on the financial and emotional complexities that are now their reality.
As I sat there listening, taking copious notes, my head nodding, I realized this must be just how my clients feel when sitting in this seat. It’s like you are on the outside of yourself observing as you participate in an exchange that feels completely wrong, but are going along with it as though it is one of the best conversations you’ve ever had. Considering that the women that end up becoming my clients were often in marriages where finances were handled by well-intended men, a man of this generation with the insight to crack the nut on redefining financial relationships for women seems — well, a resource I’m unlikely to find.
This experience took me back to my life in a big brokerage, before I became the owner of my own firm. That familiar, dreaded, patted-on-the-head feeling came back to me.
Too often, I was approached by male brokers, much older than me, who felt it would be a perfect match for me to fold my business into theirs and work on growing their firms, in exchange for a cut only slightly above my wirehouse payout at the time. Somehow, I couldn’t see how that was better for me. It seemed that in their minds, simply having a woman advisor in their firm instantly gave them a point of differentiation along with a way to overcome the hurdle of relating to the wives and daughters of their existing male clients. To them, investment acumen ranked highest in skill set over the softer relationship skills that — in my experience — define our ability to genuinely serve clients.
'You can’t do this all by yourself’
While this attitude wasn’t as prevalent in the RIA community, I encountered it there, too
I had no trouble getting meetings with owners of established independent firms who often were seeking to add a female advisor as a part of their marketing plan. When I asked them why I shouldn’t consider going out on my own, their answers varied from being too young, too busy with my family obligations (I had a 6-month-old at the time … guessing none of these guys ever had kids), too hard to do all of the work on your own and other variations on this theme… all but saying “too female.”
One firm I met with went so far as to say “you know… you can’t do this all by yourself.” I kept wondering why I couldn’t chose the same path other brave entrepreneurs decided to go down – how was I so different from them? In reality, I have learned that I am different, and this has turned out to be a very good thing.
I started to see the possibilities when I first met Andrew Magnus, who would become my business development officer at Schwab Advisor Services. Not only did Andrew take me very seriously, he continued to be a true partner from the day I shared my aspirations of establishing an independent advisory firm. This was my first taste of life in the RIA world. My choice has been confirmed in the two years since I made the change to business owner, independent advisor, and successful entrepreneur. Given how well suited many women are for this work complimented by the flexibility this career choice can offer, it is such a shame that more women aren’t drawn to choose this path.
Seen and heard
Despite my initial interactions with owners of RIAs, my experience as someone who established her own RIA is that in the community of RIAs and the vendors that support them, a genuine interest in the advisory business prevails. Companies are not tasked with specific “women’s initiatives,” mostly because there is no historic legacy of injustice and inequality for women to overcome. This is a place where women and men can work together as colleagues and respected professional peers.
There are times in life when the grass can be greener. I found that out by becoming an RIA. In the brokerage world, I often felt seen and not heard. As the founder of an RIA, I continue to affirm that being exactly who I am is not only okay, it is the best way to be.