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Becky Walen first developed an interest in finance in fifth or sixth grade honors class when she was able to pick her own stock portfolios and watch how they did.
“At that age, Coke, Disney, Hershey’s, those all made great sense as long-term investments,” she said. “And honestly, if you were holding those stocks today, you’d be doing pretty well.”
Becky is now a Bell Bank vice president and senior wealth management advisor, who also has accredited financial counselor (AFC®) and certified financial planner (CFP®) certifications, but she didn’t start out pursuing a career in finance. For a while she worked as an insurance agent.
“I think maybe it wasn’t reinforced as much as other lines of work,” she said.
At Bell Bank Wealth Management, women hold key leadership positions and make up nearly 50 percent of the people working to advise clients about their finances. This includes financial advisors, Bell Investment representatives, trust officers and retirement relationship managers.
But nationwide, a shortage of women in financial services is something industry leaders are addressing. Women comprise 31 percent of U.S. financial advisors, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s despite high wages and a better-than-average projected growth rate of 30 percent from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate is 7 percent for all occupations, according to the department.
A study by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board), which sets and enforces requirements for CFP® certification, found that financial planning and CFP® certification are not at the top of women’s minds when they consider careers. The percentage of women with a CFP® certification has remained at 23 percent for at least a decade, the CFP® Board states.
Becky pursued a master’s degree and her CFP® and AFC® credentials to improve her marketability and employment prospects, she said.
“For those three years of work, I got the master’s degree and two certifications out of it, so that was very good for me,” she said.
The study also found women have misperceptions about the profession, their reluctance to take professional risks could be keeping them out of financial planning, and gender discrimination, which still exists in the industry, could be making women feel unwelcome and unsupported.
Tammy Wood was dissatisfied in her job in the health, fitness and nutrition industry when she took a job as an assistant at a large, national wealth management firm. It didn’t take long before she realized that’s what she wanted to do for a career.
“I saw the advisors helping people achieve financial stability, and I wanted to be able to help people like that,” she said. But it would be another 6½ years before she reached that goal, partly because she wanted to have children.
“That’s probably the hardest thing to overcome for a woman starting as a financial advisor,” Tammy said. “It’s all about relationship-building, so if you’re taking a 12-week maternity leave and not staying in touch with your clients, that’s a significant barrier. As a new mom, you want to be with your child and not think about work, so that’s one of the reasons I didn’t jump into the role before having children.”
Instead, she went back to school at night before she had children to get her master’s degree in business management. And she spent those 6½ years working as a registered assistant to five financial advisors, some of whom made a lifelong impression on her and helped shape who she is today and how she manages her client base.
“I was fortunate to have some of my advisors, who saw potential in me, take me under their wing and invest time in teaching me important fundamentals in what it takes to be a respected advisor,” she said.
Starting out, Tammy said it probably takes five to seven years to get established, and gender bias was an issue she had to face.
“You have to be your own advocate,” she said. “You have to be a self-starter, self-confident, with a great attitude. I always say attitude determines your altitude. You have to be very determined and driven.”
But once an advisor is established, Tammy said it’s a great field because it’s very rewarding. And, she said, a bank environment, which might not be commission-based as is the case at Bell Bank, is likely to be friendlier to women who want to have kids than a large brokerage firm.
Tammy is a CFP®-certified Bell Bank vice president and financial advisor, who has been in the industry for almost 20 years and has worked as a financial advisor for 14 years. She’s been with Bell since 2005.
“No matter if you’re male or female, you can do the job with the right skill set,” she said. “If you have the relationship skills, a good personality and you’re driven, it can be a very rewarding career.”
Becky started working in the financial services industry in the late 1990s. After moving to the Fargo area from the Twin Cities, she took a chance in applying for a wealth management position at a large national bank. She started as an investment associate – a position that supports a portfolio manager.
“This was a long time ago, but I remembered thinking how most of the portfolio managers were men, and most of the associates were women,” Becky said. She looked into it further and found out 95 percent of the portfolio managers were men, and 95 percent of the associates were women.
“I remember sending what I felt was a thoughtful and well-laid-out email to the human resources department and never got a response,” Becky said. “It was discouraging.”
There have also been a couple of situations where clients, typically in the older generation, would have preferred to see a man at the table than her, she said. But the discrepancy between men and women in financial services is lessening, Becky said, referencing the work the CFP Board is doing through its Women’s Initiative (WIN) to reduce what it calls the “feminine famine” in the financial planning profession.
“I think we’re getting to a turning point where it doesn’t matter who’s at the table as long as they’re doing the right thing,” Becky said.
Encouraging more women to become financial advisors and specifically CFP®-certified advisors will help the industry meet a growing need, said Kevin Keller, CFP® Board CEO, in a report.
“Our profession is growing rapidly as more consumers recognize the need for financial planning and the benefits of working with a CFP® professional,” he said. “But this need will go unmet unless the population of CFP® professionals more closely reflects the demographics of the public they serve.”
Mary Locken, senior vice president and Bell Bank Wealth Management’s trust division manager, said the wealth management industry as a whole needs to do more to encourage women, especially girls in junior high and high school, to look at financial job opportunities as a very desirable career path.
“There is significant potential for advancement within the various positions in the banking, estate planning and financial world,” she said.
It wasn’t until she was in law school in the early 1990s that Mary realized she wanted to work in trust and estate planning.
“It’s very challenging, rewarding, intriguing and highly gratifying to guide people through difficult and diverse matters to help them achieve a reasonable solution,” Mary said. “There’s a tremendous amount of job satisfaction with my position as a trust officer, and I deeply care about each and every client.”
Because of the challenges, she said it’s crucial to have a balance of men and women in the industry.
“We do bring different perspectives,” Mary said. “Sometimes people feel more comfortable talking about deep, personal, sensitive issues with women, and men tend to be more analytical – both are very important in the guidance and planning to meet the goals and needs of the client.”
And often in cases of divorce, Becky said women prefer to deal with female financial advisors.
Good relationship-building and communication – things women tend to be good at – are essential parts of the job, Mary said.
Communication skills are something Connie Schultz uses regularly as she teaches people about the benefits of a retirement plan. Connie, a Bell Bank vice president and retirement relationship manager, who is a qualified 401(k) administrator (QKA), certified retirement services professional (CRSP), and has a National Social Security Advisors (NSSA®) certification, works with companies to design their retirement plans and teach their employees about the plans.
“As a little girl, you don’t fantasize about growing up and working with 401(k) plans, but I love my job,” she said. “There is a lot of satisfaction in teaching people about the benefits of their retirement plan, and it is an employee benefit that can help companies recruit and retain qualified employees.”
Connie has worked in the industry for more than 20 years, eight of those at Bell. She often needs to take complex information and explain it in a way that’s easily understandable.
“Saving for retirement is very important, and if your company is willing to provide a means for you to easily save for your future, we want to communicate that message,” she said. “The rules and regulations with retirement plans are ever-changing, but that is one of the most interesting things about my role. I'm very appreciative of Bell Bank’s support and encouragement in the industry. Bell realizes the importance of credentialed members and continuing education.”
While it is still a male-dominated field, Connie said she is seeing a shift in more women working in financial services and the attitudes toward them. She once had a client who was used to working with men and was hesitant to work with her – at first.
“Toward the end he was an advocate,” she said, adding that it felt great to change his mind about women in financial services.
This article is from the October 2016 issue of the Bell Wealth Newsletter. Download the full issue or check out the newsletter archive.
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