In 1980, Lisa Allen had an impressive resume. She had just graduated with honors from Texas Tech University with a degree in marketing and a minor in math and was making her way through the interview mills at major corporations--but she wasn't having much luck.
In fact, she went through four rounds of interviews with IBM before they ended up hiring a man.
"I was very put off, and living in Dallas with my parents was not where I wanted to be," Allen says. So she took the best offer she could find--as "a glorified stock clerk" with a large retailer in San Antonio.
By 1983, Allen was burned-out on retail and looking for her next move when several of her friends encouraged her to look at the securities industry. She took their advice--and hasn't looked back since. From her first job with Underwood Newhouse Securities, then a regional brokerage firm based in Houston, to becoming a partner in her own firm, PlanningWork$ in Austin, Texas, Allen has built her career by taking the long view and focusing on the big picture--both for herself and for her clients.
In the late 1980s, while most of the industry was still focused on "churn-and-burn" equity trading, Allen was absorbing John Templeton's treatise on diversification and the value of discipline. She quickly became a true believer in the power of mutual funds, especially when it came to retirement planning and asset protection. The lessons hit home on October 19, 1987, when the markets took what was then their biggest dive since the Great Depression.
"I remember exactly where I was on that date," she says. "I was already using a managed-money approach, which was much better than having me try to pick equities and manage a portfolio while servicing a client base. But that experience so affected me that I went looking for a multidisciplinary approach."
She knew her clients needed more than just portfolio management. They needed someone they could trust to advise them about how their legal documents were structured and what impact their financial decisions would have on their taxes. They needed someone on their side who could take a holistic view, not only of their wealth but also of their family's values and long-term goals.
That's when she met Mikiel Featherston, a certified public accountant by training who had become a Certified Estate Planner and a Certified Retirement Specialist along the way. Joining forces to form PlanningWork$ in 1999, they come from different fields of financial planning to meet in the middle concerning client needs.
"He's more of an accountant, and I'm more the person who makes sure everyone is comfortable with what is going on," she says.
Together, they keep their clients focused on the big picture while guiding them through every aspect of their financial, estate and tax planning.
"We decided we didn't need an accountant on staff because it's very important to us that our clients have different, and unbiased, sets of eyes on their finances," Allen says. "We don't hold ourselves out to be attorneys, but we sure know how to read those legal documents."
Their target market is clients with at least $1 million in investable assets, but it should come as no surprise that a significant portion of their work is with women, particularly women between 55 and 70 years old. These are the women who have spent most of their lives relegated to minor roles, both professionally and personally, and want to put their finances into the hands of someone like Allen.
"I have clients who have worked with me for 20 years who wouldn't work with a man," she says. "They have been discriminated against for years. They were taught that they were supposed to be quiet and show up for the party."
Allen's focus is to make sure these women understand the power of knowledge, the scope of planning and the value of money, including how it can be used to replace lost wealth. Her goal is to help them lead a competent, comfortable life with or without a spouse helping them make decisions. In fact, neither Allen nor Featherston will meet with a husband if the wife isn't there too.
"We're really big on transition planning," Allen says. "So that if something should happen to the husband, the wife already [knows] what she needs to know."
This perspective is increasingly important as women are squeezed into the sandwich generation, suddenly taking care of themselves, their parents and their children.
"I'm not saying I can save the world," she says. "But I know I have this wonderful group of female clients who are going to be just fine."