She's not a numbers person, unlike many financial advisors. What's fascinating instead to 24-year wirehouse veteran Susan McCarthy is the emotional relationship clients have with their money.
So fascinating that the advisor has written an entire book about the tangly intertwine between emotions and our means of exchange. Rather than put aside emotions, McCarthy wants people to analyze and realize exactly how they feel about money. It's the route to greater wealth and financial security, she writes in The Value of Money (Tarcher/Penguin-2008).
"We think hardest about our money when we have to make some of our biggest decisions in life. So it's unrealistic to say that you have to be detached. Whatever emotions you see played out on the stage of money are probably being played out on other stages as well," says McCarthy, who heads The McCarthy Hall Group of Wachovia Securities, in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Named by Barron's as one of the "Top 100 Women Financial Advisors" in the country, in 2006, McCarthy, 58, joined Wachovia at the beginning of last year from Morgan Stanley, where she began as a trainee during the firm's Dean Witter days.
She serves a variety of clients that include a global non-profit organization, family foundations, school systems and high-net-worth individuals. Soft-spoken, McCarthy combines investment smarts with deep insight about the psychological baggage that lumber many, if not most, where money is concerned.
Awareness of what money means emotionally "helps us recommend an investing strategy that will accommodate not just what the client needs financially but also what he or she needs emotionally."
Together for a decade now, McCarthy, partner Gregory L. Hall and registered assistant Linda L. Parker work as a cohesive team with each client. The Group manages about $170 million in assets.
In her book, McCarthy dissects seven basic types of relationships folks have with money, including: "Money Is King" ("Money trumps everything else."), "Little Lamb" ("I'll think about it tomorrow!"), "I'll Pick Up the Bill If..." ("Money is a weapon."), "Wolf Never Leaves My Door" ("There can never be enough because there will always be danger."), and "Spread the Joy" ("...using money with generosity and compassion.").
McCarthy herself admits to having had a bit of the "Wolf Never Leaves My Door" in her. But, she says, "It didn't make sense. I help people secure their financial future. So why should I have been fearful of mine? I began to experiment with a more expansive attitude -- and I changed."
One of her strong points is relating to each retail client as a multi-dimensional individual -- with emotions.
"Susan understands people's emotions and what an important role they play in helping to reach financial goals," says Sam Dickson, Wachovia's market manager for Oklahoma. "She has a very good sense of reading people when their words sometimes say one thing but their body language says something else. She can interpret what the client wants when they themselves can't even describe what they need."
Before becoming an FA, McCarthy was a college professor of French language and literature for seven years. She loved French, but the prospect of long-term teaching didn't inspire her. When a close friend left academia to join a regional brokerage, she got an earful about financial services. And she loved what she heard.
"My friend talked about how she was building her business; it sounded quite interesting. When I was growing up, my father liked investing and was good at it. So based on those two [people's influences], I said, 'I think I'll become a stockbroker!' I took the leap and never looked back."
Starting out in 1984 as a Dean Witter sole practitioner, she became increasingly absorbed in the true-life stories clients brought to her door.
"Rarely does a client come to us unless there's something going on, [such as] a big transition. So advisors find out about their children, their health..." she says. "It's not uncommon for us to know that someone is going to file for divorce before their spouse does."
Because of that confidential FA-client relationship, McCarthy focuses on the soulful side of the business as well as the money side. "Leading with the heart makes you more valuable to the client and a better advisor," she says.
Cleveland-born and -bred, McCarthy got the first hint of the strong link between money and emotions as a young child.
"If they wanted something, my older brother and sister used to ask me to cry for my dad. He had a little bit of a soft touch for the youngest one!" she says, with a laugh.
Moving on, McCarthy earned both a PhD and master of arts in French language and literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison after receiving a bachelor of arts degree from Marygrove College in Detroit. She taught at Hope College, in Holland, Mich., and later at Oklahoma State University.
The divorced mother of two nowadays considers money to be "just plain fun." "I like to watch money move around the globe," she says. "I like to watch money make money."
But, she stresses, money is simply a tool; it has no intrinsic power. "When people consider emotions and money, they automatically think negative things -- like greed and jealousy. But what I've seen in all these years is that money tempts us to good every bit as much as it does to evil."
Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.