From the September 2008 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Top AIG Advisors Share Their Secrets of Success

(CHICAGO) The AIG Advisor Group hosted "Why Women Are Winning," a female-advisor event at the Ritz-Carlton from July 13-15. The event drew some 100 advisors and a good number of sponsors. And it highlighted the success stories of top AIG FAs, including (above, left to right) Carter Leinster, Patricia Kummer and Alexandra Armstrong.

Armstrong leads Armstrong, Fleming & Moore, a practice affiliated with FSC Securities Corporation and based in Washington, D.C. It has 15 full-time employees. "I am really into delegation and delegate as much as possible to make my life easier," she says.

The group has about $1 billion in assets under management, with Armstrong's AUM at $650 million.

Her high-net-worth practice caters to both married couples and single women, since Washington D.C. has the highest percentages of working women of any city in the United States, she says.

Armstrong's main marketing techniques are to do book and article writing, as well as to serve on non-profit boards and make charitable donations. She's active in the Foundation for Financial Planning and the Boy Scouts, for instance, and in the Financial Planning Association.

As part of her group's succession planning, Armstrong has sold 15 percent of the practice to a partner who's been with the firm eight years. She attributes her success to staying physically active, taking regular vacations, and hiring good people and rewarding them.

One of her latest strategies has been to offer employees a four-day work week to help them cut down on transportation expenses. "People are ecstatic about this," she says.

In addition to succession planning, the firm is dealing with aging clients who may forget appointments or make repeated calls for the same information. "This is an issue that we should all be aware of and could become more of an issue and even a liability for us," she notes.

Kummer leads Kummer Financial Strategies, a fee-based practice affiliated with AIG Financial Advisors and located in Highlands Ranch, Colo. The firm has over $120 million in AUM and recently hired a chief compliance officer. "We work with engineers," she says. "And we love working with engineers," who work for Denver-area employers like Lockheed Martin, Quest Software and other firms.

Some clients carefully review the custom-designed software used by Kummer. "This really keeps us on our toes," she notes.

Kummer writes a weekly finance column for the local paper and is getting a writer on board to boost her website content. "We're excited about this and think the Internet is going to be the future. It will also help us keep marketing costs down."

"Our main challenge is hiring planners in a non-commission world," she says.

In terms of how women operate financial-planning practices, Kummer notes that, "It seems that we are all very individual in what we do, which makes it so interesting. We are all so different vs. the stereotype of what a female CFP might be.

"I would encourage all of you to expand on the talent you have and make yours an individual practice. That's what is going to attract people," she adds. "There are many more people that need financial planning than there are financial planners ... We have a big mission to accomplish, ladies, and I know that we can do it."

Leinster of Royal Alliance-affiliated Triad Financial Advisors in Greensboro and Raleigh, N.C., has some 25 staff members (including six planners) and some $200 million in assets under management. "It's an all-female firm, but not by design," Leinster says. Clients are mainly corporate executives, professionals and business owners. About 40 percent of the customer base is comprised of individual women clients.

In terms of succession planning, Leinster says the process "takes longer than you think, so start early. There are very few models to follow."

"It's the most challenging thing I do, but it is exciting," she explains. "There are so many more things now that we can do as a group, particularly when it comes to developing relationships with CPAs and attorneys."

"Women can really identify with clients, are in tune with their financial-planning needs and how they can best be served with a holistic approach," Leinster says.

"I think we should focus on public awareness of what we do" in both the accumulation and distribution sides of financial planning, she explains. "And for our part, we are reworking all of our marketing materials ... and rethinking what we do to reflect this."

Leinster explained that when she was starting out in the business, she contacted Armstrong, who let Leinster spend half a day speaking with her practice manager. "I'm so grateful" for this help," she shares, noting that it is very beneficial for women advisors to support each other so generously.

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Janet Levaux, MBA/MA, is the managing editor of Research; reach her at jlevaux@researchmag.com.

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