From the April 2009 issue of Wealth Manager Web • Subscribe!

April 1, 2009

Top Women in Wealth: Influencer

In a field where they make up barely 25% of practitioners, women in wealth management are changing the style and tone of the profession.

Just in time to meet the advisory needs of women who now control 51% of the country's private wealth, Wealth Manager is delighted to reveal our list of the Top 50 Women in Wealth Management and the results of our first annual survey of Women in Wealth Management.

Being named to the Top 50 is not about who has the largest book of business or highest amount of assets under management. We looked for the leaders, influencers and mentors in a profession where women excel, even if their numbers are a smaller percentage of the overall wealth management population. Below and in the pages that follow, we hope you'll get to know some of the Top 50 through the vignettes and comments from those who participated in our Survey.

They teach, mentor and support each other; they nurture and empower their clients. These words turn up again and again in the "job descriptions" of the more than 350 women who responded to the Survey. And in a profession that is itself only a quarter-century old, a disproportionate number of the distaff minority are virtual legends: Past NAPFA heads Janet Briaud, Mary Malgoire, Peggy Cabaniss, and current chair Diahann Lassus who led the first coalition of planning organizations to the capital last fall. As NAPFA chair in 2005, Peggy Cabaniss, president of HC Financial Advisors in Lafayette, Calif., initiated workshops on Women's Issues to encourage women to develop their own practices and provide a discussion forum for issues unique to women who are financial advisors.

Are there differences between the advising styles of men and women? "There is no sex in wealth management," argued one Survey participant. Malgoire, president of The Family Firm in Bethesda, Md., would disagree: "Many men are attracted to the 'game' of managing money...winning strategy, analysis, etc. For us investing is driven by financial planning, not the other way around. I understand clearly that our business is really about security--long-term financial security--not about returns per se. Returns are important," she adds, "but they are not what establishes security."

But what about the advising needs of women clients? "I believe women require a special approach in the language, process and philosophy of investing. Education is perhaps the most important dimension of this," says Margaret Towle, Managing Director at Greycourt & Co. in Portland Ore.

And in this market? "There is a lot of nurturing going on right now, and I'm thankful I have the experience to calm clients' fears," says Wendy Miletich, a financial advisor with Cuna Brokerage Services in Eagan, Minn., adding: "Thank God for motherhood!"

Eleanor Blayney, president of Directions LLC in McLean, Va. is currently in startup mode, having left Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney, Inc., after they were purchased by a private bank. Blayney is "committed to the idea that financial planning needs to be different in both content and delivery for women." She named her new firm Directions LLC. Her motto? "Financial advice for women because women ask for directions."--Nancy R. Mandell

Catalyst for Change: Mary L. Schapiro
Chairman
Securities and Exchange Commission
Washington, D.C.

Perhaps no one in the financial services realm will have more influence over the way wealth managers interact with clients and run their firms than Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary L. Schapiro, making her the natural choice to head the Top 50 Women in Wealth Management. She spoke with Wealth Manager Editor in Chief Kate McBride by phone from Washington on March 11.

Schapiro is not new to the job. For part of her tenure as an SEC commissioner from 1988 to 1993, President Bill Clinton named her acting chairman of the commission. She then served as chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Association, and in 1996, began more than a decade at NASD. Appointed NASD chairman and CEO in 2006, she led the unification of NYSE Member Regulation and NASD into the entity renamed FINRA--Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Jumping into the top SEC seat in the midst of this financial crisis has crystallized Schapiro's priorities. One of these is the need for advisors of all stripes to put clients first. Could this crisis be the catalyst for a fiduciary standard of care for all advisors? "I think it's entirely possible," she says. "I've said for a long time that it's really a flaw in our system that investors get different standards of care and different standards of regulatory protection depending on whether they're going to an investment advisor, a registered rep., an insurance agent, or an unregulated advisor of some sort. And it's not fair for us to leave it to investors to figure out what protections they're entitled to depending on which regulatory regime just happens to capture the person they're dealing with."

The challenge for the SEC now, Schapiro acknowledges, is that, "The agency has been really defined over the past year not for what it's done, but for what it's missed--both in fact and in perception. We need to change that perception, but we also need to change the reality. We need to make sure that we are really recommitting ourselves here to protecting investors and being their advocate."

If she could give one piece of advice to wealth mangers, Schapiro would remind them "to truly understand your client's financial goals and the level of risk they're willing to take and really make sure you understand their capability to truly absorb what you're telling them, so that they are going into positions and transactions with their eyes fully open." It's crucial, she adds, "that we resist the allure of the latest, greatest, most innovative sliced-and-diced investment product." But it's not just the products, it's how they work--or perhaps don't--"in different economic scenarios." --Kathleen M. McBride

Advocate General: Maria Elena Lagomasino
CEO
GenSpring Family Offices
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

When Maria Elena Lagomasino, then in her mid-20s, was working as a librarian at the United Nations, she knew it was not the right job for her. She began asking friends about what they were doing to see if something else sounded more interesting. One friend, who was in private banking, arranged an interview for her with Citibank where she was hired into its Latin America private bank.

Lagomasino spent seven years at Citibank before moving on to Chase Manhattan Private Bank, becoming chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Private Bank after the merger of Chase and JP Morgan. In 2005, she left the bank to become CEO of GenSpring Family Offices, which serves 700 families and has $17 billion in family AUM.

Thinking back, Lagomasino muses, "The reason I loved [private banking] so much was because of my own background and the fact that my family had lost everything when they left Cuba," when she was a girl. "I always thought if my family had had somebody like me, we wouldn't have gone through the travails that we went through."

"I always felt that I had a very important role to play for these families that could really make a difference in their lives...It's about really being able to help those families fulfill those dreams because they didn't make any big mistakes," Lagomasino notes. "I never saw myself as somebody who helped families make a lot of money. I wanted to be sure that I always understood what they wanted and helped them figure out how to get there and was always supporting them, was always their advocate."

Of the family office model, Lagomasino says: "To me this is the model of the future and I think it is born, actually, of what's missing in the traditional model...not just for the families but for people who really and genuinely want to walk into work every day and say 'How do I help my families today?' without any agenda, any conflict, any of that. They have one job and that's to help their clients, whether the clients want to be all in cash or want to give it all away; it's irrelevant." Lagomasino stresses that, "the important thing is to help them figure out what they want to do and then help them to be able to make all these complicated decisions with confidence. It's a service profession. It's a solving profession. It's not a selling profession, and I think that's a big difference." She asks: "How can somebody's family be your book? We have one client who talks about one of our advisors and says, 'She's the only paid member of my family.' That's how he sees her and that's a beautiful thing."--Kathleen M. McBride

Evolutionary Effect: Nancy Meconi, CPA, CFP
Partner
Plante Moran Financial Advisors
Southport, Mich.

Nancy Meconi believes that the role of women in personal and professional wealth management is following a natural evolutionary course, and her own career makes a perfect case for that evolution.

It's not just coincidence, for example, that she has never felt in the minority, even back in 1988 when she was the only female staffer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors. "I have always received tremendous support from male colleagues," she says, adding that she sees enormous opportunities in financial services for women, who are far "more accepted than in the days when it was an old boys' network, which is breaking down."

As for the natural evolution: "As more men have daughters who have gone on to careers, they've begun to see women differently. I see that within my own firm and within the industry," she says. "There are very few fields where women have not succeeded, and the investment world was actually one of the last."

Her own father was an entrepreneur who communicated his enthusiasm for the stock market to his daughter. As a result, she says, "I have always been interested in personal finance, in accumulating wealth and determining the best way to make money work for you--not the other way around."

After earning a BS in accounting from Michigan State University, Meconi joined Plante Moran as an intern in the accounting division, always intending to transfer into financial advising. The first woman to become a partner in the advisory division, she is now one of three females out of the department's 11 partners. According to a firm spokesperson, about 58% of the staff at Plante Moran is female.--Nancy R. Mandell

Collaboratura: Deb Wetherby
Principal, Wealth Manager and CEO
Wetherby Asset Management
San Francisco

When Deb Wetherby launched Wetherby Asset Management in 1990, her goal was to bring together her different strands of expertise. Having worked as a CPA at PriceWaterhouse and also in the private client group at Morgan Stanley, she wanted to combine the best of both worlds: The objectivity and trust from her CPA background and the investment strategy and creativity of Wall Street. Just as important, she was determined to create an environment based on teamwork and collaboration, where she could operate in harmony with her own values.

Growing up in a close family of four siblings, with one brother, Wetherby learned about collaboration at a young age. "The family message was that boys and girls are more alike than different," she explains. Nonetheless, she believes that women are socialized to use communication for connection, rather than self-advancement. The connection provides a natural advantage in financial planning, where client relationships are paramount.

Recently, Wetherby has been focusing on adjusting asset allocations into two compartments: A base component to maintain client lifestyles, while earmarking a separate portion of excess funds for longer-term purposes, like philanthropy or legacies. As markets fall, risk tolerance shifts, increasing the proportion of the base and the ability to sustain further losses.

How would she advise other women who are contemplating a wealth management career? She begins with the four 'Cs': competence, communication, confidence and compassion. You need to direct some of that compassion at yourself, too, she urges. "We're harder on ourselves than men are. We often expect things to be complete, without realizing we have already accomplished 90% of the journey."--Vanessa Drucker

A Glass Half Full: Marita Sullivan
Principal and CEO
JMG Financial Group
Oak Brook, Ill.

For women in wealth management, Marita Sullivan, CEO of JMG Financial Group, sees a glass well over half-full. "As long as women can be a bit thick -skinned about a few politically incorrect comments and see beyond them, they have an advantage in our industry," she believes. They can make men feel comfortable for truthful conversations about life situations, family issues or personal matters. "While female skills are helpful, for credibility you obviously need numbers abilities too," adds Sullivan, a qualified CPA who worked at Arthur Young (now Ernst & Young) until 1986.

Sullivan also relates to her women clients, many of whom are successful executives themselves. Divorced 15 years ago, she is sensitive to concerns such as financial insecurity. For instance, she encouraged one client to pay off her mortgage, recognizing the value of owning a home outright at a certain age.

Since financial planning has become exceptionally challenging over the past months, Sullivan emphasizes the importance of communication. Long-established principles such as rebalancing asset allocations are coming into question, and she takes a flexible approach. While she would not suggest that most bail out altogether into cash, she prefers that they keep a couple of years' cash cushion on hand. If markets have not stabilized by then, she will consider advising lifestyle changes. Meanwhile, she is not insisting on immediate rebalancing into some variation of the classic 60/40 allocation.

Sullivan's clients appreciate her range of full-service financial planning, including estate, tax and accounting strengths. Most demonstrate their loyalty by maintaining faithful relationships: five of her 30 clients have been with her since the 1980s. Just 30? "A day," she says, "has just 24 hours."--Vanessa Drucker

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