Chiu Fong Wu
Vice President-Investments, Wells Fargo Advisors, San Francisco
How She Built Her Business: "When you save money for people, you're a hero. They spread my name all over. Referrals just flooded in."
In the middle of an animated conversation about her advisory work, Chiu Fong Wu mentions her group of patients -- then corrects herself. "I mean clients."
It's an understandable stumble.
Wu, a registered nurse, works 32 hours a week in the labor and delivery unit at San Francisco General Hospital. She's also an advisor with the Hitchcock Rosenfield Investment Group of Wells Fargo Advisors where she manages $40 million in assets for 180 clients.
A diminutive woman with a huge presence, the 60-year-old Wu has an incredible work ethic that has catapulted her to the top tier no matter her calling. At the start of her career, she graduated first in her class from the prestigious National Taiwan Nursing University. Four decades later, she is still garnering firsts. Last year, she made more internal mortgage referrals that successfully closed than any other advisor in Wells Fargo Advisors' vast network.
What is perhaps most remarkable is how Wu, a nurse since 1970, got her start in financial services. "We bought our first house in 1985 and bought a mortgage protection policy from Prudential. I paid the premium and on the back of the envelope there was a question: Do you want to learn something about insurance? I checked the box," says Wu. "And they called me."
Wu wasn't looking for a job -- just knowledge. But in 1987, she joined Prudential Life Insurance Co., working days as an insurance rep while pulling a night shift at the hospital. During her four-year tenure, she became a top producer. In 1991, with two boys ages 13 and 9, she stopped. "If my sons became gangsters, this would defeat the point of coming to America," explains Wu in signature style. The nursing, however, continued full-time, as it still does.
In 1999 Wu received another direct mail solicitation from Prudential -- this time saying the firm was interested in hiring financial planners. "I always wanted to be a financial planner and I wanted to see my own market value go up," she says. "I talked to my head nurse and I said I have this opportunity if you can grant me the weekend shift. She said: 'Grab it. Once an opportunity like this passes it never comes again. Go -- come back and teach us.'"
Wu trained as a comprehensive planner with Prudential Securities and began targeting what she calls her "natural market:" nurses and doctors from the hospital, members of her church, and jewelry suppliers. Jewelry suppliers? "I buy jewelry to please myself," she says. "I don't smoke. I don't drink. I don't do drugs. I buy pearls."
Wu uses the Envision planning process, pioneered at the former Wachovia Securities, with each and every client. If her practice has a core value, that is it.
"I never invest a penny without doing a plan. This engages the client on all fronts: their mortgage, mortgage amount, assets, other obligations. I know my clients' strength and weakness. I know my clients' dreams and goals and how to close that gap from Point A to Point B," says Wu. "I'm like a financial nurse in the wealth area. It involves a very similar process: planning, process and providing care. It's like helping a patient get better."
With her "absolute focus" on the client, Wu connects deeply, according to Kevin Kitchin, San Francisco Market Manager for Wells Fargo Advisors. "She's a very good caretaker. She was drawn to the nursing profession to help others. She takes the same approach and attitude with regard to clients coming to her for financial advice. With her incredible work ethic and her incredible desire to succeed through helping others, she has found two very good outlets in being a nurse and an advisor," he notes. "She also serves to remind us that with the right kind of client focus and the right kind of work ethic, you can be very successful in this business."
One of 10 children, Wu grew up in a rural village in Taiwan. She walked a half-hour to a neighboring village to attend elementary school and "Little Freckles," as she was called then, was an academic standout from the start. When she was in fifth grade, this farmer's daughter moved to the city of Douliou to live with a sister. It was an eye-opener.
"They are pretty modern at that time. They have fun. They have a ballroom dancing group, potluck parties. They introduce me to the idea of going to nursing college," she says. "It would be good to have a nurse in the family, and I would never be short of a job."
Wu's nursing career has taken her around the world -- from Veteran General Hospital in Taipei to Queen Victoria Hospital, a British hospital in the Canary Islands of Spain, to San Francisco General. In the process she learned English and Spanish, which proved helpful when she and her husband moved to California in the late 1970s.
When the couple moved to America, they arrived with two suitcases.
Today, Wu says, "I don't need to work. I love to work. I don't need much sleep either, which is a gift from God. Today I'm comfortable. I have a lot of experiences I want to share and it's not always about money-making. But I always encourage people who don't have money: 'No problem. You start right now.'"