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A CFP’s Mission: Educate and Empower Clients

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Growing up with five rambunctious older brothers and five frisky sisters is good enough reason why Cheryl Young excels at martial arts. She is well on her way to a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and is a dynamite kickboxer.  

“My long legs give me a lot of reach,” says Young, who stands 5 feet 11 inches tall and is seventh in the brood of 11.

She really kicks it as a financial advisor too: sole producer in her independent practice, Young & Associates, she manages client assets of $641 million.

“I’d like it to be a billion. But that’s okay—we’ll get there!” says the CEO cheerily.

In the heart of Silicon Valley, Young, whose broker-dealer is Raymond James Financial Services, specializes in stock options strategies. Clients are chiefly high tech entrepreneurs, pro athletes (including quite a few San Francisco 49ers) and women on their own.

“I’ve seen so many people do stupid things with stock options. With [only] one stock, you’re rolling the dice,” she says from her office in Campbell, Calif.

The brainy CFP is out to prevent such stupidities by educating clients on the benefits of a genuine financial plan.

“A lot of advisors will just manage the money, but our approach is collaborative. We go deep-dive into the financial planning aspect,” says the 39-year-old Young, who is also a chartered financial consultant (ChFC).

An advisor for 14 years, Young has taught more than 100 finance classes to senior management of Fortune 50 companies—like Apple, AT&T, IBM and Microsoft . She gives the executives insight on how their stock options work and ways to save for retirement. Some sessions concentrate on complex strategies.

With clients, “many people are in love with their own stock,” she says. “We help them understand the risks and to separate emotions from fundamentals.”

Key to Young’s success is caring attention given to every client.

“Cheryl is constantly guiding us to make sure we’re protected. She tries to do what’s right for you. She’s able to synthesize people’s ideas and interests, put together a plan that fits them and execute on it,” says long-time client Robert Mitro, owner of FaceOn Mobile, an app developer in Santa Cruz, Calif.

A Presidential Scholar at New Mexico State University, Young was, in college, on a path to become a neurologist and study the brain. Today she delves into clients’ psychological responses.

Generally, investors “are either very scared to take any risks or greedy to the point of having gambling-type tendencies,” she says. “So understanding behavioral psychology is critical: If you don’t know what motivates them to make changes, they won’t make any. I need to understand what drives them.”

With special interest in advising single females, Young holds supportive “Women and Wine” nights with freedom to ask any and all investment questions. The women-only series stems from her mother’s lack of financial savvy when, after 26 years of child-rearing, she and Young’s engineer father divorced.

“My dad did everything—so my mom was left with no sense of finance,” she says. “I vowed to educate every woman I could.”

Teaching classes at major companies was how she built her client base at American Express Financial Advisors (now Ameriprise). With no natural market of affluent prospects, she plugged away at cold calling.

“It was very difficult starting out,” she says. “This business can eat you alive.”

Then she had a brilliant idea: She would teach finance to employees of big firms in the Silicon Valley.

“I thought that if I can make people understand [investing] and they believed and trusted me, I’d get clients,” the ace presenter recalls. Snagging a contract at Nortel led to speaking gigs at other companies too—and a fast-expanding book.

Educating folks was nothing new. The second-eldest of six sisters-in-a-row, the Las Cruces, N.M., native had lots of experience, even teaching the youngest of all siblings, six years her junior, how to read and write. “I used to call her my baby,” she says.

It was “absolutely a madhouse” childhood, the FA recalls. But those “rough” years fostered a competitive streak that has served Young well.

“When there are 11,” she says, “you don’t get any attention or praise from your parents. I was probably very over-competitive just trying to get some attention and was always really, really adamant about a being the best in my class.”

She graduated from high school at 16 and by 20 had earned a degree in psychology and business administration. A whiz at calculus, she decided to minor in business while helping a boyfriend study for finance classes—a task that sparked an immediate fascination with the subject.

By medical school, she was running an investment club and liked finance well enough to explore part-time advisory work to pay for the rest of her schooling.

But “I was so naïve,” she says. “No way is this is a part-time job!”

At 24, discouraged by what she considered medicine’s failure to focus on preventive care, Young dropped out of school to join American Express as an FA trainee in San Jose, Calif. Two years later she moved to the firm’s independent side and in 2009 left to set up shop as Young & Associates. 

Off-hours, the advisor does a cool job balancing work and home life, enjoying family activities with her husband Todd Young, the COO of an educational high tech firm, and their three boys, 9, 7 and 2.

Not surprisingly, she is conscientiously health-conscious, and exercise is a big priority. A hardcore marathon runner, Young nonetheless rates combat sports her favorite work-out, with kickboxing the No. 1 de-stressor.

“There’s nothing like it to get angst out of your system. I highly recommend it,” she says.