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Meet Advisor of the Year finalist Ann Vanderslice

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A career in retirement planning wasn’t something Ann Vanderslice strived for. She started in the corporate world. Her career in finance sort of just fell into her lap, she says.

After a friend told her she would be great at sales, Vanderslice found herself in a challenging new position: an advisor for federal employees. Countless emails, and hours of studying and learning the challenges of federal employees, led to success for Vanderslice and her practice, Retirement Planning Strategies. Here she discusses the importance of customer service, challenges within the industry and how to maintain a healthy work/life balance while working 60-hour weeks.

On the art of customer service The most important part of my practice is that our clients are well taken care of. In general, I think people don’t know what they have available for retirement and how they’re going to use it.

The federal workforce has a complicated set of benefits that determines their pension. They have to do certain things in order to get a certain amount. There are a lot of moving parts, and they’re moving at different speeds. It’s hard to get that all integrated.

The most important thing to me is that we make our clients’ lives easier. We simplify that process, and if you call here, you’re going to get a response within 24 hours. I don’t go to bed at night without answering my emails, which is a crazy kind-of-a-thing. I just think that we have lost the art of customer service.

On challenges within the industry It’s challenging that the regulations change all the time. You’re out to do the right thing for your client and then there’s one more regulation, one more test or one more anti-money laundering quiz you have to take.

When you open a new account, these poor clients are asking “am I buying a house? What am I doing?” There are three different sets of paperwork and all these disclosures, and it’s really just overkill. I think that’s the most frustrating challenge. Just managing all that paperwork and making sure you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing.

On what helped her find success I have this great work ethic that I inherited from my German grandparents and my parents. I work 60-hour weeks. I just love what I do, and I have the ability to work really hard. If I didn’t have that, you know all the way back at General Electric when I wasn’t making very much money, I would have quit. But I just decided I was going to work until I figured it out.

I’m also very honest. I don’t tell people something that isn’t going to happen. If someone doesn’t want to continue to work, I have to tell the person, “You know what? You have to keep working.” It’s interesting, because people will come back to me a few years later and say, “Do you remember when you told me I had to keep working?” I don’t typically remember and they say, “Well, that was the best advice I ever got. I would have short-changed myself.”

On her passion for nonprofit work One of my girlfriends started a nonprofit about 15 years ago. When you start a nonprofit, nobody wants to be on your board of directors; so I got roped into that. But of course she became very successful and about seven years ago, I became a team leader.

We take doctors and nurses and other medical professionals to third-world and developing countries and provide them the opportunity to see a U.S. doctor in these clinics. I’m responsible for all the logistics, which is really easy for me. So I have been to places like the Amazon and Argentina. I went to Haiti three weeks after the earthquake there. I’ve also been to India, Cambodia and this summer I’m going to Nicaragua.

On work/life balance My family is really important to me, I have two daughters, one grandson, and a fiancé. I have a life. I’ve gotten really good at not doing work when I’m not at work. So I work really hard at work, but my weekends are my own now.