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Succeeding as an advisor — at 23

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Editor’s Note: This article originally published in May 2012. Dates and ages have remained unchanged from the original piece.

Laura Vaughn doesn’t have pink hair. She doesn’t get around on stilts. And, to the best of my knowledge, she doesn’t wear dresses made out of meat.

But the 23-year-old advisor with North Star Resource Group in Houston will likely have a hard time blending in at her first MDRT meeting this month. As a young female producer, she’s a rarity in a traditionally male-dominated and increasingly gray (or bald) industry.

Even more novel than Vaughn’s youth or gender? Her success so far. Just two years after joining the business full time, Vaughn’s already an MDRT member, despite working in a field that has a notoriously high turnover rate for newbies of any age. She was also recently named Securian’s Diamond New Advisor of the year, the first woman to ever receive the honor.

“I really think that Laura’s somebody who’s going to have a long and successful career,” says Shaun McDuffee, Vaughn’s mentor and North Star’s senior vice president in Austin, Texas. “She’s a future leader and role model for years to come.”

Looking for work — and maybe a career

Vaughn had no plans to become an advisor. In fact, she had no concrete plans to become anything in particular. As she approached graduation from the University of Texas in 2010, “I didn’t really have any clue what I wanted to go into,” she says.

She started browsing the university’s job boards and saw North Star was looking for financial advisor interns. Vaughn was interested in a career that let her work with people, and as a finance major, she’d already completed a couple of banking internships. She went ahead and applied for the position, not really knowing what to expect. “I thought it was just something interesting, a little different,” she says.

Vaughn went through the initial interview process with McDuffee. He explained to her that the career was all about the three I’s — independence, income and impact — and Vaughn’s mere curiosity developed into passionate interest. (For more on North Star’s success in hiring college students, see: Recruiting Young Blood For an Old Industry.)

“[The three I’s] — that’s one of the biggest draws, I think, to this field,” she says. “You essentially own your own business, and you have the independence to kind of do it like you want. The impact that you can have — it’s one of those careers that has the potential to give back to you just as much as you put into it.”

Vaughn finished her senior year of college while working as an intern at North Star and then started full time after graduation.

Learning the ropes

To get started, Vaughn, like all of North Star’s interns, was assigned a mentor — McDuffee — and spent almost all her time shadowing him. “In your first nine months here, you’re pretty much stuck to the hip of your mentor,” she says.

Vaughn acted as “secretary” at all of their meetings, taking notes on everything McDuffee did. Eventually, she was allowed to start doing cases herself, but only small, straightforward ones.

Vaughn didn’t mind the training wheels, though. When asked if she could have been able to go it alone, from day one, she laughs.

“There’s no way,” she says. “You can only learn so much through reading and doing webinars and that kind of thing. [Mentors are] the ones who are going to help you from making a lot of mistakes in the beginning. Technically, they have the knowledge of the products and the plans and that kind of thing. They also know how to react in certain situations and what is prudent, and what isn’t, with certain clients.”

Vaughn also found that having a mentor helped her stick to her goals. “You have an accountability partner,” she says. “You have somebody kind of looking over you to make sure you are doing the right things and hold you accountable to the goals you set for yourself.”

Not that Vaughn needed much help in the goal-achievement department. “She was super driven, just really organized and persistent,” McDuffee says. Most first-year advisors at North Star earn anywhere from $60,000 up to the low $100,000s, McDuffee says; Laura took home $122,000 her first year.

Finding early success

Vaughn attributes her success so far to her intense focus on marketing. “You’re marketing, marketing, marketing all the time in your first nine months,” she says. “It was just having a marketing mindset from the beginning and then being very, very diligent with follow-up.”

Now working on her own, out of North Star’s Houston office, Vaughn deals exclusively with young physicians, ideally those who are in their first seven years in practice.

“That’s when they’re just starting to form their spending habits and that’s when they’re starting to figure out what kind of capacity in medicine they want to work in,” she says. “There’s a lot of planning that goes on in those first seven years.”

Because physicians have to be board-certified in Texas, Vaughn has easy access to names and contact information for the doctors in her area. She sets up regular dinner seminars that focus on financial planning for physicians and circulates feedback forms at the end of the night. From there, she follows up with those who are interested, sets meetings, does a fact finder and draws up a financial plan.

Vaughn stays on top of her “hot list” of leads and says prospecting is a constant for her. “I’m very meticulous about keeping track of that hot list,” she says. “So I’m not really doing any cold prospecting anymore; it’s more warm prospecting.” Vaughn also follows up regularly with her existing clients and meets them for a review on at least an annual basis.

She has around 180 full-time clients — those who have implemented a full-fledged wealth accumulation plan with her — and hopes to branch out a little more sometime in the future, possibly adding business owners to her client mix. “I would really like to get into the mentoring and build a unit of maybe five to 10 just really great advisors,” says Vaughn, who will start mentoring her own interns this summer.

Overcoming challenges

Yet, Vaughn admits her career hasn’t been perfect so far. One of her biggest early challenges was coping with rejection. “The more you get told ‘yes’ and the more success you have, obviously, the more you’re also going to get told no,” she says.

The income variation that comes with a commission-based job also required an adjustment on her part. “Income for me, in the beginning, was peaks and valleys,” she says. “I had to develop the self-discipline to pay myself a salary every month.”

For help, Vaughn has been able to turn to McDuffee and Securian’s WISE (Women’s Interactive Sales Exchange) group. She’s also just started taking courses through the American College to earn her Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification.

Despite the few hurdles she’s faced, though, Vaughn’s not sure why more young people, especially women, aren’t looking into financial advising careers.

“Most female clients want to work with women,” she says. “You kind of have this immediate, deeper, social bond. You just get a little deeper, a little faster with that female-to-female dynamic.

“The opportunity is out there. I just don’t know that a lot of people looking at this field realize that it’s so large.”

For more on young people in the industry, see:

College Students Ready to Shake Up Life Industry

Why I Chose A Career in Insurance

Recruiting Young Blood For an Old Industry


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