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How UBS' Ellen Pierce Mentored Dozens of Female Advisors

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Ellen Pierce of UBS. Ellen Pierce of UBS.

Lucky enough to be mentored by her grandfather who was an investment advisor, Ellen M. Pierce has paid it forward, and during her 30-year career in the advisory field, she has mentored at least 75 protegees, mainly women.

“[Why] women are so critical [in the business] right now is because we still are in a predominately male-dominated world,” the Mid-Atlantic market director for UBS Financial Services told ThinkAdvisor. “More wealth is transferring to women over the next five to eight years. … The strongest teams that we have are ones that do have diversification and different points of view, because most women want to work with women.”

The “Great Wealth Transfer” is estimated at $59 trillion, according to Bankrate. A Boston College study found that women would get 70% of the wealth transfer and will possess two-thirds of the nation’s wealth by 2030. With that in mind, Pierce is helping prepare the next generation of advisors for the future.

Pierce started her own career, after having two children, at Dean Witter, which became Morgan Stanley. She joined UBS in 2004. Today she runs nine offices across Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia.

Taking her grandfather’s advice, and following in his footsteps, she became a financial advisor and a mentor. “It’s been an interesting journey and I would like to tell you that I set out with this mission [to mentor women] but that would be wrong. Really, what it came to was I was in the business and women [in the business] started coming to me. It just seemed like a natural fit.”

Throughout the years she has customized her mentoring because “people have different developmental needs and have different skill sets,” she says. For example, her current mentee came from the UBS home office. (She’s had three from the home office, two women and one man). Pierce now has her working as her assistant market head.

“I’m teaching her the field side of the business, and having her get out of her comfort zone. She’s highly intelligent but is used to a lot of structure. And when you’re on my side of the business, there’s many things we can’t control. So you have to learn how to go with the flow and make decisions. Be fair — maybe not always equal — on the decisions that you make, and always be able to have a thought process around those.”

Although Pierce plans to continue her individual mentoring program, UBS has started to implement a program that puts trainees through a rotation of each division to learn the business. However, Pierce also is hosting a program this month in New York for other UBS advisors to “take them through training on how to really cater and fulfill the needs that a woman investor has.” She wants them to understand that “if you really want to go into people’s lifelong goals and their worries and their concerns, you need to be able to ask the sensitive questions.”

Pierce’s responsibility is to drive firm strategy and then mentor and coach the people on her team, including branch managers and advisors. For example, she’s currently grooming her assistant market head to lead an office. “I’m coaching them on how to take the next step in their career.”

One concern she has with women in the business is “sometimes to make a point [we] actually denigrate ourselves when we really don’t need to.” She tells a story she heard of a woman on a corporate board, mainly made up of men, who acted like one of the boys to gain their attention.

“I would caution them against [that behavior],” she says. “Look, I’m known as being very direct and to the point. The difference is, I’m also known to be someone who cares very much for my people.”

In the future, Pierce sees “corporations will have more formalized [training programs for women] because they’re going to feel like they need to.” She certainly plans to continue working with UBS’ structured programs as well as her own customized mentoring.

“When you do have an impact or make a change for somebody else for the better or for their career, or even for them as individuals, nothing gets better than that,” she says. “That’s why I do it.”

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