Thanks to her own upbringing in the Deep South, DeLynn Zell has come to believe that teaching girls about the financial markets is the best way to grow the number of women in the advisory industry. That’s because it can help them overcome a major disadvantage.
“Men talk to their sons about investing, and they typically talk to their daughters about savings,” said Zell, managing partner of Bridgeworth Wealth Management, a $1.5 billion RIA in Birmingham, Alabama.
“We’ve got to start [training] young women in financial services, because it’s an incredible career for women,” the advisor explained.
Zell walks the talk, as well: 34% of Bridgeworth’s client-facing advisors are women, as is 80% of its the management team.
Her father owned a large peanut farm in Alabama. He wanted his daughters to be independent, understand the business and “know more about money [than other girls typically did]. He was always one of those who said, ‘Don’t depend on a man,’” she shared.
This is one reason Zell graduated with a degree in accounting and finance from Birmingham Southern College in 1986.
Her first job out of college was with Coopers & Lybrand (now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers). She left that post after realizing she was more interested in finance and investing — looking forward — rather than doing audits — looking backward.
Via a chat with her manicurist, she met the sole female member of First Financial Group. Zell moved there and built her book of business. Once the group’s top executive went to work for a national broker-dealer, “We were just left rudderless,” she said.
That’s when she instigated a change and convinced five other advisors into breaking away. “I was never voted in as CEO, I just took it,” the trailblazing advisor explained.
The timing was right. She was at a point in her life where she could grow the firm, being part of a “two-earner” family (her husband being an attorney) and having the freedom to step back from working directly with clients (which her colleagues could do).
Still, breaking off from First Financial was a challenge, especially “getting that many people on board and aligned behind a common vision,” Zell said.
The breakaway group started with 12 staff in 1988. Today, it has 51 including 25 CFPs and two offices. “We have really grown and evolved over the years,” she added.
Here are the highlights of her conversation with ThinkAdvisor:
TA: What recent challenges have you faced?
Recently, we reorganized and restructured the firm. We worked with Echelon Partner’s Carolyn Armitage as a consultant.
Now every employee, including all our advisor partners, exchanged shares of their individual practice for shares of the firm. We completely built [new] career paths and compensation models that are different from what you normally see.
[Now] when someone retires, the firm will buy them out at a predetermined formula based on the value of the entire firm. The idea is that the shares of a large organization are going to be more valuable than those of an individual practice.
We also are building a second and third generation of advisors. When I got started, we were given a phone book and a desk telephone, but that doesn’t work today.