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How to Make It as a Woman in the Advisory Business

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Women in financial services should strive to succeed by effectively balancing their business strengths with their managerial style, as gender bias can cause the latter to be viewed warily, or often negatively. So argues Teri Shepherd, president of Carson Group, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

Related: Top Women in WealthTech 2020: Teri Shepherd of Carson Group

In the male-dominated world of financial services, Shepherd, 43, an industry veteran of 22 years, moved up from accountant to controller to Carson Group’s chief operating officer and then to president as of July 2019.

The multi-faceted firm comprises Carson Wealth, Carson Partners and Carson Coaching. Assets under management: more than $12 billion.

Upon joining the RIA, Shepherd took the lead in boosting its number of female advisors, now one-third of Carson Wealth’s FAs in Omaha. Later, she drove development of Carson’s Digital Client Experience platform for partner firms.

In the interview, Shepherd discusses the company’s new initiatives to increase gender and racial diversity and inclusion. She also discusses how important the trait of resiliency has been in both her personal and professional life.

Related: 3 Ways to Improve Your Business in 2021

Shepherd was born and reared in the small town of Chapman, Nebraska (There were 14 students in her high school graduating class). Her parents were teachers and operators of the family’s small farm. Teri was more interested in jumping into the world of big business.

After earning a B.S. in accounting from the University of Nebraska, she worked at a CPA firm, then joined a broker-dealer/RIA. In 2012, she came onboard Carson as chief operating officer.

ThinkAdvisor recently held a phone interview with Shepherd, who was speaking from Omaha. Her best advice to female advisors: “Be strong and confident and who you are,” she says.

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: When you joined Carson Wealth in 2012, you became the firm’s first woman executive. Was Ron Carson specifically seeking a woman for the role of chief operating officer? 

TERI SHEPHERD: Ron has always valued women’s thoughts and opinions. There was a woman on the leadership team; but when I joined, he created a board and formalized the business. He made a purposeful effort at trying to add a woman — some diversity — to the team.

In your career, have you encountered any obstacles because you’re a woman?

Absolutely. I think every woman does. Over the last five years, we’ve come a long way in the progress made with women in business in general. But women can be viewed as either overly confident and needing to control things — just a little bit too strong — or not strong enough to lead.

Was this an issue you’ve faced personally?

Finding the right balance throughout my career over the last 22 years has been the biggest obstacle. You don’t want to be viewed as overbearing, and I think many women can be. So helping drive success in the right way with the right approach has been an interesting balance [to achieve].

Are you referring to how women can be seen generally or just in financial services?

There’s an element of that in business in general, but it’s more that way in the financial services industry. Twenty years ago, there were [many] fewer women.

You’ve said that when you came to Carson, you “made it [your] personal mission to increase” the number of female advisors at Carson Wealth. How did you go about that?

When I came aboard, it was just Carson Wealth. We didn’t have any female advisors; it wasn’t even a thought. So we made a purposeful effort to focus on adding diversity to our team and added female advisors. Then we came across an opportunity and acquired a female-only [practice] and added them to the group. After that, we were able to hire a few more female advisors. That’s how it started.

How do you rate women as FAs?

Female advisors are fantastic. Women have such a way with clients — they’re advocates and great mentors. I focused personally on [adding] women advisors in my first two years. After that, I turned my focus to help build out Carson Partners. But I’ve also been coaching and mentoring the leadership team and adding women to it.

What’s your advice to female executives and FAs working in the industry or women who’d like to enter financial services?

Stand in your space and have confidence. Women are confident, but not as much in the workspace as they are at home. We second-guess ourselves a lot and overanalyze things. I [give the above advice] over and over to every woman I work with because we’re all very careful about what we say and how we say it: We don’t want to step on any toes. You can be respectful, but also definitely carry yourself and just be strong and confident and who you are.

What’s the secret to your own success?

I’m not a big career-driven person. I’ve always focused on: What can we do to make things better? [My] secret has been finding the right people to take an idea and drive it forward, and not have it be about us and our success but about what we can do to really make an impact.

What’s your key character trait, the one that’s helped you most?

Resilience. My mom passed away when I was 8 years old. So that was a big one. And my first child [of three] is a special-needs kid. By the way, when Jacob was born, we didn’t expect there to be issues, but he very much did have issues. We didn’t think he was going to make it. When we took him home, they told us he wouldn’t live a year. I’m happy to say he turned 18 years old this month.

Wow! That’s so great. In what way is Jacob’s disability limiting?

Physically, he’s very limited in what he’s able to do. He has some facial expression and can blink to say yes or no. He can communicate what he likes and doesn’t like. He requires a lot of care, but he’s happy. He’s able to connect.

What have you learned from Jacob?

He taught me to live each day because you don’t know if you’ll have the next. He’s taught me to let go of a lot of things because we can’t control a lot. I’ve learned about embracing where I am and what I can do to help drive things forward and help others. That’s been the theme. Resilience has given me that perspective.

How did you become interested in working in finance?

I’ve always loved finance, but in college I was told there weren’t a lot of jobs in the financial world. So I got a degree in accounting and worked at a CPA firm for a couple of years. But I wanted to go into the private-company world and got hired by a financial services firm. My whole family were teachers; I wanted to try something new. I have an entrepreneurial spirit.

After that job at the BD-RIA, you left financial services and worked for a biotech firm for a year and a half. Why did you return to finance and join Carson?

I wasn’t planning on going back into financial services, but Carson reached out to me. I realized the thing I really missed is helping independent advisors. I love that.

What is the main thing they need help with?

Many advisors are good at selling and relationally meeting with clients, but it takes a lot more to be good at a business. At Carson, we help advisors build out their teams — with tools, research, technology — all aspects of the business so that the advisor can focus on two things: being the CEO and taking care of their clients.

What can the industry do to attract more female advisors?

You have to be purposeful. Mentoring is so important in bringing up the next generation. Women need to build more of a community. We need to encourage other women to get into the financial industry. I’ve encouraged a lot of teachers and former teachers in my family to look into the industry.

Why would female teachers be good FAs?

If they can bring coaching and mentoring into the financial services industry, how amazing is that! So much of putting a financial plan together and helping people is about counseling and helping them through life decisions. It’s so key, and women do that well.

Does Carson have a specific initiative that addresses racial diversity?

It’s part of our initiative to train the next generation of financial advisors — particularly women. We’ve partnered with the American Association of African American Advisors to create a non-profit organization to [increase] diversity and inclusion through the CFP training program. It will be available to our stakeholders [employees] and partners — the advisors we work with — and for them to bring in new people as well. We’re building an office complex here that will have [an internship program with] one floor dedicated to training.

You’ve received a number of honors and awards, including Investment Advisor’s Top Women in WealthTech 2020 recognition. What significance do these hold for you?

They show me that I need to make a bigger impact on the profession to help represent women. We all have a lot going on in our lives, but sometimes we need to step back and focus on helping others and making a larger impact.

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