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Women in Wealth: Why It’s Their Moment

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This month, Jane Fraser becomes the first woman to lead a large Wall Street bank when she takes the reins from Michael Corbat at Citigroup. Yet the number of female advisors, as measured by CFP professionals, represents just about 23% of the industry — though the number is growing.

As for financial technology, it’s tough but possible to find women in the top ranks. This includes Cheryl Nash — who leads Tegra118, formerly the investment services business unit of Fiserv — and April Rudin, CEO of the financial services marketing firm the Rudin Group.

We spoke with the two wealth management and fintech experts about the past, present and future of women in the business. In addition to highlighting the twists and turns of their own careers, Nash and Rudin explain why digital innovation matters to everyone in the industry.

Investment Advisor: How did you two meet?

Cheryl Nash: April and I met in 2012 at the Tiburon CEO Summit in San Francisco. That was the first time I went to this conference.

We were two of the very few females in the room, and we saw each other and later met in the ladies’ room. From then on, we became fast friends. When I learned that April had her own firm, we started working together.

April was influential in helping me and my career. Actually I’d say she’s probably been along for the ride with me. Since 2012, April’s been very instrumental in helping our business think about what marketing looks like and think about how you put sales and marketing together to really put out a story that encourages clients to buy from a fintech/wealthtech perspective.

And now, growing a business via sales and marketing is one of the areas that I focus on, along with getting involved with LinkedIn and social media. She’s really helped us understand the importance of [LinkedIn/social media], how you use it to your benefit and how you use it as a sales tool.

When it comes to where women in the industry are going, it’s really about where we come together in today’s world to support each other. For instance, April is a phenomenal marketer, and she will always retweet, like, share and support many people’s information on social media. This makes a really big difference, because obviously the readership then is that much larger.

Many people appreciate what she does and who she is. And outside of that, we’ve also become friends. When her son was looking for an internship, she called me and asked if we had anything going on at Fiserv. We brought him in, … and he got to learn the industry. I did the same thing with my son. He became an intern and is now working in this industry.

This is where women excel — you build a relationship and then you make sure it’s not just a relationship in which you say “hi” and have a cup of coffee. But instead, you actually help each other and work together. It’s been apparent in our industry that there’s a need for this, as there aren’t many of us who can work together. All of this goes hand in hand with growing together. We both grew from our relationship.

April Rudin: I felt like a fish out of water at that Tiburon conference. That’s what I remember. This was the first time I went to it, and it was a bit intimidating for me, because it was a CEO summit with a lot of very senior people.

I didn’t really have expectations, other than being happy to be included, and I was taking everything in. At a break, I went to the ladies’ room, and there was Cheryl with that beautiful, friendly smile and her willingness to always say “hello.”

I said to her, “Look, there’s no line in the ladies’ room. And I put that hashtag on Twitter, and we tweeted #NoLineInThe LadiesRoom. Then I wrote a Huffington Post blog in which I quoted Cheryl. The whole idea of that blog, interestingly enough, was about how the future develops.

Men almost have to be forced to be together with others in some ways. It’s lonely at the top for men and rare to find peer-to-peer relationships, whereas women seek each other out, and that’s what we do naturally, right?

Cheryl and I became fast friends right there in the ladies’ room without any introduction; we introduced ourselves. We didn’t have any pomp and circumstance going on. I’ve known a lot of people and worked in many organizations, and then have run my own firm since 2008.

Out of the people I know in wealth management, something like 75% of people have either worked for or with Cheryl. She has touched their careers. So, whether she’s supervised or directly worked alongside them or they’ve been a client, she’s had so many different types of relationships with people. And on top of that, you won’t find anyone more universally loved and respected than Cheryl.

With her organization and its structure, it’s been really easy to raise Cheryl’s brand as a personal brand and work side by side with her. There’s not another person like her who’s so universally respected, admired and checks all the boxes, and … she’s not even old enough to have won a lifetime achievement award — she’s a mid-career professional.

Also, other things that I so respect about Cheryl are that she’s a great listener, a great learner and is so eager to help everyone. At the same time, she’s a mother, a president, a CEO and a fintech expert. She fulfills so many different roles. … That really makes her unique in the industry.

As for her most recent job change, she went from being an employee of a global multinational organization to a leadership role as an entrepreneur. She did it with zero fanfare and is super successful, though she’s now in a very different arena. And she did it with … her friendly smile and didn’t miss a beat.

What was your career path in financial services and technology? And what advice would you give to others based on your experience?

Nash: When I was in school, I did not think I was going to ever lead a technology organization, let alone even be in a financial services organization. I actually wanted to be a weather [reporter] on TV. So, this was not really my career choice, but I fell into it as so many people do. I got an internship opportunity, and I took it.

My dad knew a guy who ran a brokerage firm in Chicago, which [later] … got bought by Stifel Nicolaus back in the 1980s. The family who owned the brokerage firm decided to start their own technology company and help [other] brokerage firms become more automated. Back then everything was still manual. They offered me a role in whatever I wanted to do. There were four people involved.

I grew up in this industry, literally, at the same company. But it’s been bought three times, so I’ve had very different roles all three times. Plus, I’ve probably played every role, besides development or quality assurance. I was in and led client services. I was in and led product management.

My advice to others is to take every opportunity given to you. Even if you don’t think you’re ready for a role, take that role because it does lead to bigger things. I had no idea, years ago when I was a client service rep, that I would become CEO of the company that I was in. I took on a lot of things that I wasn’t comfortable with, but I also had good sponsors and mentors along the way. That’s so important.

I would tell women, especially in technology today and in financial services, to give it your all. Learn as much as you can. Find a network that can help, with people … who can help you. But don’t say “no” to opportunities.

There are so many times when I was given an opportunity that I didn’t think I could do or didn’t think that was what I wanted at that point in my career. I just did it, and it’s helped me … to be well rounded.

Like April said, it’s been about knowing a lot of people. I did sit next to clients and then also helped lead clients through strategic initiatives at their firms. It’s been an amazing career, but it’s not something I set out to do.

I talk to college students all the time. I tell them that if you want a career that’s enriching and that you can be successful in, look at financial services and look at technology. There’s an urgency right now to get more women and people of color into this industry. What a great opportunity for us to lift others up, get them in [the door] and help them grow. Nobody can really do it alone.

Rudin: Sometimes I call myself the original millennial girl, because I was hired by the president of Kelly Services, a [staffing] services company. He asked me one question. “Do you know about the Wang Word Processor and the IBM PC?”

I said, “Yes.” And he said, “You’re hired, because we don’t. We have typewriters in our offices, and there’s also dictation. All of this is changing in front of our very eyes.”

Who did they hire back then? The one who was young. It was my job to go out and find the technology they used to automate their offices. And it [involved] training, testing and standards in an area that no one knew very much about at the time.

Kelly ended up buying a company that was started by Eric Becker’s brother Doug Becker. Eric is a founder of [RIA] Cresset. [The brothers also funded the private equity firm Sterling Partners.] I’ve known them for more than 30 years.

Also, I met Bill Gates like 10 or 15 times in the 1980s. We were getting all this media [coverage] from publications like “InformationWeek,” and I was the immediate spokesperson. It was the first time I saw a staffing company become a technology company.

If you fast forward, I relocated to New York, had some different jobs, took some time off and had my kids. When I was going back to work, New York had the garment center and financial services. I like to buy garments, but I didn’t think I wanted to work in the garment industry.

I started working for a friend whose family was credited with inventing the multi-family office. I started looking around and saw that this wealth transfer was happening. But the brands in wealth management looked old, stale and tired. They had a lighthouse, a yacht and accessories, or a picture of a couple on a beach — like that’s really retirement. I thought to myself, “I can do better. Someone can do better.”

I went to a friend of mine who was running a large bank and trust. He said to me at the time, 12 years ago, that I “was too old to be an entrepreneur; banks would never hire outside firms; high-net-worth individuals would never be on the internet; and social media is a fad.”

Instead of being discouraged by all this, I was encouraged. I thought, if this guy thinks that everybody would say those things, then that to me looks like an opportunity.

So, I went from one industry working at Kelly Services, where I had great mentors and sponsors and worked for some great women, largely women, and made the switch to financial services, which is largely male. That was really different for me.

What’s your overall view of the presence and status of women in financial services, including technology?

Rudin: Some large firms have numbers that don’t look so out of whack with the overall diversity and inclusion [goals and the general population]. That’s because marketing is filled with women, human resources is filled with women, etc.

There could be a large number of women at a firm, but what areas of the business are they involved in? Generally speaking, it’s not operations, product [development] or this type of focus, and they tend to be more concentrated in supporting roles.

That’s made Cheryl, for example, a really great role model. She’s been hiring women across her organization rather than just deep in parts of her organization — in product and operations, not just human resources and marketing.

Nash: Another issue I’ve focused on is women in our industry from one to five years after they’ve joined it. After five years, in terms of their career path, they’re either stuck — and likely will stay where they are and they’ll be happy with that — or they’re going to get out of our industry.

We’re trying to keep women in our industry. There’s a bigger sense of urgency right now — with the push for diversity and inclusion — in helping women rise.

It’s about who you know in your industry or your business and finding the right sponsor. Or the sponsor is going to find you, as they look for people who are hardworking and who they believe should take on a stretch role, right?

This means finding someone who’s going to look out for you and who’ll speak about you in the room when you’re not there. If you look around, it’s disappointing when women leave our industry.

With the pandemic, there’s so much that women have to do — with remote schooling for children, taking care of parents and all the things generally put on women.

Within our business, we’ve made sure that we’re very flexible right now. If you have young kids at home, take care of those kids when you have to and be flexible in your [work] hours, if you’re in a role in which you can.

We say this all the time. It’s one of the biggest things to do today. If you want women in your organization, and even men today, you need to be flexible. There’s a big emphasis right now on keeping women in the industry, keeping women in your firm and helping them find a path so they don’t leave. After the five-year mark, what a knowledge base walks out the door when that happens. It’s really hard to bring that back in.

How do you see this industry encouraging women and men to become as tech savvy as possible, so their careers can grow?

Rudin: Cheryl and I don’t look like the tech “geeks” or something like that [stereotype]. We don’t look like what you might think of [related to] technology so many years ago. You know, there’s the management information systems or information technology department, and that’s for the guys with the pocket protectors. I’m too cool. That’s not where I belong. I belong in the front office, with the clients.

But what we’ve seen over the past years has been that technology’s become pervasive. You can’t not be in technology. I don’t know why people are sometimes surprised about fintech. That [term or concept] is a passing fancy — because what isn’t are today’s technology companies. I operate a small firm; we’re a technology company.

You can’t not operate without technology today. There’s the notion that we have the “digital natives,” brought up with lots of technology, and the “digital immigrants,” who grew up before the widespread use of technology. Our children, mine and Cheryl’s, are roughly the same ages and have grown up with technology.

The next generation knows that technology is part of the way things work and that it’s embedded in work. It’s not separate. We don’t have a separate technology department at my firm, for instance. If you look down the road and ask who’s head of digital, is there really one head of digital? Can there be a head of digital? Isn’t that everyone’s job?

Those in the next generation are learning about technology at such a rapid rate by using it and gobbling it up. When you contrast those individuals and their ages with the average age of a financial advisor, being over age 60, you start to see the problem.

Generally speaking, women sometimes may not want to think of themselves as sort of geeks or numbers people. That’s another misconception about being a financial advisor — that you must be a numbers person, when really it’s addition and subtraction.

There are tons of technology products that can help with planning, and women are natural planners — if you look at any type of statistics. Women are natural savers. They like to help people. They’re very well suited for the career of a financial advisor.

The job is also quite portable. If you have young children or are planning a family, you can expand or contract your number of clients or adjust when you see them. It’s very easy for women to be financial planners. Yet there’s no knowledge [or exposure] about it as a career when you’re in college. People haven’t really heard of it.

Nash: I agree. When you think about women today and you think about technology, what we’re seeing — especially now — is that more and more people are adopting technology because they have to. We’re doing this [interview] over Google Meet.

When we became a new company back in February and March, we all went remote. We’ve done all our client meetings and road shows over Zoom, MicrsoftTeams or WebEx — whatever the client accepts. Technology is becoming much more accepted.

Advisors are also learning that in order to meet their clients — and they’re not going to meet them in person — they’re going to do that over video or a webinar.

We’re very focused right now on the front office capabilities, having that investor client portal and having the best way [through which] the advisor can easily and readily tell the investor what they need to do, say, with a bonus or something that happened in their account or that’s happening in the market.

But they can’t do that remotely with their home office without technology, and they can’t do their jobs really today without technology. Otherwise, they don’t have access to all the files.

One of my best friends is a CPA who has to go into the office to get files. I’ve asked why she can’t just bring them home or have them uploaded and scanned. But if you’re not used to that, you can’t operate that way. It’s just crazy.

Technology is being adopted faster than ever. That’s a good thing for all of us.

Women naturally like to build relationships, and they take those relationships seriously. They make good financial planners and financial advisors because they’re very good at that. They’re also eager learners, want to learn new things and desire to get ahead.

They’re the ones adopting technology faster than they have in the past. They’re learning that once you do that, your life is so much easier and better. You have more free time.

You want to make sure there’s technology out there that makes you more efficient and is easy to use versus technology that, say, is just starting out or that you try out just for the sake of having technology.

Being a CEO of a technology firm every day, our clients ask us to help them do more with less. That’s what they need. They invest [in technology] to make themselves more efficient. They know they need technology to help make that happen.

It’s an interesting time right now. I’ve often said that, but even more so today — there’s never been a better time to be technology. We can really change how people work, how advisors work, and how investors and advisors collaborate.

There has never been a better time to be in technology and to actually leverage technology. It’s both — to be in it, but also to leverage it to your benefit. That’s important.

Rudin: It’s a must. In the past, what we’ve seen in running a technology company is that you could sell the technology, but that didn’t mean it was going to be adopted and used.

There are some jokes about that right now.

Who’s in charge of digital transformation at your company? The CEO, CTO or COVID-19? There’s a cartoon with a wrecking ball with a COVID-19 label on it that’s located outside an office, where people are saying, “Digital transformation is not going to be coming our way.”

It’s really been the push or the shove that everyone’s needed, even though [the need to embrace digital transformation] has always been there. It’s not even new.

Who or what are you following in terms of where financial services and its digital transformation are headed?

Nash: April and I probably have a similar network and friends. I lean on them a lot and talk to them a lot — such as Lori Hardwick and Noreen Beaman.

[Hardwick is CEO of wealthtech at Red Rock Strategic Partners and chair of Riskalyze, while Beaman is president of Orion Advisor Solutions and earlier was CEO of Brinker Capital, which recently merged with Orion.]

The three of us get together and help each other. We grew up together in the industry. Noreen and I have sat side by side for about 25 years — working on some issues and tackling some challenges together.

As for what I would be watching, I would say LPL Financial. We’re working with them right now, and they’re doing some fascinating things and building their brand and their capabilities. They’re acquiring [other firms] and doing a lot from a strategic perspective. They stand out.

Also, looking at the RIA world, we’re close to firms like Pershing and Schwab, and what’s happening from a custody perspective — making things a lot more automated and efficient with easy onboarding and other steps that are important today.

In financial services, Wells Fargo is reinventing itself. They’ve hired a lot more leadership. It’s been interesting to watch and to help them along the way from a product technology perspective.

I’m also very involved in the Money Management Institute. I sit on its board of governance and the social justice board, and love what they’re doing right in the industry. It’s much different than what you would expect, say, a company like that to do. They’re coming forward with some pretty innovative things.

We’re also partnering with Chip Roame about how to bring more women into the Tiburon CEO Summits. I’m leading this with him. The goal is to get more diversity into the Summits.

You can get more women and diversity on panels to bring different perspectives and share different experiences. We were making good progress with the April 2020 Summit, which got cancelled due to COVID-19.

I don’t know [yet] what the April 2021 Tiburon CEO Summit is going to look like. We’ll see a lot more women at the September 2021 event. As we’ve said, that’s where April and I first met. It’s come full circle.

Rudin: I would echo everything that Cheryl is saying. A couple other firms and people I would think about include Adrienne Penta at Brown Brothers Harriman, who leads the Center for Women & Wealth and focuses on how to serve women.

They’re not talking about this as if it’s a niche [market]. We know that women are not a niche anymore, but they look at some unique needs or challenges that women face. Brown Brothers Harriman has done a great job with that.

Jane Schwartzberg at UBS is head of Strategic Client Segments. People are thinking about how financial services can accommodate women rather than one size fits all, which people are used to putting out in terms of new products, services and client experience. You want to have multiple entry points.

I also chair the Paris Fintech forum, which was able to get off the ground last year. That’s a huge initiative to recruit female founders to the industry. PwC did a big research report on female tech founders. It was really interesting and global in scope; it looked at the challenges and opportunities for women in fintech programs.

Having the type of economy we have now, with more and more of those in the next generation becoming entrepreneurs — something like 26% — and this includes women, the barrier to starting your own business just isn’t there anymore.

I always encourage people to do that also because I did it. And all I needed to do was download a website tool kit and make my own website. You’ve got a storefront.

We just hired a female intern, which is exciting. She’s a junior in college. She thought she wouldn’t go into financial services, which her father works in. It seemed sort of boring and such.

She thought maybe she would do fashion, but she’s having a great time in financial services marketing where … you can do all these interesting things. It’s not as competitive as some other industries.

There are more opportunities for women than, say, in fashion. Women will have a more difficult time in some industries that are typically female heavy. But your ability to rise and to rise more quickly in a more male-dominated industry is really there.

To Cheryl’s point, more and more firms are looking at diversity and inclusion initiatives and have goals for them. Part of their mission is to bring more women in and for a lot more women to move up. It’s just all right there now — after waiting so long.

It’s interesting. Look at Cheryl’s daughter, ask her about what field she works in versus her son.

Nash: My daughter’s in construction. She’s a project manager for a construction company that does office remodeling in Baltimore. She’s doing so well. The company she works for has got a #WomenInConstruction hashtag, and she just fell into that.

It’s so much fun to watch her in this job — she’s got a hard hat. And it’s a fun job. She gets to go into blank office buildings and say where the kitchen should be, etc. She has to work with all the construction folks to get it done. And she’s 26 years old and rocking. It’s so cool to watch.

What’s the future for women in this industry? Is now “the” moment for them? What’s going to elevate women more?

Nash: What’s going to push women forward is support. As we just talked about, there are now diversity and inclusion initiatives at every big organization. Even at the small ones, there are now goals set up to make sure that in the interview pipeline they’ve got diversity. There are goals around how many executives in the C-suite and other areas are diverse.

This is all new. This really wasn’t there before. Our industry is putting standards out for firms like ours to follow, which is really important. That’s first and foremost.

Second, women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners of the family.

There are more women who are financially stable. They’ve got the money. So firms [in the industry] need to focus on that. A lot of people [when they do business] like to work with those they look like. That’s going to drive the future.

There’s also the work we’re doing with colleges and getting students to understand that this is a great industry with so many opportunities — from product sales to financial advising, financial planning and more.

If you educate them at that level, even at the high school age, you’re going to start seeing more women coming into this industry. It’s no longer [associated with] “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It’s now the place where more people want to be, and they’re seeing that they can really have an enriching and satisfying career.

Rudin: It’s really a confluence of everything happening at the right time. Women [can] enter wealth management — and I agree with everything Cheryl’s saying and as I was saying earlier — women have the skills to do so; they’re not being held back.

When [Cheryl and I] were growing up, we were probably held back in terms of the fields we were encouraged to go into. Back then, it was fields like human resources, marketing or support functions.

All of that has been really pushed aside. In my lifetime, it’s really been technology. That’s pushed everything forward. It’s been a great equalizer, because you can show that you have great tech skills, and that doesn’t mean coding.

Everything is not coding in technology. Cheryl and I are not coders, but we could still be in technology. It’s the advance of technology that has really leveled the playing field for men and women.

As a mother of millennials and next generation [adults], I have a lot of hope and confidence in the next generation. They’re not carrying forward a lot of the same attitudes and prejudices that are in our generation.

Nash: We’re helping pave that way. Everybody knows now that it’s really important to have diverse thinking.

Without diverse thinking in the room, you get the exact same background, thinking and skill set. You don’t get to the real crux of what you need to do to be strategic or even to problem solve.

That’s another reason why diversity is starting to make a big play, because you do need to have diverse thought to be successful. There are a number of data points that prove that.

Janet Levaux is editor-in-chief of Investment Advisor. She can be reached at [email protected].