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Symposium Panel Recap: Career Paths in Wealth Management — Hint: It's Not All Math, Numbers, and Sales!

At our annual Symposium earlier this month, we hosted several expert panels, including one about possible career paths within the wealth management industry.

The panelists discussed why they were drawn to the industry, the paths that led them to where they are, and advice for anyone considering a career in financial services. Before we share takeaways from the event, meet the panelists:

  • Craig Lemoine, Ph.D., Financial Planning Program Director at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, moderator
  • Andrea Shafer, First Vice President of Legal at Cambridge Investment Research, Inc.
  • Richard Porter, Vice President of the Brokerage Annuity Distribution Channel at Nationwide
  • Emily Koochel, Ph.D., Senior Financial Planning Education Consultant at eMoney Advisor

Each panelist shared personal stories about their unique career paths to encourage those considering joining the industry. If you couldn’t make it, we’ve recapped the conversation below.

Math is a small piece of the wealth management pie

Richard noted that analytics and numbers are seemingly essential in a financial career, but there’s so much more to it. He mentioned emotional intelligence (EQ) specifically and said a high EQ is what separates good employees from great employees.

“There’s this innate desire to help others in this career,” Emily said. “And at the center of all of it is being able to be introspective and understand your motivations and what you’re bringing to the table, along with being empathetic and able to adapt.”

Andrea noted that roles within financial services are people-centered, and while there is a space for those good with numbers, front-line positions require you to build trust with clients.

There are several roads leading to financial services

Each panelist shared their background and career paths to show that there’s more than just a single path to success in the industry.

Richard said he didn’t know the industry existed until he was 25.

“I grew up in an urban community,” he said. “When I thought about sales, I thought you sold vacuums door-to-door or a food truck that sold turkeys out of the back. I didn’t know you could sell financial services.”

During his final year of law school, Richard started thinking about what it meant to be successful. He quickly realized that the legal route might not be the right path for him, and he started in financial services as an annuity wholesaler.

Emily studied financial planning in undergraduate and graduate school and worked at a boutique retirement planning firm. The interactions with her clients inspired her to seek mentorship from a professor. She then returned to school to study family science, earned a Ph.D., and started teaching personal finance at Michigan State University.

“I had another opportunity to follow my curiosity and continue to expand my reach and found the opportunity with eMoney Advisor,” Emily said. “I bring the education and the research in and do a deep dive to understand the client-advisor relationship and how we can use technology to navigate these complex conversations. Follow that curiosity until you land in a spot that feels good for you.”

Andrea went to law school with a focus on international law. Her first job out of law school was at Cambridge, working in the marketing department and later in compliance.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Andrea said. “I’d taken a couple of law classes that touched on stocks and bonds but was clueless. I was open to what I should do next and worked in the legal department before focusing on rules, regulations, and relationship management. I still use my legal skills, just not inside a courtroom.”

Mentorship in the industry

Andrea shared that she didn’t seek a mentor, but her supervisor at Cambridge showed her the ropes and has served in a mentor role.

“At Cambridge, we’re really lucky,” Andrea said. “We have a lot of strong female leaders, and, as a result, it’s been an easier path for me than it is for some.”

Emily shared that networking has been critical in her career, especially as a young female.

“I found myself overthinking everything constantly, and I needed to gain confidence,” Emily said. “Going into a client meeting, a male client, in particular, said he wouldn’t listen to a female and asked that I leave the room. The lead advisor brought me back into the space and demanded that I have the same respect that my colleagues were given.”

Richard said he had to be deliberate about advocates that would speak for him when he wasn’t in the room.

“If I wanted a mentor, I had to go outside of our industry,” he said. “My mentors were my grandmother and family friends. Today, many external resources exist, especially for women or people of color.”

The important part of finding a mentor is seeking someone who you respect and will provide insights and perspectives to help you navigate your career.

How to approach someone in the industry for advice

Richard encouraged anyone looking for advice to be professional from the start and be efficient with meetings. He also suggested using email when a meeting is unnecessary.

Emily suggested networking events and LinkedIn to learn more about the industry and make connections.

“Have three questions or discussion points you want to cover,” Emily said. “Go into it prepared and with realistic expectations.”

Andrea said she loves mentoring and coaching others. However, she encouraged anyone interested to take the initiative and drive the relationship.

Career ‘seasons’ evolve over time

Richard suggested everyone listening to keep going back to why they entered the industry and use it as motivation.

“I’ve often heard that I’m the first Black financial wholesaler anybody ever experienced,” Richard said. “Hearing Emily’s story reminded me of times when I was standing outside luxury hotels, and people thought I was valet. Does it wear on you? Yes, but you have to remember your why.”

Emily wants people to give themselves time and grace as they work toward their goals.

“Lean into your confidence, even when it feels fleeting,” Emily said. “Find your passion. If you like it, your passion will get you through the hard days and maintain the momentum.”

Andrea said she experienced imposter syndrome throughout her career and wants others to stand firm, knowing they belong.

“Close no doors,” Andrea said. “You learn a lot by throwing your hat in the ring. It took me being open to change to realize my passions.”

The panelists ended the session by encouraging anyone considering a career in the industry to jump in with confidence.

“Things will work out,” Richard said. “The industry exists, and you can find a home here.”

Through their career paths and personal stories, the panelists proved that a career in wealth management is about so much more than numbers and math.

To learn more about the panel, check out this Financial Planning article. To watch the entire session, please click here, and stay in touch with us to hear about upcoming events and opportunities!