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Symposium Spotlight: Q&A with First Vice President, Legal at Cambridge Investment Research Andrea Shafer

As we prepare for our Annual Symposium, we sat down with Andrea Shafer from Cambridge Investment Research to discuss diversity in the industry, turning points in her career, and advice for college students considering a career in financial services. Shafer is a speaker for our Symposium panel, “Different Career Paths in Wealth Management — Is it Really all Math, Numbers, & Sales?

Cambridge is sponsoring the upcoming Diversitas Symposium, taking place Wednesday, February 8, 2023. The virtual event is free to attend and will dive into the future of the industry and opportunities for young professionals looking to succeed in financial services. Register to attend here.

What can firms and financial professionals do to encourage more women and people of diverse backgrounds to work in the industry?

An active diversity program communicates to current and prospective associates that our organizations are committed to building a diverse workplace and culture. Current employees are generally a vital source of referrals, and if they’re happy, they’re likely to recommend friends and family members when positions open up.

Secondly, we have to think more significantly about sourcing talent. In a service-focused industry such as ours, it’s not just about what you know but, perhaps more importantly, what you have to offer. It’s great to find candidates with a background in finance or business. Still, soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, and the ability to work with teams are becoming increasingly important. While we have outstanding associates who came in with finance or accounting experience, we also have high performers who changed careers from education, healthcare, or another service area, and that experience translates well. Looking beyond the traditional business experience immediately opens the doors for a more diverse pool of candidates.

Working with higher education institutions can be another factor. These organizations are typically more than willing to partner and help create opportunities for students. Our internship program has become extremely valuable as we work with colleges and universities to bring in more than 30 students every summer, creating a diverse pool of young talent. We also have partnerships with community colleges and tech programs, as only some roles require a four-year degree.

Finally, geography is an important consideration. Having multiple office locations and offering remote or hybrid work scenarios creates more opportunities to find the most qualified person for a specific role. It’s mostly about opening doors and spreading the word about great career opportunities within our industry.

What attracted you to the industry, and why have you stayed?

Like so many in the industry today, if you had asked me while I was in college or law school what I wanted to do with my life, working in financial services likely wouldn’t have been on my radar. I wouldn’t say one specific aspect of the industry attracted me. Instead, I’ll touch on why I’ve stayed.

First, I love my company and the people I work with — they are the best thing about working in this industry, whether working with associates in the home office or our many financial professionals; dealing with bright, dedicated, and genuine people makes the time you spend at work worthwhile.

Second, this industry is fascinating. You could work in it for 100 years and still learn or encounter something new tomorrow. You can pick which aspects of it fit your interests. Do you love rules? Compliance is a good fit. Do you love talking with people? Sales may be where you can excel. Do you love numbers and research? Asset Management could be a good choice. The list goes on. My job challenges me every day, and that keeps me engaged.

And finally, the work we do makes a positive difference. We help our independent financial professionals serve their clients. We help those clients achieve their dreams. We help support the local communities around us. What could be better than that?

If a college student is considering a career in financial services, how would you advise them to get started?

College classes are excellent and provide a solid foundation to get you on the right track. What can be more challenging to learn is the hands-on application of the skills you have just gained.

Internships are a great way to build a resume while making connections. Many firms in our industry offer internship programs and are more than happy to extend job offers to high performers. If you find a firm you are interested in, you might ask if they have job shadowing opportunities.

When starting a career, some people can hang a shingle and go it alone straight out of school. They may be looking for someone to join their team and eventually become their successor, or you could benefit from seeing how the skills you have learned can be applied in the real world. I would advise a college student to focus on building a network and, mainly, find a mentor. This should be someone you can build rapport with that is willing to invest in you. No matter how you classify the relationship you create with this person, you will gain invaluable insight into how the industry works.

Having a professional network of people to support you is extremely helpful and encouraging. Take it from someone whose mom didn’t fully understand what she did for years; having access to people who “get” the successes and the struggles you may be experiencing professionally is essential. This contributes to your overall health and well-being, which should always be our first priority.

Looking back on your career, what was the biggest turning point for you and why?

A few years ago, I would have pointed to 2013 when I considered moving to private practice rather than staying with my firm. But after a lot of reflection, my answer has changed.

For the first 10 years of my career, I focused intensely on compliance and legal work for my firm. Then I was asked to take on responsibility for another department at Cambridge, Advocacy & Supervision. You can tell from the second half of that department name that I had some expertise, given my compliance background. But what created the turning point for me was the Advocacy side. I had always been a champion for our financial professionals and prided myself on thinking outside the box to find win-win solutions to complex compliance matters. However, bringing advocacy to my role opened so many new doors.

I learned new things about Cambridge and the securities industry at large. I began to work on projects and initiatives that allowed me to represent the voice of our financial professionals. It has been refreshing, and I have found that while the legal side will always be there for me, I truly enjoy the relationship management side and could not imagine my career without it. Also, as a nice bonus, I no longer immediately strike fear into the hearts of our financial professionals when they see me calling or emailing them. That’s a nice perk as well.

Andrea Shafer joined Cambridge in 2007 and has over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry. Shafer is First Vice President of Legal at Cambridge and also leads the firm’s Advocacy & Supervision Department. In her role, she advocates for Cambridge financial professionals and is highly involved in the firm’s compliance and regulatory matters. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and international relations from Wartburg College and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Iowa College of Law. She holds the FINRA Series 7, 24, and 66 licenses, and is a sponsor of Cambridge’s DE&I Committee.