Changing the Face of Wall Street

By Kristen H. Gardiner

If there is one thing about life which you can be certain, it is uncertainty. During the last four years, many of us have faced economic hardships, some as severe as employment (and thus income) loss, or even on-going frustrations with mortgage companies who promise loan modification, yet lead customers, unarmed and vulnerable, to a foreclosure battleground.

There is one valuable lesson to be learned, especially by the Gen-X-ers who never before experienced such emo-economic turmoil as we’ve seen during the last five years, and that is, simply put, life happens. Members of older generations were not quite as affected by the economic tsunami that hit in 2008, simply because they already been through similar turmoil (the gas crunch and Vietnam War in the ’70s; the Korean War in the ’50s; and of course, the Greatest Generation, who faced economic depression, war, and hard labor). Following the economic bliss of the late ’80s through the ’90s, the Baby Boomers indulged their children in luxuries they never had due to the climate of their generation.

As a result, we now see Boomers working well into their 70s simply because they did not have the saving ethic of their parents. The X Generation, having been spoiled and doted upon, are finally realizing, in their 30s through their 50s, that they need to work, and work hard for every penny, especially when they have hipster Gen Y-ers and social-conscience Millennials to support.

The problem – Gen X never had to be prepared in the past, and now they are faced with caring for the aging Boomers and new generations. Some may question the theory of financial preparedness, especially given our current economy, the global economic climate, and an upcoming election, asking such questions as, “How could all of the preparation in the world save our home, our children’s futures, and our retirements when we have no idea for what exactly we are preparing?”

Understandably,  the economic fluctuations of the past few months and the political uncertainty leaves each of us (except the gray suits on Wall Street and the CEOs of large-cap corporations they underwrite) questioning our priorities, and even how we face each day both emotionally and economically. So how do you prepare? Can members of the middle to upper middle class maintain their status should another banking crisis hit? Who do you look to for help, the gray suits? Do they have your best interest in mind?

However there is some good news after all. You don’t need to know what to do or how to do it; you simply need to find the right resources for your unique situation. In times like these, the best weapons you can have in your personal survival arsenal are fellow humans who possess the knowledge you need and, most importantly, whom you can trust. Many of us have our family and friends who we count on during tough times, but there are situations where we need to reach outside of our inner circle and grab some professional input. But, here’s the catch…

Statistics show that more and more women are taking charge of family finances; the number of female owned businesses is steadily rising; and even cases where there is a dominate male bread-winner in the home, women prefer to have their own financial freedom. That being said, women are also more critical of who they select to help them manage their money – from their FA to their CPA, professionals hand- picked by women must meet a rather extensive set of criterion. Mr. gray suit doesn’t cut it for most women, after all, there is an emotional tie to money – elder care, children’s education, life style, retirement…and the fact of the matter is, mister gray suit just doesn’t get it.

It is more important than ever to have a group of financial professionals you can trust with the issues and emotional claims associated with your money. It’s not your bank account balance that’s important – what is important is the peace of mind in knowing that your family, your lifestyle, and your philanthropic needs will be met. Plus, you want the security of knowing that your money is safe and available when you need it.

Think about your money management in terms of your medical care. Would you willingly submit to a potentially hazardous medical procedure based upon one doctor’s opinion with limited preliminary testing and virtually no explanation? I certainly hope not; however, this seems to be the way in which women, in general, have been treated by financial advisers. Despite the fact the women control more than 33% of the wealth in the US, and in 9 out of 10 households, the woman of the house controls the finances and budget, the financial industry remains as male-centric as it was in the 1950’s.

Much like your physician, your financial adviser should not simply tell you what to do with what belongs to you without proper education and assurance that you understand the repercussions. He or SHE should be your partner in managing your investments. You need to be well informed in terms of the risks and rewards of each investment and product in which you have a stake. You should be up to date on your accounts; with AT LEAST monthly phone conversation or email correspondence, just to keep in touch. You also need to have a lawyer and an accountant – all of whom work well together and in your best interest to keep things flowing and current.

As a mother of two school-aged children, I have my share of financial concerns – including cars, tuition, personal and spousal life insurance (women have longer life expectancies than men), retiring at an age when I am still able to enjoy life and in a manner befitting a woman who has worked hard for her living. I also have interests outside the home, which include several charitable organizations, to which I would like to leave some modest bequest. Worrying about money is not time well spent, especially when there is so much more to life. Furthermore, we, as women, deserve a happy, well-balanced life.

That’s why I decided to speak with an adviser a few years ago, and after his attempt at a few “women and money” jokes directed toward my husband, I decided not to work with an adviser. Instead, I turned in my M.Ed for a series 7 and 66 and decided to put my teaching and interpersonal skills to a different, yet equally important use. After all, I wanted to see to it that my past students and their families had the funds to make it through the college years without worrying about money.

Women fought for suffrage in the ’20s; we fought for equal rights in the ’60’s, and today in the 21st century, we must continue to fight for balance in all aspects of our lives. We are the life givers, the educators, the business owners – we continue to prove our worth in all aspects of life, and we are entitled to a sense of security in knowing that we, too, can leave a lasting legacy beyond a name.

There is also the fact that we outnumber men 3:1,yet, even as the MAJORITY we still carry the stigma of being…well…women. It’s all a matter of sense vs. sensibility, and we need to work together to change the face of Wall Street to one which is more female and family friendly. It’s time to shed the gray suits and look to the Heddy Lamarrs of the financial world. Advisers need to be passionate about helping people – not just making money.

When I entered the business of financial services, I was quite literally appalled by the lack of true compassion in the industry. I have seen a great deal of passion for personal gain and power, but where is the concern for what is best for the client? How can one be successful in this industry without understanding and connecting with the client – the INDIVIDUALS you are being paid to serve.

I don’t want a gray suit telling me what to do with the money I earn; I’d much rather receive sincere advice from a fellow PTA mom or fellow charitable organization board member. I want the new face of Wall Street to be kind, sincere, and knowledgeable. I want her to be understanding and sympathetic to what is behind my motivation to protect or grow my money. I expect to be respected, and I will give the same in return. I’ve worn a number of hats during my professional life aside from teaching, and I’ve learned that the three keys to being successful: first, be genuine; second, be knowledgeable; and third, know your resources. Sorry gray suits. People can tell when you’re lacking in any of these areas.

When and if you decide to work with a financial advisor, take the time to interview them – after all, they are working for you. Ask questions, challenge them, find a connection and always follow your instincts. Don’t concern yourself with the firm – all firms use virtually the same materials and software; instead focus on how you believe that professional will use these resources to benefit you.

One integral aspect of my goal of changing the face of Wall Street is forming an association of women from all walks of life. The primary goals of this proposed association are giving women across various industry sectors and professions a means through which to network, find mentoring and internship opportunities for the burgeoning female leaders of tomorrow, benefit from each other’s knowledge and services, and finally, work together to raise awareness and funds for charitable organizations in our shared community.

The women of the Lehigh Valley need forum where their concerns are addressed by other women who care and understand. I believe that by helping each other with the unique resources we each bring to the table, we can create a strong, viable community which values each and every member.

On a final note, I’d like to address the old adage, “You need money to make money.” While true in some respects, there is more to be said to about what we do with our money, how we manage and plan to retain our money, and which resources we use to ensure our goals are met. As a financial advisor with a wealth of resources, my team and I can help you at where ever you are in managing your money. Whether you’re trying to create a budget which allows for investing or if you’re settling in to retirement and want to ensure income and an estate, we’re here to help.

 

I would like to share my knowledge and resources with the women of the Lehigh Valley, and in turn, I would love to learn from each and every one of you. If you are interested in becoming part of this proposed association, please reach out to me via phone at 610-391-8185, or via email at kristen.gardiner@mssb.com. For those of you who express an interest, I would be more than happy to offer a free portfolio review or budgeting for investing session.

In the meantime, please watch for invitations to seminars and other educational events presented by myself and my colleagues.