Confidence: The Key to Success for Woman in Finance

Education and mentorship provide career building blocks

by Susan Cooper

Ms. Cooper is managing director of Empire Wealth Strategies, Penn Mutual’s career agency in New York City. Connect with her by e-mail: [email protected]

Confidence is a word thrown around by many clients in the financial services industry – confidence in your current financial stability, confidence in your retirement security, confidence in your financial advisor…

Clients want confidence in every aspect of their financial plan. What many don’t realize is that a strong plan doesn’t happen without the direction of a self-assured financial advisor. You can’t teach self-confidence. The financial professionals who have it gained their confidence as a result of learning their trade inside and outside the classroom.

In my experience as a woman in the financial services industry, the more knowledge I gain, the more certain I become of my ability to interact with clients and know that I’m giving them the very best in financial advice that I can offer. And for me, the two best ways to gain self-confidence have been through furthering my education and having mentors.

I went to college to become a teacher. After I graduated, I looked at my own personal situation and noticed that not many women, including my own mother, had much financial knowledge. Women knew the basics of how to run the finances of a household, but in general there was a lack of understanding on how to build personal wealth. I wanted to change that for myself, and for all of the women in my life.

Education Builds Confidence

I’ve observed that women in general seem to feel more confident when they have an education under their belt. Throughout my career, I have earned the designations of Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP) as well as more specific designations like Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) and Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP), all from The American College, where I serve on the Board of Trustees.They’ve each helped me assist clients not just in one or two narrow segments of their lives, but throughout all of life’s stages.

If producers are brand new to the business, I’d encourage them to start their life insurance education with the Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF), which combines product knowledge with basic life planning concepts, and gives a new advisor tips on how to build their business for the long term. According to The American College, the LUTCF can boost an insurance professional’s earnings by as much as 40 percent.1

If the advisor has been in the business for some time, I’d recommend more advanced designations like the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP).

The American College allows students to learn in whatever medium they choose – either online or in the classroom. We also teach those courses in our office at Empire Wealth Strategies, Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company’s New York City agency. In today’s world where women having to juggle work schedules with driving to soccer practice, helping with homework and cooking dinner, it allows students to earn designations at their own pace. Like many companies, Penn Mutual offers tuition reimbursement for the designations earned, as long as they’re on time validating their agent contracts and pass the class.

Continuing Ed, Continuing Confidence

We don’t train female producers differently, but I believe women want to continuously build their knowledge base which empowers them with increased confidence to become highly successful in our business

I’m currently working to attain my masters through The American College, because I believe that as a leader, you can never – and should never – stop learning. I want to bring the ideas I learn inside the classroom back to the people in my firm. When you receive ideas from peers, it makes you more open to different ways of problem solving – which helps create solutions for clients and in turn, helps an advisor achieve the goals she has in mind.

Higher education, while incredibly important, is only one part of building that base of knowledge. Financial professionals can learn great information in the classroom (or online), but its value isn’t extrapolated without the experience of working with a variety of different clients. And the best way to do that is learning through a mentor.

When I started out in the financial services industry as a young woman in my 20s, I faced many challenges. Similar to my male counterparts, I had no bank of business at the beginning. Beyond my immediate family and friends, I hadn’t yet built personal relationships of trust with other people.

Mentorship Creates Continuity

So I teamed up with whomever I could. I went out to meet clients. I asked questions. I listened. And the best part was that the relationship was mutually beneficial. Clients trusted my mentor’s knowledge and years of experience. They were also comforted by the idea that if my (older) experienced mentor decided to retire, they already knew me. They trusted that since I was mentored by their advisor, their finances would be in good hands.

And at Empire Wealth Strategies, we do it very similarly today. We don’t train female producers differently, but I believe women want to continuously build their knowledge base which empowers them with increased confidence to become highly successful in our business. Many have a natural talent at building relationships, networking, obtaining referrals and working on teams with other producers who have complimentary skill sets. Our goal is to find that ‘right fit’ for them early on so they can maximize their strengths and bring more value to their clients.

Women are more apt to want to get their designations, work with mentors and in teams, to have a holistic planning approach and to not rush the sales process. Most women have little desire to come into the financial services business and work by themselves; but would rather leverage their talents with others to exceed client expectations and deliver more value.

Personally, I came to Penn Mutual because of my mentor – Penn Mutual President and Chief Executive Officer Eileen McDonnell. Having women in leadership positions helps others, like me, envision the path of success that a woman can take.

No matter the experience level of an advisor, furthering education and gaining valuable experience is crucial to professional growth and building confidence in one’s advising abilities.
Confidence gives you a feeling of security. It gives you that sense that you have the ability to work on complex financial and insurance concerns for your clients, and to collaborate with their other advisors on the client’s team, such as their CPA and attorney.

In my experience, there is no other career that allows you to consistently gain knowledge and expertise over time, gives you the ability to grow your own business with no limit on income potential, and makes such a lasting positive impact on people’s lives. The tools are available for us to educate ourselves and learn as much as we can. It’s imperative that we take advantage of these opportunities and commit to continuous learning.