Failure not an option
by PE KelleyMr. Kelley is managing editor of this magazine. Connect with him by e-mail: [email protected]
The essential value-proposition for success in financial services has always been deceptively simple. From debit-agents working their neighborhoods, families and friends to today’s retirement planners constructing complex income-strategies, the only job requirement, at the outset at least, was a desire to succeed. Unlike any other industry, the financial services career has always valued drive and determination first.
So, to consider just how diverse the field of prospects could be for this career path is to understand, really, that anyone can succeed in it… all they need is the opportunity.
Laurinda Ferriera is one of ten children, the daughter of Portugese immigrants. When she was ten, her parents moved to America taking only her older brother. A year later, her father was killed in a construction accident. Her mother used the settlement money to secure passage for Laurinda (then 12) and her siblings, and to buy a tenement house in Mineola. She will tell you “If my mother, an immigrant widow who didn’t speak the language, had no job and ten children, can achieve financial independence, anyone can.” And so was her own drive and determination founded.
Ferriera is the founder of Five Star Financial Group, in East Hills, NY, and has run her practice successfully for 35 years. She spoke with Advisor Magazine about her vision of success, steeped in a simple philosophy of freedom and financial independence… and where the word failure simply doesn’t translate.
PEK: How did your mother install in you a sense of perseverance, perspective and ambition?
LF: My mother immigrated from Portugal, was widowed by age 39, and raised ten children herself. She made it work, because failure was not an option. She used settlement money from my father’s death to buy a four-family home. We lived in the basement, and she rented out the top three floors. Rental income wasn’t enough to make ends meet for a family the size of ours, so she also worked as a seamstress. In countless ways, she showed us that there is no substitute for hard work and not to fear or shy away from a challenge.
PEK: In balancing career, motherhood and the dual-partnership with your husband, how do you manage to keep your ‘eye on the horizon,’ given today’s business challenges?
LF: We all get 24 hours in a day, and I read somewhere that the “right” way to spend it is eight hours in sleep, 8 hours in work, and eight hours in play. I know that if I work hard enough during my ‘eight hours’ of work, I can do right by my clients and build my business, so I consider the rest of my time as sacred.
Over the years I’ve been offered many promising career opportunities, but money was an inconsequential factor in my analysis. How I would spend my time mattered most to me. For example, my husband is also an entrepreneur, and I convinced him to retire at age 45 to make better use of his time. I suggested he manage our real estate holdings instead of operating his own restaurant. I showed him how the money we would save from not having to pay contractors and vendors would offset the loss of his income. I also pointed out his life could be enriched by having more time to spend hunting, fishing and golfing. The decision for him to retire was good for everyone. My point is this: when you hold family nearest and dearest to your heart, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to create quality time together.
PEK: For many people today, ‘financial independence’ may be a more abstract concept. How do you convey this idea to your clients, and ultimately instill it in them?
LF: I let the numbers tell a story and the values drive the decision. I ask clients to prepare a cash flow worksheet and share their monthly income and expenses with me. Then, I explain the long-term implications of continuing on the same course. I usually ask clients who they want to be, and the lifestyle they would like to lead. I point out that financial independence means having the freedom to live the life you want without relying on others for support. We then discuss how to manage their money to make their desired lifestyle a reality.
A 2017 MassMutual Middle America Men & Women Finances Study shows that six in ten middle class men and women feel only somewhat secure. So, for the people who find the notion of financial independence elusive, I say this: If my mother, an immigrant widow who didn’t speak the language, didn’t drive and had ten children could achieve financial independence, anyone can.
PEK: As a ‘recruiter,’ you held your daughters to a fairly tough standard of success. Talk about how a manager might construct such a foundation over which advisors can succeed today?
LF: Relationships form the foundation of an advisory practice. Managers should help new advisors develop listening and observation skills, help them cultivate strong bonds with clients and team members, network with other professionals, and build relationships with centers of influence.
Another way to pave the way to success is to encourage joint work for a minimum of the advisor’s first year in business. When advisors go out on their own too early, they often lack the experience and knowledge.
I would encourage new advisors to obtain educational goals, licenses and certifications as early as possible because as career and family demands amp up, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the time.
PEK: ‘No nights and weekends’ just might be a mentality that can engender a good life/work balance. Just how important is it to maintain such a directive to your career, and why does it work?
LF: If you don’t control your schedule, it will control you. I only work weekends in the extremely rare case of an emergency. Clients respect my parameters and often share in my sentimentality around family time. They also know that I will take good care of them, so they don’t mind waiting over a weekend.
PEK: As the gender-balance in this industry continues to emerge, what are the models for success for women coming into the business?
LF: Women entering this business should know three things: they’ll have to work both hard and smart and release any fanciful notions that they can do everything themselves. A model for success is to shadow others who you feel have it all worked out. By working alongside someone who has already forged their path, the trainee learns about the trade-offs and sacrifices made along the way.
For example, what can an advisor who holds 20 meetings a week expect in terms of compensation, material rewards, and family time? The trainee may also want to shadow someone who takes half the meetings, so she can compare and contrast the rewards and trade-offs and decide which model might be right for her.
New advisors should also be encouraged to cultivate supportive work relationships so they can get or give coverage when needed. The same is true for managing the household. Advisors should hire competent and reliable help at home for peace of mind in knowing their responsibilities are well-covered in their absence. Help at home is not an unnecessary expense, but an investment in one’s career and a way to make the most out of family time and improve the quality of your life. After all, it’s hard to live life to the fullest when consumed by a never-ending game of catch up on household duties.
PEK: You talk about teamwork in your business as a crucial element of success. How do you instill your sense of ‘team’ in those who work for you?
LF: My team meets at least once a week to discuss who is doing what, where and how. Team meetings help us stay organized and make sure everyone has what they need to accomplish their goals. More importantly, it allows us to support one another in achieving our priorities.
I want every team member to know their value to the overall success of our practice, so I make sure I compensate them fairly and give merit-based bonuses. Also, because I do value their time, I invest in technology to increase our efficiency and effectiveness.
PEK: You have an interesting idea about ‘clients mirroring the advisor’. Talk about how this can drive you toward like-thinking clients, add why that might serve you in your path to success?
LF: It’s human nature to attract those who share your values and beliefs. I tell my daughters that if they are honest and hardworking, they will attract the same in their clients. A large percentage of my client base is hardworking female professionals, executives and business owners. I don’t think that has happened by accident. I believe they sought a relationship with someone who would understand their needs, and meet the same professional standards they hold up for themselves.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had clients who perceive and approach life much differently than me. Those relationships require more effort because it’s harder to establish credibility and anticipate someone’s wants and needs when you have a disconnect in values and beliefs.
In 2019, we’re going to make a concerted effort to get in front of more people who share our ideals and who are faced with the same realities we face. ◊