The ability to provide insightful financial guidance to families and individuals who seek it takes a certain range of knowledge and skill, in addition to a compassionate approach.
The women of Merrill Lynch lend their diverse perspective on how they ended up thriving in a typically male-dominated field and how they are able to make a lasting difference in the lives of their clients.
For some of them, becoming a Financial Advisor was always in the cards.
"From the time I learned what the stock market was in middle school, I knew I wanted to work in finance and help people plan for their financial goals," said Gina Pennings, Financial Advisor. "I have always had a huge interest in financial markets and hoped I would be able to use that interest to help make other's lives brighter."
While for many others, it was never even on their radar, having studied areas such as marketing, human resources and management, and more.
"I remember sitting in an office-wide meeting my second week at Merrill Lynch and looking around the room, seeing very smart, older, professional, male advisors and thought to myself, 'Well, this isn't going to last long for you. What are you going to do when this is over?' I didn't think there was any chance I'd survive, let alone flourish, in the same office over nine years later," said Amber Coleman, Assistant Vice President and Senior Financial Advisor.
Many credit mentors for providing the advice and guidance necessary, as well as simply saying "yes" to opportunities that presented themselves—even if it meant trying something completely foreign.
"When I started at Merrill Lynch, I didn't plan on becoming a financial advisor, I just knew I wanted to grow professionally," said Christine Steinmetz, Financial Advisor. "I started as an intern and each time an opportunity to learn something new or take a new role at Merrill Lynch came up, I took it. Taking those chances has led me into the role I have today as a Financial Advisor and now an equity partner after eight years on this team."
So what do these intelligent women get out of a career in financial advising?
"Being there when a client truly needs advice and support," said Steinmetz. "Financial Advisors have a role in a family's life at delicate times, like when a client passes away and the spouse is left behind to grieve. We're able to provide them with peace of mind and make a meaningful impact on their life and future by helping them during that difficult time."
From family weddings, retirement celebrations, ribbon cuttings, milestones, dance recitals, graduation ceremonies and the birth of babies to funerals, memorials and hospital stays, financial advisors are there when it matters most.
"I'm honored by being included in some of my client's most special and important moments—both happy and sad. I am not the person they see only a few times a year to discuss numbers on a page," said Rua Hekhuis, Assistant Vice President of Wealth Management. "My role extends beyond numbers and my favorite part of my job is being there for my clients when their financial goals are realized ... And when their need for guidance is highest."
Pennings adds that as much as it may seem like financial advising is all about investments and technical analysis, it's so much more about communication and being able to truly listen to clients—and being their financial advocate where they know you're putting their best interest first.
"Clients truly don't care if their portfolio beat the benchmark every quarter. They care that they feel understood and they know you are figuratively 'sitting on the same side of the table' with them, have their back and are watching their financial future so they don't have to."
Being able to put into reality the financial objectives clients set out along the way is something the women of Merrill Lynch's financial advising team all find incredibly rewarding.
"As part of a multigenerational, multigender team, it's fascinating to see the power different viewpoints can have when advising people on their finances and helping them to become more comfortable with basic and elevated concepts involved with their finances," said Molly Tupper Chelovich, Vice President and Wealth Management Advisor. "Whether male or female, people are always looking for good advice and to work with people they know, like and trust; the significance of having a woman involved in the process is very underestimated."
Some expected the world of finance to be much like the blockbuster movie Wolf of Wall Street.
"When I first entered the world of finance, I fully expected to experience a cut-throat environment where people were yelling numbers on the phone all day—and I was intimidated," said Hekhuis. "But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stereotype no longer represents the world women will find if they seek a career in finance."
Hekhuis adds that financial advising is a career field where you can use intellect to develop solutions to make lives in your community better.
"Who wouldn't want to do that?"
Learn more by visiting Merrill Lynch.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.