Ian: We are here today with Marina Rodriguez from New York, who works within financial planning on the banking side. Hi, Marina. Thanks for being here.
Marina: Thanks for giving me a call.
Ian: Yeah. So I thought what we’d is talk a little bit about your journey into financial services. I know you made a transition from the bank side and the insurance side into the RIA world, and then back over to the banking side. And I thought your story might be one that resonates with some of our listeners. So, maybe we’ll just get started and I can ask you, where did it all begin for you?
Marina: I actually didn’t learn about the financial planning profession until a little later on in my career, although I have always been in financial services. In terms of what drove me to even look into financial services is, I grew up in a more traditional Latino household and discussions of money and finances really weren’t had. And I really knew I wanted to do something kind of related in business and just get more informed, know more.
Marina: So I went to school, got a degree in economics. Had some friends that went to work at U.S. Trust, which is a private bank, working on the investment side. So, started off kind of doing client servicing, and then transitioned into investments, portfolio management, really managing money for individual and high net worth investors.
Ian: Can you expound a little more on where you started there by growing up in more of a traditional Latino household? And why did that impact you so much into heading into financial services?
Marina: My mother was a stay-at-home mom. Back when my parents grew up, I’m sure a lot of families did that, but more so in the Latino culture, and that kind of continues on there. Your primary responsibility is to kind of take care of the family, and even growing up. And in that, my father would often tell me, you don’t worry about those things, know your place. And once I was an adult, actually, in my early 30s, they separated. My mother basically had to learn everything from scratch.
Marina: So in hindsight, having more financial education would definitely have helped her get up to speed faster and be less reliant on other people.
Marina: But definitely, for me, it was more of, I didn’t want to have someone else have too much control over my future. And I really needed to get better informed finances, and how the world works, how investments work. My father actually, I learned later on, had put money in investments and kind of lost that all around the .com bubble time. So, definitely some aversions. Even now, he’s definitely the put the money under the mattress kind of guy, despite conversations I’ve tried to have.
Ian: Sure. And so you take that sort of experience and decide to become part of the financial services world. And I know you started to touch on it, but what was your first foray into the world of finance?
Marina: So, I worked in Wealth Advisory Group, which is kind of like an emerging wealth, say, one to five millions dollars, at U.S. Trust. Started much more on the client servicing side, just [inaudible] what investments are, what stocks, mutual fund, bonds, how it all works, structures of portfolios. Did a lot in the beginning, just more related to the administration of those types of accounts. And then slowly over time, I started getting involved much more in the portfolio management aspects of it. So actually selecting specific investments based on client’s risk tolerance and managing that money.
Ian: And so you start to learn about, what is financial planning outside of, more simply, just investment management. What were some of those items that you wanted to get clear on when you’re making the transition from the insurance world out to the RIA space?
Marina: This is based on the total aggregate of all the experiences. It’s not necessarily particular to working on the banking side and the RIA side. It’s just kind of an aggregate of what I think is important to know is, starting off with with my area of strength is, understanding the investment platform. How do they operate as an open architecture? What is the kind of investment philosophy, what are the resources available in order to continue to stay up to date with the market? What is the philosophy of the investment team, or is there an investment team? Is there a dedicated group of people that are doing the research, and what is their investment philosophy? Do they believe active, passive?
Marina: So, getting a better understanding what that is, and also understanding minimums, right? So, there’s different minimums on different types of investment products, or even the structure of portfolios and what’s available to a certain set of individuals versus another. But when does that change? As well as the pricing associated with that, right? So not only what is available to certain individuals based on asset size, or however that’s structured, but also how did the fees change as well?
Marina: So that’s the investment piece, but how do you get to what an ideal asset allocation or investment portfolio is, right? Because yes, time horizon is important, risk tolerance is important, but there are other levers that you can pull with respect to that, that’s going to all tie together. But the plan is really going to be able to tell you what you need to take. Like what an appropriate allocation is based on your goals, and what your savings are, what you’re going to be earning, what else you want to acquire, what you want to spend, how you want to spend it.
Marina: With respect to just general growth and development of business is really understanding what- and this is something that I think is something that I continue to learn as I move on from opportunity to opportunity is, what is the goal of the team, of the business, of the broader organization? There’s things that are always changing. Things are changing in the market. Things are changing in the financial planning world. Things change from tax standpoint. Is it the individual’s responsibility to stay up to date to that? Is it a group responsibility? Is there a dedicated team? How does that work? If you’re starting off as an analyst or a junior advisor, what is that development like? Who is really guiding you and showing you what you need to think about, how you need to think about it, and how is that communicated to the client?
Marina: Is it, again, is it a group effort, is it a one? And then, not simply. So, a lot of times, what will end up happening is you join an organization and you’re placed with a specific person or with a specific team. And that team or that person may have a certain viewpoint, but the larger management team or the larger organization may have- their goals may be different because what winds up happening, unfortunately, is you have conversations with people and everything sounds great. And you go in, and things change, priorities change, management changes. And then you get this kind of disconnect in terms of what the goals that you came in are versus like what you’re actually experiencing.
Marina: So, although everyone may be very well intentioned or the person that you’re interviewing with maybe very well intentioned, they’re getting a different kind of demands placed on them from up above. That’s going to change how they interact with you. But always kind of keeping the lines of communication open and understanding, so that, A, you either grow and evolve with the organization, or you say, you know what? This doesn’t resonate well with me. This isn’t really what I want. And then it’s time for you to to look for something else that is more aligned with what your goals are.
Ian: That’s great. So you’re working now with the insurance company, you find an opportunity and you apply. And you and I have the good fortune to work together at Sontag. So, tell me about the transition for you from the experiences, all of them that that led you into this RIA space, and what you were able to bring with you? And perhaps, what you learned while you were there?
Marina: Having the foundation in place for understanding portfolio construction was really helpful. And being client facing, and bringing with me those experiences. And having both observed a lot of conversations and also led a lot of conversations in terms of how to communicate and structure things was definitely something I brought in. That being said, there was, for me, a really steep learning curve. There was so much more that I needed to know and be aware of.
Marina: And getting the CFP gives you a good foundation now to be- in the interest of being fully transparent, I wanted to get the education from the CFP, but I was also working, doing something that was pretty unrelated. So, while getting that foundation and education gave me just enough to be aware, it definitely didn’t give me enough to be able- let’s just say, I never would’ve felt, and maybe other people feel differently, but I never would’ve felt comfortable getting the CFP and just starting my own firm, and thinking that I’m going to be this great financial planner. I really feel like you need to get experience from people that are doing it and already have in order to to be a better planner in the future, and to service your clients as best as possible.
Ian: You mean the textbook doesn’t apply directly to practical experience?
Marina: Not always.
Ian: So you talk about the learning curve. Tell me more about the learning curve. Was it the intricacies of estate planning when it comes to complex estate planning issues, or tax concerns? Or was it sort of how they all meld together? What was the hardest part of that learning curve?
Marina: It was all of it, to be honest. It was definitely the estate planning [inaudible]. There’s a lot of techniques that can be put in place, especially when you’re working in the high net worth space, or ultra high net worth, that the textbooks definitely don’t show you. But then, not simply just that, but understanding the implications of things.
Marina: With financial planning, I would say everything is a balancing act. And it’s being as informed as possible with what the current state is, and then really planning for the possibility of things changing, and how do you pivot and adjust? You get all this information, right? As a financial planner, you get statements from investments, from insurance policies. You get all of their personal information. And it’s looking all of that and being able to, A, understand what you’re looking at, and then being able to extract what is a possible issue or a pitfall, or where is the risk here? And what can we do to solve for that, or to reduce the risk that you expose yourself to?
Marina: It took me two years of feeling a little bit like I was banging my head against the wall constantly, of feeling like, okay, I’m understanding, I’m getting this, and now I want more. I felt like the first probably year and a half to two years, I was operating more behind the scenes. And what I brought to the table was the client facing skills, and being able to explain things, and deliver that message to a client in a way that they can understand.
Ian: So we were fortunate enough to work with some really great planners and experienced folks over at Sontag who had come from the investment world, some lawyers, and the insurance world. How were you able to apply that outside of Sontag? So if my memory serves, you were part of an organization where you were able to give a talk on financial planning 101. What was that like for you?
Marina: I definitely felt like I could have been exposed to more, I could have learned more. There was some kind of struggles there in terms of just developing myself. But what I learned once I left is, actually, I learned a ton. And the thing is, is while you’re there, and especially, like you said, we had the opportunity to work with some really seasoned, experienced people who were very knowledgeable is, you hear them and you see where their thought process goes, and you don’t automatically go there. And you’re like, oh, god, I don’t know anything.
Marina: But the reality is, being exposed to that and having that, I actually learned a lot. And I didn’t realize how much until after. And you mentioned putting together a financial planning 101 presentation, going through that process, and pulling together presentation and consolidation. And then going and presenting, and being able- I think that was probably the first time that I was like, oh, I actually know more than I think I know and realize, is that I was able to answer every question in the room.
Ian: That’s a good feeling, huh?
Marina: Yeah. You’re not always going to know everything and it’s okay to say so. And the right answer when you don’t know anything is simply, I’m going to need to look a little bit more into that and get back to you. And then you go back, and you see your research, and you reach out to whoever you need reach out to. And you get informed and you come back with a solution or an answer to the question.
Ian: Have you realized the influence of your experience in the RIA world on your work now, when working directly with clients?
Marina: Yes. So working at an RAA- and I’ve only worked in one, so take what I’m saying with-
Marina: Some grain of salt. The one thing, at least with working at Sontag as an associate advisor was, you do everything. You’re doing the paperwork, you’re moving the money, you’re doing the plans, you’re managing the portfolios. I mean, I really felt like there were not enough hours in the day, to get it all done. And I definitely put in a lot of extra hours to try to get it all done. Whereas an RIA, you are everything. In a private bank, everything is much more siloed. So, there is a specialist for everything. And that was probably the driving force for why I wanted to go back into banking.
Marina: When I left Sontag, I definitely felt like it was too much for one person. It was almost like I couldn’t excel at everything. It was almost too much to do one thing. And granted, I was an associate, so maybe my feelings were a little bit skewed because I’m pretty sure advisors aren’t doing paperwork and moving money around, right? So there is a difference. I was very tired of paperwork and moving money around, but I really wanted to do the financial plans and have those conversations with clients, which is why I left. And I went back to the bank side because what I do now is exclusively.
Marina: So I work with the private bankers, and they’re much more of the relationship managers. They’re the ones that are the primary point of contact for the clients. They’re the ones that bring in the specialists. So the planner, the investment person, T&E person, dependent on what they feel the client needs, right? So they’re the ones that are really driving the relationship and bringing in the different specialists at different points in time.
Marina: Again, what I’m doing now is doing the financial plan. So I almost view myself as, to compare, as … like a general doctor, right? You go to your generalist for like checkups. And they take your vitals, and run some blood work and they review the results. And if something’s wrong, they send you to the specialist who’s going to take care of it for you.
Marina: So, that’s kind of how I view myself. I’m the generalist, I’m collecting, I’m reviewing the results, I’m highlighting areas of improvement. But then there’s someone else who’s going to go in and do a deeper dive. So, coming from the RAA, I will tell you, I do miss a little bit of that, I guess, a little bit more of accountability, like having the ability to actually implement and control that implementation process a little bit more.
Ian: So what is next for you as you think about your career? I know you’re back in the banking side, you’re enjoying your time. What’s the career progression look like for you?
Marina: So the way the team that I’m on works now is, we’re all assigned to different regions. I cover the southeast, so I travel down to Florida a lot. And we all cover the New York market. So, while I’m dedicated to a specific area, being able to gain the confidence from the New York bankers to think of me as an additional resource has been a challenge. You’re the new kid on the block. Nobody really knows you, nobody knows what you’re capable of.
Marina: So, from a shorter term, it’s just working on creating opportunities to showcase my knowledge base in order to really work with more clients. What I wanted to do then was to focus on the financial planning aspects, specifically. And talk to more people, and give them guidance, and review their financial plans, and discuss their goals and tell them how they can best achieve them.
Ian: What is it about financial planning that you hope that you’re able to accomplish over the next 30, 40 years while you’re working?
Marina: I think it kind of goes back to- you had asked in the beginning of this, what made me want to be in financial services. I mentioned my parents separating and my mother having to go through that. I want to be able to both educate and help as many people as I can to either, through a similar process, or to educate them now, once they start working, even before, on what they can do to be in a good place later on. Like, what should you be thinking about?
Marina: I think for us, because we look at this and we think, we look at it every day is, a lot of what we know is pretty almost self explanatory, right? You should save as much as you can, and you should put that money away and invested appropriately. But these are things that are, I’m going to say obvious, right?
Ian: Right, yup.
Marina: But the reality is, is it’s not. It’s obvious to us because we do this, and we’ve learned it and we’re aware of it, but it’s not obvious to everyone.
Marina: So, it’s putting myself in a position to help and educate as many people as possible. And I don’t necessarily always want that to be focused on only the high net worth space. I think financial education, financial literacy is important for everyone, not just for the wealthy, not just for millennials, not just for whatever the case is. People specialize in all different areas. But I give my friends advice and I’m definitely the go-to anytime that they’re making decisions and have questions. And I’m always available to answer those questions.
Ian: So, last thing and then we’ll let you go, and we really appreciate your time, Marina. So thank you for sharing some of it with us. What would be one piece of advice you would give to someone who’s thinking about a career in financial services and financial planning, more specifically?
Marina: I would give a lot of advice. Can I give a couple?
Ian: Yeah, yeah.
Marina: So I would say, talk to as many people as you can so that you can get a better understanding of what the differences are. We’re all in this profession because we want to help people achieve their goals, right? But there’s so many different ways of doing that. Talk to those that are already experienced professionals. Have them talk to you about their path, why they’re in a specific area, and what their experiences are, so that you can get a better understanding of the different kind of routes you can take in order to follow that dream or follow that passion.
Marina: Two is along the same lines. You’re reaching out to gain information, but it’s also building a network and having people that you can call upon. Again, going back to what we said earlier is, you’re not going to know everything, but having a network in place in order to reach out to the people who can help you find the answers to questions, I think, is really important too. Not just merely from an educational standpoint, but also from like a career progression standpoint. And just having people that are in the field, that have a view on how they think the financial planning profession is going to grow and develop or change. So having a network is really, really important. And the sooner you can start building on that, the better.
Marina: And the third is just education. I would say there’s things constantly, constantly changing, so you have to be prepared to put in the work.