Alexandria: Today on the podcast, we have the wonderful Miss Rene Norris, the Founder and Managing Director of Urban Wealth Management, which was started in 2012. She’s a guest commentator on CNBC Closing Bell, so you probably have seen her on your TV. And to top it off, she’s the 10th president of the Association of African American Financial Advisors. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today Miss Rene.
René: Thank you. I love that introduction. Can you do it again? Just kidding.
Alexandria: I could. I like the intro part.
René: I love it. Thank you so much for having me. So excited to share.
Alexandria: Yeah. So, I have a quick question. Because I’m always curious about these things. When I see a unique name for a firm, I always have to ask, how did you come up with Urban Wealth Management?
René: Thank you, because that often gets asked. And because I’m African American, a lot of people think, oh, do you just work with African Americans? For whatever reason, I don’t know why the two of those are combined that way. But I came up with that name because the majority of people who do create their wealth are in major urban areas. And we have clients all across the country. And maybe they started out in an urban area but they moved to Montana or Wyoming. But they got their wealth while they were in a major urban area. And since our focus is working with professionals, that’s where the majority of people are.
René: So that’s why I came up with it. And it took me a while to come up with that name. And when I did come up with it, I was so excited, said this is perfect. This is exactly what our focus is and will be. So, that’s how we came up with Urban Wealth.
Alexandria: So I know you’re in Los Angeles area, which is very much an urban area. Were you born and raised in Los Angeles too?
René: No. And I will tell you that most of the people in California, probably six to seven out of 10 are from another state. So I was born in North Carolina but I consider myself a native because I’ve been here since I was two or three years old. I’ve been here a long time. even though I’ve gone back to North Carolina, some of my family, a lot of my family has passed away. But we have all of our, most of our family is on the east coast, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and some in South Carolina, and just one or two in North Carolina. So it’s very limited, just my immediate family, my two siblings are here in the Los Angeles area. They were born here but not me.
Alexandria: Wow. So you have family all over. You’re that person when you go visit somewhere, you’re like, well, I got family here.
Alexandria: You’re visiting someone. That’s awesome. So then how did you get into the financial planning space? I know before you even launched Urban Wealth Management Group, you were with Morgan Stanley. But kind of give us some maybe some background on how you maybe even got it into the finance profession.
René: Right. I kind of stepped into it almost by accident. But I started out in an insurance industry and was working for Mutual of Omaha. And I really got interested in addition to doing insurance, and I started focusing really, and this is going to be a key part of our conversation about developing a niche. So while I was there, Mutual of Omaha, I developed a niche where I was able to provide a special discounted rate for disability to government employees. And it was fantastic, it just blew up. And my branch manager recognized it and said, hey, you’re a rock star, you’re doing really good. Nobody else really had a niche. And so, that helped to support me in making a decision about is this an industry I want to stay in.
René: But also, the most interesting part was, my manager was African American. So this is back in the 80s, which is extremely unusual. He was one of three at that time at Mutual of Omaha that managed offices across the country. And so I was very blessed to have someone who actually had my back, he was my mentor and he also supported me.
René: So while I was there at Mutual of Omaha, I got my Series 65. We could sell mutual funds and things like that. And I really got fascinated. I love the idea of being able to still make money but not having to work all the time. I exited there and started working for a company that was responsible for putting together the deferred compensation plan for the LA County. They’d never had one before so I was there at the beginning stages and made pretty good money. And then from there decided I really want to become a stockbroker because that was the term at that time.
René: And so, I took some time off and had my daughter, was married at the time, and got my Series 7. And from there, I did some research while I was off, I had taken time off being a mom, and I was offered probably close to a year. And I decided, let me interview round with different companies. Now rather than them recruiting me, I went knocking on their door. So I went to several firms and said I was interested in coming in to work for them and I was turned down by everybody except one firm.
René: And it could be because of the culture because I was a woman. And again, this is back in the 80s, the percentage of women in the industry was very, very low. I mean, it was less than 10%. I think it was even less than 5%. It was really low. And then being a person of color, they were like no, you’re not a good fit. No, they didn’t say that, you know that way that this is the reason why but just said we don’t think that you’ll be a good fit. We don’t think you’d be successful.
René: And when I went to Dean Witter, which was an amazing family owned company, and at that time, it was owned by Sears stores. They were partnered with Sears Excuse me. But that was a great opportunity. I went in, they opened the door and said come on in. And I had some amazing managers who also had my back and took care of me even though some people did not want to work with me because I was African American.
René: So I stayed with Dean Witter, and then from there went to, when Dean Witter got acquired by Morgan Stanley, it changed the culture. And I’m not saying things negative about Morgan Stanley but it was a different culture, and culture and environments are really important in this industry. So I left and went to another firm, Prudential Securities at that time and then left there after seven years and went to Smith Barney. And then Smith Barney was acquired by Morgan Stanley, I felt that they were stalking me, so I left and started Urban Wealth Management at that time.
Alexandria: Wow. The huge thing I noticed from your story is the amount of experience that you’ve had going from different firms and companies and being very flexible to the fact that like, I have my own needs, I know what I need to do to be successful, not allowing other people to basically say, hey, you can’t work here, to stop you from knowing that you wanted to do this as a profession and as a career, which has led you all the way up to the point of, oh, let me start my own firm.
Alexandria: And just like hearing this, I’m like, now there’s this kind of like perception for young planners, like oh, they hop around from firm to firm. I think people like forget that most people don’t just leave a firm or a company because they just didn’t like having to come into work at 8AM every day. There’s some real depth to why people make transitions to help make them successful in their career. And it sounds like that has happened throughout your time and led you to today owning your own firm.
René: Right. And one of the key components is the culture. It is the culture. The industry in and of itself is challenging as is when you are, whether you’re starting your practice or you’re starting your business. If you are in a firm that doesn’t really support or recognize that you want to do business a certain way, then that’s a reason why you would want to exit. And I understand that with a lot of our our younger advisors that they, and women, the culture of the environment is not something that’s conducive and supportive of them. And then that’s why they exit.
René: And I loved being at Dean Witter. I loved being at Smith Barney. Both of those companies allowed you to be an intrapreneur, meaning you are an employee but they did allow you within reason for you to establish, you know, practice that the way that you wanted to. And I knew when I first started out at Dean Witter, the area that I really wanted to focus on was women. And Dean Witter did assist in supporting me in that, and the same at Smith Barney.
Alexandria: So to your point about culture being very important, I 100% agree with that. I also think it takes a great leader to build an amazing culture within these firms and companies. As a current leader yourself within the profession, what characteristics do you feel make up a great leader?
René: Someone that is open to differences in people and the way that they manage their, you know, well, pretty much recognizing that there’s not one single path to success. And I think that that is key when you are in an environment and maybe the leader of that firm says, we’re just, you know, you can only do business this way and if you don’t do it this way, you’re not going to be successful or you can’t work with us. That’s not a very positive and open type of a place that you want to be in. I think there needs to be from a leadership position, you need to be open-minded for other paths to go down and be able to support someone on that. So that’s one thing.
René: The other is to understand that being available to make adjustments also within your culture or your environment, because the leaders can learn a lot from other people coming in who are doing business or going down a different path and what that leader has done and has taken in the past. So, it’s really important I think, and we’re in a turning point, a flipping point here in the industry, where between millennials, women, people of color, people with different lifestyles, that’s what the world looks like. That’s what our country looks like. That’s what our community looks like. And you don’t, and can’t necessarily work with each of those specific communities in the same manner as you do with another one. You need to make and be open to making some adjustments and how you work with people.
René: Still, you have to have high levels of ethics and competencies. But you need to be able to say I’m going to work with women differently than I am going to work with a retiree or a male that’s been in the business for, in their industry for 30 years. They’re going to have a different need and way that they want to work with someone than a millennial.
René: So, the leader needs to be able to be open to and understand that there’s a shift that’s taking place in the industry. And you can’t do things the way that you did at 20, 30, even 10 years ago.
Alexandria: I can sense this like level of like frustration sometimes when I talked to different Next Gen or just people entering the profession or other professions where they are dealing with a leader that isn’t open to differences like you talk about. And when it’s like my way or the highway type of leadership, it’s very much like, well, how does that empower or make people feel to go, I want to even follow you any longer, when you don’t even see me as an individual and you don’t listen to me when I talk. Yeah, you’re the leader, but that feeling of just knowing that I’m valued and that I’m important enough that you listen to me as my leader is like huge. And I know a lot of leaders that don’t even do those things.
Alexandria: It really brought it, it was actually an interesting discussion that came out of the Next Gen gathering conference around leadership. It was kind of around the idea if individuals could be born as a leader or are they made, like, you can groom them into a leader. And I’m curious, your thoughts on that?
René: Oh, absolutely. They can be groomed. The confidence level when you’re coming into this industry can be low, understandably, because I hear this often from people who are just coming in, they feel like I don’t know as much, I don’t feel competent to be able to share and tell clients what to do. And I have to tell them, you know 10 times more typically than the person that you’re going to be helping, and the person that you’re going to be assisting. And over time, the confidence level increases, and it gets better, it gets stronger. And enables someone then to take on more of a leadership role.
René: But again, it comes back to the culture. If you’re in an environment where you’re not being recognized that, hey, that’s a great idea. Someone could say, you know, let’s try our onboarding process to be more digital, more virtual based as an example. And if your leader says, no, we just want to meet people face to face one on one, and you know that the folks that you are focusing on prefer virtual digital type meetings, then your confidence level really kind of gets hammered at that point, and you don’t feel as strong or and as enabled.
René: So I think that you just continue, you continue to be groomed. It’s very rare that somebody is born as a leader, very rare. And if they are born as a leader, that means in their culture in their family in other places, their schools have supported them so that they feel confident about expressing their feelings. And being a leader, it’s always grooming. And so, a key point is you want to be groomed and the best way to do that is to be in the best culture and environment. And even if you’re not in the best or you are to have a mentor, and mentors, to be able to assist and providing you with some guidance so that you can be groomed to be strong and feel confident and be a leader.
Alexandria: We have people who listen to this podcast that are probably sitting here listening like, oh my gosh, I have, I’m a leader in my office and there’s people that are maybe newer in my office. And you maybe are able to see some of those leadership qualities in them. How do you think people could be working with that next generation of planner or support staff in their office to help them grow their skills and characteristics to becoming a great leader within the profession?
René: Well, I’ll use an example that we have here at our firm. And we’re an all woman firm. And so, it’s important for us to build out, well build out an environment and culture that we were not enabled to have in our previous firms. We work in a collaborative way.
René: So I would say if someone is there in an environment and they’ve started, and here’s a way that you can groom the leadership, to have them engaged in the meetings with your clients or prospective clients, they’re able to see how this leader currently works with their clients or prospective clients.
René: And for the first few, maybe they don’t say too much of anything, they just observe and make sure that that leader has a conversation with the upcoming leader about what did you hear, what are your thoughts, what do you think I should have said or done? Because, you know, not all leaders are going to be 100% on board and not recognize that they might have missed something. And we love having a conversation where it’s two of us here because I might hear something but my team member hears something different.
René: And so really beginning to have them more engaged in these meetings so that they can feel much more comfortable about doing this on a one on one basis I think is important, just as an example.
Alexandria: Yeah. I love that part you just said. The word that comes into mind is just feedback in general. Like being a leader and talking to someone who’s younger or new and saying, hey, what do you think I could have done differently? Putting yourself in that almost like reverse mentorship, hey, you give me You give me some feedback. Allow that person to sit in the like leadership chair or sit in the, I’m the planner chair to see like how I could go, oh wow, this is that feeling that you have, this is what it takes to become a leader, like really allowing them to grow from a space where they get to experience, try and practice it.
Alexandria: So naturally, they just get these, they grow their skills to become a better leader. It’s very difficult I feel like becoming a good leader when I’m just like, okay, I just came in the meeting, I’m sitting with Rene, and I come in all the meetings, and I just listen. But I don’t actually do anything. So when you actually call on me, I’m kind of like, I mean, I’m not sure, I could give you this idea, you know, like. And now I’m nervous, and I’m like, you know, I had this down pretty good. Because I never practiced, I never practice it.
Alexandria: One thing that I think is not always discussed about leadership roles is the challenges you face as being a leader because it is a lot of work. I don’t think we point that out like, it’s long nights. I mean, you own your own firm, it’s long nights, it’s responding to emails, doing all the things that you maybe not even like doing. Showing up early. There’s a lot of challenges. What are some of those challenges besides the ones I just dropped because those are, I’m probably coming from my own personal thought. But what are some of those challenges you face as being a leader?
René: Well, you definitely pointed out all of the things. Time management for me has been a challenge. And so, two days out of the week, I was able to set up a scheduling system so that Mondays are my admin days, I don’t make appointments unless it’s an emergency, you type. But it’s basically me working on the business and working with our team.
René: Fridays, and I just started this about three months ago, but my Office Admin says you’re not following through with this, Rene, that I said I would just work half day until like one o’clock and leave. But I end up staying here till three.Bbut it’s better than staying until six or seven o’clock.
René: So time management, yeah, has been a challenge more than anything else. Being able to have balance in your life. And I have to make sure that I schedule time so that I make sure that I’m doing stuff that’s fun and making sure that I take care of myself mentally and physically and being able to work out and being able to meditate and doing stuff that is just not going to be completely business focused. Yeah, that’s been my big challenge.
Alexandria: What would you say like being in a leadership role when you’re working with someone difficult that you, like, how do you kind of handle that when they’re like, I don’t believe what you’re saying, Rene, or I think we should totally be going this direction? How do you kind of attack situations like that as a leader?
René: Well, I’m pretty open-minded. If somebody on my team says, hey, let’s try doing this or let’s go down this path, I’m going to say, okay, fine. Let’s try that for a certain period of time, let’s see how that works. And I’ll give you a timeline and here’s some accountability features that we want. And this is what the expectation is. So I have people to put together, and I’ve had this happen with some of our team members, put together a proposal, give me some ideas about what the expectation is and let’s work on it together.
René: Now, if it doesn’t work, then you will know why it didn’t work because we didn’t get the results that we were looking for. But I think at the end of the day, as a leader, unless something is just completely out of whack, it’s unethical, it’s not compliant, then we don’t even go down that road and I can just simply say that that’s not going to work. But I do believe that it’s important as a leader still to be open to some ideas.
René: Luckily, all of us get along well. We don’t have any push offs or disagreements. And it’s interesting, I’ve had some people say, oh, you have all women? Do you guys get along? Well, yeah, we get along.
Alexandria: More than get along.
René: Yeah, we get along. We even show up sometime wearing the same clothes, I’m like, what? The same top or the same shoes or something like that. But anyway, you know, if there is some difficulty and we are not on the same playing field with trying to achieve something, we just have an open conversation. And it’s with everybody including our office admin to give our feedback. Up to this point, we have not had those kinds of issues.
Alexandria: One of the last things that I’m really curious about, you’re the current president of, I’ve already kind of said it, but it’s really called Quad-A, it even sounds kind of weird to say the whole name out. But it’s Quad-A for people who are listening but it’s the Association of African American Financial Advisors. What made you go, I want to take on that role of being president? That’s one thing where you don’t just be sleeping at night and go, I want to do that. What made you take on more leadership capacity? I mean, like, what makes you, what’s that drive like?
René: That’s a good question because I will say that it wasn’t something that was on my plate initially. And just by way of background, the association has been around since 2001. And I first learned about Quad-A when they were at pre-conference for the FPA back in 2015. And I signed up for them because even though I had been in wire houses, and there are days where they have a conference for women one day a year, or a conference for people of color, African Americans, Hispanic, Asian American, it’s one day a year. And you don’t have the opportunity to still stay connected with them. I immediately jumped in after I met all these wonderful professionals, which are primarily East Coast based.
René: And over the last four years now, this is my fifth year, I really became engaged and got involved on the board. I started the first couple of years in doing the planning conference, the national conferences and then came on to the board.
René: So the reasons why when this was offered to me, I did hesitate because, you know, I’m running a business, I have employees, and I’m like, I’m not sure I’m going to be really good at doing this. And I did have to sleep on it and meditate on it for a while because it does take up a lot of time. One of the things that really inspired me was the person who started it, LeCount Davis who was in his 80s. And I was motivated, inspired by the fact that he started this in 2001. And I wanted to continue his legacy because what he has done and been able to achieve over these years has been phenomenal.
René: So we are now as part of this, I wanted to, once I took on that role to make this more of a national, huge national organization because they’re primarily East Coast based. And we’ve been able to do that in the last six months by doing a number of different activities, and introducing the concept to people. So my role this year as I told them was the three M’s, is messaging, getting that out to everybody so that they know what and who we are. Also, mentorship, we’re launching a mentorship program this year as well. And building out membership.
René: So, so far, we have a great team, our board and our different committees have been very active. And it also made it easier for me to take on the role by identifying people that I could relegate and delegate to. And they follow through with the roles. And so, that’s also helped me with my business too in that for this organization, you’re developing the vision of what your role is going to be for this term and identifying people that can follow through with it. And it’s also helped me here to really do a deeper dive in my business, who can do x and finding the right person to follow through.
René: So, I’m very excited about being in the organization and being the head of the organization at this point. And we’ll be looking for a new president soon. I hope maybe by the end of this year, a president elect, and be able to make sure that they follow through on a lot of the things that we have put in place.
Alexandria: I think it’s one thing to point out how much that taking on leadership roles really help you in your business tenfold that it’s like, it’s not like one or the other, like, oh, I’m stopping my business and I’m becoming a leader for this association. It goes hand in hand, it’s like, you’re helping to move the profession forward, you’re helping to keep legacies going forward. And all the same time, this has helped benefiting you and your clients and the people you work with and your business.
Alexandria: And one thing I just find extremely wonderful is the fact that you have an all woman firm. I know you’ve mentioned that on the podcast now and I just have been like holding back like, I want to talk about. It’s weird because it’s kind of like the fact that we’re like, wow, that’s so amazing, you have an all women firm, but the fact that it’s like we’re even having that discussion that it’s wonderful, like it’s not a normal thing, right? It’s not normal for people to have all women teams. But correct me if I’m wrong here, but you have four or five essential planners and then two kind of support associates that make up your team currently?
René: We have, there’s four financial planners, including myself. I have one intern, she works full time at a university but has been working with us for the past year. And I called her an intern and she changed it to be apprentice. So that’s good.
Alexandria: I like that. There we go. Lets change this name up.
René: Yeah, she is amazing. And my office admin who’s been my longtime assistant, she has been my assistant for 20 years. And actually, I will just say this too, when I went independent and I was still at Smith Barney, I did tell her because you can’t make an announcement at your firm to say, hey, I’m giving you two weeks notice, you know, I’m leaving. They walk you out the door. But I told her, I said, look, this is what I’m thinking about doing. And if you are okay with this, if you can come with me, I will do it. But if you can’t, I’m not going to leave. I can’t do this without you.
René: So she thought about it. Next day she said, okay, let’s get the heck out of here. So it took us about six months to do that. But she has been absolutely key to the success of this firm because my clients, a lot of times they just talk to her, I don’t even know that they’ve called the firm and she takes care of business. So she is an admin and she pretty much runs the firm. And I tell everybody she’s the boss of everybody. I might be the owner of the firm but she’s the boss. So I follow her directions too.
Alexandria: That’s amazing. She’s the director of getting it done. That’s what that is.
René: Exactly. And again, this is key to have a team of people that have the skill sets that you need but will follow through. A lot of people are passionate. So yeah, yeah, I really like that. I’m going to do that. And then you’re looking at them two months later, nothing has happened or two weeks later, nothing has happened. So, all of my team, when they say they’re going to do something, they do it. And I don’t have to worry about it.
René: So, it’s been amazing. We host monthly webinars, we do all of our own blogs, we do not buy anything from anybody. We make up our own presentations. We have events locally, we just did a women’s summit in May. And it was interesting because we custody with Schwab, our regional liaison came to our women’s summit, was a woman, and as a result of that, and I just found this out last week, she identified me as the person to do a national ad for Schwab. So I’m headed up to the Bay Area, San Francisco in about a week and a half, and that will be ads for video, maybe TV as well as interviews.
René: So, you know, again, being unique in that we do have it because I never even think about the fact that we’re unique, I just wanted to create an environment that was going to be conducive for women. And I hear that often that there aren’t hardly any women owned and all women team firms. But that was not my intention. I really just wanted again, we go back which we started this conversation about is having the right culture and environment. And that was my goal.
Alexandria: Congratulations on that, that is really awesome. That’s just like, one more step in like, the things, see how you got all this stuff on your plate, but the things that come from it, the fruits of your labor, that is amazing.
Alexandria: So I do want to touch a little bit more on this because there’s a reason why maybe a lot of people don’t have a lot of women in their office. Different reasons that come from the profession, different reasons from the cultures that people have in their office. But I want to know a little bit more specifically from you of kind of like your why behind having a woman only firm?
René: Well, because our focus is primarily working with women, not at the exclusion of men, obviously, but primarily working with women, and of the women that we have on our team, they all have, they’re all mid-career changers except for our intern, well, she will be a mid-career changer too. She’s much younger than the rest of us. And as a result of that, they have experience in areas that has allowed them to create a niche.
René: So for example, one of our team members, Diane came from the nonprofit world, came from the nonprofit space, made a mid-career change and became a financial advisor and then got her CFP. A lot of the business that she does do is with some nonprofits as well as individuals who are on boards of these nonprofits. And she’s just been elected as the board chair for the Women’s Foundation of California. So that is just going to expand her network of contacts.
René: Another one is DeRinda, has made a mid-career change, she was in higher education, has her PhD. And she became passionate about doing financial planning so her specialization is working with educators and single women. So being able to identify what your niche is because women’s not a niche market, we make up 52, 53% of the population. You still need to identify what area that you want to specialize and work with. And the best part of it is, what is your life personally look like and how can you connect with this niche, this group of people that you want to focus on doing business with and for.
René: So, there’s not that many women, financial advisors, as we know. We’ve been stuck at 23% for the last decade, means 77% are men. And so, we want to give women the option to be in a safer, more supportive space, where we’re not just talking about investments. We do talk about financial planning and elements that are more important to women that we believe are more important. And not starting at the place of talking about investments and technical terms, which just blows people’s minds. They’re like, I don’t know what you’re talking about, can you help me with my college education or help me pay down my student loans. Or my parents are experiencing some health problems so I need an estate plan.
René: That has nothing to do really with investment assets. It’s about investing in themselves. And so that’s what we focus on. And we’ve been very popular in terms of people selecting us for those reasons. And we get a ton of referrals as a result of that.
Alexandria: One of the things that’s still scary every time, even though I know the number, is scary to hear it every time of that 23% in the profession are women. What things do you feel like firms who are maybe more predominantly men should be doing to support the women in their offices? You’ve shown that you’re able to do that. What can maybe men in predominantly male dominated firms be doing differently?
René: Right. One of the challenges, and I hear this a lot from women is, you know, when they come into the industry or they come into a firm, it’s very sales oriented. And that’s difficult I think for women. We’re great with relationships and developing relationships. And if you’re planning to work with women in particular, we don’t tend to make decisions right away, we got to trust you. And so, that takes a little bit of time to develop that relationship with that person.
René: So, I think in those kinds of environments, so recognition that women work differently than men do, not to say one is better than the other, but they work differently than men do, which might be more sales and more investment oriented, women are going to be more relationship and focus on investing in the individuals more from a financial planning perspective. And I think that that is a big problem because there’s an expectation that you have to have so much assets under management, otherwise, you’re not going to be successful. So that’s one thing.
René: The other thing is is that still with women to this day, we still are mostly responsible for managing our families. So if you’re married, you got kids, you still need to have the flexibility to take your kids to the doctor’s office or to the soccer game or whatever. And typically because men, their husbands may not be in a position or role to do those things, women need to have the flexibility to kind of come and go as they need to, in and out of the office as they need to to manage their family and manage their lives.
René: And that’s the other element that I see it’s been a little bit of a challenge. With someone who is just married and maybe they are starting a family, sometimes these firms don’t want to hire them because they know they’re going to be out for a period of time also. They just need to be able to recognize that we function, we operate differently. And they can make adjustments to their culture.
René: So one idea might also be maybe you team up with a male who is very, or someone, could be male or female, who’s very sales oriented, knows how to get business in. They are a rainmaker. But the one advisor is the one who is helping to maintain and create sustainability of that relationship and can do a deeper dive into working with that person, so it’s just not focused on their investment assets but it’s focused on their life and their livelihood. And so, that can be a good pairing up for someone. And it also will help the woman to understand also, if she’s not sales oriented or is not comfortable with it, how do you recruit and get new clients.
René: So, just the thought about how women can migrate and be more integrated in these kind of environment, but they need to be able to have the time and the ability to develop the relationships with clients and not be sales, not being a sales-oriented, strictly sales-oriented kind of environment.
Alexandria: One thing that gets, you know, there’s a lot of studies and initiatives that are out regarding getting women into the profession. But one thing that I noticed that there’s also, there’s not maybe an exact statistic or maybe one I don’t know of causing women to also leave the profession. And why do you think that may be, what do you think is causing that? And it could be something close to what you just said is our challenges.
René: It definitely is that. It’s a culture. It’s a culture. It’s environment, and it’s sales-oriented. In addition to that, really not being able to have a mentor or someone who can provide some guidance. I hear a lot of times that women are being aggressively recruited. But when they get into a firm, they’re the only woman, nobody talks to them or maybe there is one other person, but nobody is there to really walk them through and support them as they’re making this transition.
René: So, using that same example of if you are partnered with someone let’s say that’s been in the business for a while, being in those meetings, being able to provide some feedback about what their observations were during that client or prospective client meeting, it will help to raise the competence level. Because if the leader says, hey, I didn’t even think about that, that’s a great idea. That helps to build a confidence and that person will feel much more capable and competent and being able to transition over into their own without no longer needing to be in these or pair up all the time with this person.
René: But we need to make sure I think when women are coming in or younger people, it doesn’t matter, if somebody is coming in, they need to have somebody that’s got their back and be their guidance and their mentor to assist with them making this transition. Because you can’t do it on your own, this industry is challenging. And being able to partner with someone or be part of a team can make a difference about being able to be sustained and stay in the industry.
Alexandria: We’ve been speaking a lot about the importance of mentorship, and you just kind of really touched on it, especially in regards to women and even the next generation. How do you approach mentorship, like, maybe even differently within your office and kind of the dynamic that you have with people that work there?
René: Well, the mentorship can be, it may not even have to be from someone who’s even in the industry. It’s helpful to have that, you can have more than one mentor. But as it relates to here, we end up having conversations in a group. I do have some one on one meetings with a couple of our team members maybe once a month to just kind of review what is your game plan, are you on task with it, what are your challenges? What do you what do you think we need to do differently to assist you in getting to that point?
René: And I also am tapped quite often out on social media, with LinkedIn in particular, with women who are coming into the industry, and want some feedback about what they should do, what’s a good place to land, what are some of the things and skill sets that they need to have in place in order to make the transition. And that I think is a responsibility that all of us who are in this industry must have, whether you’ve been in the business for two years or 20. Somebody is considering coming in or maybe they just started, there’s a lot that you can share and assist with that person who’s entering and opening up the door for them and sharing some ideas and supporting them.
René: When I first came in the industry, it was, like I said, it was very few women. And there was three of us that came in around the same time, we were different firms. But we literally, in those first two years, we cried together because, we did a lot of crying. But we all knew that we love this industry, we wanted to stay in it. And we were able, all of us were able to find mentors, people who had been in the industry for a while that assisted us in making sure that any issues or challenges that we were having they would, they could provide us with some feedback about how we can make adjustments to our practices. And that helped, it was absolutely essential.
René: I did an interview with Investment News last month, and talking about what is key for women and people of color to stay in the industry. And I did say mentorship is absolutely critical. You just can’t come in here be by yourself. And being able to have somebody to say what you’re doing is fine, it may not seem like it, you may not be making as much money as you think you are. But if you continue on this path, trust me, you will be very successful. That means a lot and will allow people to stay. They just need confirmation that they’re doing the right thing. Or if they’re not doing the right thing for somebody to say no, you might want to consider doing it this way instead. Because your boss may not be your mentor. You will probably need to have somebody else to share that with you.
Alexandria: So one thing that made me like super, I was over here shaking my head like, wow, that is so true is the point that mentorship can come from within the profession but also outside of the profession for people that have maybe no idea what financial planning is. What are some of the things because, I mean, we’ve talked, we know the importance of mentorship, we know maybe some key points of how like mentorship should go. But what are some situations or things we should be weary about that could cause for bad mentorship scenario, where that’s not actually mentorship or kind of red flags? Maybe that’s not the right person to pursue. What are some of those things?
René: That’s a good question. First of all, got to have good chemistry. So you’ll know that. But also, if somebody is not listening to you and they’re too busy telling you what to do and they’re talking to you or at you, but they’re not really listening. That’s number one. And to have the ability for somebody to not criticize you and say, what you’re doing is completely wrong, you should look at doing this this way.
René: And it’s similar to what I was saying before with leadership, you know, because sometimes leadership has gotten, they’ve been successful because they’ve done business a certain way. But if they’re not open to other means of and other paths, then that’s somebody that you probably don’t want to work with too. But you can certainly identify, you know, if you already have a relationship with this person and you’ve had a chance to test them out before you ask them to be a mentor.
René: The other thing is is that as a mentor and a mentee, mentors learned a lot from their mentees. It’s reverse mentoring. And that mentor needs to be open to ideas that the mentee has as well. I think that’s key, all of the mentors mentoring that I’ve done over the years, I’ve learned something every single time from who I’ve been mentoring. And so, somebody has to be open to that too.
Alexandria: One thing that I’m always really curious about, and you share as much or as little as you’d like, but who are your mentors? How did you go that I need, I want that person to be my mentor? They share so much for me. I’m always curious about that.
René: See, interestingly enough, I’ve had some amazing mentors. And one who doesn’t think that he has been a mentor for me, and I just saw him a couple of days ago, was absolutely key to my pushing off on my success. And he was my manager when I was at Dean Witter. Then he became my business partner because he was in management, and then he came out of management and became my business partner when we were at Smith Barney.
René: At the end of the day, he was somebody that met all of the characteristics that I just said and still does, where he’s open to ideas. This is not just the one path to go down to be successful. And it’s great to have this conversations with him about what’s working, what’s not working, give some input and provide some directions. Maybe he’s not the resource, but say, hey, you need to talk to this person over here because I think they’re going to be very helpful.
René: Being now in Quad-A and really being able to connect with a lot of other professionals has also been very key because I’ve learned a lot from some of our members over the past five years, and still very delighted to be open. Because the industry is changing, it’s shifting. It’s not going to be the same as what it was 10 years ago, 15, 20 years ago. And I’m looking forward to what the next gen population is going to be bringing, which is more diversity, more openness, more transparency. And they can be our mentors going forward. It’s not based on age or time in the business I think, but we need to be very open on both ends.
Alexandria: Just to kind of touch on that, we talked about it, the reverse mentorship. And there’s actually a really great podcast, I think it’s number 147 that’s on your financial planner with Kayla Kennelly, and she talked about that re-imagining mentorship. And she actually started a program where it was reverse mentorship in her previous firm.
Alexandria: And so, that’s something to really think about when people are going through the mentorship process, thinking of who they’d like to be their mentor. But I mean, people who, like you said, they don’t even think that they’re your mentor. And you’re like, you don’t realize how much value you provide for me when we’re just having a good conversation or you’re just listening to the ideas that I have or the things I’m trying to accomplish. So all those mentors that are out there, you just being too modest, but you really are helping those mentee in more ways than one.
Alexandria: But one thing I want to kind of talk about as we kind of close out about the mentorship piece is what Quad-A is doing and this new mentorship program that you’re starting. Could you just discuss a little bit more about what’s going on there?
René: This will be the first official launch we are going to have at our conference, which is in September 15 through the 18th in Detroit. And we have some amazing members who have put it together and structured this, which will be officially, will be discussed at the conference, but it’ll be officially launched in November. And so, what the individuals who have put this together will be structuring it as at least a six month commitment. We’ve structured it in such a way that there has to be at least one connection per month. And then we’re going to be checking in, we as the Quad-A is going to be checking in periodically with both the mentor and the mentee to see how things are going. If there’s any updates or changes that we need to make to the platform.
René: Now we have some very specific questions that we want both mentors and mentees to address. And obviously, for the mentees part is what is your goal, what is it that you see as a challenge? And then, once we have that information back, that committee is going to be responsible for connecting, finding the right mentor for the mentee.
René: Since this is an organization that’s national in scope, also we’ll ask, is it a priority that you need to see your your mentee mentor face to face or are you guys okay with virtual meetings, which hopefully that will be a yes. And that way, we have a better opportunity to match up a lot of our folks. And as I believe this is going to be the case, there’s going to be a lot more mentees potentially than mentors. So we really are going to need to structure this out in such a way that everybody is taken care of in that manner.
René: And we’d like to expand it to include students. So, at our conferences, we do have students from different colleges that come in, and it gives them an opportunity to network with our members and potentially to have mentors there and maybe internship programs, which we are hoping to launch as well in the next year.
Alexandria: That’s amazing. I’m really excited for the mentorship program. My side note is I’m signing up, I want to be in the mentorship program too. And then just for listeners who are listening currently, Rene had already said it but September 15 through the 18th is the Quad-A Conference in Detroit. And when you’re listening to this podcast, probably only a couple of weeks out. So cross your fingers that it’s not sold out by this point. But make sure to go on the website, make sure if that works in your schedule that you’re there, I know I will be there and I know Miss Rene will be there.
René: Absolutely, absolutely. Fantastic. And we also will be expanding our platform to include different member benefits to our platform as well. The mentorship and one of the big member benefits that we just awarded was two CFP scholarships that we’ll be doing annually. And so, I’m happy to say that our apprentice was the winner of one of them.
Alexandria: Oh yay.
René: So, she’s very excited. Yeah.
Alexandria: That’s awesome. That’s really good. See, you just don’t know where things take you when you’re just like, you showing up in the right spaces, you talking to the right people. You got to be out there, and you just don’t know what things can come to fruition from just showing up.
René: Absolutely. Absolutely. And don’t be afraid. You might say, oh gosh, I don’t know anybody in this meeting or this organization. Just go. You never know who will be a great connection for you in being able to support you. We need more people coming into this industry and we need more people to support new people coming into the industry. So, the mentorship program is absolutely phenomenal.
René: One other thing I will add to that here in the LA area, I started, I co-founded a women’s center mastermind group for some of these independent, basically for independent women advisors, because we’re pretty much segregated and we’re alone in our offices. We put together this mastermind group about five years ago, and it’s called WAM, Women Advisory Mastermind. And that has helped to also create a culture and environment where we feel strong and address practice management issues. And people can feel comfortable about getting back into their office and being engaged in building out their client basis without having to be forced as you normally would be in certain kinds of cultures to do your business a certain way.
René: Here, we’re actually able to mentor each other. And so, if you don’t have that in your environment, you can create it, create your own.
Alexandria: I know, a lot of podcasts and conferences are very heavy focused with niches and defining who you work with. And I kind of just want to hear a little bit more about your experience with that because you’ve found at least a niche that worked best for you. And how did you come, how did you maybe come to that point of knowing this is who I wanted to work with? Did it find you or did you go, I just know that this is who I want to work with? Like how did that look with finding a niche? I know a lot of young people that are joining the profession are like, how are people even coming up to know that that’s who they want to work with?
René: Hmm, that’s a good question because it does take a little bit of insight. But the quick and easy answer is who are you? What are you passionate about? What is your specialty. And if you’re strong and you understand what that is, it’s going to be easier for you to decide this is going to be my niche.
René: So, as an example, I knew I wanted to work with women because I’m a woman. But also, professional women. And for me, it made it a difference because as I was talking to women who were in professional roles, they are so busy that they didn’t have time to figure out the financial areas of their life. And so that was an easy breezy connection for me because I could tell them, look, I got your back, let me help you figure out what you need to do in this space so you can continue to be successful as a professional woman.
René: So I think you have to start with who are you? What is your passion? What do you have as an expertise? So for some of our next gen clients who are coming in, let’s say they have student loan debt and they figured out how to pay that off or some strategies. Then maybe you can specialize in those individuals who have that. Or maybe you were somebody who had an interest in the tech space, you can work with people who are in the tech field if you know that, or identify a specific company that you are very familiar with in terms of their services, their products, their employee benefits.
René: So you really have to start from who are you. And I think once you do that internally, it’ll be easier to answer that question about who you want to work with.
Alexandria: That was another really good like discussion at the Next Gen gathering was kind of defining what your identity is within the profession, which I’m going to ask you. And then lastly, who’s coming to see you. I mean, naturally, I feel like, I mean, this isn’t the case may be now because we have the virtual, people are able to work virtually with one another.
Alexandria: But if you think, if you just had a standalone office, who would naturally come to your front door, and who makes up those people that naturally come? So if it’s the student loan debt, if it’s people your age, if it’s all people that lived in that close community or cul-de-sac that you grew up in, or if it’s teachers, you know, whatever that, who’s naturally knocking on your door to help you kind of cultivate that group and start making sure you focus in, kind of narrow focus in on working with them.
Alexandria: You touched on this earlier, working with women, just saying I work with women isn’t a niche. There’s too many of us for that to be just a niche. And so, what is it about women? If that’s your focus, what about women makes you interested to work with them and start narrowing it down from there?
René: Absolutely. Absolutely. It could be hobbies that people have or maybe they’re golfers and you love to golf too, and that’s how you get your clients that way. I think it’s good if it’s aligned with what your personal life looks like, because people are more interested in you from a real person perspective. They want to hear what your story is. Now, like I have on my website, some of my challenges we’re working with are the reasons why I started working with women were a variety of reasons. But most importantly, in the last seven years, was realizing that women have challenges, we live longer and we don’t have the capability or understanding about what needs to be done in order to ensure that they can maintain their lifestyle.
René: And so, making sure that they have the adequate care, long term care, for example. If you have to take care of your parents, what do you need to do in order to make sure that they are going to be taken care of? You’re transitioning, your work for a company that has, which we do, you know, that has stock options. I’ve had some clients who didn’t know that they had stock options. I said, you work for a publicly traded company. And one client said, I said, go online to your site and see what you have there. They worked for this company for seven years. They went there and they said, oh, I got 120,000. I said, see.
René: Yeah, yeah. And they were like, thank you so much. So, it’s that kind of assistance that you can provide for people that allows you to really develop that niche. So you just have to know what you’re going to be passionate enough about that you’ll be able to sustain those relationships. But again, it comes back to who are you, what do you want and how can you connect with people? Tell them your story.
Alexandria: Yeah, one thing that I really liked about your website kind of talking to the point where you’re saying, I worked with women, and if you’re a woman, you go to their website, you see kind of the images of who you work with. And even you just touched on them here where you’re like, we work with professional, people and life changes. But I liked how you kind of touched in the third act. In the pictures, people can see that, like, I think that’s one thing where it’s like not only do you know who your niche is, but how you communicate and make them feel, like yes, you could come work here.
Alexandria: If I went on your website, someone told me, oh, you should be working with Urban Wealth Management, and I go on to your website. All right, let me look up Rene and what it is she does? Can I as a consumer visually see or read that you actually work with women that fit the different needs? And I go, oh wow, okay, I’m in a life change. That’s me. Okay, I really need to work with Rene. Is it communicated what that niche is to the public?
René: Exactly. We really, we updated the site so that people could see that that’s exactly what we do and they can identify that, yeah, I am, I’m a busy professional, I don’t have time. Or going through a life change, I’ve lost my spouse or there’s a job change. And that’s made a big difference. We’re going to start doing videos, very short videos where we can kind of share what solutions we’ve provided with our clients to also be able to share with people, oh, that’s me, I’m getting ready to have a severance package. How do I manage through that? But yeah, I think that’ll also be another great way for us to share with people how we work together.
Alexandria: As we wrap up our podcast here, it’s been such great information. I mean, we’ve touched on a lot of heavy topics, leadership, your business. I mean, mentorship, your identity. And I just want to kind of close out with a pretty good question for you, on what you feel your identity is within the financial planning profession?
René: I would say, and I have this on my LinkedIn, I feel like I’m a trailblazer because I came in at a time where the number of women was very limited. One of the things that my mentor told me years ago is that if you want to be successful, you have to be in places where you will stand out. If you look like everybody else and you have the same kind of mindset, it’s not going to be unique. And being unique and being in an environment that is unlike what your environment is will help you to stand out. And that has helped me in a variety of ways.
René: And so, as a result of that, it has allowed me to launch tremendous amount of promotional elements. And as you mentioned, I’ve been on CNBC, done a lot of blogs in Investment News, a lot of different things because we are unique in the fact that a woman and a woman of color that has been in the industry for as long as I have been and still here. So that is key.
Alexandria: Well, thank you so much, Rene. This was a great conversation. I know listeners are going to be like this, I needed this today. It’s going to be really great because at this time, I’ll be seeing you in a couple weeks.
René: Yes you will. Yes you will. Thank you so much and I am so appreciative of being in this conversation and I hope that it’ll be inspirational for a lot of other people that are listening to it.