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Eavesdropping on the Women Advisors Forum: Rainmakers share their secrets. Hint: They revolve around finding a niche

Women at the top of the profession have learned to give each other the look: "Like ‘I’ve got your back, sister.’”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 – 2:33 PM by Kristin North, Sondra Harris and Marie Swift, Guest Columnists
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The buzz at the TD Ameritrade booth was that Tony Blair, Britain's former prime minister, is schedule to speak at TD's annual conference to be held in San Diego.

Elizabeth’s note: No human could possibly make it to all of the good conferences in the RIA business, though Marie Swift seems to give it a good try. She’s blogged about four conferences in the past eight weeks for RIABiz. (Here’s one: Eavesdropping on the MoneyShow: The great debate between MPT and technical analysis) For people who prefer to learn without the jet-lag, RIABiz’s eavesdropping pieces offer a window onto the content and character of these conferences.

Have you ever asked a client to write a “Dear George” letter – to money?

Or created a financial literacy blog for children in your community?

Or thought about what it would take for you to cut the cord with a $30 million client?

These topics, among many others, cropped up at Sourcemedia’s Independent Advisor Group’s Women Advisors Forum last week in Santa Monica, Calif.

Sourcemedia’s IAGFinancial Planning magazine, Bank Investment Consultant magazine and On Wall Street magazine are the flagship publications—has in the recent past been a leader in spotlighting accomplished women in financial services. For the past three years, Sourcemedia’s IAG has produced one or more Women Advisors Forums every year.

RIABiz’s guest bloggers, Kristin North, a vice president with TD Ameritrade Institutional, Sondra Harris of Sondra Harris Public Relations, and Marie Swift of Impact Communications, attended the Dec. 8 event in Santa Monica, Calif.

The event drew approximately 120 attendees—including a few curious (and wise) men. One male advisor who sat at the luncheon table with Marie Swift said he came because he works in a woman-centric firm and has a good number of women clients. As the luncheon keynote speaker, Kim Michel, CEO, Michel Financial Group, a member of the MassMutual Financial Group, shared the story of her battle with breast cancer, the male advisor was visibly moved and said that the things he was learning would help him not only in his business life but in his personal life.

Below are the guest blogs. You can also check out #WAF10 on Twitter, which contains a number of live feeds and photos from the Santa Monica event. In 2011, Sourcemedia’s IAG will produce five Women Advisors Forums. Dates and cities can be found at www.womenadvisorforum.com.

Master Your Money Mindset

Kristin North, TD AMERITRADE Institutional

The Women Advisors Forum began with a thought-provoking and interactive keynote entitled “Master Your Money Mindset” by Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, LMHC, CPCC, Principal, KBK Wealth Connection and author of the Creating Wealth from the Inside Out Workbook. Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert and professor at McCallum Graduate School of Business, challenged everyone to examine their thoughts and attitudes about money. According to Kingsbury, mastering your money mindset is vital for good client communications, client retention and reaching your business goals.

Attendees learned a three-step process called the ABCs of Creating Wealth from the Inside Out. A stands for Accept, B for Believe, and C for Create. “You need to accept your money history and learn from it, believe in yourself and your ability to change, and look for opportunities to create wealth in your life if you are to master your money mindset,” stated Kingsbury.

A variety of coaching activities aimed at tapping into attendees’ money scripts were offered during the session. A money script is an internalized belief about money and wealth that impacts a person’s saving, spending, investing and gifting habits daily. By identifying these scripts, advisors can remove their own roadblocks to achieving wealth. Once this insight is attained, Kingsbury encouraged advisors to use the additional tools (offered in her session) with clients to tap into what is blocking them from taking steps toward their financial goals and objectives.

Kingsbury offered one particularly interesting tool for tapping into a client’s money mindset. This exercise—called “Dear George”—involved writing a letter to money. This tool sparked an interesting dialogue among the conference participants and highlighted how complicated and conflicted women’s relationship with money can be in today’s complex financial world. Participants said the exercise helped them get in touch with their feelings about money; the room, which was filled primarily with women, was emotionally charged as people grappled with their own sense of entitlement or worthiness, abundance or lack, appreciation or non-chaluance regarding money.

The session ended with a call to action for advisors to use wealth psychology techniques in client meetings. “If advisors learn to talk more openly about money and emotions with clients, we can be great role models for them to be healthier and, in turn, wealthier in the future,” Kingsbury said.

Good Business Matches are Not Made in Heaven: A Checklist For Making A Move

Sondra Harris, Sondra Harris Public Relations

If you are a financial advisor looking to join an existing RIA firm—particularly if you are leaving the structure of a wirehouse—consider the following criteria when assessing the potential “fit” between you and a new firm. According to Jodi Perry, a recruiter for Raymond James, and Julianne Wasserman, a recruiter with Michael Wasserman & Associates Inc., who co-presented advisor recruiting trends, it’s important to use the same checklist with each firm you are evaluating.

1. Practice Ownership
Ask who will actually own your book of business, you or your new firm. Should you want to make a future move, or sell your practice down the road, you’ll want to make sure that your clients belong to you and not the firm. Even if you feel fully confident that your new partnership is the real thing, unexpected changes in the firm’s corporate management could impact you down the road.

2. Branding
As an independent advisor, you can choose how to brand your business. Are you “the brand of me” or will you be marketing yourself under the firm’s brand? You may want to make a name for yourself in your community. Be sure to find out what your options are.

3. Succession Planning
Is it premature to think about leaving when looking to start a new relationship with an advisory firm? Not at all. You may not know what your future plans are at this point, but you’ll likely want a say in who gets to buy your business when you are ready to retire. And if you’re someone who may never want to fully retire, you’ll be glad that you structured an agreement that will give you the flexibility to work part-time, for example.

4. Cultural Fit
Do you and the firm share the same values with respect to conducting business and serving clients? This is key now as well as down the road. You may not know now where you’ll take the business later. A good cultural fit is key.

5. Business Structure
LLC? S Corp? C Corp? Consider key financial decisions around business structure, office space, health insurance and operational support. If you’re coming from a wirehouse, going independent involves important—and potentially expensive—decisions you may not have had to think about previously.

6. Transition Support
How will your new firm help you smooth the transition? Some firms provide up-front cash to new associates, early access to deferred compensation or low interest rate loans. They might also cover the transaction fees for moving your client accounts. These are points well worth negotiating.

7. Marketing
Whether it’s your personal brand or the firm’s that you’ll be promoting, you’ll want to understand what kind of marketing resources and support you can expect, if any, from your future firm.

8. Visit the home office
Gut feel is an important consideration when making any important life change. Visit the main office of each firm under consideration so you can get a feel for the environment and colleagues you’ll be working with.

Before starting your search, create your own checklist. Include these criteria and others that are important to you. Use your list to evaluate each and every firm under consideration for a true apples-to-apples comparison.

Secrets of a Rainmaker

Marie Swift, Impact Communications

Nadia Allaudin’s, “ah-ha moment” came in 2006 when she realized “the power of one.” “I realized I could shift the market … shape a firm,” she said during the day’s closing Panel Discussion, Rainmaker Secrets: Techniques that Bring in Business. In 2010, Allaudin, who has earned the CIMA® designation and is Resident Director, SVP and Financial Advisor, MERRILL LYNCH, organized the fifth annual Women, Wealth and Wisdom Conference, bringing more than 300 female financial advisors and clients together to build relationships and hear nationally recognized speakers discuss such topics as best business and work/life practices. She is also teaching a Women, Wealth and Wisdom course at UCLA’s extension program for working professionals looking for guidance on work/life balance and career advice.

Allaudin walks her talk by practicing what she preaches. In addition to her work, she enjoys scuba diving and yoga. As a certified diver, she travels once a year to diving destinations around the world such as French Polynesia, Dubai and the Cayman Islands. She recently completed her yoga teacher training program and is now a certified yoga instructor.

For Michelle Alberda, CFP®, CLU® Senior Financial Advisor, AMERIPRISE FINANCIAL, the “ah-ha moment” came when she realized how to leverage her voice through the media. She thinks of journalists as partners who can help her tell and spread important information. “Everything changes when people start calling you—versus you calling them,” she said during one of her many insightful panel segments. “I even had Warren Buffet call me once … and I made sure everybody who knows me knew about it,” she laughed. She also uses social media to share important news about her life. “All my friends on Facebook know I’m here today,” she smiled.

Alberda’s main focus is working with women and small business owners. She is the co-founder of SKIRT, a networking group for women. She was President of the Financial Women’s Association of San Francisco in 2007 and currently serves on the endowment committee. In 2008, she co-authored and published the Amazon.com bestselling book SKIRTworking: How to Network Using SKIRT. Alberda blends work and fun all the time.

For instance, after any conference, if she’s met someone she connected with, she follows up with 24 hours. She also sends them an invitation to attend one of her thrice-yearly “Cool People Parties”—who wouldn’t want to go to that? “Anything we do, every interaction we have, can lead to a referral or, better yet, an introduction,” she says. “You might as well have fun while you’re at it.”

The “ah-ha moment” for Cheryl Young, CFP®, ChFC®, Financial Advisor, RJFS, RAYMOND JAMES FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC. & CEO OF YOUNG & ASSOCIATES, was when she figured out her niche—and what she does extremely well. Since 1998, she’s been providing financial advisory and private wealth management services to a distinctive clientele, including, according to her web site, executives, professional athletes and retired and retiring professionals. Young started raising her minimums about five years ago as a way to stay sane. But when a $30 million client gave her too much grief, she cut the cord. “It just took too much emotional energy,” she said. “Sure, we have to focus on what’s best for the clients, but we also have to focus on doing what’s best for ourselves,” she said.

Like the other panelists, Young also works with the media to share information that raises her firm’s profile. “I’ve found it also works really well to include strategic partners in the stories,” she says. “It builds the relationship.” Young credits her competitive academic drive – which led to her graduate from high school at 16 and from college at 20 – to her experience growing up in a family of 11 children. But as the mother of three boys, she’s committed to properly balancing work and life. She has run three marathons and nine half-marathons in the past three years and is currently pursuing her black belt in Tae Kwon Do. In her spare time, she enjoys running, kickboxing, golfing, skiing and reading.

Denise Villanueva, managing director, AMERICAN FINANCIAL NETWORK, works for top producer Brett Ellen, CFP®, and his team of financial advisors. Ellen, who has been #1 with Securities America, Inc. for many years—both in fees and commissions—has a national reputation for working with middle-market corporate America (gross revenues of $10-500 million per year). Villanueva oversees the growth and development of a thriving financial planning and wealth management firm. The “ah-ha” that made the difference for the firm was when they realized the power of teamwork. “Everything we do is a team approach,” she said. “We offer comprehensive planning for the executives and the corporation, so we’ve got to work well with other professionals. It can be complicated stuff working with a national clientele like ours.”

Villanueva says the firm tried advertising early on but decided to do the PR side because it’s a better way to use their time and share knowledge. They work with a PR firm and have developed a financial literacy program and a blog for kids (www.kidsfinancecoach.com). “This, plus our girls and women’s initiatives, gives us lots of reasons to talk to executives, business owners, parents, teachers and other concerned citizens. It makes us different.” Villanueva says it’s important for professional women to support one another. “We can give each other ‘the look’ ... like ‘I’ve got your back, sister.’”

The panelists shared many more success strategies during their session, sparking a flurry of questions from the audience and a high energy level as attendees moved into the lobby area for “Martinis and Mentors,” a cocktail networking reception with raffle prizes and a final keynote speech presented by Clara Sierra, EVP, Director of Strategic Alliances, Sentinel Investments.

Name Dropping

These were some other advisors and speakers at the Forum

Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, an internationally published author and an adjunct professor at the McCallum Graduate School of Business at Bentley University, where she teaches the psychology of financial planning lead the interactive opening keynote at the Women Advisors Forum. Kingsbury recently co-authored an article called Ensuring Success in Wealth Transfers: Involving and Preparing the Beneficiary in the Investment and Wealth Monitor and published a new resource for advisors and their clients called Creating Wealth from the Inside Out Workbook. For more information, visit her website at www.kbkwealthconnection.com.

TD Ameritrade Institutional sent three powerful and charismatic women from their corporate offices to network and (wo)man the TD AMERITRADE booth. In attendance were Kate Healy, director of marketing, Kristin North, vice president institutional sales, and Darla Sipolt, vice president institutional sales. The big buzz at the TD booth was that Tony Blair, Former Prime Minister, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will be keynoting at the TD annual conference in San Diego (February 2-5, 2011).

Kim Michel, CEO, Michel Financial Group, a member of the MassMutual Financial Group, gave a very powerful and touching speech over a gourmet lunch. Kim regards her recent diagnosis of malignant breast cancer and subsequent double mastectomy a private journey that should be made public. “It is only with education, reinforcement and donations that breast cancer might be eradicated from our life,” she said. Throughout Kim’s chemotherapy, she believed in the phrase “live optimistically.” Her current diagnosis is excellent. Her firm, Michel Financial Group, has over 10,000 clients.

Esther Stearns, president & chief operating officer, LPL Financial, discussed the growing role of women in generating wealth, making financial decisions and redefining the American Dream for their families, while exploring the increasing demand for financial advisors who understand and relate to these clients’ changing needs.

To see all of the featured speakers—all noteworthy but too many to regale here—visit

About the contributors

Kristin North is vice president, institutional sales, TD Ameritrade Institutional.

Sondra Harris, principal, Sondra Harris Public Relations, provides media relations and writing services to B-to-B and B-to-C companies, PR agencies and in-house PR departments.

Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, Inc., a national marketing and PR firm serving high-end financial advisors and a dozen of the nation’s top financial institutions that serve independent advisors.

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