Swift Chat: Imposter Syndrome and How to Handle Misplaced Perceptions Related to Age, Gender and Roles
Marie Swift interviews a variety of guests live at the InvestmentNews Women Adviser Summit held this summer in Denver. Marie and the guests discussed Imposter Syndrome and if they had been misidentified in their careers due to some sort of age and/or gender bias. Some shared how at times they might not truly deserve to be in their positions, when they were actually well qualified and successful in their roles. They discuss the ways they have positioned themselves as they have grown in the industry. They touch on mentorship and bringing up the next generation of women in the profession.
Podcast guests in order of appearance:
Kellan Brown – Finance of America Reverse
Jean Heath – Envestnet
Mary Ellyse Fendig – Northstar Financial & Retirement Planning
John Mackowiak – Advyzon
Lucila Williams – Intentional Advisor
Laura Combs - Mercer Advisors
Renée Pichette – Mercer Advisors
Below you will find several components that bring to light the excellent comments and observations put forth by these insightful individuals, including bonus videos with Mary Ellyse Fendig, John Mackowiak, Katie Tram (Thrivent Advisor Network), and Kellan Brown.
In addition, there is a bonus Swift Chat video interview with Malisa Wacker of Plan Member. Malisa has an amazing story and an incredible background. Don't miss out on watching our 13 minute conversation to hear how she has handled gender bias when she served in police and military roles.
As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Use the Contact button to get in touch anytime!
Co-host, Swift Chat Series
CEO, Impact Communications, Inc.
Kellan Brown of Finance of America Reverse LLC and Marie Swift of Impact talk about FAR's educational platform HomeEquityU.com.
Mary Ellyse Findig of Northstar Financial Retirement talks with Marie Swift of Impact about insights from the Women Advisor Summit.
Katie Tram of Thrivent Advisor Network (TAN) talks with Marie Swift of Impact about how TAN helps financial advisors scale & grow.
John Mackowiak of Advyzon talks with Marie Swift of Impact about how male allies can help women in their careers.
Transcript from Women Advisor Summit Compilation Podcast
Marie Swift: We're here at the Women Advisor Summit in Denver, Colorado, this is part of the InvestmentNews series. They have these wonderful summits across the country in order to bring successful women together, to talk about the issues that matter.
One of the things we're doing in this FAR Sight Advisor Series, which is a part of my Swift Chat series, is to talk about the dynamics now. A lot has changed through the COVID times and the stressors that we've all been through as women. I'm here with Kellen Brown, would you say hello and introduce yourself?
Kellen Brown: Hi Marie. Thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure to be here.
Marie Swift: It is a pleasure to be together I love the mountain air in Denver. You live in San Diego, right?
Kellen Brown: I do.
Marie Swift: Beautiful country there as well. One of the things we're talking about at the podcast mic, is about mistaken identity.
Have you ever been in a business meeting or conference and somebody's mistaken you as the spouse of somebody, a male that's with you or something like that?
Kellen Brown: Yes I think every female has a story for this one. Mine happened when I was with a gentleman that's pretty well known in the industry and they mistook me for his wife.
I just started laughing and generously said who I was and who I was with. You know, kind of let it brush off. It's interesting because most of the time they feel pretty bad about it, so it starts up a nice conversation. But absolutely, I don't know many women that haven't.
Marie Swift: Indeed, for me too. Now I'm not an advisor, but I've worked with advisors for about 30 years. So, when I was the executive assistant to an advisor, I would actually proudly say, yes, I am the executive assistant to Mr. Bigshot, and I'm all about supporting his goals.
One of the things that I've seen as I've matured in the industry, I consider myself now more of a senior stateswoman. Is that who I am for people and how I language that has changed. So earlier in my career, when I started my company impact communications, it was all about my own success as a leader. Now, for me, it's about the team and the success of the team and the success of our clients. So how has your articulation of your value changed over the years?
Kellen Brown: That's a great question, Marie I love hearing your story too, because hearing that growth and owning that support to the CEO is beautiful as well as now becoming this beautiful media maven. For me, I started out as an independent contributor.
Over the 15 year journey of my growth. I was thinking more about how I can contribute to the numbers, not necessarily the people. In those 15 years, that's changed dramatically. I am so proud to sit where I am today and get to make an impact on the people that are a part of my team and see them grow and hopefully want to sit into those leadership roles as well.
So as opposed to thinking about numbers and that type of change in the company, it's more about how can we make the people that are a part of our company better and bring them into a leadership level.
Marie Swift: One of the things you're doing here at the conference is speaking about mentorship and the benefits of mentorship. I think you're an advocate for a formal mentorship program. Talk a little bit about that.
Kellen Brown: Sure, at Finance of America Reverse or FAR, that's currently where I am, I run the retirement strategies division and one of the key things that I was brought into the company to do was help raise awareness about this division and work with financial advisors.
But my true passion lies in mentoring and coaching people up. So when we talk about implementing a program, mentorship can be formal. It can be informal, but what we're seeing now with the trends of mentorship programs within even fortune 500 companies, you are seeing that data show how important it is to have them.
So, I'm a huge advocate for having that data such as we personally use mentor click. What we're able to measure is how many hours are they spending together? How often is a mentor and mentee promoting? What impact is the mentee having on the mentor? Not just the mentor on the mentee. And then comparing that to people that are not a part of the program.
Then you can really see, does retention really change because of mentorship programs, and it's proven it has. Through volatile times like COVID or market changes, we're seeing mentorship as one of the most important pieces that a company can have included.
Marie Swift: You know, in your company as I've dug in and gotten to know it, it has done some pretty mighty work. In fact, the company is now up for, is it a Wealthie Award and also a Luminary?
Kellen Brown: Yes
Marie Swift: I think one of the programs is called CARES and your company is up for a Luminary Award this year. Maybe you could just talk a little bit about the program? Also, Home Equity U, which is the one that you're up for this year for a Wealthie Award.
Kellen Brown: Yes, so for the Wealthie Award, we are being honored for our work with HomeEquityU.com. Home Equity U was created by the retirement strategies division, the team that I work with and that's in the disruptor category. So that's talking about how we can implement home equity into retirement portfolios in a strategic way. It's more proactive than reactive. So that's where it's a little shaken on new content, new ways to do it, new strategies, white papers, All of the above. For the Luminaries, this gets me really excited because the CARES program is for all of Finance of America Companies.
We have an enterprise -- we've built up of five huge companies right now and FAR is just one piece of that. The CARES program is a container for our volunteer efforts where we're able to impact change. We try to keep five different non-profits. We all donate. We all support and how we're impacting the community is what the Luminaries recognized.
Marie Swift: Fabulous. So last question, imposter syndrome. Am I the only one who suffers from that? Have you ever had that creep into your consciousness?
Kellen Brown: I don't know any female that has not experienced this, and if you find them, let me know. I would love to pick their brain. I think we were briefly talking about this comment before we started this podcast. And one of the people that works with you, it's a male, and you asked that same question. He said, oh my gosh. Yes. I absolutely have suffered from that. So it's, it's hard not to feel that way you're surrounded by excellent talent.
When you move into a new industry or you start a new job or even being a mom. Am I a good enough parent to my children? And you sometimes let that get in your head. But I think what's so powerful what we're witnessing at these women empowerment moments, they're here to help lift us up. I think a lot of the men are doing that too. I'm just really proud to be in this seat, surrounded by so many people that are vulnerable enough to share those experiences so that we can support each other and grow.
Marie Swift: We do need our male allies and I love these Women Adviser Summits as well. Kellen Brown, thank you for being here.
Kellen Brown: Thank you Marie.
Guest #2: Jean Heath
Marie Swift: All right. We're here at the Women Adviser Summit and I am in Denver with Jean Heath of Envestnet.
Jean Heath: I am head of the asset manager network at Envestnet and I also chair our Envestnet Institute on campus, which is an online curriculum that we offer to college students interested in being in the wealth management industry.
Marie Swift: All right. Fantastic. Now this morning, you and Kellen Brown had a two-person presentation. You had a great interactive conversation with the room about structured mentorship. What were some of the key things that you shared from the stage today?
Jean Heath: To make sure that you set goals when you build a mentorship program. When we built the mentorship program for college students, we were very cognizant of making sure we had the right connections with the students, with the right mentor and also making sure we set goals for them.
We built out a template on how they should follow it with their mentor, a cadence of meetings, and then allowed for some flexibility to that. But we felt like setting some groundwork was really beneficial.
Marie Swift: One of the things that you shared were some statistics today about, I think it was fortune 500 companies where there's a female leadership team that they have, they're more prone to have a mentorship program. Talk a little bit about that.
Jean Heath: Well, the way I view that is women by nature can be a little bit more nurturing. I think it probably just, like I said, it's just something by nature. That's part of who we are.
We see the importance of ensuring that employees when they reach certain points in their career, where rather than have them decide, they need to look elsewhere for a new opportunity, they realize that there could be other opportunities within their firm and without the guidance of someone senior in the firm that could be lost.
I also think it's really important, especially for women as they reach that point in their career. When they're considering they're having a family, thinking that is this job going to allow for me the ability to not only have a family, but also continue with my career. We don't want them making decisions to leave the business. Which is why we have such a gap in women in senior leadership roles.
Marie Swift: A couple of other women have talked about imposter syndrome with me. Has that ever occurred in your life? Do you ever feel like why me.
Jean Heath: A couple of things when you had mentioned that question ahead of time. One of them is I do really enjoy speaking with groups and it's something I've worked hard to get better at, and I always get nervous, but it's taken me awhile to realize that so many great speakers are nervous and it's the nervous energy that propels you to speak.
I will say that when I get that way, I have to actually give myself a pep talk and literally say to myself, girl, get your act together. You can do this. You were asked to do this and you absolutely are capable of doing it.
The other piece on the imposter syndrome was around being mistaken for someone else and it's interesting in my years of being a manager and managing male employees. I am very often told how great my manager is without realizing that I'm actually the manager and I try to politely work in, oh yeah, I know how great they are they work for me. They're on my team is how I put it. I don't want to sound like I'm getting defensive, but sort of setting the record straight.
Marie Swift: I love that. And giving people the benefit of the doubt, right? Sometimes we don't know about our inherent biases. The last thing we're talking about is how we articulate our value over time. I've noticed for myself as a senior stateswoman 30 years in the business that things have changed for me, I've grown, I've changed and I'm just more comfortable in my skin.
So, when I talk about what my team does and our value proposition, it's about we not me anymore. Has that happened for you as you have risen up through the financial services business.
Jean Heath: I've always had a collaborative approach to managing and I guess it's a lot of times because I enjoyed working for managers that had the same approach. You learn if you’re smart, you're better managers. When they say we, you work harder.
I've realized that and giving people credit empowers them as well. As I've moved along, what I'm realizing now is here I am 24 years into this industry. Not only should I be leaning in and engaging in different opportunities to speak and share what I believe is my knowledge. It's also my job now to empower the next generation of women to be doing the same.
That is a role that I've just stepped into this year and realize that it's not about me. It's about others as well. And that was something that I had to start to shift to say, okay, there's a speaking opportunity. Let me really see who on my team could do an excellent job with that and really deserves the opportunity.
Marie Swift: All right, Jean Heath. Thank you for being here.
Jean Heath: Thank you
Guest #3: Mary Ellyse Fending
Marie Swift: We're back and I'm joined by Mary Ellyse Fendig, and Mary you are with North Star Financial and Retirement Planning in Greenville, South Carolina. How cool is that to live in Greenville?
Mary Ellyse Fendig: Yes. It's such a beautiful city. You should visit.
Marie Swift: I would love to. Thanks for the invitation. I am going to write that down right here. What do you specialize in at the firm?
Mary Ellyse Fendig: I am an advisor that specializes in long term care planning.
Marie Swift: Fantastic so you're an advisor. Have you ever been to a conference and maybe somebody mistakenly thought you were the spouse or the assistant to an advisor?
Mary Ellyse Fendig: That's so funny that you say that because that's how I found the women's summit is I attended a regional conference in Greenville. We had several nationally known economists there at a hotel and two ballrooms packed in. I was only one of two women there and that was in February. I thought, gosh, I really need to find a conference where it's more women focused and that's mostly who I work with in long term care planning and low and behold, the internet provided and here I am.
Marie Swift: Fantastic, so have you been to an InvestmentNews conference before?
Mary Ellyse Fendig: I have not. This is my first one so I'm excited, yeah.
Marie Swift: You're going to love it. It's a great community of women at the Women Adviser Summit. I've been to a couple now and this one is small and intimate. I love the setting here in Denver and I'm so glad you're here. Let's talk a little bit about imposter syndrome. Am I the only one who suffers from that?
Mary Ellyse Fendig: Absolutely not. Everyone experiences that. I definitely had my fair share of it.
I did not take a traditional path into the financial planning industry. My background is in health care. I've been in the long term care planning industry about 10 years now and trying to decide whether or not I should move into more of a traditional financial planning role was very difficult because I didn't have what I felt was a traditional background. The truth is that we all can't know everything in the business and that long term care planning is definitely something I've known.
I've worked with thousands of families at this point and still I can feel like, oh, I don't know this, or I don't know that, but that's really not true.
Marie Swift: Well, nobody can know everything yeah. So, I was considering this, this was a question that my friend Sheryl Hickerson from the Females & Finance Network post on LinkedIn, and it was about communicating our value over the span of our career.
My career in this space is about 30 years. And you said about 10 years for you. Have you changed the way you position yourself or how you position your value?
Mary Ellyse Fendig: I haven't. Typically when someone seeks out an advisor that specializes in long term care planning it's usually when a crisis has hit someone's family, and now it's all hands on deck and I've worked through with, mostly women in those crisis moments. My value proposition is, was, and will always be, I'm just here to be an advisor to you. I'm not here to sell you anything, whether you decide to work with me or someone else, I'm here to help you on your retirement journey and it's as simple as that.
Marie Swift: Ideally, they would be coming to you before the crisis, but we could call you a crisis counselor in some ways right?
Mary Ellyse Fendig: I feel like it. Speaking of imposter syndrome, I feel personally like I've done a good job in a meeting when someone leaves and says, gosh, that felt like a therapy session and then I feel like I've done my job.
Marie Swift: That's beautiful. Well with that, I wish you well, thanks for spending a little time with me at the mic.
Mary Ellyse Fendig: Yeah. Thank you.
Guest #4: John Mackowiak
Marie Swift: I'm joined now by John Mackowiak of Advyzon. Hello, John.
John Mackowiak: Hi Marie. Thanks for having me.
Marie Swift: Yeah, so you live here in Denver, right?
John Mackowiak: I do just south of the city in a small town called Castle Pines.
Marie Swift: Oh, lucky you it is so beautiful here. You know, I met my husband here in Boulder, Colorado forty years ago, and we got to tool around before the Women Adviser Summit.
John Mackowiak: Awesome. Glad you were able to enjoy our weather here.
Marie Swift: Yes, it's nice, much better than Kansas City at this time of year. So, I'm thinking about the Women Adviser Summit and here you are, you're a guy, obviously. Why are you here?
John Mackowiak: First and foremost, trying to support the cause. We have a lot of ladies in prominent positions at Advyzon, they just don't happen to live in the Denver area and can get here so easily. I'm here to check things out, speak with people and network a little bit.
Marie Swift: Yeah so tell me a little bit about women that you have on your team, you're a software engineering company, right? You actually have portfolio management software.
John Mackowiak: We are, yeah. The ladies at Advyzon have been in a variety of roles from day one, really even predating me. I was the first employee here in the US, but even our team members in China, where we do a lot of our development work have been female from day one. One of the biggest contributors to our CRM system, for example, she's managed that effort for 10 years now.
So, from development to marketing, to sales, to service, to product, ladies have played prominent roles in Advyzon, since we began.
Marie Swift: Hey, look at that. Girls can do math.
John Mackowiak: Quite a bit more than I can in a lot of cases too.
Marie Swift: All right. We're going go into sessions in a little while and then we'll have some networking tomorrow.
There's a session on mentorship. I'm thinking about mentorship. Did you have any one in your life or how do you think about mentorship?
John Mackowiak: That’s a good question. You know, Halin Li, our, our CEO and Founder here at Advyzon has been one of my mentors. We worked together for 18 years. I think we complement each other well, too.
As we've grown, we seek each other's input and then a variety of other mentors throughout my career. They're probably a little less tenured than Hailin, but they've definitely contributed to getting me to where I'm at today and you have to send the elevator back down and help others early on in their career. I aim to do just that with our younger team members.
Marie Swift: Fantastic. You know, one of the things I've been talking with, the women who've come to the microphone here at the Women Advisor Summit is about that feeling that we have sometimes when we feel like an imposter, does that happen to guys too?
John Mackowiak: It does, all the time, depending on the situation. And sometimes it's more than just a syndrome. It happens in real life. Early on in my managerial career. This is probably more than 10 years ago, a lot less gray hair than I have now, but it hired a salesperson. He was a few years older than me, still in the industry, in fact. We were sitting in an advisor's office doing a presentation and advisor and the salesperson had a relationship already. They're in there to do a presentation and the advisor asked the salesperson, who is this guy that's tagging along with you? Are you training him? Is he new to the team? He said actually he's my manager, so handed it well, it was fun for the meeting to have a laugh about it.
But especially being younger. I know I'm not the oldest person in my position. So, it's still a bit of a challenge from time to time, but I've been doing this long enough that as soon as we can connect and really start to talk the details on things, we get past it pretty quickly.
Marie Swift: The mistaken identity, right? When you're the boss and somebody thinks you're the junior, just because of the age.
John Mackowiak: Yeah, so maybe not sexism, but ageism, but it's okay. As you know, you can get past that quickly with knowledge of the subject matter and regardless of who you are or what you look like you can do it.
Marie Swift: I know you've been kicking around in the industry, maybe not as long as me, but at least what, 20 years now.
John Mackowiak: Yes, 20 now.
Marie Swift: It's about 30 years for me now and I'm thinking about how it feels like a community when you find your right spot in our tribe, our financial services tribe. In the last few minutes we've got, why don't you share about communities?
John Mackowiak: Yeah. So, as I came up I started at Morningstar, I think that's pretty well known, I was there for a while but I think what was maybe unique about what I was interested in was working with RIAs and I enjoyed that more so than the well beaten career path that they had at the time.
I think they've changed a little bit over there, but you know I didn't move from working with RIAs to working with broker dealers, to working with wire houses and so on. I like working with RIA’s as I always have. So, I stuck with the RIA market over there. There was no position to manage that team.
I started managing the sales team over there and then eventually transitioned into product. I kind of paved my own career path, but it's all been working around RIAs but Advyzon, that's been a continuation starting things back in 2014, and then helping to build a lot of the organization we see today. Sales team I'll take a lot of the credit for, but I contributed to some of the other stuff we have gone on like service, product, et cetera.
It has been working with RIAs. What's kind of cool about it is, there's people that come and go in the industry, but I'll see names from 10, 15, 20 years ago. In fact, as I was driving here I was talking about a brand new Advyzon client and I believe I sold him the product he's transitioning off, in my mid-twenties. He stuck with that for a long time and recognized his name as he came over to us, just a few weeks ago.
Marie Swift: It is a small world. And I know when we were at T3, it felt like old home week for me, a lot of people we hadn't seen in a year, year and a half, sometimes two years.
John Mackowiak: Yes, it's great to be back in person. I will not complain about business travel again, even though I had a lot of it from T3 through to the end of June, so about two straight months, but better than not having it, having it taken away gave me some perspective for sure.
Marie Swift: John Mackowiak. Thanks for being here.
John Mackowiak: Thanks Marie.
Guest #5: Lucila Williams
Marie Swift: All right. And now I'm joined by Lucila Williams and she's with the Intentional Advisor and you're also an advisor as well.
We're here at the Women Adviser Summit, and I know we're having a great time talking to other women. One of the things we've been discussing is imposter syndrome and sometimes being mistaken as the spouse or the assistant to an advisor. Has any of that ever happened?
Lucila Williams: Only at every single conference I've ever attended.
No, as I'm getting older, it's less frequent, but I started out in the industry at 26. I was straight out of the army. Very young looking, I come from rural Oregon and I was not familiar with wealth or wealth management. I had so many times when people would say, oh, who do you work for?
I'm like, I work for myself and they're like, yeah, but whose team are you on? I'm like, no, I'm the advisor. I'm like, I'm the one and they say, oh, well, can I hire you? and I'm like still no. It's one of those things. My husband also, he's a CPA. He cleans up real nice. So if we go to an event together and it's an industry event, people will always look at him. He actually works for me. He's part of my team and they'll say, oh you're the advisor, what team are you on? He would just point and he'd be like, no, that's her, still her. It just becomes one of those things you learn to laugh at.
I've thought a lot about this, because it's really easy for us to get angry and feel a little victimized around this particular topic, but it's because of representation. People aren't saying it because they can't see us as advisors. It's just the vast majority of young women you see aren't advisors. As that changes, it's going to be more normal to say, oh, are you an advisor? Not oh no, you're an office manager or you're an admin. It's not necessarily anyone trying to look down upon us. It is a matter of there just aren't very many of us. So, the assumption is to what is more normal.
Marie Swift: Yeah, and I think it's so great to be seen and actually take a leadership role. That's why I think it's so important for us to say yes.
That ties right into the imposter syndrome because I know for me sometimes I think why are they asking me? I'm not really the person who should be talking to this. And yet I decided a while ago. Well, if not me, then who.
Lucila Williams: Absolutely. I feel completely the same way and I am so passionate about helping people live more secure, free, and meaningful lives.
In my day job as a financial advisor, I'm doing that with my hundred or so clients, but in my kind of extracurricular, my OBA for those in the industry, with the Intentional Advisor, I'm helping to expand out and reach to a larger population. If I can help advisors build the types of practices that deliver that, instead of a hundred, it can be thousands, or tens of thousands of clients affected.
What I tell myself. Whenever I'm wondering whether I'm really the one is, this message matters to me, helping people build advice-based financial planning practices that they are truly proud of and they feel like are aligned with their values, is my life's work. If I'm not willing to step up and do things that maybe feel a little uncomfortable then it's never going to move forward, which means my impact is limited.
It's just one of those pep talks you have with yourself, where you say, if what I'm doing matters, then I have to be willing to take risks and like everything else when you do it a few times, it starts to feel natural. It starts to feel like it's normal for you to be the one on stage or the one on a podcast, for example.
Marie Swift: In the last few minutes we've got tell us a little bit about the Intentional Advisor.
Lucila Williams: Yeah, absolutely. I think all of the best businesses are the ones where someone is asking you to do the work and you realize, oh, I need to put something together to make that happen.
I have been running my practice, Lotus Financial Partners since 2012, I was with a captive organization since 2004 before that, but I had been running my business this way and I was in a study group with a bunch of young, male, independent advisors. We were all sharing this is how we do business.
I was sharing my stuff and they're like, yeah, but you don't really do that right? People who say they do that and deliver, have such a systematized process and have an initial planning process. You deliver the same every time and an annual deliverables. I'm like, no I do this. I've been doing this for over a decade in my own practice, so they said, will you teach us?
If you're familiar with the industry, you can't go out there and start another side business. You have to get an OBA. So, I said listen, if you'll commit to hiring me, I will start it. I will sign up for an OBA and I'll do this. What I did is I actually got the OBA, then had to get a name, The Intentional Advisor.
It’s been aligned with my values of very deliberately and intentionally choosing how you're going to grow your business instead of accidentally kind of becoming something, whether it was on purpose or not. I actually moved into a hotel for a week with my laptop and documented all of our processes and created workbooks to support it.
Since 2016, I've been using the same curriculum, because I'm teaching other advisors how to do what I already do. It's really an easy job for me because I've been living it and I'm in it now as the industry's changing, I'm sharing with them how we're dealing with current obstacles and finding out where advisors are still having pain points and creating trainings around that.
To me it's about creating an evolving business that serves the future of the industry. How do we serve the people that don't have AUM yet, assets for us to manage? The young people that have great jobs and lots of student loans they want advice, but we can't just sell them product anymore because those people don't have those needs or aren't there yet.
Advice based financial planning is not advice only it's advice and implementation as needed. They get the independent and objective advice that they need as a fiduciary. Then we still do support and full implementation if it's appropriate and as needed on a client basis. If they need to say advice only because all their assets are in their 401k, no problem. But most of the time, they like the one stop shop approach of having everything with a trusted advisor, but we didn't start to become our client. We aren't going to ask if you want to buy something, you hire us for a financial planning process.
In that process, we explore what you really need and we're in the best position to then deliver that if the client wants to move forward, which the vast majority of the time they do.
Marie Swift: Well, I love everything that you've just shared, and I so appreciate your time with me today.
Lucila Williams: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much. And thank you for asking these specific questions, because I think they're very relevant to what women deal with as they're kind of coming up in the industry.
Guest #6: Laura Combs
Marie Swift: All right. And we are back. I am joined now by Laura Combs and Laura you're with Mercer advisors.
Laura Combs: Yes. Thanks for having me.
Marie Swift: Yeah, so you live in Denver?
Laura Combs: I am local here in Boulder, just a little bit north of Denver.
Marie Swift: Wow. I love Boulder. I met my husband there and fell in love. We've been married for 40 years. We're at the Women Adviser Summit, which is a part of the InvestmentNews curriculum.
We're talking about cases of mistaken identity, and have you ever been in a business setting where you were mistaken to be the wife or the assistant or anything like that in your life.
Laura Combs: Marie yes, I feel like this continues to happen. Even being in the industry now for over a decade, I started my career in the Midwest and I would say I definitely got mistaken a lot more in the Midwest now being in Colorado I don't get mistaken as much, it's one of those things where you’re like wait a second, I'm the advisor and let me introduce myself. I'm who you need to be talking to here in this scenario so absolutely. Seems to be getting a little bit less. So that's a good thing
Marie Swift: Yeah. You know, I've been in this business for about 30 years. I started out as the assistant to one of the top producers back in the day when it was cool to be called a top producer.
I found that my value proposition has changed over the years. I was proud to be an executive assistant back then. Then as I started my own company and I changed how I talked about what I do and how I serve my clients, it went from supporting somebody else's goal to supporting my own goals and now supporting the team's goals now that I have a bigger firm.
I wonder if there's anything that's occurred for you over the course of your journey, your financial services journey, about how you speak about what you do.
Laura Combs: I would say there have been a number of changes. My career path is actually very similar to yours, starting in an entry level position almost 15 years ago, and really moving into a number of different roles where it was the individual contributor or the individual producer, like you said. But to me the thing that's really shifted is focusing on the team goals.
To me now, leading and managing multiple teams and sharing my goals are really focused around having the team be successful. It's no longer that I need to be in the spotlight and about me, but about what the team can bring and the perspective of having all of those unique individuals who contribute different things to make the client experience even stronger.
Marie Swift: So how long have you been doing the work as an advisor?
Laura Combs: I've been an advisor for 10 years now.
Marie Swift: Oh, wow. Congratulations. I'm thinking about all the times where I wondered why me when I was taking the stage and you know that little devil on your shoulder, it's like, why are you here? You're not good enough. You're going to say something wrong. Do you ever have that happen to you?
Laura Combs: Continually. Yes. I would say it's one of those things that as women, we continue to step into larger roles and doors open, and it's what I've found is not necessarily why me, but if not me then who.
So even if I don't feel ready for it, it's stepping into what feels uncertain and unknown and having it be a little bit of that imposter syndrome. I’m not supposed to be here, but looking around and saying, well, who else is going be, if it's not me. Trying to really pave the way for other women to feel confident, feel successful in the work that they're doing.
So yes, I would say it still kind of creeps in, but it's one of those things that has gone away over time, but still important to understand and recognize.
Marie Swift: You know, that's so true, if not me, who, right? And so one of the things that I've learned is to be courageous in the face of fear. I imagine you have those moments too, where it's uncomfortable to step into the limelight, like even doing this podcast.
Laura Combs: Absolutely it can be, but you know, uncomfortable things I think make us better so it's important to do those.
Marie Swift: They do indeed. What are you looking forward to at the Summit?
Laura Combs: I'm looking forward to being back in person with women. It's been a long time since I've been in a room full of women and I'm excited for the content and really sharpening my tools and getting going into the second half of the year with new ideas.
Marie Swift: Fantastic. Laura, thanks for being here.
Laura Combs: Thanks for having me.
Guest #7: Renée Pichette
Marie Swift: Okay. And we're back. And this time I'm joined by Renée Pichette. Is that like Rochette? Only Pichette, it's French?
Renée Pichette: Exactly.
Marie Swift: All right, and you live in Boulder. You're with Mercer Advisors and we're here at the InvestmentNews Women Adviser Summit. We're talking about mistaken identity. Have you ever been in a business setting and somebody thought you were the wife of the gentleman, or maybe he was your boss and he wasn't your husband or the assistant.
Tell us a little bit about that.
Renée Pichette: Yes. I have definitely experienced that. My husband is very tall. He's 6’5” and everyone thinks he's the one when he walks into the room that is in charge. Oftentimes I will have to kind of quietly come around and say, I'm the expert here.
Marie Swift: At least in the financial realm, right?
Renée Pichette: Exactly.
Marie Swift: When I accompany my husband on his business trips and he was the expert in his space, I was proud to say, I'm the wife of Bill Swift. Now when he comes with me, sometimes people will come up to Bill and say, oh, you're so and so in this role, and we laugh and he says, actually she's the boss now.
As I was thinking about this question, Sheryl Hickerson from the Females & Finance posted it a couple of weeks ago on LinkedIn. I'm ok with being mistaken in my role because it gives me an opportunity to help people open up their eyes, if there's any kind of like, those inherent biases that we all have. I think giving them the benefit of the doubt, they don't mean bad. They're just kind of the way they are.
Renée Pichette: Absolutely. Hopefully we can be a part of that change.
Marie Swift: Yeah, absolutely be a part of the change. The other thing that I've been thinking about is over my 30 years, how I've changed the way I language what I do and the value that I bring to my relationships. How about you?
Renée Pichette: Yes. Well, when I first started in this industry, I was definitely more of the support role it was really supporting clients, but it was also supporting the different advisors in the office and kind of whatever hat I needed to wear was the hat that I would put on that day.
Now I've really switched more to how can I really focus on my clients specifically and how can I start to work with a team to help support the folks that I am now working.
Marie Swift: That's fantastic. I know that I've struggled over the years with imposter syndrome. I imagine I'm not alone in that. Does that ever happen to you?
Renée Pichette: My goodness all the time. But what I really want to focus on, when I have those moments is remembering that I am the expert in the room and making sure that I can project that.
Marie Swift: Fantastic. Well, I have a daughter, I don't know if you have any kids, but I try to think about my daughter and how we're all paving the way for the next generation of women and lifting other people up.
I'm always for the underdog. Is there anything that you do in your business or in your team that helps other women, others who are the underdogs?
Renée Pichette: Yes, I love training the new hires that are coming in and really helping and support them so that we can bring them up.
Marie Swift: Fantastic. Well, thanks for being here, Renée. It's been a pleasure.
Renée Pichette: Thank you very much for having me.
Welcome to the “Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry” blog, where you will find ideas and tips from Marie Swift, a nationally-recognized marketing communications consultant who's worked with some of the top financial services and financial advisory firms in the nation over the course of her career. The "Swift Chat" series, which is available in both a video and a podcast format, is co-hosted by Impact Communications Vice President Jonny Swift, who selects his own guests and brings a Millennial perspective to the show. This blog spotlights financial services firms and allied institutions that the Swifts deem as adopting "Best Practices" in the industry. You will find numerous posts with tools and ideas aimed at helping independent financial advisors communicate better, scale, and grow.
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