In this Swift Chat, Marie Swift of Impact Communications, Inc. speaks with Bridget Grimes, CFP® and Katie Burke, CFP®, Co-Founders of Equita Financial Network, an entity that empowers independent, women-led financial planning firms to provide outstanding service to their clients, achieve business success, and leverage a network that allows them to do their life’s work without sacrificing what matters most.
Katie and Bridget share their stories about starting out in the financial services industry, breaking out to start their own firms, and how they came together to form Equita. The trio also discuss the challenges women face in the industry and how Equita Financial Network can help support them by creating a reliable community helping all women achieve their goals.
Learn more about Equita Financial Network at: https://www.EquitaFN.com
Women bring a tremendous benefit to financial planning. We're great at running businesses, but the thing is, we're put in this position where we're just another number and the decisions are made by people who don't know where we come from. I had to raise kids and run a company at the same time, I didn't have a wife. I think that oftentimes there's just not an understanding because they haven't sat where we sit and they don't know some of the challenges that we have that get between us and success. As a result, the industry doesn't change."
Transcript of Conversation
Marie Swift: Welcome back. You're joining me for another great Swift Chat, and today I'm really excited because I have two powerhouse women with me. I've got Bridget Grimes and Katie Burke. Katie and Bridget have an amazing story about how they got together, what they're building together, and they also have their own firms individually where they work with their own clients.
Let's get the conversation going by just talking about your history. How you met, and how the story unfolded. Who wants to go first?
Katie Burke: I'll go first. I'm Katie Burke and I currently reside in the Philadelphia area. I previously lived in San Diego for about 10 years. I worked for an RIA in the San Diego area and Bridget worked for a different firm.
I helped organize events for a local women's networking group for women in finance. Bridget and I had initially met that way. I left my employer, started my own firm in 2015, Method Financial Planning, relocated back to the East Coast. About a year later, Bridget launched her firm and we ended up reconnecting around obviously knowing each other, a few years in the past, but also the fact that we were now solo firms and had a lot of commonalities that we wanted to talk about.
WHAT EQUITA IS ALL ABOUT
Bridget Grimes: Yeah. So, when you launch your own firm, like Katie said, I had left my firm where I was an employee and launched my own practice, and you're really out there by yourself. We knew each other through the small community of San Diego.
When I started to do work, I would reach out to Katie and ask “hey, how would you solve this problem?” Or just sharing best practices, and we became really great sounding boards for each other. I launched my firm in 2016, so I that was about 2016. It was a year into that relationship when Katie said, let's put together a really awesome platform for ourselves. That's really where the Equita story begins.
Swift: So, what is the platform?
Burke: It is a platform for women-led financial planning firms, that includes everything you need to run your business. Everything from compliance, portfolio management solution, to allow you as the firm owner to do the things that you want to do, which is perhaps grow your practice, focus on the planning work with your clients.
In addition to that, it's a community of like-minded women. As Bridget said, having the ability to have a trusted network for best practices, for a sounding board in our industry, is very rare and actually did not exist until we launched Equita.
Grimes: Yeah. Marie, you know, Katie and I both have our stories, why we launched our own firms, and it's really where the heart of Equita is.
We left firms where we felt we were marginalized, and this is very common for women in our industry. We see that the number of women CFPs has not changed in over a decade. Some women come and women leave, and the number never changes. Katie and I have lived that ourselves. I decided to launch my practice for a host of those reasons.
I was underpaid. There's no flexibility. I mean, there's pay disparity. We're not making any movement on that. One of the solutions that we found was if we run our own firm, we take care of a lot of those problems. I can work when I want to. I can serve who I want to, I can get paid what I'm worth.
We both did this and we found that there were a ton of women out there who were doing the same thing. For a number of women, this is a great solution. It's not the solution for everybody, but it was the solution for the two of us. And we thought, look, if we can get together and, economies of scale, you put together the very best resources to run a firm. We would share those. Then as we got into this, we said, wow, let's make this available to other women. It's truly everything you need to run a really successful, high level firm.
Swift: One of the things I was looking at this morning on LinkedIn, I don't know if the two of you have had a chance to see this, but Cary Carbonaro, who's long been a practicing advisor, she happens to be a woman.
She was talking about how few women there still are in the business, and one of the comments she had is that financial services and financial advisory services specifically, has been kind of built up and crafted by men. So, we hear this term working in a man's world. Really, if you think about the legacy, the terms like producer, top producer, Cary had some really interesting things to say about that. Anything about the history and what we're working through in these interesting times?
Burke: I did have a chance to see that, and I think that when I first started my career, which is almost 20 years ago in financial services, I was on the lookout for a mentor for somebody in financial services to kind of show me what the options were.
I was working in the back office, the only women I knew were in support roles. Could I be a financial advisor? I thought it might be really interesting, but I never saw a woman who did it. I didn't know if I could accomplish that. The other part was, I was always told and taught to sort of act like a man in my job, in my career. Come to the Monday morning table, you don't feel like you have anything to talk about because everyone's talking about football. Why don't you learn some football, so you have something to talk about?
It's interesting now that I've had the opportunity to totally flip the game on that. I can control my own career and this is how I want to run my practice. That is still the culture.
Grimes: It is still the culture. 30 years ago, I started as the only woman on a trading desk. I still remember, we bought suits from Brooks Brothers. The suits, we looked like men, but we had a skirt. You’re right, Katie, it was all about how do you fit into a man's world. Everybody on the trading desk, but me, played golf. I was the only woman on the desk. So, it was different. The object was that you were supposed to act like if, if you wanted to succeed, that's how you had to act. You had to try to fit in.
We don't think that that's the answer. Women bring a tremendous benefit to financial planning. We're great at running businesses, but the thing is, we're put in this position where we're just another number and the decisions are made by people who don't know where we come from. I had to raise kids and run a company at the same time, I didn't have a wife.
I think that oftentimes there's just not an understanding because they haven't sat where we sit and they don't know some of the challenges that we have that get between us and success. As a result, the industry doesn't change.
SETTING THE EXAMPLE FOR OTHER WOMEN
Swift: Katie, you said something interesting about you never saw another woman do this. What you had in mind, your vision for yourself, and I think that is so important that we as successful women business owners, and you as successful women financial advisors, that other women see us succeeding and helping each other.
I think that may be one of the reasons that you started Equita Financial Network, is to give this space. Some may say it's like a safe space, but it’s a community of like-minded women where you can really feel like you can give and take in the way that's appropriate for the group.
Katie, maybe you could jump in on that, and then Bridget chime in.
Burke: When I launched Method Financial Planning in 2015, which was my planning firm, I got calls from women throughout the industry that I had met in my career who asked the question, how did you do it? How are you ready? How did you make the leap? How did you plan for this?
They would say, well, I can't do that, or I don't have the skills to do that. Or I'm not ready. One of my passions in building Equita was I wanted every woman to feel like she could do this, and to feel like if she wanted to make the leap, she had somewhere to go. We didn't have somewhere to go before, so we built it.
Grimes: One of the things you mentioned, Marie, is how women help each other. A really big part of what Katie and I believe in is this abundance mentality. It's a shift in our industry. We don't look at everybody in our community as competition.
We know that if we share and we help these other women, we all do better. We all succeed. I see that as a huge shift in our industry because typically everyone is your competition, right? But we know that that's not the case. And we actually spoke about that, the importance of community for women in our industry.
When we have this community and we can help each other and share, and like Katie said, we get calls all the time from women we've never met. “Can you help me? Tell me how you did it.” And we've made so many introductions and what they're really looking for is a community. It's other women. There is no community out there of women-led financial planners. There isn't, and it's sorely needed.
A BETTER WAY TO CREATE SYNERGY AND SUPPORT
Swift: So, you had this idea to create a better platform for the two of you to have each other to share best practices and ideas, and I think you called it economies of scale, some efficiencies. How has that grown to include other women-led financial advisory firms?
Burke: When we were going through this process, Bridget and I were talking to our attorney to see a way that we could retain our own autonomous brand. I work with different clients. I have my own brand for Method, with Wealth Choice. Bridget has her own brand and her own clients.
We wanted to share and do it in a way that we could both benefit from it, but again, remains separate. So that concept and that idea of being able to offer that to other women was again, something that took us almost a year to actually put together to figure it out. To say “what types of partners do we want with Equita that are true partners?”
Yes, they're vendors, they provide us with services, but they will be part of our growth. They understand what Equita is trying to do. So that is a great way to get the economies of scale so you can pay a lot less to run your business, but also, like Bridget said, a really important part of building our community.
Grimes: A number of years ago when we had first launched Equita, a woman in our industry had said, “so essentially you're helping women build the firm they want, whatever that is.” And that's really what it is. It's the resources that you could not afford on your own, in most cases, not this level of resources where you can delegate everything because if there's one of you, there's literally no time to run a business and take care of clients well.
So how do you get all the resources in place? You delegate away and then you spend the time on building your business and on taking care of your clients. It's really true. It's funny because Katie and I both run our own financial planning firms, but we do it differently. We leverage the resources that Equita provides, but then, we will serve our clients differently and we will build out our firms differently.
That's the point of it: what do you want that to look like?
BENEFITS OF EQUITA FINANCIAL NETWORK
Swift: You touched on some of the benefits of being a part of the Equita Financial Network. Could you drill down a little bit more into additional benefits, how it works? Who is this a fit for and all that good stuff?
Burke: Yes, there's a platform of services to essentially be your business, be the backbone to your business, which includes a CRM, ENO insurance, compliance oversight. So Equita is an RIA and our member firms can be RIAs or they can also be IARs. I know there's a lot of industry terminology, but we were told that that's a really simple way if you are inner industry to kind of understand the relationship, especially for compliance purposes of being a part of Equita.
We also have a portfolio management solution, so we have an outsourced CIO, who is awesome and actually hosts office hours for our members, builds our model portfolios, helps with the transition analysis for our clients. The other important part of our portfolio management team is a training team that we work with.
To take those two pieces off of your plate as a firm owner, is a huge benefit to allowing you to, like Bridget said, focus on what you want to focus on in your business, serve your clients well, focus on the planning work to build the business that you want.
Grimes: Marie, there's two other really important points that the community provides, and that's succession planning and emergency continuity planning.
In order to come up with a solution, if you're a solo or you have a small ensemble firm, and you need to know that if you get hit by a bus, your clients are going to be okay. It's not as easy as just going out and finding somebody. The number one issue is to actually find a partner. It's so hard to find someone with whom you trust, and share a similar business model, similar way of serving clients.
It's really hard to find somebody like you. By having this community where we use a lot of the same resources, we share the same investment philosophy, but we run our own businesses. It is way easier to find someone you trust who could step in if something were to happen.
That could be an emergency continuity plan or it could even be a succession plan down the road. This community really is a game changer, and we get to know each other over years. It’s that space where our industry hasn't really come up with solutions.
RIGHT FIT FOR WOMEN WHO ARE OR WANT TO BE RIA BUSINESS OWNERS
Swift: So, the right fit is either an RIA, a registered investment advisor, or an IAR, an independent advisor representative, I think is what that is. But let's talk about beyond the labels, beyond just the business model. What's the kind of woman advisor that would be the best fit for Equita?
Burke: I think someone who wants to be a business owner. Not every financial advisor wants to also run a business. You really need to have that drive to say, I want to build the business side as well. Someone with the abundance mentality that's going to really add to our community.
An important part of us learning if someone's a good fit is, like you said, Marie, there's all these boxes we need to check. To say, we did compliance review this due diligence, but it's also really, is this woman going to be a great addition to our community? What is she bringing to the table? I think that's really important.
Swift: I know that you were both recently up in Seattle for the FPA National Conference, and I believe you spoke about continuity planning, succession planning. Tell us a little bit more about your topic.
Grimes: Katie and I were asked to speak on emergency continuity planning, and we both have our own firms. There's a compliance requirement, to an extent, that you have to have something in place. This is a bit more robust than that. We talked about my own journey. A year ago I was doing my estate planning and my estate planner said, okay, so you have these two businesses, what happens to Wealth Choice if something happens to you?
I had no answer, I had no solution. I reached out to another industry network that Katie and I are part of, and I asked our peers and I got 80 emails, no exaggeration, from our peers saying, we don't have a solution, but when you get one, let us know what it is.
We started on a journey to figure this out and we brought in some resources who were really awesome. We put a team together to help us come up with this solution. Katie was my emergency continuity plan. She's who I wanted to step in. I mean, we had to negotiate this, but she's who I wanted to step in should something happen to me. There went an eight-month process from the beginning to when we signed a legal agreement, of what this would look like if something happened to me.
Also, I wanted to share the number one thing that we learned and that stops people from having a solution here, is not having a partner. It is such a challenge to have a business. You're out there doing your own thing, but you're truly not part of a community and you just don't know anyone well enough to trust with your business.
It is so terrific to have a community where we know the women in Equita. We're running our own businesses, but we come together every week and we have a community call, we share resources, we share best practices. We get to know each other. To be able to turn around and have someone or several different people who you would trust your business with is amazing. Even with that community, we've done surveys to help them find a match. We've asked them for their priorities, and we prioritize the matches.
Otherwise nothing gets done because even if we give someone a list of names, they don't know those people. They're out there doing their things somewhere in this country. They're probably doing great work, but they don't know these people the way we know the people in our community. It's been really cool to be able to share with people the value that this community has provided all of the women.
WHERE TO FIND EFN MEMBERS - OUT AND ABOUT
Swift: Along that line, I know that you get together virtually every week, but don't you also have in-person gatherings and what would we be thinking about for 2023? Where could women who are interested in learning more find you? Tell us how people would take the next step and maybe the places you'll be in the new year.
Burke: We always are welcome to and open to conversation. No matter if you just want to learn more about what we're offering, or if you are trying to figure out what your next step is, we're here to support you and we love to have those conversations.
We are going to be at some conferences this year. We're going to the T3 Conference in Tampa. We are going to be at the NAPFA Spring Conference in San Diego. Bridget and I just found out that the FPA Conference is in her hometown of Phoenix next fall.
Swift: That'd be great to get together, and I know that sometimes there's a dinner or a round table. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of things in the spring. I'd love to do it and to come and talk with some of the Equita Network members and to hear their best practices. One of the things that I love doing is speaking with financial advisors, independent financial advisors, and especially smart women financial advisors, and then bringing back those ideas and thought leadership to our community.
Is there anything else as we start wrapping up for the day about anything special on the horizon? 2023, here we are. You can see I'm wearing my holiday shirt. We're recording this right before Christmas, and this will come out right in the beginning of the New Year. People will be thinking about New Year's resolutions and where they can go to make a difference in the world and also in the lives of their family members and their business stakeholders, whether it's a business of one or a business of more than one.
Grimes: 2023 is actually really exciting for Equita. We are essentially relaunching. That means we've taken a really good look at all of the resources and partners we have and prioritized what people had told us was most important to them. We revisited pricing, and really put together a terrific package of everything you need to run your firm. We're going to get the word out in the beginning of ‘23. We're really excited because we think that this is a lot of opportunity for women that they may not have seen before. It looked a little different in the past, but we're really excited to share this now.
Swift: I know you have a great website and it might be going through a little bit of a facelift given what you've just shared about relaunching and improving the whole value proposition. Would you share the URL and also any other way that people could find you, engage with you, maybe LinkedIn and also don't you do webinars and podcasts? Would you be available to be a speaker?
Burke: So our website is EquitaFN.com for Equita Financial Network. We also have an Equita LinkedIn group that you can join. Equita is on Facebook, and Bridget and I also are on LinkedIn under our own profiles where you can find us as associated with Equita Financial Network. We have a lot of content in all of those places, and I think that's a really easy way you can always reach us.
Swift: Alright, and speaking of podcasts, here you are doing a podcast with me. If anybody is inspired by this, has their own podcast or maybe is on a task force, I would say Bridget and Katie would be awesome. I know that NAPFA just booked you to be on the NAPFA Nation Podcast. I'm looking forward to that conversation as well.
Bridget and Katie, thank you very much for being here today. I enjoyed every minute of it. Happy holidays and a great New Year to all.
Grimes: Thanks, Marie.
Burke: Thank you so much.
Equita is a platform for women-led financial planning firms, that includes everything you need to run your business. Everything from compliance, portfolio management solution, to allow you as the firm owner to do the things that you want to do, which is perhaps grow your practice, focus on the planning work with your clients. In addition to that, it's a community of like-minded women. As Bridget said, having the ability to have a trusted network for best practices, for a sounding board in our industry, is very rare and actually did not exist until we launched Equita.