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Carol Lee Royer of Waddell & Associates: “Realize saving is paying yourself first”

Realize saving is paying yourself first. With any money you earn or receive, when you put money in savings first, you are paying your future self. Prioritizing this and living underneath your means will set you up for success. As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing […]

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Realize saving is paying yourself first. With any money you earn or receive, when you put money in savings first, you are paying your future self. Prioritizing this and living underneath your means will set you up for success.


As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carol Lee Royer.

Carol Lee serves as Senior Vice President and Senior Wealth Strategist for Waddell & Associates (W&A), an SEC-registered investment advisory firm with offices in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee. Carol Lee arrived in Memphis from Nashville in 1974 as a student at Rhodes College (then Southwestern at Memphis). She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1978 with a BA in Mathematics and Economics. After summer studies in Britain at Oxford University, she began her career at IBM as a Systems Engineer in the Memphis marketing branch office. After 15 years, Carol Lee switched careers to financial planning in 1994, earning an MBA in Finance at the University of Memphis in December 1996. She earned the Certified Financial PlannerTM (CFP®) designation in February 1997, became a Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) charter holder in 1999, and earned her Certified Divorce Financial AnalystTM (CDFATM) designation in 2005. Elected in 2001, she is a former President of the Financial Planning Association of the Mid-South.

Outside of W&A, Carol Lee and her husband promote fitness and human-powered recreation in Memphis with events such as the Outdoors Canoe and Kayak Race on the Mississippi River. Some of Carol Lee’s other adventures include hiking the Haute Route from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland, bicycle-touring in the Outer Hebrides, the Italian Dolomites, the Alps and across Norway as well as kayak tours in the Florida Keys, Orcas Island, Maine and Yellowstone Lake.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?

From a young age, I relished the task of saving my allowance in hopes of achieving meaningful goals. I guess you could say saving has always been a part of me.

In high school and in college, I spent four summers working for my dad’s company, National Life and Accident Insurance Company — the former Nashville, Tenn. life insurance company that owned WSM and the Grand Ole Opry until the 1980s. I had one goal in mind during those summers: Save enough money to travel and study abroad with the British Studies at Oxford program offered by my college. And that’s just what I did.

Finance became more of a concrete idea for a career change after leaving IBM in the mid-1990s. I read more about personal financial planning and investing, setting my goal to achieve the industry’s most respected professional designations. After a 15-year break from academics, returning to the University of Memphis for an MBA with an emphasis in finance was quite a change. No more grueling evenings hand-typing term papers. Now, I had a personal computer!

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

My love for math and saving money is what got me into this business, but after 23 years in the industry, I’ve learned that I admire my clients and our relationships just as much — if not more!

It’s so interesting to watch the lifecycle of my clients, whether it’s seeing families blossom after struggling to accumulate savings while caring for their children or witnessing the children of clients become adults and come to me for financial advice. Seeing that all come to fruition and getting to be a part of it is most satisfying.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am currently working with individuals who previously haven’t been deeply involved in their family’s financials and may not understand their financial situation. It’s my goal to help them comprehend their assets while instilling in them that they can count on me to keep track of their family plan. My job is to have their backs.

One of the most satisfying parts of my job is working with clients, typically couples, and teaching a spouse who may have been reluctant to get involved in managing their finances. I love when I get the opportunity to bring that spouse into the picture of what’s going on in their family’s financial world.

The transition of someone unaware and uninterested to a person who is fully immersed in their family’s finances and making decisions for their loved ones is the most rewarding type of “project” I work on.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Waddell & Associates (W&A) stands out because we provide the type of service and relationships that I just described above, which is so meaningful to each family.

Our goal is to add value to our clients’ lives by figuring out each piece of the puzzle of accomplishing their goals — charity, minimizing taxes, increasing savings, maximizing investment portfolio, etc. We are more than financial advisors. We become friends and remain just as invested in their financial success as the individual we’re working with.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

Personally, I’ve always felt more comfortable working with female finance professionals, and I think others do, too — regardless of if the client is male or female. When I was starting out in my IBM career, I sought out women advisors because I thought it was important to work with other women. I’m thankful to work for a place that values women in finance and stands out with the number of females on its employee roster.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

  • Individual: It’s important for women to speak up when interested in senior positions. Men tend to feel more comfortable with being assertive and notifying managers where they want to end up professionally. Women must be assertive in this way, too.
  • Company: Business managers must listen to women who express a desire to move up the ladder. It could also be beneficial to seek out the women qualified for the senior position in case someone is not inclined to be vocal about ambitions, or they may not think the promotion is even possible until you present them with the opportunity.
  • Society: Every company should be supportive of women and men receiving time off to care for children and family needs. Luckily, we have come a long way in this area, and most talented women who want to keep a career can do so.

Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?

When I was growing up, financial literacy was taught in my family. I was given a regular allowance, and it was mine to manage on my own — I knew I wasn’t getting more money until my next allowance period, so I learned to save at a young age. Maybe families should revisit this method if they’re not using it already.

I also believe that the education system could emphasize the basics of financial literacy in math classes. This should be a foundational part of math education every year starting with third grade.

Lastly, there seem to be some misleading advertisements out there when it comes to financial products. For example, I’ve seen people dancing in commercials about short-term loans with messaging focused on how easy it is to get these types of loans. The falsity of exaggerated claims for instant financial gain needs to stop.

If I had the power to improve our country’s financial literacy, I’d make sure education is at the forefront 1) in family 2) in schools and 3) in consumer awareness.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.

  1. The power of compounding. This is something that I like to talk about with the adult children of my clients. At W&A, we have a session that highlights how saving immediately (ex: Roth IRA) can make such a difference versus waiting 10 years to start saving.
  2. Realize saving is paying yourself first. With any money you earn or receive, when you put money in savings first, you are paying your future self. Prioritizing this and living underneath your means will set you up for success.
  3. Set long-term goals: Save for the long-term. This is money that should never be touched. Allow it to grow and enjoy the growth later in life.
  4. Identify short-term goals: If your goal is to buy a car in the next year or so, start saving now. That way, you can put more money down and won’t need such a big loan.
  5. Plan for emergency situations: Build yourself a cushion because you will likely need it. This beats accumulating debt on a credit card and being forced to pay large amounts of interest.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Years ago, when I wanted to make my next professional move into an investment advisory firm, I looked to another woman in finance for advice. Little did I know that Phyllis Scruggs would offer me more than just advice; it was she who connected me with an opportunity!

At the time, Phyllis was a shareholder at W&A — my current firm. Once I spoke to her about my ambitions, she shared my story with Duke & Clara Waddell, the founders of W&A. Next thing I knew, I was offered a position alongside Phyllis, more by accident through consulting with her. It was so unexpected but turned out the be the best thing. If this doesn’t illustrate the family atmosphere at W&A, I don’t know what does!

Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Being a fiduciary is very important to me. Focus your decisions and advice solely in the client’s best interest, even if it may not be what’s best for you. I believe you will be absolutely rewarded by that.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Get outdoors! I believe that if everyone enjoyed the beauty that’s around them with some time spent outside, the world would be a much happier place. I’m most fulfilled when I’m alongside my husband, cycling on a leafy country road, paddling on the Mississippi River in our kayak or hiking to a mountaintop.

Getting outside can help you to conquer the challenges of starting a healthier, happier lifestyle. And there’s so much fun in seeing yourself improve — running longer than you ever thought you could, biking more skillfully than when you started, etc. It’s both motivating and achievable to conquer these challenges!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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