Get involved and ask questions. There is no replacement for asking questions about things you don’t understand or things you need clarified. You don’t need to discover or learn 10 new things in a single day, during a single discussion, or at an event. But coming away with one new tidbit or forming one new connection is always a good use of your time.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Binney H.C. Wietlisbach, President of The Haverford Trust Company. Mrs. Binney Wietlisbach is the firm’s President and has been with Haverford since 1992. Binney has worked in the financial services industry since 1985. She is a member of the Executive Committee, a voting member of the Investment Selection Committee, and a member of the Board of Directors of The Haverford Trust Company.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Although my career in the industry began 34 years ago, it was 25 years ago when a simple phone call from my mother changed my life forever. My mother had been divorced twice, but she was lucky to be financially independent, living off the income of a trust set up by her grandfather. But that was 25 years earlier. On that phone call, my mother revealed her income was now around the poverty level.
As the story went, my mother received a check every quarter and never questioned how it was invested. Over time, her income dropped by more than half, and she didn’t understand why. My mother was highly educated, yet she was totally lost when it came to her finances. She didn’t know how to read her quarterly statements nor what questions to ask, let alone to whom she could address her concerns. She was taught money was something you did not discuss or question. In fact, she had never spoken to any of the officers at the bank that served as corporate trustee on her behalf since the inception of her relationship with them 18 years prior.
I was flabbergasted and knew this disaster could have been completely avoidable. That moment it dawned on me: my mother’s story likely wasn’t unique. If my mother — a Bryn Mawr College-educated, independent woman — was in this situation, there must be scores of women who’ve been put in the same situation. How many women had found themselves in charge of their own and their family’s finances, but without the knowledge to ensure that it lasts? It was in that moment — at 30 years old — that I decided to dedicate my life not only to the world of financial management but also to helping women take the reins of their financial futures.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
There have been countless interesting, amusing, and career-altering moments that would take more than a few paragraphs to share. But one comes to mind that speaks to how important and rewarding it is to be trusted by your clients.
I remember being in the middle of an important meeting when my assistant urgently pulled me out of the room and put me on the phone with a couple I had worked with since the 1980s. They had told her it was “a family emergency” and had to speak with me immediately. The husband told me about a massive argument he was having with his wife over whether or not to sell their home. His wife joined, and we discussed whether they could stay in the house or if they should sell the house, etc. We worked through the pros and cons together to ensure they made the best decision for their situation.
This story is one I hold dear because it showed me that becoming a family’s trusted advisor is a humbling honor and responsibility — someone that is called in a family emergency. Being able to serve people in that capacity is what excites me when coming to work every day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
While not new per se, we are always reinventing and invigorating our annual Haverford Speaker Series for Women®, which is designed to educate, empower, and inspire women on financial matters and other important topics — both personally and professionally. Since we launched the series in 2010, over 3,000 women have heard local and national speakers from diverse backgrounds share insights and stimulate conversation around one overarching theme: the celebration of female empowerment through knowledge.
Through this program, I’m proud to help female attendees gain the confidence to ask questions and get involved in the management of their personal or family’s financial lives. We also use the series to empower women to advocate for themselves in business and personal situations. It is an exciting project for Haverford Trust that helps us reach not only our current clients but women of all backgrounds in the greater Philadelphia region.
In addition to the Speaker Series, I also launched the Women in Leadership networking panel at Penn State University. This annual event allows students to learn career planning and leadership from successful professional women and offers them the opportunity to be mentored by these women.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Back in the 1980s, we had an aging client whose daughter, who had four children, would inherit his wealth when he passed. His daughter lived out of state and when I happened to be passing through for business, I paid her a visit at her dad’s request. Over the next few years, I fell into a pattern of periodically meeting with each family member one-on-one to talk about whatever financial principals applied to their respective lives at the time — from finances with fiancées to what would happen if an injury kept them out of active work. We all grew close.
Years after our aging client passed, the family asked me to visit their vacation home in Maine. Upon arriving, the daughter of our original client said, “Binney! I am so glad to see you! You’re better than Santa Claus.” After seeing the confused look on my face, she replied, “I can’t even get my kids to come here for Christmas, but they all came today to see you!”
This is one of my favorite stories because it speaks to exactly what we aim to do at Haverford Trust. We want to become THE trusted advisor for our clients. We want families to call us with no hesitation when they need advice or guidance.
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?
The finance industry today is beginning to realize the benefits that gender diversity can bring to their businesses. Aside from general changes in public perception, there is growing and indisputable evidence supporting this claim. One of my favorite McKinsey studies found that companies with diverse leadership teams are 21 percent more likely to outperform on profitability and 27 percent more likely to demonstrate superior value creation, compared to male-dominated executive structures. This has led to more and more financial services companies doubling down on their commitment to gender diversity, but there is still a long way to go.
This is a big reason I focus on female empowerment in our Speaker Series for Women and throughout my daily activities at Haverford Trust. I want to give women the tools and confidence needed to not only enter the field, but to break through the glass ceiling and rise in the ranks.
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?
1. Network, Network, Network. Society’s penchant for using social media and reliance on email has made some of us more hesitant to approach a stranger, but networking is critical to growth and development. Important for everyone, this is arguably even more important for women, as research shows that women’s lack of access to informal networks creates structural obstacles to career advancement. Also, one expert estimated between 70 to 80 percent of all jobs are not posted online. The best way to get your foot into this underground job market is to expand your professional network. Aside from the obvious business and professional opportunities, networking can lead career builders to find new ideas, fresh perspectives, and even mentors that can guide you throughout your career.
2. Vote! Women are beating men to the polls, but only a fraction of eligible women voters turn out. During the 2016 presidential election, only 63.3 percent of eligible women voted. While this is higher than the 59.3 percent of men who showed up, the fact remains that a third of all women voters sat on the sidelines. Turnout for local elections is even lower. Also, turnout among women has declined steadily over the past decade. Voting is the easiest and simplest way not only to increase civic engagement, but also to affect public policy and enact change.
3. Leadership Paying it Forward. Ultimately, change needs to be sparked and it needs to be supported from the top. I’ve seen this time and again. When I first started out in my career and had a big corporate fundraising idea, an executive at my company helped me bring my idea to life. She later became my mentor. As a senior leader at Haverford Trust, I’ve been fortunate to be able to pay it forward by helping institute family-friendly policies that encourage women to continue working during significant life stages.
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.
I have two adult children, turning 25 and 23 this summer. Throughout their young adult lives, I have focused on the following five essential ways to become financially literate:
1. You need to work. Without work, you cannot earn money. If you cannot earn money, it’s naturally going to be very difficult to get by in life.
2. Money means more when you’re earning it. I always think back to when my son received his first paycheck. He was a junior in high school and made $7.50 an hour working at a golf course. When he opened up his first paycheck for two hours of hard work, he expected it to read $15. Instead, it totaled $11.88. He was so annoyed and confused. Of course, my thought was, “Welcome to the real world! That’s called taxes.” It was an eye-opener and quickly showed him the value of a dollar.
3. You need to save money … immediately. Money you don’t see is money you don’t miss. Putting forth a goal of saving 10% of what you earn is important. Whether it’s saving for retirement, emergencies, or something special, it is imperative to have savings. In particular, if you have the ability to participate in a 401(k) — do it. Growing and accumulating savings is crucial.
4. Get involved and ask questions. There is no replacement for asking questions about things you don’t understand or things you need clarified. You don’t need to discover or learn 10 new things in a single day, during a single discussion, or at an event. But coming away with one new tidbit or forming one new connection is always a good use of your time.
5. Read! It’s incredibly important to be informed on a variety of topics, not just finance. Being a voracious reader will open your eyes to new perspectives.
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?
I’m so happy you asked this question because, to me, mentor and mentee relationships are an integral part of everyday life. These relationships help shape the people we become, both in and out of the workplace. Mentorship is really just a fancy word for sharing wisdom and supporting each other, and I found my mentor in Sue Perrotty, Chief Executive Officer and President at AFM Financial Services.
There was nothing specific that brought Sue and I together. We connected simply because I, a young entry-level employee, took the initiative to ask her, a senior executive, to lunch. To my surprise, she said yes! We got to know each other and our paths crossed several times over the next few years.
Fast forward a year and a half after our initial lunch, and I was heading up our Community Involvement Team. Our group was working on an initiative when we hit a roadblock. I knew at that moment there was only one person who could remove that obstacle — Sue.
So, I gave Sue a call early in the morning when I knew she’d be working but free, and after running through the issue, she told me she would see what she could do. Sue not only removed the roadblock, but all of the sudden people who I didn’t even know were brought in to help us with our project, which lasted for five years and raised a cumulative of a half million dollars to aid the homeless. That would not have happened without that lunch.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In thinking about this question, it was difficult for me to come up with just one. Both of these came from different people and different places in my life, but they’ve both made an equal impact.
1. “There are very few things in this world that we can control, but the two things we can are our attitudes and our actions.” This is important to me because attitude and action are things I focus on when I act as a mentor, a manager, and a leader. There are so many times when we focus on things we cannot control and it’s important to remember what we can. When we do that — things fall into line.
2. “Don’t follow a bad shot by a stupid shot.” I learned this on the golf course, but I have found this applies in life too, particularly when it comes to investing. In golf, after you hit an errant shot — into the trees or water — many instantly think it’s now time to take a huge swing or hit a shot that’s nearly impossible to make in order to make up for it. The same goes for investing. It’s not good to follow a bad investment with a risky bet.
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. 🙂
As President of Haverford Trust with 34 years of experience, it is my duty and responsibility to be a luminary within the financial advisory industry. But one key area I have always been focused on is female empowerment through financial literacy. I feel that I am currently doing that through the Haverford Speaker Series for Women, the Women in Leadership networking panel at Penn State University, and the countless interactions I have with women of all ages and backgrounds on a daily basis.
After seeing my mother go through a financial hardship that was completely avoidable, I knew my calling in life would be to prevent this from happening to other women. Women are experiencing a period of great advancement today. My place in this movement is to help further female empowerment by teaching financial literacy, encouraging women to grow in their careers, and advocating for women to get involved and ask questions.
Thank you for all of these great insights!