I truly believe in the value of advice, good customized advice that is. Everyone can benefit from having some degree of guidance from a specialist. Depending on your life stage you may need advice that is more fundamental and basic (which can now be offered via apps etc) or perhaps advice that is more customized and needing the opinion of an advisor. Similar to accounting where you can perform the basic functions yourself, at some point, you are better off to have an expert look things over. A huge part of financial planning has to do with taxes, and it is often those that are not wealthy which are impacted most by this erosion to income and savings.
As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or adviser, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Wong Witmeyer. Over the last 15 years Stephanie has worked with various financial management agencies and insurance carriers in Canada. She has worked with over a thousand financial advisors throughout Canada as a consultant to their practice, with emphasis on business planning, advanced case work and providing continuing education. Stephanie is known for her integrity, work ethic and commitment to her clients. Currently, Stephanie works for Equitable Life of Canada as their Regional Insurance Sales Manager in Vancouver, BC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Stephanie! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Myfirst role in the financial services industry was a part time marketing coordinator for Desjardins Financial Services. They were at a networking event held by my university business club. I was in my 3rd year undergrad at the time and remember chatting with the recruiters about my part time job at an upscale restaurant. I had mentioned the restaurant would continuously give out coupons to attract new customers and ended up mailing a few to them after the event. I guess they were impressed with my follow up and offered me a job.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
I was in my early 20s when I started in the industry and was really embarrassed by my age. I had thought people wouldn’t want to take me seriously because I was too young, so I had tried way too hard to act and dress more mature. I even remember wishing for grays! I can’t believe how foolish I was to have thought this way. The reality is, whatever you are, you just have to own it. Your “shortcomings” may not be shortcomings at all and can actually work to your advantage if you have the courage to demonstrate so. When I work with younger advisors now, I try to encourage them to embrace their youth as it can come with many attributes that older advisors may or may not have. For example, younger advisors are generally current with the trends, tech savvy and up to date on their education.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My husband and I are expecting a baby soon, it is definitely more of a personal project but with that I launched a new social media handle aimed to help other working mothers feel better about trying to have it all. Mothers / even expecting mothers are often shamed for their decision to work and have a life outside of their kids. I think this is crazy and certainly unhealthy as it is a form of bullying. There are some women out there that are happy and doing great while trying to have it all — the family life, sense of self and a fulfilling career. I think this should be shared and embraced.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
A tipping point in my career would be when I stopped fearing my clients and decided to have the courage to stand up for my believes and my practice. Being scared is counter-productive, don’t let your fears get in the way of what you want to achieve. For example, I see advisors that are scared to ask their clients too many questions and this often hinders a lot of the planning work that can and should be done.
What three pieces of advice would you give to your colleagues in the finance field to thrive and avoid burnout? Can you give a story or example?
1) Streamline and record your process — this is harder than it sounds as it is important to personalize services to your client’s needs, however consistency will save time and help manage both the advisor and client’s expectations. For example, have a client on-boarding process and a regular check-in schedule that is applicable to all clients. Write this down and share it with your clients to set expectations from both ends.
2)Outsource and leverage resources around you (learn to delegate) — financial advisors are entrepreneurs; in today’s day and age they need to do much more than knock on doors and write applications. Often, I see advisors spiral into depression as they spend too much time trying to build up the perfect website, curating perfect content, mastering SEO and servicing their existing clients. These tasks are important, but they take away from an aspect of the business that cannot be done by someone else, which is talking to new perspective clients. There are plenty of tasks that can be outsourced to someone that has the skill set and will end up saving time, allowing the advisor to focus on where they are needed most. Websites like Upwork is a great place to look for talented people to help with branding, technology and other marketing projects. Brokerages and product carriers often have in-house specialists such as accountants and tax lawyers to help provide advice to your clients, don’t be shy to include these experts as part of your business offering.
3)The financial advising business is often lonely, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of ways to team up in our industry, and in fact most successful advisors are not afraid to share their clients. For example, I see advisors teaming up with group benefit specialists, investment specialists and even accountants. Teaming up allows a quicker build-up of trust with clients and also creates a healthy environment for sharing, whether it be sharing challenges, frustrations, ideas or success.
Ok. Thank you for all of that. Let’s now move to the core focus of our interview. As an “finance insider”, you know much more about the finance industry than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to hire a financial advisor (not you :-)), which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing? Can you give an example or story for each?
1)take your time to find someone that is compatible with your character, or at the very least is interested in creating solutions that are compatible with your goals. Everyone’s financial plan should be different, and personalized. There is no one size fits all.
2) don’t be afraid to ask “dumb questions” and pay attention to how the advisor responds. You want to work with someone that has the patience to answer with confidence and does not just highlight the good but also tells you the downside.
3) research who you are working with, ideally you want to find someone that is fully committed to taking care of your plan for the long run
4) find someone that is educated, dedicated and current with their practice
5) find someone that can speak to a range of financial planning topics and its interwoven impact on your goals
6) bonus- find someone that actively listens when you speak.
I think most people think that financial advisors are for very wealthy people. This is likely not actually true. Can you explain who would most benefit from hiring a financial advisor and why? Can you give an example?
I truly believe in the value of advice, good customized advice that is. Everyone can benefit from having some degree of guidance from a specialist. Depending on your life stage you may need advice that is more fundamental and basic (which can now be offered via apps etc) or perhaps advice that is more customized and needing the opinion of an advisor. Similar to accounting where you can perform the basic functions yourself, at some point, you are better off to have an expert look things over.
A huge part of financial planning has to do with taxes, and it is often those that are not wealthy which are impacted most by this erosion to income and savings.
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 try to learn from everyone I meet, weather it is good or bad. I have learned a lot from my advisors (clients) over the years and they all attribute to my success. The most important things I’ve learned from my advisors/ clients is to have a good work ethic, integrity and be cautious of what you are putting out in the world. For example, I had an awful meeting a few months ago where an advisor had stormed out based on a projection of their own insecurities. This experience had taught me to be mindful of our own demons and not let it create our realities for us.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to inspire a movement that would help people embrace planning for their worst-case scenario. There is much emphasis (especially on social media) on “living your best life” by treating yourself with things and experiences that may cost you comfort tomorrow. Not that there is anything wrong with living your best life, however I believe a “best life” should include being prepared for rainy days. There is still so much stigma against having conversations on sickness and accidents and that needs to stop.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Ah, my new instagram handle is Greedymommy . I haven’t been spending too much time there, but it is slowly coming together. I can also be found on LinkedIn under my name Stephanie Wong Witmeyer.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspiring.