Jessica Gibbs of Monument Wealth Management: “Consider philanthropy”

Consider philanthropy — Donating to a cause that you care about is a form of investment. You’re assessing your priorities, determining which charity is the best one for you to invest in, and evaluating the impact of that investment. As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica […]

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Consider philanthropy — Donating to a cause that you care about is a form of investment. You’re assessing your priorities, determining which charity is the best one for you to invest in, and evaluating the impact of that investment.

As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Gibbs, CFP®, Director of Private Wealth Design at Monument Wealth Management.

Jessica was inspired by a podcast to become a wealth advisor, which was a completely new path for her. Even though she enjoyed working with individuals on their philanthropic giving, Jessica decided that Private Wealth Design was a better way to build the type of long-term, advice-driven relationships she valued. After completing Georgetown University’s Certificate in Financial Planning program, Jessica joined the team at Monument Wealth Management as a CFP® and was named a Forbes “Top Next Generation Financial Advisor” in 2017 and 2019.

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

A podcast. That’s not an exaggeration. A little backstory…I graduated with a degree in political science in 2009, so it was a challenging job market and I was looking for any opportunity I could get. I landed at a prestigious and well-known think tank in Washington D.C. called The Brookings Institution, as part of their fundraising team. While that was a really incredible experience and I learned a lot, I decided fundraising was not ultimately the thing that I really wanted to pursue as a career. But it was also taking me a while to figure out what I actually wanted to do instead.

On this particular morning, I started listening to a podcast about personal finance issues on a whim. It was an hour-long episode where they were interviewing people from all across the country, in different stages of life, about the personal finance challenges they were facing and I just felt so excited listening to it. It was a topic that I had always loved learning about. And I love listening to people, helping them, and giving advice. I thought “This is it!”

As I dug into it a bit more, I learned about a Certified Financial Planner credential and thought it looked interesting. After enrolling in a CFP program, things just felt like they were starting to fall into place. I wish I had known about this path sooner, but I was really happy to find it when I did.

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?

I find it really interesting that I have the opportunity to work and interact with such a wide range of clients and at the same time, I’m able to provide each of them with sound advice and help them achieve confidence in making their financial decisions. It’s so rewarding to help someone become more empowered.

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

I’m working on developing a podcast of my own along with one of my firm’s co-founders, Dave Armstrong. Being wealth managers, we use the word “wealth” a lot. But I don’t think people spend enough time asking themselves “what is the point of wealth?” Our thesis is that wealth is not the sum of its parts — it’s not about having this account or this product or this document. And it’s not about watching your money ride the market like a roller coaster. The point of wealth is to create something of meaning and purpose. It’s about having opportunity to make the choices you want to make. So, our podcast is going to be aimed at helping people answer this question for themselves, with hopefully some interesting insights along the way.

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

From my very first week, I was sitting in on client meetings. My firm’s co-founders, Dean Catino and Dave Armstrong, had confidence in me and weren’t going to keep me on the sidelines just because I was new. What makes Monument really stand out is their belief in “See one, do one, teach one.” This means that new hires will see how we talk to clients, interact with our clients themselves, and then eventually teach another new team member to do the same. Through this process, I learned so much so fast and I think we have a really strong and competent team here because of that.

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?

I think what’s contributed to this change is a better understanding that being a great wealth manager isn’t really about picking stocks, for example. It’s about forming long-term relationships and communicating well. These are things women are naturally adept at. So, if this career is all about communication and connection, then why wouldn’t this be a profession that women would want to pursue?

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. From individuals: Seek out female candidates. This one seems obvious, but it needs to be said. When you’re hiring, look at your applicant pool and who you’re talking to. Are there female applicants even on the list? Have you interviewed any of them? Does your job description capture what it’s like to actually work at your company (not just the job duties) — i.e. does it give your applicants the chance to see whether this job could work for them and their family obligations? If your applicant pool is all or nearly all male, expand the parameters of how you’re advertising your opening and how you’re describing the job and your company. Just like creating racial, age, and experience diversity, creating gender diversity requires a conscious effort.
  2. From companies: Don’t think black-and-white about a candidate’s background. In 2015, I think a lot of firm owners would have looked at my resume and said “pass”. I have a degree in Political Science, not Finance. I had never worked at a wealth management firm; my work experience at that point was focused on philanthropy. But I had drive. I completed my financial planning coursework while working full-time (nothing like working eight hours and then going to class for four hours on a Friday) and I was confident in how I could apply my skills gained working with high-net-worth individuals to areas beyond charitable giving. I wasn’t your traditional candidate, but I was a good one.
  3. From society: Younger women need to see examples from female advisors that this is a viable profession. They need to ask about your experience, understand where you’ve had setbacks and where you’ve succeeded. They need your advice on how to navigate the industry. And hearing this from a female advisor is going to go a heck of a way farther than hearing it from a male advisor. Because despite the strides American society has made, the truth is we all carry gender biases and working women have to balance a lot more than working men.

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?

The only financial education I ever received in school (aside from my CFP program) was how to use a checkbook. And that was probably seventh grade Home Economics. So, if that’s the extent of what most people receive, how do you expect anyone to have basic financial literacy? If I had the power to make a change, I would add financial literacy as an item to elementary, middle, and high school curriculum. It must begin with education.

I would also recommend people to start self-educating themselves. Whether you prefer books, podcasts, or YouTube videos, just start absorbing as much information as you can. The more financially literate you are, the easier it will be to understand budgeting, saving, and investing.

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) Subscribe to Napkin Finance — This is a great site that breaks down an extensive variety of financial topics into easy-to-understand flowcharts.

2) Open your own investment account — Assuming you already have your emergency fund set aside in your savings account, invest an amount of money that you would be comfortable seeing its value go to zero, if that were to happen. Do your research on investment options. Start simply — you should only pick an investment that you fully understand. But ultimately, you’ll learn the most about investing by getting your feet wet.

3) Conduct informational interviews — Think about a role model in your life that you could interview and ask about how they invest their money. Do they manage their money themselves or work with an advisor? What lessons have they learned that would be valuable to you?

4) Start to understand the ecosystem — Investing is just a small part of personal finance. Read, listen to podcasts, and talk to people in order to gain a more holistic outlook of the entire market and economy.

5) Consider philanthropy — Donating to a cause that you care about is a form of investment. You’re assessing your priorities, determining which charity is the best one for you to invest in, and evaluating the impact of that investment.

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?

Dean Catino and Dave Amstrong, the co-founders of Monument. You know, they were people who took a meeting with me when they didn’t know who I was and they graciously invited me to shadow their planner, observe their process, ask questions, and be curious. When it came time for me to look for a job, they were willing to hire me even though I didn’t have the traditional degree in Finance or the internships that most other firm owners typically look for. My experience was just different, but they didn’t see that as a hindrance. They saw passion and drive as being more important than technical expertise.

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

“You only know whether you’re going in the right direction if you thought about your destination.” You first have to step back and imagine, hey, where could I go? That’s what I did when I was trying to figure out my career path. Reflecting first on what are the things that make me happy and fulfilled meant that I landed in a career where I felt confident and I could thrive.

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. 🙂

I’m super passionate about women’s empowerment and education. It all stems from my experience going to an all-women’s college and meeting incredibly diverse and talented women and seeing their potential and contributions. I’d like to see a movement that brings more support and recognition to women and the amazing contributions they have to offer.

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