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Meet the Female Leaders of Finance: “The shift has been happening one step — and one person — at a time.” with Ellen Cooper and Tyler Gallagher

I think the financial services industry has spent many years focused on trying to improve its demographics. However, it hasn’t been easy, especially with roles at a more senior level. The shift has been happening one step — and one person — at a time. The best approach is to build a diverse workforce at the entry level and […]


I think the financial services industry has spent many years focused on trying to improve its demographics. However, it hasn’t been easy, especially with roles at a more senior level. The shift has been happening one step — and one person — at a time. The best approach is to build a diverse workforce at the entry level and then retain employees throughout their careers. For example, more employers are realizing that benefits like working remotely or dressing for your day will go a long way in retaining women, especially at the mid-level.

As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ellen Cooper. Ellen Cooper is executive vice president and chief investment officer for Lincoln Financial Group and is a member of the company’s Senior Management Committee. Cooper is responsible for setting, implementing and providing strategic oversight and management of Lincoln’s investment strategy. She serves as the primary investment officer on all investment related matters to the Board of Directors and senior management team. Cooper joined Lincoln Financial in 2012 from Goldman Sachs Asset Management, where she served as managing director and global head of the insurance strategy. Prior to Goldman Sachs, Cooper was the chief risk officer for AEGON Americas. She has also served in insurance consulting roles at Ernst & Young, LLP and Towers Perrin. Cooper holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Actuarial Science from Temple University, as well as CERA, CFA and FSA designations.


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

It happened by accident! I started at Temple University as a dance major, but it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t the right fit for me. Instead, I looked for a field with a good trajectory for career growth that would also enable me to use my math skills. That’s when I found Actuarial Science as a major, which ultimately brought me to financial services.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

My first job interview was for an entry-level actuarial role. I had a full day of interviews, and I felt like they were going well. At the end of day, though, the hiring manager said he had good news and bad news. He offered me the job, but said he thought I was incapable of passing the actuarial exams. That ended up being very helpful because I thought, well, I’ll show him! That experience made me even more driven to succeed.

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

No matter where you are in your career, it’s critical you think about how you can stretch your abilities. I had been leading Investments at Lincoln for six years when I gained oversight of Hedging. Now, I have been given the opportunity to focus on the expansion of our risk program. It requires me to understand all of the operational activities across Lincoln, so this is exciting for me.

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

I think that one of the many things that differentiates Lincoln is our culture. As a continuous learning organization, we are always thinking about tomorrow and how we can improve the business. At the same time, we are also incredibly team-oriented and collaborative. When we come to work every day, we’re a community where everyone wants to help execute and deliver. For example, our Annuity team was building out a new product suite about 18 months ago. For them to succeed, we needed to think about new investment strategies and hedging. My team effectively became a part of the Annuities management team to figure out how to achieve this. As a result, we’ve seen a significant increase in annuity sales.

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 the financial services industry has spent many years focused on trying to improve its demographics. However, it hasn’t been easy, especially with roles at a more senior level. The shift has been happening one step — and one person — at a time. The best approach is to build a diverse workforce at the entry level and then retain employees throughout their careers. For example, more employers are realizing that benefits like working remotely or dressing for your day will go a long way in retaining women, especially at the mid-level.

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?

First, I think it is about recognizing the need for flexibility in life and work. As a working mother, I know the universal dilemma faced by women all too well: “How do we have it all?” We are faced with competing priorities to succeed in our careers, at home and in our communities. To make it all happen, our environment must flex with us. An employees’ days may require reprioritization at the drop of a hat when a child or parent falls sick. Companies need to understand that sometimes work wins and sometimes life wins! Yes, we’ve made progress today with the introduction of benefits like flexible working arrangements, but there are still long strides to be made.

Second, there must be a clear tone set from the top on the importance of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). At Lincoln Financial, D&I is fundamental and essential to our ability to differentiate our organization in today’s marketplace. From senior leaders to frontline employees, everyone has an understanding that diversity of thought, background, experience and people drive our success. Organizations cannot just preach — they must live it. I’m honored to be able to help ensure Lincoln lives it through co-chairing the Lincoln Financial Diversity Council, which drives diversity strategy and accountability, and modeling the success women can attain within financial services alongside the numerous other female leaders driving our organization forward.

Third, I think companies need to prioritize employee needs. Going back to my first point, we are all trying to juggle the many responsibilities of life: health, finances, family, and errands, among other things. Companies can foster a strong, helpful culture for women (and men) by providing wellness services, mother rooms, on-site health exams, emergency child care, laundry services and more. The more we can easily integrate life and work, the more opportunity we will see for companies to succeed with women at the helm.

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. Know Your Path: Identify your career goals and understand the full picture. After you have an idea of what you want to do, you must examine things like salary expectations, time commitments, flexibility and location of opportunities. This information can guide you to set up the necessary steps to achieve the life you want to live.

2. Budgeting: Live within your means and start saving for retirement and the future from the beginning of your career.

3. Map it Out: You may have financial goals but having a plan in place can help you prepare for life’s surprises and face them with confidence. A financial plan doesn’t need to be complicated — the goal is to establish a process that checks your current finances against your long-term goals.

4. Consult a Professional: Find a financial advisor to help you with your plan at an early age. A financial advisor can provide an objective voice that can help you stay focused on your goals, while providing education that may help you determine if you’ll want to fine-tune your plan.

5. Evaluate Time vs. Money: This advice ties into prioritization. Time cannot be purchased or earned back whereas money can be earned, so you need to understand what is worth your time and what can be invoiced or outsourced away.

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?

Absolutely — everyone can look back on their journey and identify pivotal movements where someone opened a new door for them. However, it is up to you to walk through the door and do the hard work on the other side. A great example of this happened relatively early on in my career. I had a boss who recognized I had the capability to become a partner at the firm. I ran through the open door, willing to do the hard work and follow his guidance. He taught me how to build my own book of business and pushed me to expand my strategic abilities. To this day, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and wisdom that accelerated me forward. And now it is so important to me to pay these opportunities forward by being that door-opener for others.

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

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them…” said Jack Welch, legendary CEO of GE.

We are always prioritizing — whether it’s at home, in the office or in your community — and it is constantly changing. There will be times where your career is going to take more of your time, and other times it will be your family, a cause or even just some down time that takes priority. To me, it is more of a constant reprioritization as new challenges arise.

The important thing to remember is to listen to your own needs and commit to the choice you make. If you decide to take down time, shut completely off and give yourself the time to recharge. Otherwise, you might as well be in the office!

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 lucky enough to work for a company that is already hard at work inspiring the movement that I believe will bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people. That movement is helping to educate Americans on the importance of financial security.

Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Lincoln Financial helps Americans create a better financial future for themselves. We protect families from big risks giving them the freedom to improve their lives and their futures. Another great example of an organization propelling this important movement is the Alliance for Lifetime Income. The Alliance for Lifetime Income is a nonprofit consumer education organization that educates Americans on how to avoid the risks of outliving their savings, so they can enjoy their retirement. Financial education is imperative to financial wellness and protecting our financial futures.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

About The Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and Dubai focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. In addition to his role with Regal Assets, Tyler is a regular contributor to Forbes, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Authority Magazine. Tyler has also been featured in many news publications and has been a guest expert on “The News with Ed Shultz”. Tyler is a proud member of the Forbes Finance Council a private invite only-group of hand-selected industry leaders.

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