The confidence gap between men and women is significant. Unfortunately, women are often taking themselves out of the running too soon, feeling as if they need to be nearly 100% sure they are qualified for a promotion before seeking it, whereas men only need to feel 60% confident. We need to find our confidence and get comfortable saying “close enough, just go for it”.
Asa part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Brown, Co-Founder and Principal of Morton Brown Family Wealth. A Certified Financial Planner® and Chartered Financial Consultant™, Katie helps families find balance through strategic financial planning and wealth management. With nearly 20 years of experience in the industry, she is on a mission to change the way advice is delivered. Proud to serve as a fiduciary, she helps to foster healthy relationships between money and life for the families she serves. As a married mother of two children, her drive to furthering her profession exists alongside her commitment to family, health, and community service. Katie is a passionate community leader, serving several local organizations including Valley Youth House, an agency providing housing and independent living skills for vulnerable and homeless youth, and a Board Member for the Allentown Chamber of Commerce helping to support local businesses and the downtown neighborhood at large. As a CFP Board WIN-to-WIN Mentor, Katie helps to guide aspiring female financial planners. In Katie’s free time, she is most often found outside running as she trains for marathons and half-marathons, on a tennis court, or on the sports field sidelines cheering on her children. The balance Katie seeks with her family, in her profession, and throughout her community has led to her being recognized as a 40 Under 40 Honoree by InvestmentNews. She was also named one of Lehigh Valley Business’ 2019 Forty Under 40 honorees and a 2015 Woman of Influence.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Like many others, there is a personal connection via my mom that influenced my career path. My grandfather rose rapidly through the ranks at General Motors, well into the executive suite. Every promotion was accompanied with a move to a larger home and a better country club. My grandmother stayed home to raise their four children. She was provided with plenty of money to ensure the day-to-day operations of the home were met, but beyond that, there was no discussion about the family finances. Sadly, when my mom was just 13 years old, my grandfather passed away unexpectantly of a heart attack. My grandmother soon realized there were no financial plans in place. The home was leveraged. There was no life insurance and very little savings. This all occurred at a time when estate tax rates were as high as 77%. The event dramatically changed, among other things, the financial trajectory of my mother’s life. It also influenced the way she helped to raise me and my three siblings. My parents were small business owners and provided opportunities for us children to begin working and earning money at a young age, with the standing rule that 50% of our earnings were put into savings. Working hard and saving money were ingrained into our upbringing. My love of math (thanks to my Dad) and fascination with how money can support families, brought me to finance. But it was the growing clarity of the impact of my grandfather’s passing that helped me to find my passion in Financial Planning.
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?
An avid runner and marathoner, I reached one of my lifetime goals in 2017, which was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. However, less than a month after registering for the 2018 marathon, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Living a healthy lifestyle, young, and with little family history of any cancers, this came as a shock to say the least. Handling an invasive form of breast cancer in addition to launching a business and managing my family seemed nearly impossible. Through wise financial and life planning, amazing doctors, and my wonderful support system, I was able to focus on getting healthy and provide a sense of normalcy for my children. After three surgeries, regular tests and checkups, I am happy to say that I am two years in remission! I am also even more committed to ensuring that my clients are well-prepared for the unexpected. I use my experience as an example of how being proactive with financial and insurance planning can offer peace of mind at a time when you and your family need it most.
I am proud to report that I was able to train and compete in Boston’s 122nd Marathon on April 16, 2018, less than six months after my diagnosis. I finished in under four hours, an achievement I will never forget. I will have the opportunity to relive the experience in 2020, having recently qualified and registered for the 124th Boston Marathon!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My business partner, Dennis Morton, and I have been in discussions with local colleges and universities to develop a free educational financial literacy series for students. Too many young adults are entering the workforce and being asked to make impactful financial decisions with little educational support. We are thrilled to discover opportunities to help fill that gap and lay the foundation for informed financial decision making.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Morton Brown Family Wealth was born as the brainchild of myself and my partner, Dennis Morton. Both of us were frustrated with what we were seeing in the financial industry; a misalignment of advisor incentives and client needs causing families to be underserved and often “sold to”, not advised. Having the benefit of 15 years of experience advising clients and helping to lead an independent firm, we knew what it would take to run the business. This allowed us the luxury to focus on the “why”. In 2018, we launched our firm with the mission to lead clients through a collaborative planning and investment process that seeks to build a confident future. By helping to bring money and life into balance, our clients are free to pursue their passions, vocations and opportunities. From the beginning, we have been committed to upholding our fiduciary responsibility, structuring the firm as a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) and consistently acting in the best interest of our clients at all times. Reflecting back nearly two years later, our firm continues to grow and prosper because there is a real need for the work we do and relationships we build.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be dominated by men. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
I believe greater transparency and a focus on value has driven much of the change in our industry. Access to information, low cost investing, and the inability for anyone to consistently beat market indexes are all eroding the product sales side of the business and causing clients to ask, “What am I paying you for?”. In response, our industry is expanding the depth and breadth of the services we offer, which I believe is appealing to a more diverse group of professionals to deliver. Speaking from my own experience, I have always loved the problem-solving nature of financial planning and have been repelled by the historically salesy environment associated with our industry. I am especially encouraged by the increasing number of female professionals recognizing their opportunity to help businesses and families in new and different ways.
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?
- The confidence gap between men and women is significant. Unfortunately, women are often taking themselves out of the running too soon, feeling as if they need to be nearly 100% sure they are qualified for a promotion before seeking it, whereas men only need to feel 60% confident. We need to find our confidence and get comfortable saying “close enough, just go for it”.
- Women need to better support one another, both as peers and as mentors. We sometimes box in ourselves, thinking we are competing with one another for a limited number of “female” positions. We need to cheer each other on and view all open positions as opportunities for everyone, not just his and hers.
- Companies need to create environments that encourage collaboration and offer a variety of ways to provide feedback and interaction, so decision making can be inclusive and not dominated by the loudest voice in the room.
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?
- It’s easy to say lack of education is the cause of low financial literacy rates, and I think that is true, but not by itself. We need to do a better job providing education coupled with application and the sooner, the better. Ideally, parents are discussing with their children generally how the family makes financial decisions, why saving and budgeting are important, how to prepare for and manage large purchases, etc. If consistent education is delivered and application is modeled, then a stronger foundation is being built.
- Absent the in-home education, personal finance should be incorporated throughout the school curriculum, starting in elementary school and continuing through high school and into college AND it should be mandatory. Every single person, barring extreme circumstances, makes financial decisions every day, some larger than others.
- Professionals providing advice or selling products need to start client conversations from an educational standpoint to ensure everyone is on the same page. For example, it would not be fair to assume Peter Client knows the difference between a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA. If Peter later decides on his own to take his money out, there could be huge tax implications if he doesn’t understand the mechanics of his investment vehicles.
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.
- Ask questions and admit what you don’t know. It’s okay to ask the car dealership to explain the pre-payment penalty or to ask them how they can offer 0% financing and if that adds costs anywhere else in the purchase.
- Don’t buy on impulse. Fully vet financial decisions and take time to generate questions and get answers.
- Track your money coming in and going out. You will learn a lot about finances and yourself if you watch your dollars closely. You will also come to understand how to make financial priorities and develop better spending habits.
- Take advantage of the educational offerings around you. If your employer offers a company retirement plan, they most likely provide educational sessions or online tools. The same goes for employer benefits programs. Don’t skip these or zone out when the presentation starts. Listen and ask questions.
- Do not do what everyone else is doing. Do not take advice on large financial decisions from anyone that is not fully aware of your financial situation and does not have the professional knowledge to guide you properly. Just because your coworker elects to take a lump sum distribution of their pension, does not mean that is the best decision for you and your family.
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?
Much of who we are and how we approach the world is derived from the foundation created in our youth. My parents, especially my Mom, raised us with a “can do” attitude. “Can’t” and “never” may as well have been curse words in our house. They were not allowed. I remember gritting my teeth and angrily changing my sentences to: “I’m having difficulty…” as my mom would cheerfully reply, “Well now we’re making progress.” While frustrating at the time, I appreciate the perspective this provided into my adult years and professional career. It has helped me to develop a sense of confidence and pride in my abilities. It also helped me to take responsibility and be accountable for my actions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I whole-heartedly believe that “You are in charge of your own happiness.” No matter what the news or situation, we all make the choice of how to respond, positively or negatively. It may take a while to find the silver lining, but it’s there.
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. 🙂
Face-to-face acts of kindness everyday with encouragement to pay it forward. Little acts of kindness make all the difference. It is a not a new idea, but it has the potential to create a movement and be extremely impactful!