CAREERS & the disABLED
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Investing in Abilities
When it comes to managing other people’s money, investing in a workforce with diverse skills and experiences adds to the bottom line of financial services companies.
Despite the economy remaining strong, Wall Street went on a rocky ride late last year. Investors, brokers, wealth managers and everyday savers held their breath as the market tumbled, clawed back up with gains, only to fall again.
CNBC reported that both the S&P and Dow registered double-digit losses for the fourth quarter of 2018, the worst performance in seven years. Nasdaq experienced its biggest quarterly loss in a decade, falling 17.5%. Naturally, that turmoil generated uncertainty, which, in turn, pushed financial services professionals to calm clients’ nerves, as well as advise them on smart investments.
While economists typically warn against panicking during bear markets because Wall Street eventually self-corrects, last year’s financial rollercoaster emphasized the far-reaching impact of the financial segment on individuals, businesses and the national economy.
According to SelectUSA, a U.S. government-wide program led by the U.S. Department of Commerce, by the end of 2017, the U.S. banking system held more than $17 trillion in assets and earned a net income of $164.8 billion. The asset management sector handles even more dollars: retirement assets totaled more than $28 trillion for the same period.
Although the private equity field involves less cash - $500 billion per SelectUSA - it’s comprised of more than 4,500 investment firms and 30,000 private companies, which employ more than 11 million people nationwide.
However, the financial and professional services industry adds up to more than just a balance sheet. As the individuals featured here attest, it’s also about helping clients reach their goals, while employers invest in employees with disabilities and their strengths, talents and abilities, and support staff via professional development, workplace accommodations, and diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives.
Meyers Fits In at Freddie Mac
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 84% of Americans regard homeownership as a good investment. However, reaching that dream remains harder for some than for others.
It’s still tough to break through the barrier of saving enough for a down payment or securing a loan. Even then, life can deliver unwelcomed setbacks that may endanger that big investment. That’s when Jennifer Meyers steps in as a loss mitigation senior for the single-family division of Freddie Mac.
“Our department performs default management for borrowers in financial distress, and makes decisions to expedite loan resolutions, such as loan modifications, short sales, deeds in lieu of foreclosures, etc.,” Meyers details.
“Additionally, our department supports programs to enable financially struggling borrowers to become more financially stable with the goal of retaining their homeownership.”
As an example, she shares: “I was actively involved on a project that provided tools for re-employment to borrowers who were in default due to loss of income. We teamed up with a national re-employment solutions company, NextJob, to offer eligible borrowers access to their programs, including one-on-one job coaching, resume development and resources for obtaining employment.”
Created in 1970 via a congressional charter and headquartered in McLean, VA, Freddie Mac operates in the secondary mortgage market, primarily acquiring loans from lenders so those institutions stay liquid and capable of issuing new mortgages.
“This is not a stereotypical, stodgy, financial institution,” insists Meyers.
She’s not just referencing its role in the industry. Meyers instantly appreciated Freddie Mac’s corporate culture, mission and values. In her previous positions, she found herself speeding toward burnout, and longed for a corporate personality that propped her up instead of constricting creativity and piling demands on her time and bandwidth.
“Coming from a legal background, formality was standard. At Freddie Mac, we have a more casual atmosphere that fosters an environment for employees to feel more comfortable,” she notes.
“It’s an inviting and collaborative environment with beautiful campuses, a great working environment, and a commitment to people, from the borrowers we support, the people with partner with, and the employees who work here.”
Soon after arriving at the company, Meyers joined its Abilities employee resource group (ERG), which supports staff with disabilities or those who are caregivers to family members with disabilities and/or who are aging. This was a significant development for Meyers because she’d always been reticent to reveal the fact that she has systemic juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Diagnosed at age two, the condition limited mobility throughout much of her childhood. As a teen, medication advancements enabled Meyers to regain more physical independence.
“Now it’s to the point where I don’t need to use assistive devices like a cane or walker. When you look at me, I appear to be a ‘healthy’ 30-year-old,” she says.
Still, there are good and bad days. For those occasions when joint pain limits her mobility, Meyers enjoys the option to telecommute.
“Our technology offerings allow me to accomplish all of the requirements of my job seamlessly while working remotely from home,” she says.
Through her participation with Abilities, Meyers now realizes there’s more to gain from revealing how the disability affects her than from keeping it secret.
“Our ERG really focused on events about invisible disabilities to bring awareness to employees like me with an invisible disability, and let them know that they’re highly valued and supported at Freddie Mac,” says Meyers.
“You have 100% support from everyone, from senior executive leadership down to your direct manager and fellow coworkers. Not only are they willing to accommodate you, but they also care.”
Invest in a career at Freddie Mac: go to freddiemac.jobs. Follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
Panella Builds Relationships at Baird
For Samantha Panella, associate finance advisor for Baird, it’s the people who are important.
“In private wealth management, many people think it’s all about trading stocks and bonds, but I feel what’s as important is the personal relationship side,” she says. “Without understanding your clients, you can’t do the next part well, which is financial planning and portfolio managing.”
Headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, Baird is a multiservice global financial company that, in addition to private wealth management, specializes in investment banking, asset management and private equity. It’s also an employee-owned firm, which is one of many characteristics Panella believes distinguishes it from other financial institutions. Her first experience with the employee-owner culture came as an intern.
“They treated me so well as an intern, and I felt part of the team immediately. It was a perfect match, and that really is due to the culture,” she comments.
That said, Panella wasn’t always determined to be a financial advisor. Early in college she decided on a career in business, but was yet undecided on a specific field or direction. As she progressed through classes, finance captured her interest. It wasn’t until Panella saw the personal side of finance as an intern that she finally identified a career path that would challenge both her analytical and people skills.
“I saw how satisfying it was to help individuals and families plan, pursue, and achieve their financial goals,” she explains.
Since assuming her current position earlier this year in January, Panella devotes most of her attention to providing clients with options for retirement and philanthropic investments.
“That’s the most satisfying and fun for me,” she underscores. “This is what our clients have worked and saved for, so helping them achieve those goals is satisfying.”
Panella has achieved a few of her own goals, too. In addition to receiving several promotions during her six years with Baird, she earned a master’s degree last year, and is studying for both the certified public accountant (CPA) and certified financial planner (CFP) designations.
“At Baird our mission is that clients come first, and at the root of that is taking care of Baird associates. It seems simple, but it means everything,” says Panella.
“Baird works hard to stay ahead of technological and regulatory changes in the financial industry and adapts to the changes by providing personal and professional development for our associates.”
She’s also received support regarding her hearing loss. “I’ve dealt with this my entire life, but until I started at Baird, I hadn’t realized how dependent I am on hearing aids. I knew I couldn’t excel unless I accepted and grew into my hearing impairment,” says Panella.
In the workplace she’s encountered few barriers. For example, she efficiently and effectively confers with coworkers and clients through emails and messaging, as well as over the phone and in person.
“The fact that Baird had a digital phone update that integrated a visual ring has been helpful. Also we have better headsets that have been more accommodating,” notes Panella.
Being open with managers and team members has enhanced communication, too. In fact, Panella now understands that being forthright about her disability is just another way to be productive on the job.
“Reach out to your employer on whatever you need to be successful. Good employers will make things happen,” she suggests.
Invest in a career at Baird: go to bairdcareers.com. Follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+ and Vimeo.
Guintu Redefines Expectations at Deloitte
In 2007 Joe Guintu was excited to attend a family wedding in Hawaii. Of course, it was a special occasion, but for this travel aficionado, the event was another reason to explore a new locale. Outside of family commitments, he was especially looking forward to indulging his adventurous nature with surfing lessons.
“Unfortunately I suffered a rare, non-traumatic surfing injury called surfer’s myelopathy (SM),” he shares.
As described by the Surfer’s Myelopathy Foundation, SM mostly affects first-time surfers and is thought to be caused by a repetitive hyperextension of the spinal cord, distorting the blood vessel and eventually leading to spinal cord damage. Victims can be left permanently paralyzed.
“I have a T-6 incomplete spinal cord injury and am paraplegic,” says Guintu. “For the rest of 2007 and into 2008, I was under a rigorous physical therapy regiment. I sometimes have leg spasms, which makes it challenging to manage while traveling, but I fight through it.”
Before the injury, one of Guintu’s favorite aspects of working for Deloitte was holding face-to-face meetings with clients, which meant traveling to their offices. Member firms of the global corporation offer audit and assurance, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services. Based in the U.S. in New York, NY, it serves clients in more than 150 countries. As a senior manager in the Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory division, Guintu guides organizations and executives on compliance challenges, including risks involving IT operations.
“Technology has truly enabled a level of flexibility to execute, as well as offer an innovative avenue to deliver messages and build relationships, especially when dealing with multinational organizations,” he notes.
Once he recuperated and returned to work, supervisors offered to adjust Guintu’s responsibilities in order to cut back on travel requirements; however, he never lost the love for exploring new locales.
“I requested to continue my ‘normal’ work and career program,” he explains. “They respected my wishes, so I continued to travel, including to exciting international places like Australia, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and others.”
On the days when he’s in the office, Guintu relies on electronic communications, including tele suite virtual meetings and webcam conferences via a wireless headset.
Although Guintu was determined to resume his pre-injury work routine, he has accepted various accommodations from his employer. In addition to adaptive technology, he relies on various support systems.
“They have always given me an open door to be creative with flexibility, and have provided direct support for some challenges, such as health insurance questions,” he notes.
One of the biggest hurdles Guintu has overcome since experiencing SM is redefining his own expectations. It’s not that he doesn’t still push himself to establish, pursue and meet new objectives, but now realizes that business as usual can be achieved via various approaches.
“More and more, I appreciate that life and work are harder in many ways,” Guintu states, “but the ability to fight through that gives me a different perspective.”
Plus, he’s valued the way clients and coworkers positively respond to his energy.
“In that sense it’s important to have grit, resilience, and be willing to share my story, which helps me connect with clients and colleagues, and humanizes some of the experiences I have,” says Guintu.
Invest in a career at Deloitte: go to deloitte.com/careers. Follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Glassdoor.
PLEASE TREAT THIS IS AS A SIDEBAR; RE: HR & Q&A STYLE:
Hall & Dotson: Reaffirming Plante Moran’s Commitment to D&I
When Frank Moran agreed to join Elorion Plante’s accounting firm in the early 1940s, the philosophy student set out to create a specific business environment that not only treated clients to exemplary service, but also one that recognized and answered both the professional and personal needs of employees. He championed the idea that the whole person comes to work.
Plante Moran, located in Southfield, MI, continues to assist clients via auditing, consulting, tax expertise and wealth management planning. What’s more, Moran’s philosophy has become a cornerstone that serves as a guidepost for internal programs, including diversity and inclusion (D&I).
Here, Diversity and Inclusion Manager Regan Hall and Director of Talent Selection and Development Eshe Dotson share their vision of how the company is modernizing and broadening that concept to build an even more effective and service-oriented D&I program.
What’s the biggest change you’re making to Plante Moran’s D&I program?
Hall: My current focus is bringing all of the programs together under one umbrella. There are some really great programs and initiatives, and the question is how do we put them under one umbrella and make everyone aware throughout the firm, our communities, and to our clients.
Dotson: We’ve had a diversity council for about 15 years, which had a number of programs and initiatives that came about independently. Each group is still having its own charter and committee goals, but Regan and the groups’ managing partners will work together to provide more structure and integration.
Are people with disabilities gaining more attention in D&I programs?
Hall: The landscape of D&I is not just about racial diversity, but the differences of each of us. It’s about being more inclusive. We’re thinking more about the differently abled and how they’re impacted, and how the people in their lives are impacted. Does it make sense to create an ERG for those who self-identify as a veteran or differently abled, or is someone personally impacted by those who are differently abled? That is one of the things being discussed internally.
Dotson: Even if nothing “formal” currently exists, that doesn’t mean we aren’t open to having dialog and assisting on non-medically related issues. We’re quick to connect resources, whether they be from outside organizations or pairing people within the company who we know are going through or have gone through similar situations, and who are willing to share their knowledge.
Why is it key to encourage employees to self-identify if they’re impacted by disabilities?
Hall: That’s one of the things we’re trying to understand as an organization, and within the industry. We want to make it so staff understands self-identifying is a positive because it helps us understand what types of programs, initiatives and strategies we should be building. It’s about allowing them to feel comfortable with self-identifying, and understand it’s how we can better support them.
Dotson: When I joined Plante Moran 14 years ago, the company didn’t have any ERGs, and there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me. I asked about ERGs and was told it was something they wanted more of, but that they weren’t feasible at that time. A year later, I not only asked again, but helped build a model and introduced ERGs to the firm. Be comfortable with being part of the change. For me, it was important to me to interact with more individuals in the firm and create an informational support system. I took an opportunity to be part of the change.
Invest in a career at Plante Moran: go to plantemoran.com/join-our-team. Follow on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Sidebar 1 (58 words):
• $17 Trillion-Plus in Assets: The amount held by the end of 2017.
• $164.8 Billion: The net income earned the U.S. banking system also by the end of 2017.
• $28 Trillion-Plus: The total retirement assets the asset management sector handled for the same time period.
• $500 Billion: The cash involved in the private equity field.
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