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 Financial Careers On The Forefront

Rachel Sokol
You’ve nabbed a degree in business administration, finance or even IT. What’s the next step?
If you’re leaning toward a career in the financial field, then the first thing to know is that it’s a very multifaceted industry. From administrative assistants to stockbrokers and those who work on the technical side of the business, it takes a ”village” to keep a financial company running smoothly.
It’s not always a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. It can even be stressful at times. But working in finance is also very rewarding, both personally and financially. Many financial employees stay within the field for years, and they truly enjoy helping others with financial planning and budgeting.
In this feature you’ll find five financial employees from major U.S. companies who’ve found success and fulfillment in their chosen field. Learn about each one and trace their career path as they outline their job responsibilities, impart helpful career advice and discuss what drew them to banking and financial services.
Helping people plan for the future is at the heart of what Mandell A. Smith, a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual’s Melville, NY office, does every day.
“I help individuals and families achieve financial security through a comprehensive financial planning process,” explains Smith, an insurance agent of Northwestern Mutual, which is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, WI (NM) - life and disability insurance, annuities and life insurance with long-term care benefits - and its subsidiaries.
“I meet with prospective clients and help them uncover their concerns through a discovery conversation,” Smith states. Additionally, he gathers the pertinent information needed and develops a personalized plan, outlining the client’s short- and long-term goals.
“Finally, I work with my clients to help them implement these strategies to help protect what is most important in their lives, while assisting them build financial stability for their future,” he says.
Smith, a Long Island native, is currently working with a family “that has a substantial amount of money in savings, but no disability income or life insurance in place. The wife is currently at home raising their children, while her husband works full time.”
He was able to present policies that would cover them if the unexpected should ever occur. “While having a savings account is great, it does not always cover situations like being out of work for a period of time, or the sudden death of the head of the household,” explains Smith, a graduate of the University of Miami who earned a master’s degree in business administration from Dowling College on Long Island. “The best part of my job is being able to educate my clients and fill in any gaps they have left open in protecting themselves and their families.”
Smith has worked in the insurance and financial services industry for almost 15 years. “I started a full-service insurance agency when I was 27 years old, and today I am building a financial-planning practice with one of the best companies in the world. We have a distinctive approach when working with our clients. My goal is to become the center of each of my client’s financial lives,” he says.
The financial rep highly recommends job seekers considering their career opportunities and the financial field take advantage of building their personal net worth via networking.
“Networking is a skill that I have spent many years building, and, at first, [it] can seem overwhelming,” Smith says, elaborating, “First, you should identify who you are seeking to meet, [i.e., your target market]. Second, you should decide on the frequency of the events you want to attend. Is it monthly, quarterly or annually? Third, you should challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone while attending. And finally, have fun!”
To stay in the “know,” he turns to Entrepreneur magazine for “insightful articles about finance, ways to be a successful business owner and innovative ways to market yourself.”
Smith further advises recent college grads to connect with their alma mater’s career placement center for institutions hiring recent graduates. “Also obtain a license in your respective area of practice and work as an associate with a successful advisor and/or team,” he adds.
For more information about Northwestern Mutual and available job opportunities at the firm, please visit northwesternmutual.com/careers.careers.html.
As vice president at BPG Wealth Management, LLC, Alice Tang builds relationships with clients in personal meetings, helping them set goals and develop financial plans. These plans are then reviewed in periodic meetings. Tang, who’s based in Portland, OR, also keeps clients updated about the market and economic circumstances to help them frame realistic expectations.
“I co-manage our firm with my business partners, and communicate with the team about client-related and firm-related matters daily. This helps them to prioritize and systemize their projects and process. I help them see why we decide to do what we do for the client, and our firm, and challenge them to problem-solve by themselves while providing support,” explains Tang, whose firm is part of Signator Investors, Inc., a national independent broker dealer, which, in turn, is part of John Hancock, the U.S. division of global financial services leader Manulife Financial that acquired John Hancock in 2004.
“My business partners Jeff Owens, Jon Owens and I have a long history and great relationship with Signator Investors Inc., [which] is an advisorcentric broker dealer that has helped us get the resources we need to grow personally and in our business,” says Tang.
Signator’s headquarters is in Boston, MA. It’s a dual-registered broker dealer/investment advisor with a national network of independent firms and approximately 1,500 financial professionals across the U.S.
In addition to her client and business responsibilities, the executive recruits new team members and interviews referrals. Tang - who grew up in Hong Kong, attended university in London and later earned her master’s degree in international management from Portland State - hopes to see more women join and thrive in the financial industry.
“That's why I co-founded WIFS (Women in Insurance and Financial Services) Portland Metro in 2008, and we have been the number one chapter nationally in terms of membership growth,” she shares.
Signator has also been interested in supporting women advisors, knowing it could help create business sustainability. It felt strongly enough about this that it launched SWAN (Signator Women Advisors Network) in fall 2015, asking Tang to chair its advisory council.
“In an industry that’s male-dominated, I’m very pleased Signator is launching this network designed to help female advisors tap the strength, knowledge and experience of our community to achieve their highest potential,” states Tang.
“As a network for female advisors, by female advisors, we are committed to helping more women enter our industry, and ensuring they have the resources and support they need to be successful on their own terms,” she adds.
Tang was even recently featured in a motivational podcast interview for Shoe- Fitts Marketing (shoefitts.com/toughingit-out/) as part of their Women Rocking Wall Street series.
She sees a bright future where female advisors come to the table not to compete with male advisors, but to complement them, “so both our clients and the industry win. This is an ongoing project.”
Financial advising, Tang emphasizes, is a great career for someone who can “see the big picture,” and can communicate with clients in plain language and motivate them to take action on things they can control.
More information can be found at bpgnetwork.com and signator investors.com.
Client satisfaction and high performance are two goals Flavio Preto, a Manhattan-based software engineer for UBS, and his team seek as they develop stock exchange software.
“I have been developing software for algorithmic trading in financial markets for the last five years,” explains Preto. “This type of software is used for automatic trades on stock exchanges based on defined parameters given by the clients.” He and his team translate business requirements and architect systematic solutions that meet the aforementioned dual goals of high-performance and client focus.
“Currently, I’m working on the deployment of our modern global trading infrastructure to Brazil, a project announced by Managing Director Daniel Mendonça de Barros,”notes Preto. “This will allow our clients around the world to receive an even better execution service when trading Brazilian stocks.”
Preto - who studied computer engineering at Universidade Estadual de Campinas in Sao Paulo, Brazil - wasn’t initially seeking a job in the financial sector: “I didn't know at the time what the challenges were. Nowadays, I would not think twice before accepting a position in this field because I’m a challenge- oriented type of person and the financial industry provides challenges on a daily basis.”
For him it’s the perfect means to combine his formal education, personal skills, experience and a bit of creativity in order to devise solutions that meet what the software engineer calls “the highest bars.”
He has advice for those considering their future career. “I see many recent college grads looking for a position in the finance industry because the compensation is usually above the average. My initial advice is to follow your heart. Don’t accept a job offer just because of the salary; think about how it will fulfill your expectations,” Preto counsels.
He believes the industry is always seeking the best people, and you can only perform well at work when you’re happy with what you’re doing. “That said, the financial industry is a wonderful place, with a lot of challenges and a sense of practicality,” he says.
Preto offers this additional guidance: “Be prepared to handle frustrations, but always stay ready and keep trying because in the long run that will pay off and you will eventually win. And maybe when you win, you can try to make the world a fairer place.”
Plus, he says, challenge yourself to stand out. In our current economy, explains Preto, the value of everything is driven by how rare it is. “You need to find ways of not turning into just another replaceable piece, but [instead] turn[ing] yourself into an essential piece that is rare to find. Be different and make a difference!”
UBS is committed to providing private, institutional and corporate clients worldwide, as well as retail clients in Switzerland, while generating attractive and sustainable returns for shareholders. Its strategy centers on its Wealth Management and Wealth Management Americas businesses and its leading universal bank in Switzerland, complemented by its Global Asset Management business and its investment bank.
It has U.S. headquarters in New York, NY and Weehawken, NJ, and global headquarters in Zurich and Basel, Switzerland. Career opportunities can be found at ubs.com/global/en/about_ubs/.
As senior vice president, public affairs and community development, and external affairs director for Dallas, TX-based Comerica Incorporated, Irvin Ashford, Jr.’s job is to change how people view the bank and raise its profile within the communities it serves.
“It’s my job to raise the expectations of what a bank can be in the community and to help the businesses Comerica serves and our non-profit partners be successful,” Ashford explains.
Comerica is a financial services company strategically aligned by three business segments: The Business Bank, The Retail Bank and Wealth Management. Comerica focuses on relationships, and helping people and businesses attain success. Comerica Bank locations can be found in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan, with select businesses operating in several other states, as well as in Canada and Mexico.
“In addition to board obligations, regulatory and compliance responsibilities, directing community investments and managing the bank’s relationships with micro/small business community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, I am currently juggling a litany of community and economic development projects in Texas, Arizona and Florida,” Ashford continues.
The projects include a prom dress drive in Dallas to benefit prom-aged girls served by two incredible non-profits, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas (TX) and Dallas CASA; a community book drive for the Ella Austin Community Center in San Antonio, TX; and schoolbased financial literacy programs for youth in Phoenix, AZ and South Florida.
Ashford, Jr. reflects on the path that led him to his current role. “I’m not sure when I was a little boy I thought I was going to grow up and be a banker,” says the Oberlin College graduate who later pursued a master’s degree and a MBA in management. “I took some tests, got a scholarship to boarding school (The Webb School) and went to a prestigious liberal arts college and top-notch graduate school. I even became a national and international scholar, all the while never forgetting where I came from.”
Working for “a great company” like Comerica was “destiny,” according to Ashford, Jr.
“Comerica’s mission and my personal philosophy are in sync because we both believe in helping others be successful. In many ways I have trained my whole life for this mission, and I am now, simply, the ‘tip of the spear’ in this effort,” he says.
The best career advice Ashford, Jr. has ever received was from his “Pop” Gardiner Smith: “Not too high with the highs or too low with the lows. Be measured!”
Adds Ashford, Jr.: “The best interview advice I can give is: Remember the PIG: prepare, invest and group. There are a series of things one must do to have a successful interview. Be prepared. You should study and work hard at your craft all of the time, not just when you are interviewing. Invest your time, energy and spirit in things that are positive and that would help you, the community and the potential employer reach your common goals. Groupings matter; birds of a feather flock together.”
Furthermore, asserts Ashford, Jr., “finding key networking events with business clubs, organizations, trade groups and mentors will increase opportunities to gain industry knowledge. Positioning yourself around successful people will increase your chance of becoming more successful.”
Those interested in following Ashford, Jr.’s footsteps and pursuing a career at Comerica should log onto recruiting.adp.com/srccar/public/RTI.home?d=comerica-jobs&c=1057141.
Cynthia Rice is an operations director at Minneapolis, MN-based Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America. Her job centers on relationship management.
“I head up a team that’s accountable for ensuring we’re providing outstanding service to our most valued producers,” Rice explains. “We do all we can to maintain relationships and build loyalty with our clients. I also serve as a corporate representative for our legal department.”
Rice has been at the company since 1999, and has been named 2015 Allianz Life Employee of the Year.
“I have a high-performing team of 10, and they are ‘on’ at all times. Sometimes we do silly stuff to make sure we enjoy ourselves at work, like Dollar Store craft shows, minute-to-win-it game days and birthday month celebrations,” she says. “I also encourage growth and development, so we do vision boards [and] personality/interest testing, such as StrengthsFinder or Myers-Briggs, to ensure we’re focused on where we want to be in the future.”
At Allianz Life, she relates, “recognition is more than a buzz word. It's truly a priority. Everyone in the organization is encouraged to take the time to recognize others in ways both big and small.”
Allianz Life is one of FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2016. It’s been helping Americans achieve their retirement income and protection goals with a variety of annuities and life insurance products since 1896. Allianz Life is part of Allianz SE, a global leader in the financial services industry with 147,000 employees worldwide.
Rice currently serves as the chair for the company’s Black Employee Resource Group (ERG). “ERGs are somewhat new to our organization, and our company understands the importance of ERGs and how they can be a key factor for recruitment and retention efforts,” she outlines. “We’re partnering with our HR department to strengthen our pipeline for recruiting diverse talent [and] to develop leadership programs for people of color.”
Rice, who graduated from the University of Minnesota with a marketing degree, advises job seekers to explore their options and “know what you love to do.”
She further counsels: “Don’t let fear determine your career aspirations. Be yourself and let your natural talent show, and remember that reputation is everything.”
In addition, always learn, grow and develop. “Many projects I have worked on have been challenging, but for the most part they can all be considered ‘favorites.’ With each new project I learn a new skill, develop new relationships and achieve results that change something for the better,” she elaborates.
Rice says it’s key to find a mentor: “Make sure it’s someone you admire and respect professionally. Also consider that first job out of college as a foundation-builder for your ultimate career destination. Work hard and become great at something.”
Allianz Life jobs can be found at allianzlife.com/about/careers. 
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