“Financial planning is still male dominated, but that's evolving,” says Laura Barnett Lion, 42, a certified financial planner who opened her own firm 12 years ago in Austin, Texas. Across the industry, roughly 30 percent of financial advisers are female—a figure that's been rising. “Women have a competitive advantage because we listen and understand,” Lion says. “We act as a sounding board when important life issues come up, like, ‘Should I join this start-up?’ or ‘Can I retire?’ ”
Lion works with about 40 clients and has structured her business so she has plenty of time for each of them. “I've deliberately kept a smaller-than-usual practice so I can provide excellent service and still have a healthy work-life balance,” she says. “I love that I get to build relationships with interesting people. It's not just about money and investments; financial planning is about life and understanding what's important to each client so you can help.”
Lion usually works at home, in a guest cottage on her property. In this quiet office space, she can focus on her clients' needs via phone and e-mail—and eat lunch in her garden. When necessary, she holds in-person meetings at an office 45 minutes away. Lion can also slip out to the cottage after tucking her kids into bed. “I once did that every night for a week when a client whose father was dying needed me to make sure the details were locked down,” she says. “I love that I can do an exceptional job and also be a good mom and spouse.”
Lion works 40 hours a week but says the time can vary depending on her clients' needs. She employs a staff of five, all of whom work remotely. “I wanted to hire good people regardless of their location, so we work together by phone and e-mail,” she says. Ellen Turf, CEO of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, says many of her group's members have adopted similarly flexible business models, outsourcing the paperwork-heavy parts of the job to virtual staffers to free up time for clients. “We have members who head down to Puerto Vallarta for several months and work from there without a hiccup,” she says.
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