The finance sector has seen huge disruptions over the past 20 years. Developments like fintech, cryptocurrencies and automation have totally changed the jobs of stockbrokers, traders, fund managers and bankers. With all the new innovations, stock traders from the 1980s might not recognize the finance industry at all today.
Authority Magazine recently ran a series called “5 Things You Need To Succeed In the Modern World Of Finance.” In the series, we interviewed C-Suite executives and principals at finance or financial services companies who spoke about what a young person who joins the new world of finance needs to succeed in this sector.
Here are some highlights of the interviews.
If you do what is right for the client, you’ll be successful! A great example of this in our business is making sure we ask a lot of questions before making recommendations. If Joe Client wants security of principal and is fearful of risk, we don’t need to recommend a mutual fund! Or, if a client needs unlimited access to funds, we won’t suggest an annuity with limited withdrawals. Also, we don’t bother a client after they leave our office! If Joan Client has said that she needs time to think, we are going to give her time to think. People don’t want or need to be harassed and bothered.
You don’t sow a seed and reap rewards immediately. Success in the finance industry depends on consistently seeing people. Most people don’t make a decision at the first appointment. So, you have to consistently keep seeing people. We refer to it as “filling the pipeline.” It is human nature to want to slack off after some big sales or successful weeks. We’ve all done it. Long-term success requires full-time work!
Handwritten thank you notes will set you apart! It is absolutely amazing the impact a hand-written note has these days! This is a lost art. People are blown away if they receive a thank-you note via the U.S. mail service. Both of us travel a lot and have used some of our pictures as the front of our thank you note cards. Clients will often times call or email us after receiving these notes saying how much they appreciate receiving them!
Being appreciative of referrals is key! In our office, we make sure Joe Client knows how much we appreciate him sending a new prospect our way. If a person comes in for appointment and says, “Joe Client gave me your name,” we automatically send Joe Client a dozen of some very delicious cookies in a tin with our logo on it. It doesn’t matter if the person referred does business with us or not. We want the client to know just how special his word-of-mouth advertising is to us!
Your success is hugely dependent on your team! Our staff has heard repeatedly, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!” When a person walks through our door, we want our front office personnel to great them with a smile and a cheerful voice. We want them to ask if they want a cup of coffee, tea, water or a soda. We want them to engage in conversation and show them where restrooms are located. When talking on the phone, we want our staff members to “smile through the phone,” talk slowly and be cheerful. Emails should be engaging, not just the facts! And emails should always include a line about how appreciative you are of their business or the opportunity to earn their business.
There’s not just one modern finance industry. The system is so huge that people can work in different corners of finance and speak with completely different vocabularies. I work in digital assets, for example, and that’s a very new field.
Keep an eye out for those different perspectives. Today’s curio may be tomorrow’s hot investment, and you’re going to miss out if you only pay attention to your little corner. I first heard about digital assets in 2012 (but didn’t jump in until 2017), so I was able to get on board before most people.
Understand technology. You’d think this is obvious, but if it were, you wouldn’t have so many challenger banks and fintechs winning value from century-old companies. We have new tools for business, and some of the larger finance firms don’t quite know what to do with them.
Be flexible. Digital Assets Data is actually the second startup I’ve launched; I founded it after selling a previous startup. Sometimes you need — and the market demands — a change of focus and a new start.
Question. Listen to other people and to their advice, but don’t let it overrule your own insights. What works for me, or for another one of your interviewees, may not work for everyone. The world is wide, and there are many paths to success.
The first one would be resilience. Being able to bounce back and come back is one of the key things. I mentioned this jokingly with some peers that our company DealRoom should’ve gone bankrupt. The business was completely stagnant for the first five years of operations. Very few customers, very much of an uphill battle to get people to utilize a project management tool instead of Excel to manage a process. We kept pushing through even though at the time it didn’t make a lot of financial sense, but we kept pushing through. Now over the past few years we’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth where that change curve is now hitting and we’re at the very forefront of it. Through that experience I’ve learned giving up is the number one cause of failure.
I would say another important skill is being bold, and to look at that as an internal muscle you develop to have a level of discipline and risk tolerance so that you are able to do things you were otherwise uncomfortable doing and taking risks you’d otherwise be comfortable taking. I think that’s a type of mindset you develop to get better and stronger over time and really push yourself to be a bold organization.
Another important skill is being dumb. We tend to be in the marketplace, find our area of expertise, and learn with a goal of becoming an expert. Then we go to meetings and want to make a good impression, to come across like we know what we’re talking about. The value, however, is really in the conversations you have with people. By being dumb, you become more open and receptive to what others say. You really listen and learn from them. If you can, put aside all the things you know and want to impress people with (or when you’re talking to people and you’re thinking about the next thing you want to say). That’s where you can find opportunities to help others. When you focus yourself on helping others achieve their goals, that’s where you can progress a lot further.
Another skill I touched on earlier was about empathy, being really empathetic with people and making them feel felt. I think for me I learned this skill by getting into a leadership role. It’s been one of my greatest successes. This is a skill that allows you to be more versatile as a person because you’re able to connect and understand people at different levels and put yourself behind the lens of different people to see how they look at things. Oftentimes we sort of get focused on one lens and we may not be seeing the whole picture. Until you get that connected view, that full view, it’s difficult to make the right decision.
The other skill I would add is agility. Driving your organization to be agile is critical in this time. You want to develop a culture that’s very flexible, responsive, collaborative, and that continuously improves to be able to respond to a fast moving world. It starts with leadership being able to embody that kind of culture into your organization. Then from there, you have to find ways you can actually standardize it through the organization so everybody’s acting in the same way.
Test small before building big! When I was first thinking about coaching, I did not go build a webinar or fancy platform, I began by making calls to the people who had asked in the past if I could help them. I gauged their interest in a structured program and what it would look like before actually bringing it to life! Now, that same program that began with only three students is available worldwide. There’s a misconception that you have to appear “buttoned-down” and built-out to sell, when in fact, at the heart of sales, should be soul. If your soul says “this may work,” speak from it, approach those you believe could benefit and be honest. My honesty allowed me to receive the feedback of what my audience wanted, instead of building something that I thought they did.
Choose an industry that you are personally passionate about for lasting results. The passion I had for making positive, vulnerable content available in mainstream media came from my personal experience without it. Because I was driven by passion, I stuck through every iteration of the brand. Without it, the desire to walk away instead of adapt could win in times of challenges.
Money is a mindset. Having had nothing, my belief could have been that I was destined for nothing. This mentality is widely adopted (what people see now, is how people determine how they are going to feel.) The opposite mindset is what leads to abundance: How you feel, determines what you are going to see. This deep-set belief allows opportunities to arise that seemed impossible. If your mentality is that if scarcity, your surrounding s will reflect it. Start thinking abundantly!
Choose optimism. This is the most simple word, but the best reminder. I personally have this word written in huge letters on my desk. It’s brief but powerful. I was very pessimistic and depressed for a little bit, after losing everything in the crash. It wasn’t until I found out that one of my dearest family members was going and buying back all of my belongings for me in secret, that I began to actually feel like the luckiest person in the world. This selfless act allowed me to activate a kind of optimism I can’t explain, but it has served me tenfold. Not only does it lend to my frame of mind, which I believe is the source of our results. But, people also like to be around optimistic people! So it has affected my personal life for the better too! Just choose it.
Do not think you have to do this alone: I did and got nowhere. I was constantly thinking that I had to do everything myself, including learning new skill sets. It wasn’t until I learned the value of teamwork, that I realized what does not come naturally to me comes naturally to others. I don’t have to learn all there is to know about “doing the numbers” if I can find help from someone who knows it all! This alone was life-changing. If you’re starting out and can’t pay someone, it’s not an excuse. I had four interns working with me at the start of my brand, all because I knew what was important to them and what they liked doing, so I provided that value in exchange for the value they brought to my own brand. The world wants to help you! You just have to allow it to.
Know more than one side — become the “renaissance man,” so to speak. The financial business of today is complex and spans across society. You never know what skill or knowledge will be required in 10, 20, 30 years. For example, while in the 80s bond traders were kings, right now, they are not needed at all — if that skill was the only one in your resume, you would go under. Never stop expanding your horizons.
Become international. This is a key thing. Back in the day, the nobles always sent their children to spend some years abroad to learn how the world works, not just their local court. We are lucky to live in a time when this is accessible to most people. Seize this opportunity and if you can, get experience abroad
Remember that people are still key. Don’t overestimate technology — without the right people, even the best technology will not help you build a successful venture.
Don’t wait too long. It’s better to start doing than keep waiting for the perfect timing/product/presentation etc. Better do once too many. To fail is part of success.
Persistence. Remember — it takes two years (at least) to see results. Don’t hurry. Today, an average career lasts until you are 70. You have time. Be open to making mistakes — keep trying.
Learn to talk so your clients will listen and learn to listen so your clients will talk. In my years of training and working with individuals, the one thing that pushes me over the edge is when I witness someone interrupt their clients or prospects — please stop doing that. We all have, what we would like to consider, a wealth of information we want to share and wisdom we want to impart. Please be patient and let your clients and prospects finish their thoughts. I often share this story when I am trying to make the point about being patient and letting their prospects finish their thoughts. In 1869 Thomas Edison tried to sell his new invention: the stock ticker tape machine. He made an appointment to show it to the president of the Gold Indicator Company. He thought his new invention might be worth $5,000 — a lot of money in 1869. During his demonstration, the president of the company interrupted young Thomas Edison and asked him how much he wanted for it and Edison didn’t say anything. The company’s president said, “I’ll give you $25,000 for it.” Edison said nothing. “I’ll give you $30,000 for it.” Edison said nothing. “I’ll give you $35,000 for it.” Again, Edison said nothing. “I’ll give you $40,000 and that’s my final offer!” Edison said, “I’ll take it.” The gentleman was writing out the check and about to hand it to young Thomas Edison, and he said, “I was prepared to give you $50,000!” And Edison, taking the check said, “Oh yeah, I was prepared to take $5,000!” If you stop interrupting your client, you might be surprised on what you may learn.
Facts tell but stories sell. For those of us in finance, for the most part, we are left-brain analytical people, while most of our clients are right-brain picture people. We are talking in numbers, but they are thinking in pictures, and many times they don’t have a clue what we are saying. We show them the numbers but many times they can’t do simple math. This is why some marketers like grocery stores, try to confuse the purchaser. For example, for a $4 item, which is better? 45 cents off or 15 percent off? Thirty-six percent of American consumers could not do the math. When A&W wanted to compete with the McDonald’s quarter pounder, they created the one-third pound hamburger, but it wasn’t selling as well as it had anticipated even though it priced its hamburger the same as McDonald’s. Why? The average American saw the number “4” as in 1/4 was larger than the number “3” as in 1/3 and thought the A&W burger was a much worse value. Do not explain concepts in numbers but do explain them using stories.
Most people like to be taught, not told. For the people I have trained, I often tell them “your job is know what your clients know and know it well. Your job is to also know what they don’t know and know that as well!” Sometimes I will refer to this a second-level thinking. It is easy for many of us to anticipate what questions your client may throw at you. For example, as a speaker in finance and economics, I can pretty much anticipate the question about our nation’s $23 trillion (and growing) debt. When I do take Q&A, that is usually the first question that comes up. I’m curious, how do you respond? Do you say, “Oh yeah, it certainly is a problem.” Or do you make comparisons to other countries whose debt-to-GDP is even higher? Neither of those answers, and I have heard both, adequately answers the question at hand. Instead, what I do, is to ask them: “What about our nation’s assets — do you happen to know what they are worth?” This is something few people have thought about and I often get a blank stare from those asked. I will then speak to the above-ground and below-ground assets, like real estate (the government owns 28 percent of the U.S. landmass worth roughly $23 trillion) and mineral rights and energy leases (worth roughly $128 trillion). When you add up all the assets of the U.S. government, you are approaching $270 trillion. I go on to ask them, “If you were a banker and were handed a balance sheet that looked like this (we will remove some zeros for easy math), $270,000 in assets, $23,000 in debt, $3,640 in income (taxes), and a credit score nearing 825, would you make the loan? Can you see how thinking past the obvious and going a little deeper helps provide perspective and clarity?
I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the most successful financial advisors in the world. One of the attributes that I have noticed is they know their best clients as well as they know their best friends. All too often, a conversation starts with, “Hi, how are you?” And the prospect will respond, “Fine, how are you?” The advisor or salesperson will answer with “fine” and then launch into “throwing up on the desk” — explaining why he or she is the perfect choice for their specific needs. I train people to ask more questions. The point I make is how can you possibly know what their needs are unless you ask? The answer is in the asking. Ask, ask, ask. If they ask you a question, then respond with, “Why do you ask?” You might be surprised to learn they will actually tell you. And then say, “Because you told me that, I recommend you do this.” I have seen this work so well so many times. I was once in a meeting when the advisor did what I suggested and learned that the prospect had three children between the ages of 25 and 32. The advisor also learned that there was a history of heart disease in their extended family- almost all of them had had heart attacks in their 30’s and 40’s. After a personal discussion about the prospect’s family, the advisor said, “Because you told me you have heart disease in your family, and because you told me you have three children, I recommend we place permanent life insurance on all of your children’s lives today, so if ever that happens to them, they won’t face the same issue you face today. For you, getting life insurance would be very expensive because your two previous heart attacks. For your children, who haven’t experienced an episode yet, the rates would be much cheaper.” The prospect agreed, introducing them to his three children. Instead of getting one new client, the advisor got four. Get to know your clients and prospects like you would get to know your best friends.
The last thing I would recommend is to make sure you are updating your sales process as much as you are keeping up to date with the products you sell. In the late ‘80s I read the book The IBM Way. What I still remember about the book is how IBM regarded everyone in its organization as a salesperson. What was true then is still true today. We are all salespeople, and nothing happens in this world until one person sells something to someone else. Early in my career I learned the sales process, feel, felt found, as in, “I know how you feel, I felt that way once, but then I found….” Then in the 90s I was taught: Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. In the 2000’s the technique was: “Today we are going to talk about three things. The three things we are going to talk about today are… Today, we talked about three things.” Today, I have been teaching salespeople a process I call “issues, problem, solution, product.” Let me give you an example. Many people are surprised when they learn that medical malpractice is the No. 3 killer in America, right behind heart disease and cancer. Why? We go to the hospital unprepared. We don’t have our powers of attorney, our medical directives, the list of the prescription medicines we are taking, our prior medical procedures or even what our blood type is. Having this information could save precious time in case of an emergency. We also send out children off to college, and on youth mission trips or travel sporting events, without this information, and because they are now over 18, or in the eyes of the law, the “age of majority” and because of HIPPA laws, a hospital will not tell you what may be wrong in an emergency situation without the proper paperwork. On my website, markzinder.com, we provide the powers of attorneys for each of the 50 states for free. We also created ICE wallet cards and a thumb drive in the shape of a key that goes on your keychain that also has the ICE logo on it. You simply fill out the important information and in case of a real emergency, first responders have immediate access to important, lifesaving information!
A passion for finance — are you personally interested in it? If not, why are you doing it? Personally, my dad was an accountant and investor. He taught me to read the Wall Street Journal and understand investments at a young age. I try and teach my kids the same knowledge by encouraging them to invest some of their own money now.
Willingness to do anything — this business isn’t always glamourous. There are going to be late nights and early mornings. When I was starting out, I was always the last one at the office. I’d stay until 7 most nights and got to know the janitor pretty well. I’d even help him with the trash sometimes. One day he told me, “Out of all the people here, you’re the one who’s going to succeed.” I asked him why, and he said, “You’re here when I’m here, and you actually care about me.”
A passion for people — this is a relationship business. It always has been and always will be. That’s why I’ve always been people first. And that goes for all people. Just like you need to be willing to do anything, you need to be nice to everyone, CEO to janitor. They’re all people, and they’re all important. I think some people can forget that.
Willingness to understand that you can’t control everything. You can’t control the financial market — we know that now more than ever. But you can control how you react to it. Straight talk is important. You have to be open and transparent with the people you’re working with. And when it comes to planning, you have to make sure you do everything you can to ensure your client’s success.
Focus on communication. You need to understand what it is your clients want to achieve. I always make sure those I work with feel heard and understood. When I write emails, I always ask them how they’re doing. I use exclamation points so they can tell I care, and I end by saying thank you, and I mean it. I also make sure whatever I write is succinct enough to be read on a phone screen without having to scroll further.
Be multidisciplinary. In addition to running my hedge fund, I also serve as the COO of Coinbase Custody, the largest cryptocurrency custodian in the world. I was introduced to Coinbase not because I was a blockchain expert, far from it — before Coinbase, I had to look up what a bitcoin was! But I was offered a position at this fintech unicorn because the company was looking for a lawyer in San Francisco who understood hedge funds and who is entrepreneurial. I’m probably not the only lawyer in San Francisco who runs a hedge fund, but because I have two very unique skillsets and am an entrepreneur, I stood out. I see this all the time. Coinbase recruits many engineer/MBAs because they have both technical and business skills. Specialization is good but being multidisciplinary can be very helpful in one’s career progression. It will give you the skills and experience to thrive in more situations and will underscore your adaptability to others.
Technology and disruption. Technology is changing (and in some cases, disrupting) the world of finance, and people entering the finance industry would be well-served to consider fintech jobs in addition to roles at traditional financial firms. Take investment management as an example. With the rise of discount brokerages, people stopped calling stock brokers and just accessed brokerages from the internet. While people still used investment advisors, the rise of robo-advisors like Personal Capital, Wealthfront and Betterment are casting doubt as to whether millennials will still want to talk to a traditional advisor when they need financial advice. If you’re getting out of college and want to go into the finance industry, learn about software and product development in addition to business and corporate finance. Doing this will maximize your job opportunities.
People skills. People’s attention spans are getting shorter. With the widespread popularity of text messaging, Slack, Twitter, it’s possible to get a lot of work done without seeing somebody face-to-face, or even speaking with them. Social, persuasion, and leadership skills have become even more important, especially if you want to become a manager. Fewer and fewer younger workers excel in this area. If you do, it will set you up for success. If you have emotional intelligence, it’s highly sought after it — leverage it! At Coinbase and other leading fintech companies clear communication is a core value and those who excel are able to articulate complex ideas clearly, persuasively and succinctly.
Understanding generations. Millennials make up a large percentage of the workforce in tech and finance, but GenX-ers and Baby Boomers still run the show. It’s important to understand the perspective of your boss. For example, a study by the Education Advisory Board found that millennials change jobs up to 20 times in their careers, more than twice as frequently as Baby Boomers. Another difference is that millennials prioritize being a good parent, having a successful marriage and generally helping others over work-related priorities. On the other hand, many Gen-X and Baby Boomers value sacrifice and putting work first. There’s no “right” answer, but if you’re joining a finance firm, there’s a good chance your boss may not be a millennial, and it will serve you well to understand their perspective in order to better achieve alignment.
Brands are changing but old isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes there’s a human tendency to assume everything new is better. Progress and change are good, but it pays to remember to learn from the lessons of others and not to say “out with the old” too quickly. Robinhood is disrupting the online brokerage industry, but in just the last few weeks, its new systems have crashed multiple times, depriving their customers of liquidity just when they needed it. Robinhood could have learned a thing or two from “old guard” brokerage firms about platform stability and redundancy. Another amazing development is the crypto currencies. Many blockchain tokens show promise of potentially revolutionizing the finance industry, but they can be complicated and are relatively untested. Until just a few weeks ago, it was assumed that crypto would be a “safe-haven asset” — however it collapsed along with the stock market. With anything new, there is automatically so much that is unknown. Reinvent the world, but remember to learn from the past and to stay humble.
The first and most important thing you should know is how are you going to make money on the customer base you paid for. Many fintech startups succeed in gaining a large customer base and great market cap, but not many discover how to make a good LTV/CAC ratio, create lifetime value and achieve profitability.
The second thing is to discover a unique competitive advantage that would be hard to break. In the finance sector, consumers were historically sticky and loyal to their banks until challenger banks came on the scene. Loyalty is hard to build and even harder to break. But once broken, it is increasingly hard to build again, so once they learn how to switch to other banks, consumers won’t stop changing to a better or cheaper alternative.
Third is to cope with the dilemma to become a fully licensed bank or stay unlicensed. A license can kill your identity and competitive advantage to act fast, but I do believe it’s the only way to make money long term. Financial institutions are two-sided marketplaces of money, which is the essence of a bank’s business, but to become a marketplace, one should acquire a license — even if it means losing velocity.
The fourth thing is being a truly global player: Banking is a hyperlocal business with regulatory barriers that can also be hyperlocal, and to become a truly global FI player is a huge challenge
Last and not least, the tech giants (Alibaba, Amazon, Google and Facebook) are just a step away from entering into full-scale banking, with some of them already testing the waters. When they come full speed into this space, it will become a huge challenge for both old-timers and newcomers.
The five most important areas to be familiar with are investment consulting, wealth enhancement, wealth transfer, wealth protection and charitable gifting.
In the area of investment consulting, entrepreneurs should be looking for advisers who tightly integrate their investment process to minimize taxes. I had a client who was a tool-and-die manufacturer with a mid-sized company who came to me just to have his tax return prepared. Unfortunately, I had to break the news to him that he owed $130,000 in federal taxes. This was because his advisor had been very active in buying and selling tech stocks. While on the surface, it looked like this client was making significant gains in his portfolio, the truth is, they were all short-term capital gains, which were taxed as ordinary income. If the client had been able to hold on to his gains for more than a year, he would have been taxed at a lower rate. Meanwhile, I’m sure his advisor was making plenty in commissions for all of the stocks he had been buying and selling!
Wealth enhancement is something that’s more complex than having just an investment strategy. For example, many entrepreneurs tend to separate their work life from their personal life when it comes to creating wealth. But what if you thought about it more broadly? Instead of compartmentalizing your finances, what if you could invest through a pretax retirement plan to shelter that money and leverage it now, while you’re in a higher tax bracket? Then you could take it out in the future at a lower tax rate. Successful wealth enhancement is about being proactive and giving increased consideration to federal, state and payroll taxes all the time instead of just at the end of the quarter or the end of the year. It’s also about knowing how to use retirement accounts in relationship to what you earn.
Wealth transfer involves managing your wealth so you can transfer those assets to an heir or your favorite charity when you die or become incapacitated. I had two clients, for example, who died of cancer some years back. One, Gary, owned a small frozen food business. After he was diagnosed with colon cancer at 52, he passed away within a year. He had no life or disability insurance and had used the majority of his retirement account to start his business. So when he died, his wife had to sell their house to pay off debt — but the worst part was that the home was only in Gary’s name, so his wife had to go through probate, which was an expensive hassle for her. Now, let me tell you about David, who was also diagnosed with colon cancer around the same time as Gary. This story has a much happier ending, because David had created a solid wealth transfer plan. He owned a business, a home and several rental properties. In addition, he had a large 401(k), IRAs and other investment accounts, as well as a trust, a disability policy and life insurance. Before David died, he also put his family farm into a sub-trust for his family, so they were able to use the income from the farm right away after David passed away. Which situation would you rather be in?
Wealth protection is having the right kind of insurance to protect what’s yours. Now, I see a lot of entrepreneurs who buy insurance products that are also investment products, such as variable universal life insurance. I personally believe insurance products are too expensive to be used as investment products, because they have additive costs and a legal contract. A better way, in my opinion, would be to purchase insurance specifically for asset protection and risk reduction as it relates to long-term care, disability or life circumstances, such as a succession plan. Before you buy a policy, be sure to consider whether there’s a less costly solution that would provide the same coverage.
Finally, if you want to make a difference in your community, one way to accomplish that is through charitable gifting. Charitable gifting is more than just giving money to a good cause, however. I’ll give you an example. I had a husband and wife client who owned their own company and wound up merging their business with a publicly held company. After the merger, they received $400,000 in combined wages plus $1 million in stock options. Both of those would have been taxed as ordinary income at a time when the couple was in the highest federal and state tax brackets. We created a plan for them to gift 7,119 shares of stock with a transferred cost basis of $1 per share (anything above the basis would be taxed at capital gains rates). This generated $420,000 in charitable deductions which offset the income that the stock options generated. By doing that and some additional planning, we were able to save that couple more than $145,000 in taxes.