Sophia Bera: Spotlight on Women in the Financial Services Industry
Our advisor this week is Sophia Bera.
Sophia Bera, CFP®, is the Founder of Gen Y Planning LLC, a financial firm focused on helping clients in their 20s and 30s navigate build a secure financial foundation. She has been named in “Top 40 under 40” by Investment News, “10 Young Advisors to Watch” by Financial Advisor Magazine, and “10 of the Best Personal Finance Experts on Twitter.”
Sophia’s focus on helping millennials has lead to her being quoted in publications like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, CNN Money, CNBC, Huffington Post, Mashable, Lifehacker, and more.
I got the opportunity to chat with Sophia to hear her best financial tips, her greatest professional achievements, and her thoughts on the reported shortage of women in the financial services industry.
Why did you decide to work in the financial industry?
I bought a house when I was 21 years old, and my friends started coming up to me with their money questions and I wanted to help them.
I heard about the CFP® designation in the Smart Women Finish Rich book because the author, David Bach, was a CFP® and decided to pursue it. I met my future boss in a CFP® class and at that job I really learned the ins and outs of being a CFP®.
How long have you worked in the financial industry?
It will be 10 years in July.
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
I was awarded the Distinguished Young Alumni Award at my college, Minnesota State University, Mankato, which really surprised me and was very exciting. There are so many alumni; you just think that people wouldn’t notice what you’re doing or that it’s anything special.
What made it so exciting is that I’m really passionate about state school education in general, so it was amazing to be chosen by my alma matter.
Going off of that, could be the same, but what achievement are you most proud of?
There are a few things that come to mind, I think the biggest thing is being able to have my own firm support me financially and really building the type of businesses I want to see in the world.
I have an all female team and I feel so honored that I have a few rock stars working with me. I’m able to be an entrepreneur and not have to work for someone else; this is something I’m most proud of.
In addition, it’s been surreal being featured by other companies and publications. I was published in the New York Times, I spoke at Google last week, and I’m in the March issue of Cosmo — these types of things I really wasn’t expecting when I first started out.
I’m also the top Google search for Financial Planner for Gen Y and Millennials because of writing and getting quoted. This is all organic, I didn’t try to do it, it just kind of happened and it’s how I get a lot of my clients.
I’m a millennial woman entrepreneur and I have an online business that supports the life I love, lots of things to be proud of, but I don’t pause very often to acknowledge this.
How do you define success?
Each person defines success for themselves. For me, I believe success is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
People say to me, oh you’re so brave to start your own business. They assume I didn’t feel any fear, trust me I did I just did it anyway.
Failure is a part of the process on your way to success; a lot of things don’t work out the way you think they’re going to. I have a background in theatre; I’d go from audition to audition and my fate was always in someone else’s hands. Being an entrepreneur gives me way more control over my career than I had as an actor.
What leader inspires you?
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are two really amazing entrepreneurial women who are actors turned entrepreneurs. They know how to get things done and aren’t afraid to hustle.
They’ve had their own TV shows, they’ve been writers on SNL, and they’re also great parents. It’s not about doing just one thing well; it’s all different sides of you and being able to highlight all these things at different times. They’ve done it with grace and strength that few people have done.
Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP® of Workable Wealth is my Tina Fey (I’m her Amy Poehler). She started her business around the same time as me, she gets my challenges and she’s a great person to rant to and get support from.
It’s been reported that there’s a shortage of women in the financial services industry. What do you think is the best solution to help encourage women to enter this industry?
Oh I definitely agree that there’s a shortage women; if you don’t agree you haven’t been to a financial planning conference! Only 36% of CFP®s in the world are women, and only 26% are women in the US.
What is so crazy is that when we look at the students currently enrolled in CFP® programs, many of them are almost split 50/50 women and men. What happens is that women get thrown into shitty jobs with crappy bosses right out of college, there’s also a desire to raise a family, build a career, and have a life! This leads to women getting pushed out of the profession.
What really annoys me about all this is that when women are in college, everyone says women are amazing at helping people; so you should be in social work, nursing, teaching, etc. No one says oh you’ll be great at being a financial planner! There is still this desire from academia to push women into lower paying positions. But if you ask most CFP® women: what do you love about your job? Many of us say: we love helping people!
One idea I’d love to see is the profession being more proactive in educating older men on how to talk to women. When I go to conferences, I’m constantly asked if I’m married, how many kids I have, or who I work for. I rarely attend industry conferences now because I’m sick of surface level conversations and being talked down to.
There are no communication classes required to become a CFP®. Most jobs in this profession are all about helping rich white old men get richer. We need to help make younger women and people of color feel comfortable and expand the demographics that we serve, which starts by encouraging more women and people of color to become CFP®s and then give them a voice in the profession.
For example: have you ever seen more than 3 women on a panel at a conference? If you do, they are always asked the question: How do you balance being a mom and a financial planner? You NEVER see that question being asked with men: You’re a dad, how do you do it all? This is an example of how we treat women and men very differently.
What are the most common financial mistakes you see being made?
The most common financial mistake I see is not getting started saving for retirement soon enough. I have a course for this: Smart and Easy Retirement Planning for Millennials!
What is your number one financial tip?
Spend less than you earn.
What’s a fun fact most people don’t know about you?
I wrote a letter to Warren Buffet once and he wrote back!