Meet The Female Leaders of Finance: “When it comes to money, there are never any stupid questions”, with Judith Lu and Jason Hartman
I would remind people that the financial industry is not a user friendly one. There is a lot of confusing lingo and terminology that is not designed for transparency. Ask questions! If you do not understand something, whether related to an investment, a credit card, a loan, or a bank account, don’t be afraid to ask! If the person cannot explain it to you, it usually means they don’t understand it themselves.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Judith Lu, partner and managing director of Miracle Mile Advisors.
Thank you for joining us Judith! What is the “backstory” about what brought you to the Financial field?
I actually never intended to go into finance — how I ended up in the industry was purely by accident. In fact, when I was in University, I had planned on going to work in the non-profit world. While I was in school, I studied in Spain and became captivated by the country and the culture. Unfortunately when I graduated from business school, it was during the pit of misery of the job market. Non-profit work was not as in demand as the demand for work in financial services and banks, so I ended up taking a job in international banking. This job ended up being a wonderful opportunity. I was able to not only learn about the industry, but also pursue my passion of traveling the world and meeting all sorts of incredibly influential and interesting people. I always tell young people when I’m speaking to them about career development that it’s important to listen to your inner voice and follow your passion because you never know where that will take you. And in my case, it took me to the financial advisory world.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
When I first started out in the business, I was a junior client advisor in Miami taking care of Latin American clients. One day, the senior client advisor on the team left the office abruptly and never returned. Despite being a newcomer to the field, I saw what a great opportunity it was to step up and I asked management if I could fill in the role while they looked for a replacement. The next day, I found myself on a flight to Bogota, Colombia. This was rather intimidating for me at first because I had three factors running against me: I was young, I was a woman and I wasn’t a native Spanish speaker. This posed an obvious challenge, but the outcome was worth it. I learned that no matter how daunting the proposition is, if you walk into a situation with a genuine willingness to listen and help, people will give you a chance. I quickly figured out I had to make a strong first impression in the first few minutes and I had to position myself as a trusted and confident advisor. In the end, the clients I was the most intimidated by eventually became the clients with whom I had the strongest relationships.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the projects I’m most passionate about and have been working on for many years now revolves around teaching financial literacy to high school students. My role as a financial advisor is to help educate and empower people with the knowledge they need in order to make good financial decisions for themselves and their families. Financial literacy is not something that is taught in schools, but it is something every person needs. I am working towards making financial literacy accessible to all, not just to those who can afford it. I have developed a curriculum that teaches graduating high school students about topics like budgeting, the power of compounded growth, credit history and interest rates. My hope is that by teaching these students, they will go home and share that information with their families and there will be a ripple effect throughout their communities. I believe financial literacy is one of the most pressing needs in our society today and I’m uniquely positioned to be able to help and advocate for that.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Miracle Mile Advisors differentiates itself from other firms because our team focuses on understanding the specific needs of each and every client. We remove the inherent conflicts of interest in the financial advisory industry and we focus on developing customized solutions for each client. We create a detailed financial plan for each client, and that plan allows us to make thoughtful and holistic investment recommendations.
Finance used to be an “all-white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
The financial industry has traditionally been dominated by men. One of the main drivers of change in our industry is the massive transfer of wealth into the hands of women. Women live on average eight years longer than men. Women, therefore, are inheriting wealth from their husbands as well as from their parents. Additionally, there is transfer of wealth through divorce, and more women today than ever are building careers and generating their own wealth. As a female advisor, I’ve spent years studying the differences in how men and women process information and make financial decisions. Women in general spend more time researching, discussing and confirming before making a financial decision. But once a strategy is adopted and implemented, women tend to stay the course until the goal is obtained. Most women feel it’s important to educate themselves on matters before making a decision and working with an advisor who knows how to listen is paramount. I think the financial industry has realized this and has become more cognizant of how to present information to women to help them make decisions they can feel confident about.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
At a corporate level, I believe companies need to realize the importance of diversity in the workplace. Women bring a powerful perspective to leadership teams that results in tremendous added value. Companies that realize the value of including women’s views and voices in their management teams have the opportunity to differentiate themselves in ways that tangibly translate into their bottom line. On an individual level, I believe the only restriction on what you can achieve in your life is what you believe you can do. Women need to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve and contribute in ways historically reserved for men. We need female trailblazers who aren’t afraid to take risks and can set the path for the next generation of young women. On a societal level, girls need to be taught that it’s okay to explore different fields. We need to instill the confidence in them to pursue their passions and dreams, whether as a scientist or an engineer or an astronaut or a coder. Our society has long socialized girls to believe that the financial industry is a place for men. We need to embrace how powerful women can be in an industry traditionally thought of as cold and calculating. Money is quantitative and linear, but also deeply emotional, and women approach money in a way that can teach a lot of valuable lessons.
Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?
Financial literacy is not taught in school which is why nearly two-thirds of Americans cannot pass a basic financial literacy exam. My recommendation for anyone wanting to get their arms around basic financial literacy would be to organize first a personal budget. This allows you to see how much you are spending and on what. Having a clear budget many times empowers people to feel confident about their spending habits. Also never hesitate to ask questions regarding important financial decisions. If someone proposes an investment to you, don’t be afraid to ask all the questions you need in order to feel comfortable. When it comes to money, there are never any stupid questions.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each?
My first advice would be to take the time to sit down and develop a personal budget. This allows you to be aware of how you are managing, saving and spending your money. With technology today and services like Apple Pay, it is extremely easy to lose track of how much you are actually spending. Secondly, I would stress the importance of saving for retirement. It is never too early to plan for the future. Putting money into retirement accounts on a regular basis, regardless of how small the amount might be, is vital to using the power of time in your favor. I like to tell people I am in the business of helping people to retire early. Third, I would remind people that the financial industry is not a user friendly one. There is a lot of confusing lingo and terminology that is not designed for transparency. Ask questions! If you do not understand something, whether related to an investment, a credit card, a loan, or a bank account, don’t be afraid to ask! If the person cannot explain it to you, it usually means they don’t understand it themselves. Fourth, make sure you understand how much debt or leverage you have in your household. We live in a country with a rampant credit culture. It is very easy to get stuck in a cycle of debt and informing yourself of how much you actually owe and the cost of borrowing goes a long way toward avoiding unfortunate situations. And finally, do not pay too much attention to financial shows on television. While some do provide valuable information, many are designed to be sensationalist and simply result in creating a lot of anxiety.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have many people who have helped me get to where and who I am today. While I have been fortunate to have had some great mentors, I’ve truly learned the most from my clients. The relationships I’ve forged and the lessons I’ve learned along the way have no doubt been the biggest driver of my success as an advisor. Many of my clients are entrepreneurs who inspire me to continually strive toward innovation and evolution. They are people whose stories have taught me valuable life lessons and ultimately how to be successful in a way that aligns with my value system and who I am as a person.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I believe it is so important to “be true to yourself.” Along your path to success, don’t forget about what is important to you as a person. Your professional success is ultimately a personal success if it aligns with your personal values and what you believe in. As a financial advisor, I work in a fast-paced world of money and influence. But I also work in a world of personal relationships. Each person behind each relationship is an opportunity to contribute something positive to the world around you. I feel so fortunate to have a career where I’m able to do that every day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I think our society is in the midst of some very visceral growing pains. I would want to remind people that we are all here together and of the importance of inclusion and support for one another. We live in a time where, with technology, a single voice can be heard around the world and we have the power to create positivity and help one another. As an advisor in the financial world, I personally advocate this message by reminding clients of the power of positive impact through their investments. Today, there are more emerging technologies, companies and business models that are changing the way we live and interact with one another. Today, it is absolutely possible to make your money work for you while investing in positive change.
Thank you for all of these great insights!