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Women Leading The Finance Industry: Ashley Russo On The 5 Things You Should Do To Increase Your Financial Literacy

An Interview With Tyler Gallagher

As a part of our series about “Women Leading The Finance Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Russo.

Ashley Russo is an American Financial advisor and a public speaker at the top of her field, ranking in the top 3% of advisors currently working in the US, according to Northwestern Mutual. She has made it her mission to unravel the complexity built into the lexicon of financial institutions, and use her knowledge to empower people, especially women, to establish financial literacy, demystify complex topics and eliminate judgement that surrounds these conversations. Her personal story of overcoming hardship and lack of access to education and resources has informed much of her life’s work of ensuring financial topics are approachable and understandable for all.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?

I took care of my mom from a young age, and she passed away before I turned 18. I learned at a very young age that I needed to take care of myself. I love therapy, yoga and meditation, but none of that was as powerful as learning to take care of myself financially, as that was a game changer for me. As I entered the financial field, I recognized that I am their peer; I have the same wants, goals and needs, and my genuine understanding lets people know I care about their financial journey. Through this, I saw how women were planned for, or not planned for. For example, financial plans were not created based on their life expectancy, high cost of care, or other specific considerations. Women were talked at rather than to, and I just knew that had to change. With this inspiration, I run a wealth management firm with an all female team, working exclusively with women, and I couldn’t love it more!

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

One of the more interesting stories is a conversation I had with a married couple who clearly weren’t on the same page when it came to finance; there was a good deal of mansplaining taking place! I was able to carve out space for both people to speak, and through our conversations, which did include some tears, we got to a great place. It turns out there was shame on the husband’s side for not providing what he thought was the life his wife wanted, and all his wife wanted was the life they had. They went from considering divorce to a happily married couple who understand each other on a deeper level.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Everyday I get to meet with clients to learn about their life goals and help them build a plan to get there. I dig into questions such as ‘What’s important today and three years from now, what is on your bucket list, do you plan to take care of your parents? What does legacy look like?’ My day to day is the greatest project I could ask for! I get to have conversations that can literally change someone’s experience of life now and in the future. One of the most memorable conversations recently was being able to tell a client that by saving $200 more today, they were able to retire early and start the bakery with their family they had dreamed about!

What do you think makes you and your work stand out? Can you share a story?

My work stands out because I understand that financial conversations can be complicated, emotional and overwhelming at times and I work hard to keep the conversation approachable and FUN! The level of judgement I hear people put on themselves about what they think they are “supposed” to know is unfair. Daily, I hear, “I should know that” or “I’m not smart” or “I have avoided the financial conversation and I have guilt”. In response, I like to say, “If I asked you to build a rocketship from scratch to get me to the moon and back safely, would you judge yourself if you couldn’t? Probably not, as that may not be your training or skill set.” Yet with finance you’re just supposed to know? When were we ever taught this stuff? The answer is likely never — some of us may never have had a conversation about it! So I encourage my clients to be kind to yourself as you approach financial conversations.

Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change? Women are doing incredible things that simply can’t be ignored! Women are more commonly becoming the household earners, are running companies- we are changing the game!

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?

  1. Take control of your personal financial life FIRST. This will give you the confidence to go for the job you want by starting the empowerment within.
  2. Don’t give the power back. As women, we have come so far and we still have a long way to go. There have been generations of women who worked hard to get us all to this point. Take control of your financial life, rather than give that power back.
  3. Be a dinner table advocate. I can’t tell you how many dinners I have been to with my husband where the conversation in regards to business isn’t directed towards me, yet when television shows come up I’m included in the conversation. Be aware of the fact that women are killing it in the business world and are continuing to level the planning field, this isn’t the 1950’s. It’s time the dinner table is an inclusive space — how we act socially can power our position in the workplace.

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?

It boils down to an industry that can feel overwhelming and a subject that is taboo. First would be to bring in an expert. Would you perform your own surgery or medical visit if you weren’t a doctor? I certainly hope not! The same consideration should go to your financial life. Bring in a financial advisor who speaks to you in a language that you understand to help guide you in your financial life. If you wouldn’t recommend yourself to your friends to manage their money, why are you managing your own? Don’t be afraid to bring in an expert. Secondly, start with a budget. It’s really hard to know where you are going if you don’t know where you are. Take a look at what is going in and what’s coming out of your account each month. Lastly, talk about money! Feel free to love money! Feel free to not have a great relationship with money right now, but as you would with any relationship that’s important or life lasting, work on your relationship with money. Write down what scares you, what brings you joy, what you want financially.

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.

  • Seek out a professional to help you — this is probably the most non-intuitive, yet intuitive, piece of advice I can give. For some reason, we believe we should know how to manage our money, or plan for our financial future, without proper education or teaching. But hiring a professional to help you plan, help you set goals, and take steps to achieve them is the best course of action one can do.

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?

Losing my mom at a young age and not having a relationship with my dad, my grandfather really helped me think bigger and not get stuck in the past. My grandfather grew up in a basement apartment in Chicago and would only see people from the knees up. He was determined to live in a place where you could see the whole person! Fast forward, he is 86 now and has created an incredible life for himself, he is even featured in the Reagan Museum! He taught me that it doesn’t matter where you come from or the obstacles you might face, if you believe in yourself and you are willing to work hard and work hard consistently, you can create whatever life you want. He and I are both living examples that that’s true!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Build your life by design, not by default”. I see this in finance, where people open accounts and save without a roadmap, plan, or purpose. That’s like getting on an airplane without a destination! Wouldn’t you want to know where you’re going, how long it takes and where you’re going to end up? I know I would! Finance should be the same. If you save, what does it accomplish? If you use a 401k, does it track retirement? How long should you work in order to be totally independent of a paycheck? These are questions that can have answers if you build your life by design and not default!

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 would inspire a culture of action. Do you want that job? You can have it. Do you want that house? You can create it. I’m an example, and there are many others, that it’s not about who you know, but what you are willing to do to achieve the knowledge you want, the impact you want, and the legacy you want. It’s all there — are you willing to take action to get it? I hope so!

Thank you for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success.



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