When you need to know more about how to be a successful woman in financial planning, you go straight to one of the profession’s pioneers, René Nourse to see how she did it.
Nourse is the founder and managing director of Urban Wealth Management, which started in 2012. She’s a guest commentator on CNBC Closing Bell and, to top it off, she’s the tenth president of the Association of African American Financial Advisors. She’s also a trailblazer in the profession, advocating for women, people of color and inclusive leadership.
Nourse’s Path to Urban Wealth Management
Nourse didn’t always own Urban Wealth Management, and she wasn’t always a CFP® professional. She started out in the insurance industry, working for Mutual of Omaha. While she was there, she developed a niche where she offered a special discounted rate for disability to government employees. Her manager, who was also African American, took notice and really worked with her to build that niche and her skills.
He was one of only three African Americans working at Mutual of Omaha at the time, and he became Nourse’s mentor.
“I was very blessed to have someone who actually had my back, he was my mentor and he also supported me,” Nourse said in a recent episode of the You’re a Financial Planner Now What podcast.
Under his guidance, and thanks to Nourse’s own driving force, she got her Series 65, which allowed her to sell mutual funds. That got her pretty excited, and she left Mutual of Omaha to start working for a deferred compensation plan company in Los Angeles County. After her experiences there, she decided she really wanted to become a stockbroker (the term at the time), so she got her Series 7.
During this same time Nourse took time off to be with her new baby. When she was finally ready to go back to work, though, nobody wanted to hire her.
“I was turned down by everybody except one firm,” Nourse said. “It could [have been] because of the culture, because I was a woman. This was back in the 80s, the percentage of women in the industry was very, very low … and then being a person of color, they were like no, you’re not a good fit.”
But then she found Dean Witter, a family-owned company she loved. When the firm was acquired by Morgan Stanley, though, she left for Prudential Securities. She stayed there for seven years and then went to Smith Barney. And when Smith Barney was eventually acquired by Morgan Stanley, Nourse said enough was enough—and she started Urban Wealth Management.
Supporting Women Through Leadership and Service
Since then, she has been devoted to supporting women—both in the profession and the clients her firm works with. At Urban Wealth Management, there are four female CFP® professionals, including Nourse. With her all-women team, her firm focuses on giving women the option to be in a safer, more supportive space, where it’s not just about investments—it’s about their life and their hopes.
At her women-led firm, Nourse also creates a space for female planners entering the profession—and she encourages other planners and firms to do the same.
As she explained in our conversation, women can be aggressively recruited in the profession, but once they’re in a firm, they’re often the only woman, they’re offered little support, and they’re at sea during this massive transition.
“One of the challenges—and I hear this a lot from women—is when they come into the industry or they come into a firm, it’s very sales oriented,” Nourse explained. “That’s difficult for women. We’re great with relationships and developing relationships. And if you’re planning to work with women in particular, we don’t tend to make decisions right away, we’ve got to trust you, so, that takes a little bit of time to develop that relationship.”
She advises that if you want to attract these new planners, regardless of gender those in leadership should step up and create a culture that offers the right environments.
“Women, to this day, still are mostly responsible for managing our families,” Nourse said, which includes things like taking the kids to the doctor or their soccer games. “Women need to have the flexibility to come and go as they need to manage their family and manage their lives.”
Focusing on culture within a firm is one of the best ways to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table, and so that everyone can bring their real skills to the surface.
The Importance of Mentorship and Community
Nourse said she believes that new planners need a mentor, someone to help them navigate what can be an overwhelming and complicated industry. That’s part of what she does in her own circles and firm, but mentorship is something she thinks everyone in the profession should seek (and provide).
She explained that mentorship doesn’t have to be a formal affair, like a mastermind or a paid coach. It can be inside or outside of the profession. It could be a group or a single person. But finding someone who can answer your questions, calm your worries and help hype you up is essential for new planners, professionals and future leaders.
“Have a mentor—or mentors—to be able to assist and provide you with some guidance so that you can be groomed to be strong and feel confident and be a leader,” Nourse advised.
Because she’s a firm believer in the power of mentorship, she joined the Association of African American Financial Advisors in 2015. Her initial call to join was to stay connected with other women and people of color in the profession.
Over the last four-plus years, Nourse has been very involved—even joining the AAAA’s board, most recently as its president, because she wanted to continue the legacy of the organization’s founder, LeCount Davis, CFP®. This year she is helping the association focus on the three M’s: messaging, mentorship and membership.
Nourse is guiding the launch of Quad-A’s mentorship program, which she believes will connect many professionals—new and veteran alike.
But there was a major thread through our discussions with Nourse: how community, leadership and mentorship all lend themselves to finding a niche and doing the best work we can do as financial planning professionals.
How to Find Your Niche
Are you looking for your niche—the thing that makes you a truly unique professional in your space? Nourse’s quick and easy answer to finding your niche is exploring the questions: who are you? What are you passionate about? What is your specialty?
One niche could be serving the many younger clients coming into the profession looking for an expert who have student loan debt. They need someone who knows all about student loan options, or who can help them manage other debt while paying that down. Another example, she said, is working with people in the tech field. Identify a specific company that you are familiar with in terms of their services, their products, their employee benefits and reach out to its employees.
“Who’s naturally knocking on your door,” Nourse posed. “Cultivate that group and start making sure you narrow your focus in on working with them.”
Because at the end of the day, serving a specific niche makes you a better planner, and potentially a better leader and mentor down the road.
“You really have to start from who are you. And I think once you do that internally, it’ll be easier to answer that question about who you want to work with,” Nourse said.
If you want to hear Nourse’s great insights into the progress of the profession, the role of inclusion, and how to find your place in all of it, take a listen to this episode of the “You’re a Financial Planner Now What” podcast.
Alexandria Davis is the 2019 FPA NexGen president-elect, a host of the “You’re A Financial Planner Now What” podcast. She is a current CFP® candidate professional and is passionate about the financial planning profession and participating in nonprofit financial workshops to help educate her community. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from California State University-Sacramento.