Meet Three Successful Local Women: Jodi Davis, Andrea Kirk & Stephanie Cassedy
Passion. Determination. Awareness.
These are shared characteristics of three local women making their mark in the financial services industry. From three different firms and walks of life, Jodi Davis, Andrea Kirk and Stephanie Cassedy exude enthusiasm and passion for the business. Those qualities, along with their smart money strategies, are a big part of what makes them successful. Each joined the ranks of financial advisors at different points in their careers, each for different reasons, but all have flourished in an industry still dominated by men on both sides of the table.
While women are becoming increasingly more important as clients in the financial planning industry, female financial advisors are not numerous. The cover story of a recent issue of Investment Advisor magazine noted that only 30 percent of financial advisors are women. Yet, women are the main source of income in 53 percent of households and the key decision makers in 60 percent of client relationships. According to the article, women are expected to hold two thirds of America’s wealth by 2030. Both male and female advisors acknowledge the important potential of this market.
Whether or not women investors want a male or female advisor is a personal choice, but according to Jodi Davis, vice president and financial advisor* at The Kelly Group, women clients want something different from their advisors than male clients do. “Women want someone to listen to their stories. They are not just about the bottom line. Everyone has a story, whether they are widowed, divorced, or a young couple starting out,” Davis says. “I try to get them to look out of the box in financial planning and look for opportunities for them in their lives. Relationships are so important – it’s all about finding the connection and being open to the possibilities.”
The Kelly Group, founded in 1997 in Bel Air, describes its team of advisors as holistic planners. The company offers wealth management, asset management and tax and accounting services, but Davis says they focus on goals, not returns. “We want to prepare for the ups and downs of life and longevity. We want to help people achieve their retirement dreams.”
Davis joined The Kelly Group in 2009 after a 24-year career in banking that survived eight mergers. She was the first woman advisor in the wealth management company. She says her ability to be a good listener has contributed to her success. She is passionate about helping people – particularly women – to reach their financial and life goals by putting a plan in place, then encouraging them to live their lives confidently. Davis believes the best option for most people is to stick with the basics of financial planning. She tells her clients to stay focused on five things: build up and maintain cash reserves, pay off non-mortgage debt, increase and prioritize retirement contributions, ask for help in diversification, and manage a healthy budget to successfully live within your means.
Davis feels so strongly about helping people get on the road to financial “peace” that she created innovative, educational seminars for key groups. “Social Security Strategies for Baby Boomers” provides strategies for the pre-retiree crowd to raise awareness of their options as they approach retirement. “The Savvy Woman” series is designed to teach women about their financial choices. Both are available as courses at Harford Community College, and Davis speaks on these topics for various groups throughout the country. She says, “It’s all about finding your financial confidence. I want to give women the confidence to know their options and to know they have choices. Men in the industry are taking notice, too, and asking questions about how they can differentiate their services for female clients.”
Describing The Kelly Group as, “family-focused, client-centered and community-active,” Davis herself reflects those values. In addition to cultivating successful client relationships, she is active in several local organizations, including the Chesapeake Professional Women’s Network, the Harford County Chamber of Commerce, Harford Leadership Academy and the Women’s Giving Circle of Harford County, where she is a member of the board of directors. She also mentors other women through the Academy of Finance. Born and raised in Baltimore County, Davis moved to Harford County in 1991 with her husband and two children. She now proudly shows off photographs of three grandchildren, while cautioning, “Don’t let the daily weather complicate things. Let your investments grow and shade you in retirement.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Andrea Kirk, financial advisor** and CFP® (Certified Financial Planner™) for Ameriprise Financial. Kirk’s typical day is a juggling act of three young children – including a set of 15-month old twins – client communications and meetings, market analyses and trades, and time with her husband and family. “At the office, client services is my number one focus,” Kirk says. “At home, my girls are my primary focus.” She admits it’s sometimes challenging with evening meetings and other responsibilities to get the one-on-one time she’d like with her four-year-old.
Kirk joined Ameriprise Financial after graduating from what was then-called the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in 1998. She earned a degree in business and had a minor in psychology, which she says has proven very helpful in relating to clients. From cold calling to referrals and a step-by-step sales training program, Kirk, who intended to “give it a year” in 1998, has built a successful business helping clients to reach their financial goals. “It gives me a good feeling to know I’m making a difference in people’s lives,” she says. She provides written financial plans to address clients’ life needs – from planning for college to estate and tax planning to working with other professionals like CPAs and lawyers to help clients make sound decisions. Kirk proudly notes she has consistently achieved 100 percent satisfaction from clients on the biannual Ameriprise Financial satisfaction surveys, the most recent being in 2013.
As she has grown in the industry, Kirk acknowledges seeing an increasing number of women at industry conferences, but the gap between a balance of male and female advisors still looms. Cultivating both male and female clients through networking at organizations like the Chesapeake Professional Women’s Network and Family and Children’s Services, Kirk gets involved by joining committees within these organizations and meeting new people. She shares her belief that everyone needs to have a financial plan, and they should start as early as possible. “No matter how it looks on paper, the unexpected happens and that can change everything,” she says. “I tell clients to stay diversified, adjust as appropriate and always use research and analysis to make decisions. An annual financial plan can define and redefine the second half of your life and give you financial guidance.”
Stephanie Cassedy, an investment advisor representative*** at Lincoln Financial Securities agrees. “We’re all investors – of time, energy and money. We should invest in ourselves, and I like to educate people about how to do that,” she explains. Also a career-changer, Cassedy comes from a legal background and joined the financial industry during the height of the financial crisis. Although she says the timing was no accident, she faced a challenging start in the business. “This was a time when I knew people needed guidance. They were frightened and I felt I could provide stewardship,” she says.
Cassedy believes her education in economics and geography is a unique mix that lends a global perspective for her clients. “I look at how markets are doing abroad and help clients understand how it may impact their portfolios here,” she explains. “When there is a major catastrophic event, I reach out to my clients to make sure they understand its effects on them and their investments.”
Her biggest business challenge: finding interesting ways to share her financial expertise with potential clients. After six years at Lincoln Financial, she has become a branch manager and has built her business based on helping individuals achieve and maintain financial wellness. A typical day includes client communication through email, phone and meetings, reviewing the market fluctuations, and keeping an eye on global events. She handles client meetings in the evenings between sharing chauffeuring duties with her husband for two teenagers who are active in sports and clubs.
Cassedy recognizes the importance of women in the industry, as both potential clients and as colleagues. “Women are earning more and they want to take control of their finances. They want to know why they are investing in something – not just how much return they’ll see,” she says. As president of the Central Maryland Chapter of Women in Financial Services (WIFS), Cassedy helps advocate for women both locally and through the national chapter. “The national WIFS organization was the first all-women’s organization to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange in December 2011,” Cassedy notes. “This was exciting and significant for women in the industry.” In addition to her membership in WIFS, Cassedy is also active in CPWN, Top of the Bay Business Women and she is a mentor at Towson University. “These organizations allow me to meet other successful women through networking, which I find very energizing.”
Different demeanors, different perspectives, but similar goals – all of these savvy women are passionate about helping people plan for their financial futures. They are determined to succeed in an uncertain environment and they are well aware of both the obstacles and the opportunities of the industry. While none of them can predict the market’s future, each has an educated opinion about how investors can be confident.
Kirk, who says she relies heavily on other experts’ opinions, reports that economists have positive expectations for 2014. “There’s an 80 percent probability for continued growth in the GDP, and we may see a slow decline in unemployment. The markets have the opportunity to improve with bond tapering and increased interest rates,” she says.
Cassedy concurs that topics of discussion about the 2014 market will likely include bond tapering as well as the debt ceiling. “The market doesn’t like the unknown. A strong portfolio is able to handle the unknown,” she notes.
Davis refers back to her five focus areas and the necessity to have a good plan in place. “No one can predict what the markets will do, so the best advice I can give is to stay focused on healthy decisions that in the long run will pay off,” she says. “Staying financially savvy means to spend less, save more and plan well!” I95
*Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., A Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC and Investment Advisor Representative. Cambridge Investment Research Advisor, Inc. a Registered Investment Advisor. The Kelly Group and Cambridge are not affiliated.
**An Ameriprise Financial Franchise. Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. offers financial advisory services, investments, insurance and annuity products. RiverSource® and Columbia ManagementSM products are offered by affiliates of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., Member FINRA and SIPC.
***Stephanie F. Cassedy is a registered representative of and offers securities to residents of MD, PA, DE, CA, VA and MT and advisory services to residents of MD through Lincoln Financial Securities, Member SIPC. Lincoln Financial Securities is a member of the Lincoln Financial Group, which is the marketing name for Lincoln National Corporation and its affiliates. Lincoln Financial Securities, Cambridge Investment Research and Ameriprise Financial Services are not affiliated.