More women offering advice to clients with high net worth

BOULDER — A man and woman who came into Myra Salzer’s office at The Wealth Conservancy Inc. several years ago changed her thinking about how to be successful with wealthy clients.

The couple was 45 minutes late for the appointment. When they showed up, the man looked down sheepishly, the woman twisted a ring band on her finger and held the stone inside her hand, Salzer recalled. It turned out that the couple was late because the man had just bought the woman the ring — a huge emerald.

Salzer said when she complimented the woman on the ring, the woman burst into tears. The woman then said she felt uncomfortable that her father would see her beautiful new ring when she didn’t think he could pay his mortgage payment.

At the same time, the man explained that he had been living off a trust that terminated when he was 35. He had $18 million in a bank account, and he didn’t know what to do with it, Salzer said.

At that moment, Salzer realized that the couple needed more than simple investment help. She decided to hold a four-day workshop to offer services to the couple and other high-net-worth individuals to discuss issues that face people who have inherited wealth — from worries about who their friends are and why, to having a reason to get up in the morning.

Salzer had 25 attendees to the seminar and today has an exclusive clientele of 30 to 50. Each pays $10,000 per quarter for her company’s services. The Wealth Conservancy has eight employees.

Salzer is one of a quiet — often unnoticed — cadre of women in Boulder who own companies specializing in financial services, especially wealth-management services. Some of the women-owned companies cater to “family” clients, meaning that they handle every aspect of a high-net-worth family’s assets. Other women own independent offices affiliated with national investment companies such as Edward Jones. Still others either own investment firms or are partners in large investment firms. Several Boulder “family” wealth-management companies politely declined interviews.

While there are no formal statistics about this group of women-owned businesses, Boulder County appears to generally have more financial services firms than other communities of similar size around the country, said Magali Lutz, an independent financial adviser at the Edward Jones investment services office in Louisville. At Edward Jones, 18 percent of financial advisers are women, although Lutz and others are trying to recruit more.

Across the industry, women are about 25 percent of the graduates of the College of Financial Planning based in Greenwood Village, according to Chris Allen, a spokesman for the private group.

The region’s business community welcomes outsiders and celebrates an entrepreneurial spirit, which helped them be successful, several of the wealth-management women said. For example, Sacha Millstone, an owner of The Millstone-Evans Group of Raymond James & Associates, splits her time between offices in Boulder, Denver and Washington, D.C. because of this area’s friendly vibe. Millstone-Evans Group has more than $260 million under management and clients in 42 states, Millstone said.

“When I moved to Boulder, people were incredibly wonderful and nice, and it’s very easy to meet people and get involved in the community. That’s what I love about it,” Millstone said.

Boulder County’s entrepreneurs and smart people often turn to women, said Patty Meneley, an owner and chief operations officer at Sargent Bickham Lagudis LLC in Boulder, which has about 330 clients and manages about $700 million.

“This business is very relationship driven. Most people choose their financial advisers because of the personality of the adviser, and women tend to be more warm and fuzzy maybe?” Meneley said. “It’s a natural, if you’re smart and you know how to talk to people.”

Elyse Foster, owner of Harbor Financial Group Inc. in Boulder credits her timing of starting her company in the late 1980s as being responsible for her success. Foster’s business is here because she already lived here, she said. Harbor has 110 clients.

“I enjoy people and I like to see them happy and successful,” Foster said. “Being able to understand what motivates people and know what they need even if they don’t know what they need, is an important skill.”

Salzer also said her firm is in Boulder because she lived here when she decided to change careers from her former job as a chemical engineer. Most of The Wealth Conservancy’s clients are outside of the state, Salzer said.

“Clients like the anonymity of talking to advisers, but they don’t run into them as they are walking down the street,” Salzer said. “There’s a comfort there that we aren’t in New York.”

Wealth adviser Jeanine Snyder said the region’s general open-minded nature allows financial industry women to thrive. Snyder is a wealth adviser with her own practice of insurance and investment planning within Northwestern Mutual Financial Network’s Boulder office. Northwestern Mutual Financial Network is the marketing sales and distribution arm of The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.

“People are more accepting of not just going with the old stereotype of a guy in a navy blue suit, of that model that was more desirable 40 years ago,” Snyder said. “The predominant model now is that people are seeking out people similar to them.”

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