From Lawyer To Advisor: How One Professional Switched Careers At Age 35

Some financial advisors fall in love with financial planning at a young age, and have no need for a career change. Their passion for the business keeps growing, and they graduate college with an eye on entering the field.


Others are late bloomers. They pursue various careers in their 20s and 30s, only to switch gears and become a financial advisor.

Traci Richmond fits the latter category. She spent nine years as a successful lawyer before deciding at age 35 to start from scratch and build a new professional life as an advisor. Now 50, she’s thrilled she made the jump.

In this interview with IBD, Bethesda, Md.-based Richmond shares her experience navigating the transition and offers advice to others pondering a career change.

A Late Bloomer Shares Her Experience Becoming A Financial Advisor

IBD: What led you to leave your career as a lawyer?

Richmond: I loved being a lawyer. It was challenging. But I was traveling all the time and wanted more control over my schedule. I was 35 with a young child and my priorities changed. I was thinking, “I’m one-third of the way through my life. What do I want to do?”

IBD: How did you decide to become a financial advisor?

Richmond: My mother was an advisor. She said, “Why don’t you come work for me?” I had never considered it.

IBD: You must have faced a steep learning curve.

Richmond: She threw as much at me as I could handle and more. Around that time, she was moving firms. So there was a lot going on and there was a lot to do.

How Did Compensation Compare?

IBD: How did your compensation as a financial advisor compare with your pay as a lawyer?

Richmond: I took an 88% pay cut to come work for my mom. And I had a young family and a mortgage. It was a good three years when I was under-compensated compared to where I had been.

IBD: Was that tough for you?

Richmond: As a career changer, you’re used to the respect and prestige that goes with your level of achievement. When you start as an advisor, you start at or near the bottom. You have to be prepared for that step down, not just financially to take that (pay) cut but psychologically. There are things you won’t know. You’re going to make mistakes.

IBD: So would you advise other successful professionals to think twice before pursuing a career change to become financial advisors?

Richmond: Career changers have incredible opportunities in this business. They’ve already developed themselves in another career and built confidence and skills that will translate to becoming an advisor. They also have life experience to draw on so that they can credibly give advice to clients.

What Was Tough About Your Career Change?

IBD: Can you give an example of how your life experience helped you advise clients?

Richmond: As a practicing lawyer, you gain insight into how accounting firms, legal firms and other types of businesses operate. So I can talk to clients about how they ask for promotions. I understand that. I’ll role-play with a client on how they can talk to their boss and ask for a promotion after working four years at their firm.

IBD: Do the skills you needed as a lawyer carry over in making you a better financial advisor?

Richmond: In my case, I analyzed very detailed information and had to simplify it when communicating it to the judge and to my partners. I also had to make sure my facts were solid. I had to think with precision and boil everything down so that it’s clear. And I had to think of contingencies and plan for the worst case. I think the same way now. I ask: “How is the client protected from this risk?” I come from a long line of educators — my mom was a teacher before she changed careers and became an advisor — so teaching is something I understand.

Teaching As A Skill

IBD: What’s an example of how you’ve applied your knowledge of teaching to connect with clients?

Richmond: Teachers gather information first so that they know who they are talking to and how (the student) will receive it. They tailor what they say to make it easier for others to understand. Teachers do that naturally. So I ask prospective clients, “What’s your experience with money?” and “How do you feel about money?” They are from all different backgrounds. Sometimes, money was taboo. Knowing things like that helps me to reach them, to meet them where they are.

IBD: Any tips on how to plot a successful career as an advisor?

Tips On A Successful Career As A Financial Advisor

Richmond: Join a team so that you can learn from someone who knows what they’re doing. See what all the roles are and get to know clients. You will start to see what it takes to build the best organizational structure and support team. Look to add value and be transparent about what you want. You might say, “I want to work here for three years and then go out on my own.” Get a salary to start off — and negotiate what will happen if you bring in leads.

IBD: After launching your advisory career in 2006, what lessons did you learn? What traps should new financial advisors avoid?

Richmond: Everyone says to new advisors, “Call your (wealthiest) friends and get them as clients.” But don’t start advising your best leads from day one. I think it’s better to let them know what you’re doing and stay in touch with them until the time is right.

How Do You Line Up Clients?

IBD: What’s wrong with lining up as many clients as possible from the get-go?

Richmond: When you first start out, you may not have the expertise. You may not be totally ready. If you wait and learn more about the business and get more experience, you will be in a better position to help them. I had a couple of clients I brought in right away. I gave them good advice. But I didn’t have the same confidence projected that they were seeing from me in my legal career. In 2008, I told them not to sell (stocks) and go to cash. I could’ve advised them with more confidence had I built up more experience.


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