Grace Apuy serves as a senior wealth advisor and SVP at Kayne Anderson Rudnick, a boutique investment advisory firm with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She’s an expert not only in comprehensive financial planning for individuals and institutions, but also in building lasting client relationships. Prior to joining Kayne, she worked as an account executive at Fidelity Investments, where she offered advice on asset allocation, tax planning, estate planning, and other areas. She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her certification in financial planning from California Lutheran University.
Ms. Apuy graciously agreed to a 30-minute interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
[OnlineEducation.com] Tell me about how you initially got into wealth management.
[Grace Apuy] Initially, it wasn’t a chosen path. I actually wanted to be a vet when I was really little, and then I realized that blood makes me queasy.
When I went to UCLA, I started my general education and economics stood out to me. I had a couple of really good professors who were great storytellers. They made economics come alive. Around my junior year, a cousin who’s older than me asked, “Well, what are you going to do as an econ major?” He was a history major.
[OnlineEducation.com] You could have asked him the same thing!
[Grace Apuy] Yeah, exactly! So I did a marketing internship and one in investment banking. Eventually I landed at Smith Barney with an internship in Los Angeles. For most internships, they have you filing paperwork and doing a lot of grunt work, which I did do, but the broker that I worked with at Smith Barney was a really great guy. He had me do some filing, but then he also took the time to educate me on stocks, bonds, and mutual funds in the different types of investments. I found it very empowering because my parents are divorced and my mom is an immigrant from Korea. When she was in Korea, her family was well-off and her father took care of her. They moved to the United States and then my father took care of her, but then they got divorced and she was thrown to the wolves in a way. She had to run her own business and figure out how to buy a home for the first time on her own. She had two daughters, myself and my sister, and she had to figure out how to save for college for both of us. She was basically flying blind and learning along the way, so I felt empowered by this gentleman who was teaching me how to manage wealth. That’s how I got into it and I got my first job at Fidelity.
[OnlineEducation.com] Awesome. What are the differences between working for a boutique investor such as Kayne Anderson Rudnick and an international behemoth like Fidelity Investments?
[Grace Apuy] There’s a lot of difference. I would actually recommend for women wanting to get into this industry to start with a bigger firm because it gives you a lot of breadth. Especially at Fidelity, there are so many different facets and it gives you a bird’s eye view of the present wealth management industry. I could talk to portfolio managers, which is something that not all boutiques offer.
I’m lucky that a quarter of our in-house team at Kayne makes up our management group. You don’t always see that—where boutiques actually manage money in-house. We have investment managers and portfolio managers, and I could talk to them about how they construct their portfolio. My first week at Kayne Anderson, I went around talking to all the portfolio managers, but then I could also talk to the marketing team the operations team. It was everything that I learned at Fidelity, but it was just a greater depth of knowledge. For Fidelity, everything was in Boston or Cincinnati, so you’re not exactly talking to those people everyday and you don’t understand how the machine is working.
[OnlineEducation.com] Yeah, that makes sense. I’m curious: how has the industry changed since the Great Recession? Were you at Fidelity in 2008?
[Grace Apuy] Yes, I was at Fidelity in 2008 and there was definitely a sense of panic and fear in the market. I remember some people would come to work in tears. It was a really hard time. I was in the office all day long, coming in on the weekends just trying to get back to clients because everyone was in a state of panic. You definitely saw a shift toward more conservative portfolios; people were open to buying annuities, insurance, and different kinds of mouse-traps to help protect their portfolios. Now we’re eight-and-a-half years into this current shift, and investors tend to have short-term memories. People realize the markets are at all-time high and they know that they should do something, but there’s a sense of complacency—a “if-it’s-not-broken-don’t-fix-it” mentality. Many of them probably have more risk than they are aware of. What I’m trying to tell my clients now is that it’s a really good time for you to evaluate your portfolio. Know what you own and just make sure it’s of good quality so that you’ll be able to play defense if the markets correct.
[OnlineEducation.com] That makes sense. I wanted to talk a little bit about the demographics of the industry. Are you typically one of the only women in the room or is it more equitable?
[Grace Apuy] I read your past interviews and I looked at the statistics. I know what I’ve experienced, and I’m in California. We have a nice situation here, but I read that 25 percent of client-facing advisors are women and 80 percent are white. That’s definitely the experience that I’ve had. Whenever I walked into an office throughout my career, I’m typically the only woman and also the only person of color.
[OnlineEducation.com] Why do you think that women and people of color are still underrepresented in wealth management?
[Grace Apuy] If I were a woman getting out of college and I looked around and didn’t see anyone who looked like me, I would probably would be less inclined to join that industry. I think it’s natural for people to want to be with people that look like them and maybe have their same views. It can be intimidating going into an industry where you don’t see other successful women and people of color in that industry.
[OnlineEducation.com] Absolutely. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that the profession with the largest gender wage gap was “personal financial advisors.” Women earn only 55.6 percent of the median weekly earnings of men in the same positions. What do you think accounts for this disparity?
[Grace Apuy] A lot of the women in this field don’t necessarily take the client-facing sales roles. You mostly see them in the operations and marketing positions—the support roles.
When I joined Kayne Anderson, I read an article which said that women in general tend to make less than men because women don’t ask for the raises. They said that you should ask for a raise one to two years into a job if you’re doing good work. I took that and talked to a gentleman I was working with, the managing director. I showed him the article and asked him what he thought about it; what’s interesting is I was going to ask for a raise and he told me to double that. That’s the difference. I don’t want to generalize, but many women believe that we should only get something if we’ve already earned it, whereas men concentrate on their potential and ask for raises according to that future potential. The reality is every company is going to have its own culture and way of doing things.
[OnlineEducation.com] You mentioned an economics professor who brought the field alive for you. Who have been your greatest mentors either in education or in your career?
[Grace Apuy] I’ve been really lucky. I have a knack for building relationships with people. I work with gaining their trust and their confidence. I’m a talker. I’ve actually had several managers at Fidelity who were great mentors to me, but I would say that the managing director at Kayne Anderson, Spuds Powell, has been one of my greatest. I worked with him for five years in our Los Angeles office before I moved up to San Francisco. I read all these articles about finding a mentor and none of mine were formal. They probably didn’t even realize that they were my mentor, but it was just about not being afraid to ask questions; asking for help; asking how we can do things better; being observant of what they’re doing that’s successful; and trying to find your own voice.
We cover clients from San Diego to Santa Barbara and we are based in Los Angeles. We were in the car a lot, driving down to San Diego and Santa Barbara, so we had a lot of time to just talk. It was an opportunity to absorb all of the knowledge of somebody who’d been very successful in the industry.
[OnlineEducation.com] Moving back to the demographics, compared to when you started your career, do you think that there are increasing numbers of women and people of color joining Investments and wealth management, or do you think that it’s stayed stable?
[Grace Apuy] Again, I don’t know the statistics, but it’s stayed about the same sadly. I really haven’t noticed anything different. There was one point where I actually did a Google search of other women in the industry; there were very few women and women of color.
We have a list of the top 100 financial advisors who are women, so there have been more efforts to bring light and media attention to successful women in the industry. I do believe that the media is trying to do more. Also, the Financial Planning Association which I’m involved with in Northern California has a mentorship program. They were recently doing a media blitz to try and involve people of color and women, so I do believe that there are efforts.
[OnlineEducation.com] That’s actually one of the main objectives of the Women Breaking Barriers series—to celebrate the role models such as yourself in these industries where we’re still underrepresented. I just have one more question: what advice do you have for women and people of color who would like to get into wealth management?
[Grace Apuy] I would say first that there’s nothing I can do about my gender or the color of my skin. When I walk into a room, usually nobody’s going to look like me and that’s just the reality. I’ve never dealt with discrimination in my various roles. The biggest hurdle is really myself.
There’s always that cultural clash growing up with Korean parents. I was raised to be quiet, put my head down, work really hard, and not bring attention to myself. Corporate America is the complete opposite. You need to speak up; you need to raise your hand; you need to keep your hand raised if you want to make a point; and what you have to say is an important contribution.
If I’m competing against other advisers, nobody’s going to have my same experiences, so I have a unique perspective to bring to the table. I try not to look at it as a hurdle but look at it as an advantage—an opportunity to diversify the points of view at the table. We need the industry to reflect the landscape, and it doesn’t at this point in time. We need people to see that an Asian woman, an African American woman, and a Hispanic woman can be successful in this role. They are people that you can trust and will do a good job for you.