Lin Buencamino serves as a financial representative at CUSO Financial Services and Redwood Credit Union. She has experience working with not-for-profit financial cooperatives such as CFS and RCU, as well as more than a decade with large, for-profit institutions. Prior to joining CUSO, she worked as a private client banker with JPMorgan Chase for 14 years. She has been working in finance since becoming a high school intern with Washington Mutual, later acquired by Chase, and she’s currently licensed to sell securities in both California and Oregon. Notably, she speaks three languages—English, Spanish, and Tagalog—and holds a bachelor’s degree from Sonoma State University.
Ms. Buencamino graciously agreed to a 30-minute interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
[OnlineEducation.com] How did you initially get into banking and wealth management?
[Lin Buencamino] I first got into banking working for Washington Mutual as a high school intern. From there, I was promoted to different roles and continued my banking career progression through the Chase acquisition of Washington Mutual, getting licensed with JPMorgan and ultimately, transitioning to Redwood Credit Union (RCU) and CUSO Financial Services (CFS). I had the opportunity to explore different paths in the banking channel and was able to figure out what I was passionate about.
[OnlineEducation.com] That’s great you started at such an early age, especially when we don’t get much of a financial education in this country. Was moving from JPMorgan Chase to Redwood Credit Union and CFS a big adjustment for you?
[Lin Buencamino] Conceptually, I was prepared for some of the changes, but how that translated to reality was still a bit of a surprise. The biggest adjustments for me going from a large bank to a credit union were the differences in culture. RCU lives and breathes its mission statement of passionately serving its members, employees, and community. It’s people helping people. The community-based culture was welcoming and refreshing. JPMC has over 240,000 employees and operate in more than 60 countries; RCU has a little over 500 employees serving members in eight Northern California counties. Because of sheer size and scope, large banks will always be at a disadvantage in trying to achieve the same community-type of feel.
[OnlineEducation.com] To elaborate, Redwood Credit Union has more of a community-based, relational structure rather than something that’s strictly analytical? Am I understanding you?
[Lin Buencamino] Yes, in general, banks are for-profit corporations with earnings that are paid to its shareholders, whereas credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives whose earnings are paid back to its members. When a financial institution is working for its members, and those members are part of the communities the financial institution inhabits, there will be a greater community-based, relational structure.
Recently, we experienced fires that greatly impacted our communities in Northern California. To help those who were directly affected by the fires, RCU has created special financial assistance programs in addition to providing a North Bay Fire Relief Fund where 100 percent of donations will go to fire victims and relief efforts. This is just one of the many ways RCU gives back to its communities.
[OnlineEducation.com] That’s great and it makes me very proud to be a member of a credit union. Let’s talk about the demographics of the industry. At CFS and Redwood Credit Union in particular, would you say the demographics are 50/50 male-female, or does it skew one way or the other?
[Lin Buencamino] CFS was founded by two women who are the current CEO and COO of the company. At the credit union, there are ten financial advisors on our team and four of us are women. Though not 50/50, 40 percent is still high in comparison to the national average. I feel very fortunate to be part of a diverse representation of financial advisors and have great female role models in leadership positions.
[OnlineEducation.com] Can you think of any reasons why women and other minorities are underrepresented in the industry?
[Lin Buencamino] Like other male dominated industries, it takes time to change the gender bias. This industry is still getting used to seeing female financial advisors. On more than one occasion, I’ve experienced encounters with individuals who express their surprise in meeting me as a financial professional who wasn’t an older, male, non-ethnic person. It’s true; I’m a woman, an immigrant and I am told I sometimes look younger than I am. I don’t look like the “average” financial advisor. Because of this, I find myself having to demonstrate and elaborate my skills and abilities maybe more so than my counterparts who fit the more traditional look.
[OnlineEducation.com] That’s a really interesting point. In addition to having to prove yourself, can you think of any other examples of unique challenges that women and other industry minorities face? Maybe how your experience at JPMorgan was different than at CFS and Redwood Credit Union?
[Lin Buencamino] Growing up in a neighborhood where my playmates were my brothers, male cousins, and their male friends, I’m used to being in the minority. What I’ve learned is that when one is part of the minority, there’s more pressure to have to prove oneself worthy of belonging to the group. Even though it’s not intentional, when there is only a handful of women in a roomful of men, your voice may not only represent you individually, but other women. It’s a big responsibility. Today, I feel fortunate to have many other women who also understand my challenges and experiences working in a male-dominated industry as well as having strong female role models in leadership positions.
[OnlineEducation.com] The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that in 2016, “personal financial advisors” had the largest gender wage gap of any occupation in the U.S. The weekly earnings of women were only 55.6 percent of those of men in the same position. What do you think accounts for this huge gender wage gap?
[Lin Buencamino] Though there are always exceptions, when couples have families, it is still the female partner giving birth who may take time off work, change work hours or conditions, or stop working altogether to accommodate the familial change. This break from work can have an impact on one’s career and the numbers reflect this. Also, when we think about the history of the industry, though the numbers are increasing, as we’ve touched on previously, there is still an underrepresentation of women in these roles. As more women enter the industry and gain more leadership roles, I hope to see those numbers shift and we can do so with further education and empowerment to women when it comes to conversations revolving around finance.
[OnlineEducation.com] That’s a great point and a good segue into my last question: what advice do you have for women who are interested in getting into banking or wealth management?
[Lin Buencamino] Find people who are currently doing what you are interested in doing and ask questions. For a female perspective, seek out female bankers and financial advisors. Go to family, friends, and colleagues who may already be working with a banker or financial advisor and ask for an introduction. Your local bank or credit union is also a good source for a referral. I was fortunate to work with many financial advisors throughout my career who acted as mentors and encouraged me to pursue my goals.
[OnlineEducation.com] Are there any specific degrees, certifications, or training that you would recommend to women who want to become financial advisors?
[Lin Buencamino] My path was less defined as I took the work experience route, but having an educational background in finance or economics would provide good building blocks. Get into a broker dealer, whether it is through a training program or entry-level position. Some of these firms will offer internship or apprenticeship programs that will provide the training, certification, and experience for those who want to be financial advisors. This is a relational business based on trust. There are qualities that make a good financial advisor that cannot be taught in an educational or training program. Know how to listen; be honest, confident, and fair; and always do the right thing.