Robin Patin serves as a financial advisor for businesses and professionals at Edward Jones. She especially enjoys helping retirees, women, and people undergoing major life transitions to build wealth. Prior to joining Edward Jones, Ms. Patin worked as the director of business development for the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology; the director of business development for Real Contacts, Inc.; the partnerships and strategy director for Beehive; and the partnerships and project manager for the European Commission’s “Tech All Stars” and Accelerator Academy. Notably, she earned her bachelor’s degree in financial management and psychology from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, as well as her master’s degree in health from New York University.
Ms. Patin graciously agreed to a 30-minute interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
[OnlineEducation.com] You made the leap almost two years ago from working at a nonprofit, the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology, to now working as a financial advisor to help clients build wealth. Can you tell me a little bit about that transition?
[Robin Patin] My career is multi-leveled. I started off in healthcare, and then I moved to Europe for awhile, where I ended up working for the European Commission. I came back and started working in the Silicon Valley. I had a really rough experience working in the Silicon Valley as a woman of color. It’s not a friendly place, even working in inclusion. I put in about three years, off and on, and I wanted out. I wanted to do something that was completely different, away from that community and just get some perspective on my life.
A friend was a client of a financial advisor and she gave me a reference. I went to see him and he was this lovely 70-something year old man. He was very classy, kind, and honest. One of the first questions I asked him was, “How did you become a financial advisor?” I had actually majored in finance in college and I thought about becoming a financial advisor immediately afterward, but I was discouraged because I was so young. One of the things that’s very interesting about working as a financial advisor is that it’s a career that you age into—it’s not a career that you age out of. Working in technology at age 36, I felt like I would be aged out of the community.
I didn’t know much about Edward Jones when I first started working there, but I thought if someone as kind and honest as this guy could be working in financial services, so could I.
[OnlineEducation.com] In addition to that gentleman, did you have any other mentors or inspiration within your company? People who encouraged you to enter this line of work?
[Robin Patin] I will say that the company has over 15,000 financial advisors in the U.S. and Canada. We’re actively trying to recruit more women. In our region of the country—basically San Francisco and Oakland—we’re 50 percent women and people really came out of the woodwork to help me. The company is not publicly traded; it’s a partnership and so we all benefit from a more collaborative model of business. I can get on the phone and call another financial advisor in another office and they’re willing to help me. They’re not going to try and steal my clients or undermine me.
[OnlineEducation.com] That’s great and it seems unique. I don’t think of financial advising firms as being “collaborative.”
[Robin Patin] Yes, Edward Jones is one of the few partnership firms in financial advising services. Most of the other firms are publicly traded and it basically pits financial advisor against financial advisor; at those companies, you wonder if the people next to you are going to try and steal your clients. Or if I go out on maternity leave, am I going to come back and have somebody taking some of my business? At Edward Jones, I’ve actually given clients to other financial advisors who are a better fit for that client, so it’s pretty extraordinary.
[OnlineEducation.com] Wow, that’s great. You had mentioned that within your Bay Area region, it’s 50 percent women. Is that unusual for the industry? What has Edward Jones done differently?
[Robin Patin] It’s often women recruiting other women. We’re very gender diverse, culturally diverse, and we also have a lot of LGBTQ advisers. It just makes for a wonderful, inclusive experience.
[OnlineEducation.com] Why do you think in general that women are still underrepresented in financial advising and wealth management?
[Robin Patin] I think a lot of women don’t know about this career path and some are actively discouraged from doing this work. I could tell you about countless women who have told me they’ve gone to a financial advisor with their boyfriend or their partner, and the financial advisor will only talk to the man—never making eye contact with the woman.
So many women who would be outstanding in this industry may lack confidence; they say, “Oh, I don’t know anything about money.” Knowing about money is one piece, but being a good person and helping people reach their financial goals is what makes you an outstanding financial advisor.
[OnlineEducation.com] So for a woman interested in joining your company or another wealth management firm, how would she get started?
[Robin Patin] I would say reach out to someone that’s employed in the field. I talked to someone recently from New York; we both went to NYU. She reached out to find out what was like as a woman of color to work for this firm. So I would suggest reaching out to a woman and if you’re a woman of color, reach out to a woman of color that is currently working in the firm that you want to work for. Ask her what the real deal is. I know that my situation is exceptional, as there are other women in other firms that may have very different experiences.
[OnlineEducation.com] Definitely. I want talk about a recent study. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found in 2016 that “personal financial advisors” actually have the largest gender wage gap of any occupation in the U.S. By illustration, the median weekly earnings of women in the profession were only 55.6 percent of those of men in the same position. Why do you think that this profession has the largest gender wage gap of any American occupation?
[Robin Patin] I didn’t know that! I think it depends on the company. In wealth management and financial services, some companies are purely commission-based and basically you earn whatever you sell. The industry is starting to move away from that because there were a lot of problems with that model. There’s the problem of pushing people to sell bad products, incentivizing selling behavior that may not be in the client’s best interest.
There’s recently been a legal change. In June 2017, there was a Department of Labor ruling that essentially made financial advisors fiduciary. This means that you’re legally liable for the advice that you provide. Before, it was really up to the client to fend for themselves. Now, to ensure that I’m giving the best advice, I’m on the hook to work in the interest of my clients. If someone sells you a bad product, then you can sue the company or the individual.
It’s been a big change and it’s actually been very positive for women. We’re moving away from a transactional model. In other words, I sell you something and I get a commission. I move on and sell someone something else and get a commission from that. When you have a commission-based sale, you really don’t have an incentive to keep that relationship beyond the transaction point. It’s a one-shot deal. So we’re moving away from that transactional model and more toward interactional or relational. A client will pay monthly, and I have to keep that relationship in good standing in order to keep receiving payment from that client. I think it’s a model that resonates more with women. It’s relationship-building and it’s relationship-campaigning to make sure that you can continue to do what’s in the best interest of the client.
I’m really shocked that women receive only 55 percent of what men do in this business, but I think over the next 10 to 20 years, that’s going to change radically because we’re moving away from commission-based and toward fee-based accounts.
[OnlineEducation.com] That’s great news and I hope you’re right. How has this legislation changed the way that you operate in your day-to-day?
[Robin Patin] Edward Jones knew that this was coming for years and all of the training that I received was aligned with this change. Someone who came in six months before may have had different training. You can see it in the way that we structure our business.
Also, I have always done the right thing for people, and the fiduciary standard just has put an extra layer of surveillance and documentation on everything that we do. It’s not just about doing the right thing anymore; it’s also documenting it, putting in the notes, and working with compliance. We have a compliance officer that oversees everything that we do. It’s added several layers of documentation and I think it’s a good thing for clients.
I will say this for a woman getting into this field: the streets are potentially paved with gold because women control a lot of the wealth in the U.S. And a lot of these women would prefer to work with other women. For my clients, it’s typically a woman bringing her boyfriend or her spouse, but not the other way around. I was just commenting to my admin about how we get the women and then they bring in the other family members.
[OnlineEducation.com] That is interesting. Do you have any idea why that is?
[Robin Patin] I think it’s uncomfortable for a lot of women to talk about money with their partners. I kind of act as a neutral third party. It’s also very important not to be judgmental in this role. One of the reasons I’m glad I came into this work when I was older is because I made my own mistakes with money. When people come to my office and they tell me about the crazy things that they’ve done with their retirement accounts, I don’t feel judgmental about it because Lord knows that I’ve made mistakes with my own money! I think it’s very important to be non-judgemental and non-threatening. I also think certain men just seem more comfortable with a woman in an arbitration position than they would with a man. There’s a lot of emotion and insecurity about money. When you see a wealth manager or financial advisor, you need to lay out all your cards on the table.
[OnlineEducation.com] I noticed that you had the opportunity to work abroad in Switzerland, Denmark, and the U.K. Did you notice any differences in the work environment over there compared to the United States?
[Robin Patin] Yeah, I definitely felt like I was treated better as a woman in Europe and even as a person of color. Denmark is very open to women women in leadership, but I should add that as a woman in my 30s, there was a bit of discrimination in the workplace because they think that you’re going to get pregnant and leave. Their maternity leave is so generous—it’s a year or more—so they don’t want someone getting pregnant and leaving immediately. Working with the European Commission, that was never a problem; working with startups, that was never a problem, but when I interviewed with more established conservative companies, it was an issue. They don’t have the same labor laws that we have in the U.S., so they can ask if you are married or planning to get pregnant. I hadn’t considered that thinking about the Scandinavian model of gender equality, but I definitely felt like I was treated with a lot of respect—more than I’d ever found here working Silicon Valley.
[OnlineEducation.com] That’s a pretty tall statement considering the way the Silicon Valley thinks of itself as a progressive haven. Can you tell me a little bit more about any problems that you had working in the Silicon Valley?
[Robin Patin] It’s not common that you get something extremely overt; it’s very covert, even in the division of work. Women are expected to make the lunches or do the housework, and men are expected to do something else. I was working at a business development strategic partnership and I would go into a meeting with a man. I was the more senior person and the company that we were talking to would direct everything toward the junior man, maintaining eye contact with him. One thing I’ve learned is that many men are not comfortable with women. I have male friends, but when I started working in a majority male environment in the Silicon Valley, it was shocking how uncomfortable many men are with women.
[OnlineEducation.com] What other unique challenges do women and minorities face working in wealth management?
[Robin Patin] When I go outside of our region—our bubble of gender equality and inclusiveness—I’ll attend events where I’m the only female financial advisor. As a black woman, I don’t look the part of a financial advisor. People have this image in their minds about what a wealth manager should look like—a white guy in a suit and a tie. I don’t fit that model. In the Bay Area, that’s actually been a huge asset because people don’t want to go in and see a white guy in a tie. In Kansas, it may be a little bit different.
I will tell you that Edward Jones does something unique. We were founded 100 years ago in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s a company with extremely Midwestern values and as part of our training and development, we do something called “door-knocking.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. You go out and you knock on doors. It is the most humbling and the hardest experience you can have as a professional. I got some of my favorite clients from door-knocking. You really cherish those relationships since you showed up on somebody’s doorstep and suddenly you’re managing their financial lives.
The company is definitely evolving, but what I realized is that door-knocking is a cultural binder of our company. We have just over 15,000 advisors in the U.S. and Canada. We all live in different areas and serve different communities, but everyone at my company has done door-knocking.
[OnlineEducation.com] Do you think that new employees should continue the door-knocking or is it obsolete?
[Robin Patin] I think it’s becoming obsolete and it’s also becoming dangerous. I was really concerned as a woman: am I going to end up tied up in somebody’s basement? I think the company is recognizing that. One thing at Edward Jones that’s different than other companies is that we build our own local business. It can be hard and for someone who is new to the field and completely inexperienced.
[OnlineEducation.com] Absolutely. My last question is what advice do you have for women and other underrepresented groups who are interested in becoming financial advisors or wealth managers?
[Robin Patin] I would say it’s an outstanding field. We don’t have enough financial advisors because many people in the business are older—in their 60s, 70s and beyond. We have a lot of people who want to retire but can’t because there’s no one to take over their business. Succession planning is tough and we need more Generation X and Millennial advisors.
I would also say if you’re going to work with a company, be careful the company that you choose. As I mentioned, talk to a woman; talk to a person of color; talk to several people and ask them about the environment, the level of support, and also the business model. Edward Jones is very unique and it works really well with some people but for others, it may not be a fit. I love the work I do and the fact that I have my own office. It’s me and my admin and I don’t have someone breathing down my neck. Working alone has made me more confident as a woman because I can pick the people that I work with.
[OnlineEducation.com] Are there any certifications or additional education that you would recommend for people just breaking into the industry?
[Robin Patin] If you’re just breaking into it, they’re going to make you get a Series 7 or Series 66 license. You have to go through a whole process of testing and training, getting approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission. It’s quite involved. They also have the CFP credential for “certified financial planners.” It requires 1,000 hours of classroom training; a seven-hour exam; and at least requires 6,000 to 7,000 hours of actual practice. It’s considered the Triple Crown of financial advising and more clients are asking for it. Overall, I would suggest getting into the field; doing the work; and making sure that you love it. I know I see myself here for the next 20 years. I see this as my forever career.