Women On The Rise: Cecilia Conrad, Jennifer Steans and Kathy Roeser Share Expert Advice on Building Financial and Career Confidence

Wealth management and finance have traditionally been male-dominated industries, but that’s changing.

Women manage more wealth than ever, controlling a third of U.S. household financial assets, equalling more than $10 trillion. By 2030, U.S. women are projected to retain more than $30 trillion in financial assets, according to Kathy Roeser, Managing Director and Wealth Advisor for The Roeser Barbanete Group at Morgan Stanley

“Women are going to be the largest beneficiaries of the current transfer of wealth,” Roeser explained, primarily because of longevity and inheritance. However, women continue to face obstacles as financial advisers regularly view women as less financially confident, less sophisticated and more risk-averse. 

To help more women step up as financial experts and take control of their wealth, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Make It Better Media Group Susan B. Noyes spoke with three influential women leaders during the MIBTV virtual event “Women on the Rise,” presented by Morgan Stanley. The panelists included Roeser; Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change; and Jennifer Steans, President of Financial Investments Corporation — in May, both Conrad and Steans were named on Better’s list of Chicago’s Most Powerful Women 2023. The experts shared advice and stories to inspire women to lean into their careers and feel confident about their financial choices. Here are their top tips.

Be Involved In Your Finances

It’s easy to hand off your finances to someone else, whether a partner or financial advisor, but Roeser says it’s critical to stay involved in your finances. Don’t give up control over how your money is spent or invested. Even if you don’t feel adequate in making financial decisions, keep yourself involved in financial conversations and decision-making. And when in doubt, Roeser reminds women to be true and trust themselves. 

Kathy Roeser, women on the rise webinar 2021
Kathy Roeser

Understand Risk-Return Tradeoffs

Risk-return tradeoff is the idea that potential return rises with increased risk. Women inherently air on the conservative side when taking financial risks, which may result in less reward. Instead of focusing on the risk and reward balance, Roeser suggests people think about it as the risk level; the return they’re looking to achieve; and their time horizon. Feel confident in taking risks if those risks have the potential to help you reach your goals. 

Plan For Your Future

Since women live longer, they must set goals to ensure financial security. Setting financial goals for different aspects of your life is an excellent way to help women plan for their future. Roeser works with her clients to develop a Family Wealth Management Life Plan to outline goals and create a goals-based investing approach. Individuals may want to consider investment plans, retirement and asset protection when setting financial goals. 

Have Your Credit In Your Name

While some family members and partners choose to build credit together through joint cards or loans, Roeser explains that individual credit is essential. Your credit is one of the critical indicators of your financial situation. As you’re investing and building wealth, ensuring you’re building credit in your name is vital as it helps launch your wealth as you rise throughout the years. 

Make an Impact With Your Investments 

Roeser says women tend to invest their money around their values and the impact that they want to make in their community. Making proactive choices about your investments and the types of people and businesses you back can significantly impact the world around you. 

“I’m a huge believer that every single investment we make has an impact, whether it’s job creation or wealth creation for entrepreneurs we’re backing,” said Steans.

Conrad also adds that if you’re in a position to make a change, use your situation to make something happen. “We can spend a lot of energy fighting to get into positions where we can make a difference, but once we are in those positions, it is easy to relax and forget why you want it to be there,” says Conrad. “Make sure you use your privilege and talent to make the place where you are better and the world better.”

Cecilia Conrad

Lean Into Conflict 

Many people are natural conflict avoiders, and addressing conflicts head-on is uncomfortable. However, learning to lean in and resolve disputes as they occur only leads to growth and strength, Steans said. If you’re having challenges with someone or a company, address and resolve the situation proactively.  

Choose Your Partners Carefully

Whether it’s a life partner, financial partner or business partner, choose them carefully. “At the end of the day, it is all about who you choose to do life with,” Steans said. “Pick your partners carefully. Pick the people you’re investing in carefully. You never know about somebody until you live with them and see how they handle success and failure. Choose your partners carefully because that’s what matters most at the end of the day.”

Jennifer Steans

Don’t Waste Your Emotional Bandwidth

Conrad grew up in the segregated South, where she spent most of her life dealing with racist and sexist comments; policies that ignored her needs; and situations where she had to jump through hoops to reap the same rewards as others. While frustrated and envious, she learned from her father that it wasn’t necessary to expend emotional energy on people expressing hate. Instead of focusing on unproductive emotions, Conrad suggests devoting energy to making the world a better place and having an impact. 

Find Your Potential By Amplifying Others

“The best teachers, the best managers, the best leaders, recognize that your success is defined by the success of those you teach, those you manage, those you lead,” Conrad said. She continued that at the MacArthur Fellows Program, they identify exceptionally creative individuals and give them the visibility and financial freedom to take more risks and be more creative in the future. At Lever For Change, they identify, amplify and elevate bold problem solvers and connect them to equally fierce funders. 

“In both programs, we’re seeking creative thinkers who might otherwise remain undiscovered because of discrimination, poverty and other systemic inequality,” explains Conrad.

Watch the full discussion below:

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Jessica Braun Gervais is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in health, wellness, and fitness. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from Columbia College and has written content for various health and wellness institutions. Jessica Braun’s passion for wellness comes from her life as an elite athlete competing in Muay Thai kickboxing competitions across the country. In addition to sharing her expertise through writing, Jessica Braun also works as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer. When she’s not writing or training, Jessica Braun enjoys reading historical fiction novels, discovering new coffee shops, and cuddling with her cattle dog, Brady.