For Lynn Sperandeo, the path to becoming a successful financial advisor in the Financial District was not exactly conventional. As the daughter of a butcher in New York City in the late 1960s, there was no one actively steering her toward a career in wealth management. Her tough, middle-class upbringing prepared her for it, though, as she was one of the first women to work in the intensely competitive and male-dominated environment of Wall Street in the 1970s. Those early experiences have given Sperandeo an edge that remains, especially when it comes to managing clients amid such uncertain times.
Sperandeo started out her career as an assistant, but it wasn't long until her potential was recognized, and it was recommended that she study and test for the Series 7. The initial reason for Sperandeo's training was to secure desk coverage for trades so advisors could step out mid-day and entertain clients. "You have to have a license to take calls from clients and execute trades, so I capitalized on the opportunity to sit with brokers and learn the business, even if it was originally intended for a small time window," she said.
The reality was that while she was offered the opportunity to learn on the job and become licensed, which ultimately gave her the foundation she needed, building her business was a fight to the top; in what was, and still is, a male-dominated profession. "I sharpened my skills, but it was tough. I was still in a place that was 90 percent male, and while I could hang with the boys, I also found that as a woman, I had to fight twice as hard for every piece of business I got," Sperandeo adds.
That said, she credits her former male colleagues, particularly David Knott, one of the advisors who trained her, with her leap to full-time financial advisor. "I feel fortunate that I was encouraged by my male colleagues back then," she says. "They pushed me and motivated me to do more before I even realized it was what I wanted," she adds. Knott eventually left the firm , but before doing so he placed all his clients with Sperandeo, and she still manages some of them today.
Why do you think female wealth advisors are still so underrepresented in the industry?
"There remains this broad belief that women are not skilled financial managers. When I was growing up, women were raised to be passive, and it was always assumed that money management was a man's job. Things were traditional and paternalistic, and I was encouraged to become either a teacher or a housewife. Of course, things have changed but that misconception took hold in the industry, and it takes a long time to undo societal patterns."
Where do you see opportunities for success in the wealth management business for female advisors?
"Women can make an impact because they are empathic, and it makes them so good at this job. That is not to say that men do not possess the same skill, but women tend to remember personal conversations, and they have a more nurturing presence. I listen, I get to know my clients' children, and I make sure to remember and consider clients' unique priorities and concerns."
What advice would you give to a young woman who is considering a career in financial services?
"I always advise young men or women who want an entrée into our business to secure an internship, speak with as many people as possible, and get their boots on the ground so they see what happens day-to-day. The only way to know is to try. Prospective advisors must know that while clients today want a hybrid management experience of in-person plus electronic or digital, they will still be making a lot of phone calls and speaking with clients regularly, especially during tough economic times. If they are entrepreneurial and hardworking, then they're going to love it, because it is exciting and fulfilling."
What, in your opinion, can we do in wealth management to attract more female financial advisors?
"I would like to see more women and minorities in upper management positions. I want to know that female advisors are not only supported but given a voice and hand in shaping the future of financial services. Overall, I've been pleased to see that the industry is becoming far more open-minded, and I am proud that B. Riley Wealth Management is a very progressive firm. We are young and growing, and the firm is doing all the right things. It reminds me of my time at DLJ (spell out name), where everyone was treated like a family member, from the CEO all the way down to the mailroom clerk, and there was never any favoritism, sexism or racism. I am living proof of that philosophy."