Evan Harp sat down with Ramona Maior, CFP to discuss her journey as a financial advisor, how the needs of the moment impact that journey, and the tension between building a community and making a living.
Evan Harp: You are in an interesting position. Tell us a little bit about your background as an advisor.
Ramona Maior: I worked in corporate for over a decade as a high net worth financial planner, and I was going to be part of a succession plan that didn’t work out. So now I am in the figuring-it-out space of do I go solo and do my own thing, and if I do my own thing do I do planning only or planning and AUM investing? If I don’t go solo, the option is join an RIA or join an RIA that’s also brokerage, a hybrid.
I’m exploring all these options right now, even as I’m faced with real life challenges; I am a parent, and I need to eat, and I have a kid that I’m responsible for. Do I liquidate all of my retirement savings and put money into something on my own, or do I join something that’s already existing, and help supplement another firm?
Evan Harp: Do you lean one way or another, and what do you see as the advantages of supplementing another firm versus striking out on your own, and vice versa?
Ramona Maior: I lean toward joining another firm versus doing my own. But in the back of my mind, I see me doing my own thing down the road. So, I think what I’d like to do is continue to have conversations. Maybe I go 1099 for a little bit.
I haven’t been on social media promoting myself as much because I’ve been in this ambiguous space. But I think what I want to do is have a rebrand. I don’t need to establish a firm and an LLC right now. But I actually do need to rebrand Ramona. Who is she, and who does she support? I need to let people know about that.
One of the great ideas that I got from Nicole Caspersen was to set up a newsletter and send it to everyone you know, all your family members, and have them forward it to start to just establish your voice. That’s one thing that I’m going to be doing. Another thing is really taking some other advice on making sure my social media represents who I am, and that I am taking advantage of that banner on social media to express my beliefs and make sure that it’s saying what I want to say, because that’s one quick way clients and other advisors can see the type of advisor that I am, and what I’m offering.
I’m going to be spending some time focusing on brand and getting my voice out there while also considering the assumptions I had.
I just got out of a business meeting with a firm that’s looking for a veteran woman. They are just up and running, launched a month ago. They’re having conversations themselves, and I think that there’s a lot of benefit to doing that.
I want to take my time, especially because the succession plan didn’t work and I thought that was going to work very well. But it just didn’t. So I’m even more cautious. But I think that there’s a lot of resources out there and a lot of opportunities; it’s not the end of the world if you join another RIA or another hybrid practice.
I’m asking more questions and understanding the culture and expectations. Because I think what I got caught up in was the excitement of what I was going to be building. I’m asking a lot more questions, and I have a better idea of what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. So that’s helping me figure out what the future might look like.
Evan Harp: That’s super interesting. I feel like, historically, there has been something of a tried and true path to being a financial advisor — or any career, really — and that recently that’s been changing. We’re all sort of building our planes midflight. Do you feel like there’s more possibility and excitement in building your career this way than there might have been walking down a more well-trodden path?
Ramona Maior: I do feel more optimistic because I’m more knowledgeable about the different practices and offers out there in that independent space. I do also agree with you; the role of the financial advisor has changed over time. It used to be performance- and investment-driven, and I became a certified financial planner to help people with their holistic life — with everything in life. I find that that is what excites me — being able to problem-solve and figure out multiple components of someone’s life, helping determine what’s the best approach. And so I’m realizing I’d like to dedicate more of my time in the planning stage.
Evan Harp: That’s really exciting to me, because I think we’re in this moment where there’s a lot of people who just feel very cut off from the world of finance. How do we, collectively, make access to a financial planner more accessible to a broader group of people?
Ramona Maior: In this process, I’ve realized that education and advocacy is really important. And changing the money stories for many folks is critical. It is important to allow other people who don’t have money to have access to tools and resources. Financial literacy, and also looking at subscription models of planning — some people just need a triage or review of their current situation — let’s stop the bleeding where we’re at, let’s make sure there aren’t any major gaps, etc. If you want additional support, maybe we work on a subscription or monthly basis while working towards a certain goal. And then we can stop that when appropriate. We can always follow up again and look at planning.
I’m exploring a lot of different avenues and figuring out what I like and what I don’t like. I’m making sure that the direction I’m going is aligning with my core values. Why did I get in this industry to begin with? I did it because I was doing mortgages at a bank and I wanted to be able to help people with everything, it allowed me to talk about everything to some degree, including investing and planning. I was somewhat of an expert in a lot of different areas.
That’s what I want to do: help people who don’t have money find a way. I was teaching financial literacy for free to domestic abuse victims and women who have experienced homelessness online through a partnership with the FPA. People don’t know that that exists! Why don’t they know? Because it’s not being advertised. So, I realize it’s important for me to be a part of the communication team on FPA so I can get the word out. That is something I’m doing as well.
For me, again, it goes back to not this grand lifestyle that I’m trying to create for myself — I mean, I do like nice things. I like to travel, and I like the freedom that comes with having money. But I also am very passionate because I saw my parents struggle. We were Romanian immigrants, we left during communist Romania, and they didn’t know a lot of simple things like making sure you’re participating to your employer plan matching your 401(k) contribution.
There’s a lot of easy missed opportunities that I think we could address through financial literacy and education as well. And then if clients want to have deeper conversations, that’s where the planning relationship would start. And so I’m trying to figure out what that looks like. Do I want comprehensive planning and like a one-page plan or maybe a mixture of all of that?
Evan Harp: This is all super fascinating, and your perspective makes a lot of sense to me. I would love for you to talk for a bit about the experience of going from the world of high net worth individuals to broadening that out to the world of people more similar to your family, who might have struggled with money or not understood some of the basics.
Ramona Maior: Yeah, you know, it’s a whole other level. That is what drives me and gives me so much passion is helping the underserved communities, because you’re able to really make a difference in someone’s life. In the high net worth space, they’re grateful for your service, but that value add is not as significant. When you’re having these conversations with folks, and this may be their first time having these kinds of conversations, they’re so grateful for the time that you’re spending with them, and you really walk away knowing, “I’m helping this person change their life for the better.” And that’s what led me back to why I do this to begin with.
So, how can we find a way to balance a profitable business while helping others? I don’t know. And that’s why there’s other avenues we can look at. But that’s my favorite work, when I’m helping underserved communities.
Evan Harp: Is there another financial advisor that you look up to or that’s inspired you in some way?
Ramona Maior: For me, it would be Carl Richards. I appreciate how he takes information and simplifies complex topics. He makes it easy to understand and takes the human approach to financial planning. He establishes that relationship with clients that this is a two-way relationship. So he’s someone who has stood out to me time and time again when I think about how can we make this information more easily digestible and not so overwhelming.
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