What you can learn from the most successful financial advisers in the world

By Helen Fisher on November 15, 2018

Valuable lessons from the experts.

You can always learn valuable lessons from others. In any profession, the chance to learn from successful role models is a great opportunity. Not only can it help you avoid pitfalls and mistakes, but it can also give you positive reinforcement for the things that you are already getting right.

In any profession, the chance to learn from successful role models is a great opportunity. Not only can it help you avoid pitfalls and mistakes, but it can also give you positive reinforcement for the things that you are already getting right. Tips for financial advisers are relatively hard to come by as it is such a specialised sector, and getting some insight into generating investor leads can be even more difficult as many will closely guard their secrets.

However, as with most professions, there are those who are only too willing to help others on their journey in the industry. Here, three noteworthy names who you will probably already know a little about reveal some of their tips for success.

Mellody Hobson

When you actually start looking for financial advice as a consumer, it seems to be everywhere these days. However, successful financial adviser stories are a little thinner on the ground, as even the most successful professionals in the field receive little or no general press publicity.

Of course, becoming successful in the sector actually requires getting your reputation and experience out there for others to see. Mellody Hobson was brought up by a single mother in Chicago, but her mother was herself an entrepreneur who renovated condos. Unfortunately, lacking a hard-headed business approach, Mellody’s mother had a soft heart for residents who rented her properties and fell into arrears. This led to debts for her own family.

Mellody and her siblings moved around the city a lot in their childhood as her mother’s financial fortunes waxed and waned. After a series of evictions, she vowed that she would never find herself in a similar situation again.

This is why Mellody calls her own drive to succeed one of “basic survival”. She rose through academic and professional ranks in the sector until she became a board member for three companies, including DreamWorks Animation. She is now the president of Ariel Investments and currently chairs numerous philanthropic charities.

Dave Ramsey

One of the problems for those aspiring to success in the industry is that measurable professional goals for financial advisers are fairly vague. A few have virtually become household names via the usual routes of television appearances and bestselling books, but a common theme is that the most successful have overcome big hurdles in their own lives.

Dave Ramsey was earning approximately $250,000 a year in 1988 and was a dollar millionaire. He had invested more than $4m in real estate and was enjoying the lifestyle associated with such sums. However, mismanagement of his own finances led to filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and subsequently Dave and his wife’s world fell apart.

The main causes were short-term debt, and although the pair managed to fight their problems for nearly three years, eventually they lost everything. The experience taught Dave a valuable life lesson, and he promised himself that he would learn how to handle money properly.

Ramsey Solutions started up in 1992 with the basic aim of helping others learn by his own example and experiences. Today, Dave is famous for his most basic lesson, which is “The 7 Baby Steps to Financial Security”.

Suze Orman

Perhaps the most inspiring story for a financial adviser is a classic tale of “rags to riches”. While many in the sector will get tied up in their search for qualified leads for financial advisers, others will keep in mind the bigger picture.

Suze Orman is now worth approximately $35m, but things weren’t always like that for her. She lived out of her van and worked clearing trees for $3.50 an hour in 1973. Another success story who came from the streets of Chicago, her South Side upbringing provided her with a strong work ethic from a very early age.

Her father was the owner of Morry’s Deli, a delicatessen in Hyde Park where she and her brothers worked after school every day between 1960 and 1973. That year, she left the University of Illinois and moved to California.

That’s where Orman found herself working as a tree clearer for two months. Orman and her friend worked for Coley Tree Service in Berkeley for two months, during which they both became homeless and slept in her van. This low point gave Orman the impetus to work her way through college by waitressing at the Buttercup Bakery.

An incredible thing happened there – she was so popular with regular customers that when they found out that her dream was to own her own restaurant, they raised $50,000 from their own pockets to help her start a business.

Although Orman invested the money, she then lost the lot after three months due to taking the lead from a bad financial adviser. With debts of a quarter of a million dollars, Orman was now in an even worse position than when she was sleeping in a van.

Determined to get the money back that her customers had trusted her with, she became a financial adviser herself, and in an ironic twist, she worked at the firm that had caused her to lose the money in the first place.

Her natural talent shone through and she worked her way up to the Vice President of Investments position at Prudential Financial. Subsequently, she founded the Suze Orman Financial Group. Of course, she paid back every dollar of the $50,000 loan with which the former restaurant customers had supported her.

Triumph over adversity

Each of these success stories has one thing in common, and that is overcoming adversity. By never giving up and being determined to make a go of things, these three individuals have risen to the top of the industry.

This might seem a little too far-fetched when you are simply busy chasing your own latest investing lead, but the inspiration comes from knowing that no matter the odds stacked against you, you can always win through if you keep going and refuse to let setbacks knock you off course. This is possibly the most important lesson that you can learn from the most successful financial advisers in the world.

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