A Retiring Woman

After four decades in the business, Gayla Borgognoni has seen investing trends come and go. In the meantime, she built a $200 million book.

In the 40 years Gayla Borgognoni has been in the brokerage business, she remembers disliking her job only once. It was the go-go ‘90s and “all anyone wanted to talk about was technology and quick money,” she recalls. “Investor expectations were not realistic.”

Of course, reality did set in. When the market imploded, clients got practical. And now, she says, they only want to discuss conservative options. Ironically, she likes tech these days, because prices are so low: “I think this is the time they should be considering more aggressive investments.”

Borgognoni, a partner and senior vice president of an all-woman First Union Securities office, is a bit of a contrarian, with a conservative bent and a focus on retirement planning. That strategy has helped her build a $200 million book of business.

In the beginning, Borgognoni, 56, tried to focus on women's retirement needs, concerned that single women over 65 ranked among this country's poorest citizens. She tried to change that statistic through education, beginning with a “Women in Investing” course at a junior college near her home in Carbondale, Ill. There was an added bonus to teaching an investment course. It provided a ready base of clients. “I never liked cold calling,” she says.

Over time, she says, women have become more attentive to money matters and more responsible for their finances. “I find now that women are very interested in investing and saving for their retirement,” she says.

Borgognoni got her first taste of the business when, as a 16-year-old student, she worked as an intern at I.M. Simon, a local brokerage. She wound up spending 20 years with the firm. In the early days, though (in 1975, Borgognoni was the first licensed female broker in Southern Illinois) “men were more accepting of me than women.” Women, she says, often counted on their husbands, fathers or brothers for financial counsel. So, she began to reach out to men in order to get to the women.

She was drawn to the business by her interest in math and her desire to work directly with people. “I drop in often and she always has time to talk to me,” says Betty Darling, who has been a client for more than 25 years. “You can ask her anything and she doesn't make you feel stupid.”

Borgognoni first offered tax-sheltered annuities to employees at Southern Illinois University and at the local junior college, and expanded into IRAs when they became popular in the 1980s.

Over the years, she has expanded her focus and services. “When I started, I was a stockbroker, and we had stocks, bonds and mutual funds,” she says. “Now, I see myself as a financial consultant.” She's a registered investment advisor.

With new clients, the plan starts with retirement, but doesn't end there. “Other than buying a home and sending children to college, retirement is one of the main financial interests people have,” she says. And, while talking to clients about retirement, she can also bring up other products and services, such as funding children's college educations and developing inheritance strategies.

When Borgognoni takes on new clients, she evaluates how much they already know about investing and their tolerance for risk. She recommends clients stay in for the long haul, and has turned away clients who wanted to invest funds they might need in six or 12 months. “She doesn't try to talk me into buying or selling,” says Darling. “And she encourages patience.”

The patience that comes from 40 years in the business.

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