I can’t imagine a better training ground for financial advising than the military. Even though the two careers seem very different, there are so many valuable lessons I learned from my time in the armed forces, like staying calm under pressure, working with others and a service mentality, that apply to many aspects of life.
My military career started at Boston University, where I majored in aerospace engineering and joined Air Force ROTC. After college, I continued on a growth path with the U.S. Air Force that lasted eight years and took me on assignments throughout the U.S. and overseas across Europe.
The military gave me many things, and in particular, it taught me the value of service, leadership and discipline: three characteristics that continue to drive my career path today.
After I left the military in 1997, I spent twenty years in a variety of roles at Xerox Corporation while also raising my two sons. In the background of this business experience were the typical dynamics of saving for college and retirement and investing in new opportunities. My financial advisor was a key part of making these goals a reality. I had been an RBC client since college, largely because I was lucky enough to see the power of financial advising when I was young, watching my father work with an advisor for his small business. In fact, as a result of these experiences, I had often thought about entering the field myself.
When my sons left for college, I saw the chance to pivot my career once again. That’s when financial advising came more into focus. Some might find the thought of starting a new career in their late 40s daunting, but for me, it was an exciting opportunity to leverage everything I’d already done, but also create something completely new.
After exploring the career field and talking with my advisor, I expressed interest in joining RBC Wealth Management. My advisor believed in me and helped me find the door. In January 2019, I joined RBC Wealth Management’s Rochester, New York, branch. Naturally, I brought my military background with me.
People will often ask me if, given this background, I specialize in working with veterans. I certainly know firsthand all the challenges of transitioning to civilian life. I also know that many veterans aren’t prepared for the economic realities that await them when they retire from service. After 20 years of active duty service, members of the military can retire with a lifetime pension (regulations differ between branches). Some veterans plan to live off just their pension, but depending on their age, they could still have decades of life in front of them to navigate. Working with a financial advisor can help them make the right moves with their money and give them peace of mind for their future.
But my military background and the skills I developed there – especially leadership, service and discipline – enable me to connect with a broad segment of clients to help them reach their goals. Allow me to explain.
One of the greatest skills I developed in the military was leadership. As an advisor, my clients see me as the expert of their finances and trust me to act in their best interest. Even though I am fairly new to this field, the broad range of careers and life experiences I had before becoming a financial advisor have helped me relate to many different types of clients. Clients also appreciate that I have walked in their shoes and have had similar conversations with my own advisor.
Putting others first is at the heart of both the military and financial advising. As a financial advisor, I always have my clients’ best interests in mind and work to help them reach their goals. My clients know that I'm there to both see their vision and to help them achieve it, which means if a client calls me at 8 p.m. on a Saturday, I will drop everything and take the call.
There is nothing self-serving about being a financial advisor. Much like in the military, financial advisors are always on-call and go above and beyond to do what’s best. Often, an advisor’s involvement goes deeper than managing a client’s money. As an advisor you sometimes act as a counselor, cheerleader, and confidant. All of these are roles I welcome and cherish.
In the military, and in financial advising, it’s important to focus on the long-term goal and not get held up by roadblocks along the way.
This perfectly applies to the economic market we’ve been experiencing in the U.S. since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than stressing about everyday market volatility, it’s important to focus on the overall trends of the markets and the end goal you’re working toward. As an advisor, it is my job to calmly reassure my clients of this and remind them to focus on the long view.
On the surface, the military and financial advising seem dissimilar, but they require many of the same skills to be successful. Most importantly, the military opened my eyes to possibility, gave me a myriad of leadership experiences and, ultimately, the confidence that propelled me to many different pursuits, including becoming a financial advisor.
Cathy Gueli is a financial advisor at RBC Wealth Management – U.S.