Work-Life Balance in the Financial Services Industry

alyssamoeder.jpgby Pamela Weinsaft (New York City)

Alyssa Moeder, an advisor with Merrill Lynch’s Private Wealth Management division, is busier than usual these days. In addition to the challenges wrought by the global financial crisis, she lost her business partner of 14 years, Ed Spector to cancer earlier this year.

“Losing Ed was devastating both personally and professionally, He was a close friend and an integral part of our business. During normal market conditions it would have been difficult to run the business without him but the current market environment has made it even more challenging. But I consider myself fortunate to be surrounded by so many incredible people both at work and at home. I have a top notch team of professionals that work with me and everybody at the firm has offered to step up and help. And my husband and children understand that, for the unforeseeable future, I am going to need to work more hours.”

The current financial crisis has “added a lot more stress to my life. One of the things that has contributed to my success in my business is that I take a very personal interest in my clients and their well-being. As such, seeing markets like this and the impact it has had on their portfolios is very upsetting. But part of my job is to remove the emotion, yet still be empathetic. I also have to be forward-looking, which means not taking a wait-and-see approach but actively repositioning portfolios. This is a different kind of stress – it’s about finding time in an already busy day. All of the restructuring of client portfolios requires more meetings, and lots more communication with clients. Over-communicating, in this market environment is critical – it’s what my client’s need and deserve—which is time consuming. When you go from speaking with people once every three weeks to three times per week, it involves more hours, and more stress. But that’s why we’re here.”

A CPA by training, Ms. Moeder moved into private wealth management after seeing the impact she could make in her work with her financial services clients. She finds her current work extremely satisfying. “I work with ultra-high net worth families, their affiliated companies and foundations and endowments. I help them with all the financial aspects of their financial lives and businesses from investing, to trust and estate planning to their financing needs. It also involves advising them on a lot of the softer challenges that come with their wealth, Such as, how to prepare their children for the wealth that they are going to be leaving to them. For me there is just nothing more rewarding that having the opportunity to make an impact on a person, a family, an organization and help them to achieve their goals.”

This has been made somewhat more difficult in the current financial environment, but she is doing her best to keep her clients calm. “I think that one of the biggest challenges is that there is such unbelievable volatility and volatility in financial markets comes with significant volatility of emotions. We need to recognize that people get very emotional about their investments and their wealth. We are in a recession right now. We’ve been in a recessions before—maybe not as deep, maybe not as drawn out—but there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. What we need to do is make sure that the portfolios are positioned so that our clients don’t have to worry about meeting their needs over the next two years.” She added that people just want to be reassured. “[Our clients] just need to know that we’re confident that we are in control, that we are on top of it and that we’re paying attention. And that we are willing to make changes if we think changes are required.”

So how has this impacted Moeder’s own work/life balance? “I am married with three children ranging in age from 18 months to 9 years old. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had a great work/life balance up to this point. I think one of the wonderful advantages to what I do is that I do have some flexibility. If there is something I need to attend to—school meeting/doctor visit—I can. I intentionally live in Manhattan because it is where I work and I want to have that flexibility. My husband who works full time [as a scientist in pharmaceuticals] is extremely supportive. We’re fortunate in that way. We are able to coordinate our schedules so that we can back each other up if there is a fire drill at work or a need to put in some unexpected extra time.”

She also credits this ability to maintain a good work/life balance to a fabulous team at work, including her late partner. “[He] was a big part of where my balance came from. In order for any sort of business relationship to work as ours did requires an alignment of values. [Work/life balance] was important to him [although] he was at a different stage in his life. His kids are much older (college and grad school) and our hours were at different parts of the day. (I would go home and log back on at 9 PM after putting my kids to bed.) We were always there to cover for each other. If he or I couldn’t make a meeting for whatever reason, we structured our team so that we were interchangeable. The whole team has worked together for a long time; we’re like a family.”

One of her best tips for accomplishing a good work/life balance is to try to combine some of the things you passionate about with work and family. “Find the things that interest you and combine it with your philanthropy or combine it with spending time with your children. It was always a passion for me to help facilitate the career advancement of women and young girls, which is why I founded a woman’s networking program here at Merrill Lynch for other women in wealth management. It’s also why I chose to focus my philanthropic work with an organization like the Girl Scouts.”

Sometimes as working mothers, I think we feel guilty. But I am more encouraged by a lot of the positive messaging that [my working] sends to my children than I am upset about the couple of times that they may have wished I was there more. And I make sure to make the time I do spend with them is quality time,” added Moeder. She’s a leader for her daughter’s Brownie troop and a board member of the Girl Scouts of Greater NY. “As a working mother it is a nice way to spend some time with my daughter. It also helps me build a special rapport with many of her friends by spending a few hours with them every month. I wouldn’t have developed that even if I were picking her up from school everyday. It’s a nice way to accomplish a lot of things at the same time.”

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    Very nice article, I concur wholeheartedly and advise my audiences to bring passion and joy into their lives. Doing so builds confidence, balance, and peace of mind and makes us more effective as parents and professionals.