How a Thriving Center Devoted to Women and Wealth Came to Be

“The data doesn’t lie. Women creating wealth is the most underserved market,” says Adrienne Penta of Brown Brothers Harriman.

Adrienne M. Penta (Courtesy photo)

Adrienne M. Penta

(Courtesy photo)

When Adrienne Penta was on maternity leave after having her second child, she had an epiphany — the wealth management industry had an opportunity to serve women better. Fortunately, as an advisor at Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), Penta was in a position to make that happen. Armed with unwavering conviction and a comprehensive business plan, she pitched her idea.

The BBH Center for Women & Wealth was born.

“Committed to engaging and supporting women as they create and manage wealth,” the center provides clients with investment, planning, and philanthropic tools. By curating in-person and virtual events, it tackles key issues facing women, including how to navigate a liquidity event and structuring a succession plan for a family business.

While passionate about helping women through transitions, Penta acknowledges that juggling work and personal life can be particularly challenging during a global pandemic. “This isn’t work from home, this is survival,” says Penta, whose words in the aggregate offer reassurance, suggesting it’s OK if we can’t “do it all” during this trying time.

What was your path into wealth management?

It was a long and winding road. I went to law school and became a trusts and estates lawyer. In 2008, I got a call from Brown Brothers Harriman who was looking to fill a position in their Boston private banking office. I didn’t have any aspirations to leave my job, but I started talking to BBH and saw an interesting opportunity to utilize my skill set. Fast forward to today and I’ve been there 12 years. It’s incredible all of the different roles I’ve been able to hold within one organization, including wealth planner and relationship manager.

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In 2014, I had my second child and during that maternity leave, when I spent a lot of quiet hours in rocking chairs, I took the time to realize what I actually wanted to focus on was how BBH could serve women better.

And I saw this all firsthand in my life. My father died when I was in college and I watched my own mother navigate advisor meetings where she was dealing with a mess of an estate. She would say things to me like: “I feel so intimidated in these meetings.” From that, I realized other women must be feeling the same way. Women lean out in those conversations — whether it’s not showing up or it’s sitting at a table and not fully participating in a way that would be meaningful to them.

So I took those experiences paired with a lot of data about women’s growing wealth and wrote a business plan around them. With some urging from mentors at the firm, I presented it to BBH. They saw it as an incredible opportunity to be a leader in the space, so in 2015 we launched the BBH Center for Women & Wealth.

Tell me about the female advisor market. Where are we?

The opportunity is growing because the pool of women’s wealth is growing faster than average. The data doesn’t lie. I believe that women creating wealth is the most underserved market. There’s a major focus in our industry on women with inherited wealth, but increasingly there are more female CEOs and founders who are experiencing significant liquidity events. Women-owned companies are growing at one and a half time the national average . There’s a stronger focus on funding women-owned companies, and slowly, women are gaining greater access to capital.

What initiatives are you working on in the Center for Women & Wealth?

We’re all thirsting for connection and meaningful conversations during Covid, so we’re bringing together our network and setting the stage for discussions around what’s most important —family, business, and values. We’ve been doing micro-events with five to eight women where everyone can get to know each other virtually for an hour and a half.

We’re also doing female CEO roundtables discussing how leadership has changed during the pandemic. One woman mentioned that for the first time in her life she realized she can’t work 70-hour work weeks — and that’s OK. There’s also recognition that now is the time for female leadership – the crises of the past six months have required leaders to be emotional, empathetic, and authentic, which are traits we see often in women. This time might yield many leadership opportunities for women.

What is it like to work with a woman going through a life transition?

By nature, advisors tend to be problem solvers. In many situations with clients, but especially big moments of transition, we must recognize that we do not have the answers – only the client can determine what is best for her family and her life, and it often takes significant time to navigate that journey. As advisors, we are merely guides along the way.

Why do you feel so passionate about helping other women?

I attended an all-girls school from sixth to twelfth grade, which left me with the deeply-held belief that girls and women can achieve great things — anything they set their minds to. Money is a means to an end, and growing and deploying wealth prudently are critical for women to meet their personal, business, and philanthropic objectives. This is why our mission is to support and engage women as they create and manage wealth.

How do you help the next generation of women rise?

One of the keys to my success has been the incredible sponsors and mentors I have had in my personal and professional lives, including peer mentors. Therefore, I try to take every informational interview or networking coffee with women who request them. Now that we are all remote, I find that Zoom is an even easier way to connect.

What books or podcasts are keeping you engaged now?

I really admire the work that the Better Life Lab, a think tank for and civic enterprise for New America, is doing. I also follow Veronica Dagher at The Wall Street Journal and her podcast: the Secrets of Wealthy Women.

What are some things you do outside of work?

During Covid, I have become devoted to my Peloton, riding almost every day as a way to stay focused at work and with my kids. I have a six-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old, as well as a labradoodle puppy who all keep me pretty occupied.

Thank you, Adrienne.

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