In the run-up to naming the winners of the inaugural RIA Intel Awards on September 14, 2022, RIA Intel will publish short features highlighting the accomplishments of this year’s nominees and Rising Stars.
Nifty Advisor Support has been providing support solutions to RIAs since its launch in 2018, and currently serves 60 firms. We spoke to its founder, Michelle Wong – a finalist for Industry Advocate of the Year in the inaugural RIA Intel Awards – about why flexibility in the workplace is more important than ever. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Can you tell us about your advocacy work?
Five years ago, I began to empower our industry to be more inclusive to people of different minority groups, career paths, and lifestyles. While identifying as a woman, a person of color, and a non-advisor in a back-office role, I felt like an anomaly in the areas that others felt were key to succeeding in the industry. I’ve now worked with financial advisors, non-advisors, and people of color from every generation and every corner of the United States to help them understand that every contribution they make to the industry is worth celebrating.
What is the greatest challenge that your sector is facing this year?
Hiring and retaining talent. With the shift to remote work, advisors are dealing with a growing challenge to stay competitive for job candidates, while also struggling to adopt modern management practices that attract and retain both younger and older talent with varying life values.
What motivated you to get into this line of work?
Freedom. Investment operations is a critical function in financial services, but it lacks creativity and flexibility. Becoming an entrepreneur was a conscious choice I made based on personal values that didn’t align with most firms, even though I enjoyed the work itself. I made this decision before remote work was normalized, and for that reason Nifty has always stayed ahead of the curve and successfully worked with remote firms and team members across the U.S.
What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned in your career?
The industry failed to listen to those who pull the curtains and manage the stage, and as a result, the industry is struggling to catch up with outdated management practices with internal teams. Teams want leaders and advisors to treat them like people, not transactions. As technology grows, we need to be intentional and to continue to humanize the client and team experience.
What have you learned from failure?
My biggest failure left me anxious, defeated, and confused. When I was in college and serving as chapter president of my sorority, my 20 sorority sisters came together and told me that I had been too passive during the execution of a regional conference that we had hosted at our university. It was one of my biggest lowlights but also one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It taught me how to adjust my leadership style based on who I’m serving. Knowing their communication preferences, work style, and how they manage difficult situations are critical to understanding each person on my team and how I can support them as a leader.
The inaugural RIA Intel Awards are a celebration of financial advisors, wealth management firms, and industry leaders. Winners will be announced on RIAIntel.com on September 14, 2022 and will be honored in-person at upcoming RIA Institute Forums.
Caitlin Keating (@Caitkeating) is a freelancer at RIA Intel and is based in New York City.