Why These Three Women Launched Their Own RIA Firm

Expressive Wealth has more than $200 million in AUM.


Courtesy Photo (Vanessa Martinez, Darlene Duncan, Lauren Genuardi)

Vanessa Martinez has spent more than a decade in financial services. She worked for years as a financial advisor under other firms before launching her consulting firm aimed at helping educate female investors. Now she’s turning back to financial advising and going independent.

Martinez, along with Lauren Genuardi and Darlene Duncan, launched Expressive Wealth, a Chicago-based RIA with more than $200 million in AUM, on Friday. Martinez will be chief executive officer, Genuardi will act as chief compliance officer, and Duncan will serve as a wealth advisor.

Martinez said the three women want to be more to their clients than just money managers and believe that building wealth is about more than just increasing money; it’s also about looking at the complete picture of what a client wants.

“There has been an evolution of what wealth advising means,” Martinez told RIA Intel. “I realized that the true advising role encompasses everything, and part of that is building that trust and relationship with them.”

When advisors go independent, they often start off small. It is usually a one-person shop, with a small clientele and limited AUM. (Advisors are often barred from taking clients with them when they leave large RIAs or broker-dealers.)

However, Expressive is doing things slightly differently. The Expressive team includes a director of portfolio strategy, a chief clinical officer, a paraplanner, and two client service associates and represents a combined 120 years of industry experience. All three founders were also able to bring clients with them.

Martinez said it was important for them to deliver a full-service experience from the beginning.

“For clients, I need to have support, and I can’t be a one-man shop,” said Martinez. Unusual for an RIA, the team includes a clinical psychologist to help with family meetings and broaden everyone’s understanding of the events that happen in people’s lives.

Martinez said that in her previous roles, she was often the only woman in the room, and it would often fall to her to be the person who helps with communication.

“But what I found was that, in some instances, I didn’t know what to say,” said Martinez. “Or I think I could have said something better. So I found that there was a need to have someone be more helpful in the room. We’re not trained in that area, and someone who has their doctorate in psychology definitely has way more training than we do.”

Wealth management has a gender problem. Women represent less than 24 percent of CFP designees, a number that has barely grown in the last decade, and they often face recruiting hurdles that men do not.

Martinez said that because of this, it’s also harder for women to go independent.

“If you have [worked] in an industry where you have always been put to the side or have been told that what you do is ‘enough right there, don’t extend yourself,’ and you start to believe that, then to find that courage from within you, to then create that into confidence going forward, is very difficult,” said Martinez.

Martinez said they hope to build a firm that other advisors will want to join, either because they are drawn to a women-owned practice or because they hold the same values.

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