Wells Fargo's Diane Gabriel: "If you approach your finances with the perspective that you're the CEO of Me, Inc., you are less likely to blow your hard-earned money" | FI SENSE


In our series on Women In Finance, we speak of women who are leaders in the Finance industry. Wall Street and Finance used to be an all-white boys club”. Great progress has been made and this has changed a lot recently. Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to CNBC, less than 17 per cent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. The key question asked to all the leading Women in Finance is:

“In your opinion or experience, which 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and c) society to support the movement towards greater gender parity in the finance industry?”

In this article, we speak of Diane Gabriel, the head of Next Generation Talent at Wells Fargo.

In this role, she leads the strategy and management of four programs, which include: Financial Relationship Advisor, Associate Financial Advisor, Financial Advisor in Training, and the Branch Manager Leadership Program. She also is a member of the WFA Operating Committee. Diane entered the financial services industry in 1982 as a financial advisor for Halpert and Company in Millburn, New Jersey. Upon becoming assistant vice president three years later, she became the company’s first and youngest female officer. She was named executive vice president and branch manager of the Washington, D.C. office in 1987, and, in 1996, she moved her financial practice to Wheat First Butcher Singer, a predecessor firm to Wells Fargo Advisors. She earned the firm’s Rookie Branch Manager Award in 1999, while she was branch manager of the Alexandria, Virginia, office. Between 2002 and 2012, Diane held leadership positions at Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, the firm’s independent brokerage arm. During her time there, she was responsible for overall FA experience, client service, transition and training, sales supervision, risk, and operations administration. Before her current role, Diane also served as head of WellsTrade, where she oversaw the strategic direction and management of the direct brokerage solution, and head of WFA Solutions, which provides advice and guidance to the firm’s mass and emerging affluent clients. Diane is an honors graduate of Goucher College with a bachelor’s degree in economics. She earned her professional designation of Accredited Asset Management Specialist from the College for Financial Planning and completed the Securities Industry Institute program at The Wharton School. Diane is the executive sponsor of the Harris Stowe Internship program and is a member of other key committees within the firm.

According to her,

You’re the CEO of Me, Inc. If you approach your finances with the perspective that you’re the CEO of Me, Inc., you are less likely to blow your hard-earned money on a designer handbag rather than put it into savings or investing it. You’re investing in the most important “business” possible: YOU!

Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

My mom always said that I was “born to sell.” In fact, my lifelong passion led me to become a commodity options trader — in high school. Yes, high school! I went on to earn a degree in Economics and knew that I wanted to launch a career as a financial advisor.

The thing was, no one would hire me. When I graduated from college in 1982, I was 21-years-old. Armed with my degree, I went to every brokerage firm on Wall Street and was only offered a sales assistant role.

Things changed when I followed up on a tip to try bond firms in New Jersey, as they were smaller firms and might be willing to hire a young female as a broker. Fortunately, one firm hired me as a broker and I worked there for 14 years. During that timeframe, I was named Rookie of the Year and within three years, became their youngest and only female officer at the time and by the time I was 26, I was promoted to branch manager.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away what you took out of that story?

After applying for the job at the previously referenced bond firm in New Jersey, I received a call from the manager. After so much rejection, I was thrilled to receive the call. However, the manager at the firm told me that he was merely calling me to inform me that I “had a typo on my resume’.”

I was pretty darn sure that I did not have any typos on my resume’ so I negotiated a deal with him: If I didn’t have a typo, he had to offer me an interview — and he agreed. He then proceeded to tell me that there must be a typo on my resume’ because based on my age and college graduation date, I would have had to have been in high school while serving as a commodity options trader — so that couldn’t be right. To clarify that this was indeed not a typo, I brought a copy of my commodities trading commission license with me for the interview. As mentioned, I worked for that bond firm for 14 years.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have spent the majority of my career helping others join an industry, which frankly, I think is awesome. I wanted to ensure that I did whatever I could to help others become successful financial advisors and to help smooth out their path if you will. After all, I wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms back when I began my career in 1982.

I now have my dream job working to the source, hire, train and develop the next generation of advisors and managers for Wells Fargo Advisors. It’s an ongoing “exciting project,” that’s for sure. To share just one metric to provide an example of what we’re doing to change the face of our company, the current average age for an advisor at Wells Fargo Advisors is 58. About one-third, or 32,000, are likely to be retiring in the next 10 years, across the industry. Our Next Generation Talent program (NGT) is helping us address that — and the average age of NGT advisors is 32.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I’ve been with Wells Fargo Advisors for 23 years and we say that people are our “competitive advantage” and I wholeheartedly believe that. It’s behaviours and attitudes that are core to who we are such as respecting differences, honouring deadlines, listening to each other, keeping promises, returning phone calls and emails as promptly as we can, and being actively engaged in meetings. Most of our leaders at WFA have served on the front line as a financial advisor at some point in their career — so there is a genuine understanding of challenges and how to solve them.

When our leadership designed enhancements to our Financial Advisor Succession Plan earlier this year, I believe that the feedback was so positive because nearly all of our leaders were once financial advisors and were able to create a program that is a “win-win” situation for our Book Retiring advisors, Book Acquiring advisors and of course, our clients.

Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all-white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

Quite honestly, I don’t believe the brokerage industry is as diversified as much as it should be. We have a ways to go — yet the progress I’ve seen thus far is inspiring.

The industry has continued to rely on a singular method to compensate advisors — variable compensation — and that has limited who is interested in these roles. Historically, women and people of colour have not found variable compensation appealing. Additionally, I believe that most firms have not expanded their scope in attracting pools of diverse candidates.

As the head of WFA’s Next Generation Talent program, I’m thrilled to lead what we view as a game-changer in onboarding more female and diverse candidates. We provide multiple new advisor programs which offer different compensation models: some are salaried throughout, some are salaried for two years plus a mentorship with a senior advisor and yet another is for those that are in fact, interested in variable compensation.

Furthermore, my team spends a significant amount of time visiting diverse communities, organizations and colleges/universities to ensure that the pool of candidates (and future hires) truly represent the communities in which we serve. We believe that it’s crucial that we “set a longer table — and invite everyone to pull up a chair to join us!”

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 per cent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

  1. Demonstrate commitment through your actions (not just words) to ensure that you are attracting and hiring a diverse workforce — and promoting and supporting the very best among them to positions of leadership.
  2. Be open to hiring outside of your traditional “pool of candidates.” Far too often, managers think they have to only hire people within the industry.
  3. Start important conversations with children early — if they learn that anything and everything is possible, they will reach for the stars.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each?

You’re the CEO of Me, Inc.

If you approach your finances with the perspective that you’re the CEO of Me, Inc., you are less likely to blow your hard-earned money on a designer handbag rather than put it into savings or investing it. You’re investing in the most important “business” possible: YOU!

There’s a branch manager at WFA that shares this approach when she speaks on college campuses and she finds that the audience relates to this. It’s often an “Ah-ha” moment for them. As a result, you may find that your money has more meaning and you tend to be more thoughtful in your spending.

Get a Money-Mentor

Just as some people like to exercise with a friend to keep them accountable, it’s is a great idea to assign a friend as your money-mentor.

My friend’s daughter and her best friend are money-mentors to each other. When she was itching to get a new car after hers had been paid off two years, her money-mentor convinced her to save the money she would have spent on her car note. They also compromised that she can revisit the idea of buying a new car in three years.

Start Saving for Retirement Early

The benefits of starting to save for retirement early are tremendous! The power of compounding is definitely on your side!

Let’s say you’re 25 years old, and you put away $300 a month into an individual retirement account (IRA), and your account earns you an average of 8 per cent each year. If you did this regularly for the next 40 years, you would have contributed a total of $144,000 in your account but would have a little over $1 million saved by the time you were 65. Cheers! You’re now a millionaire!

Evaluate Your Expenses Annually

Every January, I make it a point to look at my monthly expenses such as cable, gym membership, phone plan and so forth and determine if I can negotiate a better deal, discontinue the service or keep it as is.

A friend of mine’s husband was laid off and didn’t have savings to cover the family expenses but for only three months. She found that she was hundreds of dollars each month by simply switching from her local supermarket to one that offers much, much higher discounts. It wasn’t something she’d considered until this financial crisis so she acknowledged that if she’d performed an annual review as I do, they’d have been in much better shape.

Seek FREE Professional Help

In addition to reading books like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” to get inspired about managing your finances, you might consider meeting with a financial advisor. You don’t have enough money to invest to justify meeting with a financial advisor, you say? If your parents have a relationship with a financial advisor, many will meet with you and provide guidance to children of their clients — free of charge.

None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Both of my parents survived Nazi Germany, with my mother also being a survivor of the Holocaust. I am a first-generation American. Both of my parents, as well as my brothers, were incredibly supportive of me — and encouraged me to believe that I could achieve anything I aspired. Their support was unwavering and I’m forever grateful for that.

After my first year in the brokerage industry, I was named “Rookie of the Year” and doing very well in my career. However, as the only female advisor — and all of 22-years-old — I wasn’t treated particularly well. One evening, while dining with my mother, I expressed my frustration with work and announced I was switching firms.

My mother listened to my reasoning and then inquired how many women worked at this other firm. I replied, “There’s just one other woman at the other firm.” She looked at me and said, “Honey, I have a better idea. Why don’t you continue to work hard at your current firm so that one day, you’ll be in a position to build a team with the right kind of people.” As always, she was right. I stayed and worked hard — and just three years later, I was asked to launch a new branch. What’s more, I grew that branch to 70 people — all of my choosing.

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favourite Life Lesson quotes is “Jump and the net will appear.” I’ve found that many times during my career, others have put me in a box, specifically thinking ‘Diane won’t do that or Diane won’t try that.’ Most often, this happens when others view your skillset as one- dimensional, believing that if you excel at one thing then you’re not as skilled in other areas.

Over the past 15–20 years or so, I’ve decided to view what many may believe to be big risks as incredible opportunities. I leapt, and each time, the net appeared. Just believe in yourself!

For example, I transitioned from a very successful 20-year career as a financial advisor, transferring my book of clients to another advisor to start-up WFA’s independent broker-dealer channel. It was a new channel and we were given two years to make it a success. We worked hard, were indeed successful and I spent 10 years in that role. The positions I’d held afterwards led me to my current dream job, leading our Next Generation Talent program.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 

I realize that not everyone is as fortunate to have been as blessed as I have to have such tremendous support from both my family as well as mentors at my firm.

If I could start a movement, it would be to inspire every single person in Corporate America to become a mentor to a young adult in need. Because these kids are unaware of how to write a resume, how to dress for an interview, how to engage and interact in a professional environment, for example, I believe that it would provide them with a great deal of confidence. And I’m willing to bet that the interaction would mean as much to the mentor as it would the mentee!




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