My Advice to Women Looking for a Career in Financial Services

Susan L. Combs

By Susan Combs | October 27, 2015

No doubt about it, financial services is a great career for women. As the current president of Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS), I ought to know. Founded in 1936, WIFS is the only organization for women, by women, in the insurance and financial services industry. Our core mission is about attracting, developing and advancing women in this career.

My work with WIFS has connected me with women from all across the country. Some of them are veterans who have become extremely successful, while others are just getting started. I often get asked for advice on how women can be successful in this industry. Here are my top tips to women considering a career in financial services.

You are building a career, not taking a job. The first three years in this business can be tough, and I think many women give up too quickly. I always tell people that this is not a job, it is a career. Success won’t come overnight, but working hard and being patient pays off. Also, let your family know what you are doing and how long it will take to succeed, because it’s hugely important to have family support as you get started.

You’re starting a small business. Take advantage of that. There is money to be had for people who are starting businesses. Many of the boroughs in New York City, for example, have minority women-owned business grants available. You need to show that you have a business plan, but it’s a way to get seed money. There are many resources available for women from federal, state, and local agencies. Having somebody give you $10,000 can go a very long way when you’re starting a business.

Find a mentor; be a mentor. New agents see first year commissions go up on average 191 percent by entering in a mentorship relationship. But it works for the mentors too. Those who were mentors achieved 26 to 49 percent greater commissions.

Early in my career, I had a colleague who, at any given time, looked to have nine deep relationships. She always had three people she was mentoring, three people who were mentoring her, and three peer-to-peer relationships she could bounce ideas off of. I mentor a lot of people, not only because it helps me give back, but also because it always triggers positive changes for me.

Build a niche market. New advisers often position themselves as someone who can help everyone. That won’t work. You need to get specific about the type of people you help, to build a niche for yourself. How do you develop a niche market? Well, think of your passions. Say that you have a special needs child. You therefore have a perspective that can help other parents of special needs children. Or perhaps it’s something you did earlier in your career. I once worked in the entertainment and food markets, so they have become two of my niches.

Join a formal networking group. Networking is essential to building up your business. Go regularly to the networking meetings held by the Chamber of Commerce or your alumni association or any of a dozen other affinity groups. Another approach is to join a formal networking group, also known as a lead-pass group. BNI is a very popular example one that has weekly meetings.

Realize that people need you more than you need them. When people first start off in this business, they often feel like they are bothering people when they talk about financial planning and insurance. In actuality, the people you talk to need your help, and they need you more than you need them. This subtle shift in attitude can make a big difference. You are helping people instead of selling them. This confidence is something that speaks volumes.

Follow your passion, find your balance. One of the great things about working in financial services is that it enables women to follow their passion while maintaining a great work/life balance. WIFS recently did a study on nearly 800 women, and we took a look at a sample of the women who were making over $250,000 a year. From the experiences of those 23 women, it was clear that the secret is not work/life balance — it’s just balance. They love what they do so much that it’s ingrained in who they are. Any time somebody enjoys what they do, it shines through.

And, in a time when everybody’s talking about gender-based income inequality, there’s no gender difference in income when it comes to selling insurance. It all depends on how hard you want to work. If you develop your network of people that refer you, your mentor relationships, and your niche markets, then you can’t help but succeed as long as you put in the effort.

Let me close with a little bit of a plug for WIFS. Our core mission is about attracting, developing and advancing women in careers in insurance and financial services. We have 20 chapters all across the country, so women can connect at the local level while participating in a strong national network.

We have a formal mentorship program, where we match people based on personality profiling. It’s been hugely successful for us. Women tell me that talking to their mentor or mentee feels like they’re talking to their sister. Well, there’s science behind how we match women together.

We also look to develop women leaders. Starting locally and then moving up to the national level, there are many opportunities to play a leadership role. It’s an exciting time to be part of WIFS, I’ll tell you that. At 36, I’m the youngest national president in the history of the organization. I’ve gotten so much from this organization. It’s connected me with women in this industry all across the country and it’s really helped to support my business. I invite you to join our industry and to join WIFS.


  • Avatar Lucianna Louis says:

    Hello Susan. I thoroughly enjoyed the article. I have been recruited by other financial services organizations in the past but never became passionate about the industry because of the heavy emphasis on sales instead of truly helping others. After reading your tips and since I’m at a cross roads in my life about my true purpose..I’m eager to learn more about WIFS. I look forward to hearing from you!

  • Claire Gallagher Claire Gallagher says:

    Great article! I just started this industry and I already feel that it is ingrained in me and I have the thrive to succeed. But also so important in mentorship as you need it in order to grow and learn. Thank you for sharing Susan and congratulations on your success to date! Regards, Claire

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