In the dynamic social and working environment, taking both personal and professional finances in control has been a great challenge for many, including women professionals and entrepreneurs. Understanding the importance of financial acumen, Women’s Accelerator kicked off their first event of 2018 with the “Financial Acumen as a Foundation for Solid Leadership” event. Generously hosted by Herman Miller at their elegant showroom in Culver City, the panel was held on February 21st, 2018. Moderated by Diane Manuel, Financial Advisor at Urban Wealth Management, the panel featured three panelists from varied industries, including Ashley Russo, Financial Advisor at Northwestern Mutual, Lina O’Connor, CFO at Tender Greens, and Jigisha Bouverat, Owner of Jigisha Bouverat Collective and artbarltd.
Ashley Russo, Financial Advisor – Northwestern Mutual
As a Financial Advisor, Ashley’s mission at work is to educate women on financial management. She reminded the attendees not to overestimate themselves on their financial acumen. “Nobody has figured it out.” Said Ashley, “Women come to my office in incredible positions that you would think that they have everything together, but they don’t.” She pointed out that the fact that over 85% of financial advisors are males over 50 is a problem. The market not gearing towards women has caused some confusion.
However, Ashley assured that the basics of finances are simple. She highlighted the importance of managing finances on a personal level. She said the key to well-controlled personal finances is to have a clear idea of what you bring home, what you spend and what you have left. We need to understand the real cost of living, instead of what we thought would cost us. “If you like Starbucks, put it in the budget.”
Knowing that working and social lives are dynamic and changing, Ashley revises her budget every quarter to ensure her family have no “homeless” dollars that do not fall into her budget, otherwise, said Ashley, “we’ll spend it on something unimportant.”
Ashley specifically recommended the book The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy to the audience as a beginner’s resource to set up personal finances. She also suggested that everyone should have three to six months’ personal emergency fund in their savings account so that we can work without additional stress.
Lina O’Connor, Chief Financial Officer – Tender Greens
According to a Fortune analysis, only 11% of Fortune 500 companies’ finance chiefs are female. As one of the few female CFOs in restaurant industry, Lina said, “It is one of my passions to show women that they can reach for very male-dominated jobs.” Named “Rising Star” CFO of the year by Los Angeles Business Journal in 2017, Lina said these titles did not come easily. She shared her story how she asked for the CFO position when it was open. “No one assumed that I am qualified. I had to fight for it.”
As a finance chief, Lina gave women professionals some advice on how to present a proposal and ask for budgets in the workplace. No matter what department you are from, Lina reminded them to have critical thinking and analysis skills. “People have always thought that critical thinking and analysis is a finance function, but it’s not. It’s something we use through every part of the organization.” She said, “When bringing in the proposal, think through all the elements in it. You need to propose the idea, and all the backup thinking behind how it is going to benefit us in the future.”
She also encouraged women to talk about money, pay and finances openly. Sharing information is the key to reaching a better understanding on finances.
Jigisha Bouverat, Owner – Jigisha Bouverat Collective and artbarltd
Before starting her own company, Jigisha had been working as Director of Art Production for advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day. She explained, art production sounds like it has nothing to do with finance, however, being an art producer is all about budgeting projects. Speaking of her experience working for an agency, Jigisha said that you need to show your company that you are an asset. Working in a creative department, Jigisha proved her financial knowledge to the company by producing triple-bids, bringing projects under budgets, etc.
Although she did not have any financial background, Jigisha worked closely with CFOs and ensured pay were within budget for her creative department. The experience made her understand the importance of a financial powerhouse for the agency, and that expanded her perspective when she started her own company.
Starting her own business, Jigisha brought those takeaways and implemented them in her own companies. Since she needs to make decisions on where to allocate the company’s funds, Jigisha is aware of maintaining healthy personal finances as it is closely tied to her own business.
After the panel, Women’s Accelerator shared a few tools provided by panelists and the moderator with attendees for finance practices. The tools include financial glossary of terms, monthly budget sheets and life heatmap. Attendees were also encouraged to join the “Smart Women Savvy Money” Facebook group run by Urban Wealth Management Group, to find more information and insights on financial management.