Cathy Curtis has always loved the world of business and finance, as evidenced by her childhood games involving her father’s old invoices! She learned how to invest for herself in her 20s and built up a stock portfolio that brought additional income. After climbing the corporate ladder for many years, Cathy took the leap into starting her own business and living her dream of being in service to others through personal finance.
Cathy now works with women to help them manage their finances against the backdrop of the specific challenges they face. And, when she’s not financial planning, you’ll find her enjoying the wineries and restaurants of California.
What initially drew you to this profession?
In my early 20’s I became fascinated with the stock market and personal finance. I followed stocks and kept records of stock prices. I loved to read about companies to find out what made some succeed and others fail. I learned all I could about personal finance and practiced what I learned with my own finances.
While building a career in corporate America (in the food industry) I nurtured a dream of starting my own business to help others with their personal finances. I always wanted to be of service to people and facilitate positive change in their lives. I made the leap about 14 years ago to start my own financial advisory practice. It’s the perfect career for me – it supports both my interests and my desire to be of service.
How do you approach financial planning and why?
Almost everyone needs a financial plan. Some people have the patience, and time, to educate themselves on how to plan their own finances, but the majority don’t.
On one hand this is great news for me from a business perspective! But it leaves many people unprepared for the challenges of managing money throughout their lives.
I like to work with women because they have additional layers of challenges: career progression for many women is disrupted due to having and raising children. This means that salary growth and retirement savings are stalled during those child-raising years. This problem is compounded by the fact that women generally make less than men for similar work.
As a result of these reasons and the likelihood that women will end up being the sole-keeper of their finances (owing to remaining single, experiencing divorce or the death of a spouse) they need to be more vigilant about personal finance.
Why do you think there are so few women in this profession and what needs to happen for this to change?
This question stumps me because I think financial planning and advising is an ideal career for women. The personal skills and qualities necessary to do well at this work are attributes generally associated with women: good listening skills, compassion, empathy and open communication.
In addition, the work hours can be flexible – technology makes it easy to have virtual meetings and work anywhere and anytime.
One theory is that women are afraid that they don’t have the analytical or math skills to do the work. To me, the most important skills are having deep knowledge of and experience with cash flow planning, budgeting, employee benefits, insurance, estate planning, tax and investments coupled with being able to communicate in a way that people can understand. There is software to help crunch the numbers!
Perhaps the lack of financial planners to act as mentors to women and take the time to teach them the profession is also a key issue.
In your experience, what prevents women from seeking financial planning advice?
Women don’t seek advice because they don’t know whom they can trust. The women that come to me are relieved to be working with a female advisor.
Talking about money and finances is very hard for many women, and it can be emotional. Sitting across the desk from a sympathetic, compassionate person can make all the difference. That is not to say that there aren’t excellent male advisors with great communications skills, but, the financial services industry is not well-known for that.
The good news is that organizations like the CFP Board and NAPFA-The National Association for Personal Financial Advisors have done an excellent job in educating consumers about many positive aspects about the profession.
Who are your female role models in the finance world?
I admire women like Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington who are making women’s potential a national topic of interest. I’m a member of 85 Broads and admire Sallie Krawcheck for using her personal experience to empower women.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I’m not sure how young I was, but certainly as young adult I had visions of myself being the CEO of a successful corporation. I’ve never liked having a boss, but I like being the boss! [Editor’s Note: As Cathy shares on her website, her favorite childhood game, was “Important Papers” which she concocted herself. It would involve collecting bills and invoices her dad was about to discard in order to “play business” with her siblings.]
What’s your favorite way to splurge?
I love good food and wine and enjoying both with friends. One of my favorite ways to splurge is to go out to dinner at one of the excellent restaurants in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. We are blessed in California with an abundance of excellent local food and chefs know exactly what to do with it!
I also enjoy driving up to Sonoma County to the towns of Petaluma and Sebastopol to enjoy the countryside, great restaurants and wineries.
Do you have a favorite book?
I was inspired by Beryl Markham’s book – West With The Night – which chronicles her extraordinary life as a bush pilot in Africa and also her solo flight across the Atlantic from East to West. She was a brave and adventurous woman, and I admire that.
[Editor’s Note: Cathy wrote an ebook called “the Happiness Spreadsheet” – about aligning your spending with your values – that can be purchased on Amazon]