mch photo1Michelle Cortes-Harkins is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA™) and a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC®). But, prior to achieving these impressive finance qualifications she was working outside of the industry in social work and teaching.

Finances weren’t part of the dinner table conversation when she was growing up and she admits that money was “a big mystery”. However, Michelle eventually caught the financial planning bug from her husband and now works alongside him in their eponymous wealth management firm.

An avid learner and educator, Michelle’s prior career path is an important influence on how she approaches financial planning for her female clients.

What initially drew you to this profession?

My husband! [Editor’s Note: Michelle’s husband is a veteran of the financial services industry]

My background is actually in social work and I was previously working at a nonprofit agency and teaching English as a Second Language.

The more I learned more about my husband’s role, the more I felt like it would be a good fit for me. There are so many aspects of being a financial planner that mesh well with my background. For example, money can be very emotional and we all have unique financial behaviors. It is helpful to understand the “how” and “why” of your money decisions and my social work background really helps with these things.

Similarly, my experience in teaching is really helpful too. I believe that the more individuals learn about finance the more power they have for achieving their goals. Financial education is empowering and I love being able to spread powerful information in a user-friendly way.

How do you approach financial planning and why?

My focus is on women – mainly because of my own experiences with money. Growing up my family didn’t discuss finance in any way – it was a well-guarded secret. So, as a young woman money was all a big mystery to me.

Education and listening are both necessary for a holistic approach in financial planning. In my practice I hold a monthly money club for women which is a supportive environment where women can talk about their money goals, challenges and successes. I also work with women going through life transitions such as divorce and widowhood and I hold workshops specifically geared to their unique issues.

In my ideal world financial education would be accessible to, and understandable to, everyone.

Why do you think there are so few women in this profession and what needs to happen for this to change?

First, I think that it is a very difficult business in terms of the hours that you have to work when you are starting out. That combined with few female role models can make for a very lonely start. I have worked in a large wirehouse, a regional firm and in an independent firm and they are all trying to figure out how to recruit and retain women.

There is also a bit of a misnomer in that many people think that financial services is always ‘salesy’ when it really isn’t. Helping individuals reach their goals in life is really powerful. If we can reach the tipping point with more women coming into the profession, we will all benefit.

In order for it to change, I think there needs to be more recognition that women are a great asset in financial planning. Female advisors should mentor and support women who are new to the business.  I am very lucky to have my husband as a partner – I benefit from him knowing what I am going through day-to-day.

What does success mean to you?

For me success is having a practice that I look forward to going to everyday. I also value and respect my clients and don’t take them for granted. Relationships are really important to me and I am constantly looking for ways to deepen the bonds that we are developing.

I believe learning is also important for my success. And not just in finance; I love learning about people, history and doing new things.

What personal achievements are you most proud of?

Definitely my children. They both are independent thinkers and passionate about their own life choices. I am proud of the fact that they both have a great work ethic and started saving when they were teens.

I am also proud of the fact that my husband and I have been married for over 20 years and go to the same office together every day and it works!

What’s your favorite splurge?

My favorite splurge is taking an afternoon off to go biking. I started biking three years ago and love exploring the world on two wheels. It is a great way to de-stress and notice the little things around you. I am always amazed by how much is out there that I don’t notice or see by car.

Do you have a personal favorite financial pearl of wisdom to share with the GoGirl Finance community?

The one thing you can never make up is time. Start saving early, even if it is a small amount. If you don’t know where to begin research advisors who are holding educational events that you can attend and with whom you can develop a relationship. And don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions! There is also a lot of information online that can help you get started. Just do it!

How can financial planning lead to greater well-being overall?

Having a plan in place is a way to check yourself in terms of where you are financially. In the same way that you take time for exercise or eating well, you should take time to understand where you stand now and where you want to go and what you want to achieve for the future. Just knowing that you have a financial plan in place is powerful. You can have ideas or goals, but unless they are written down, revisited and adjusted on a continuous basis, it is so much harder to make them happen.

 Visit Michelle at Harkins Wealth Management.