Meet Nikki Michelini
How she danced toward a financial career
Nikki Michelini never dreamed of working in finance. When she was young she had the same career aspiration many girls do: She wanted to be a dancer. But with a strong desire to learn and an openness to new opportunities, Nikki is now an award-winning wealth manager for one of the largest registered investment advisors in the U.S.
Although Nikki moved to California to pursue a career in the performing arts, an accounting class in high school redirected her path.
“I can be both creative and technical. And I wanted a career that could engage both those sides of me,” said Nikki, now a principal at Aspiriant.
She discovered that accounting, similar to dance, required technical skill and balance. It inspired her to major in accounting at the University of Southern California and become a certified public accountant. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in taxation.
Once out of school, Nikki had the opportunity to work directly with one of the partners in the personal financial services group of a global accounting firm. She began to expand her knowledge beyond income taxes to cover estate and retirement planning, and other financial specialties. That is when she discovered how much more she could offer to help families reach their fullest financial potential.
Today, Nikki is a director of wealth management based in Aspiriant’s Los Angeles headquarters, serving families across the country. With her team, she develops holistic plans covering financial management, investing, philanthropy and tax planning. Her success has earned her accolades from Barron’s and Financial Times, which both named her one of the top women in wealth management.
Like many women, Nikki was not steered toward the male-dominated financial industry. Now, as an experienced advisor, she believes women are well-suited for this profession and there’s no better time than now to pursue it.
Here, Nikki shares some of her experiences of being a wealth manager and tips on how other women can pursue this field of work.
Q: Aspiriant has a number of female financial advisors. What value do you believe women bring to the conversation with clients?
A: As a team, we’re all able to bring different skills and strengths to the table, and I really enjoy bringing the female perspective. The innate skills women tend to have are useful in connecting and building relationships. We practice active listening, are generally nurturing and inclusive, read body language, and easily engage in conversation about the non-financial things that ultimately drive the financial plan — taking care of ourselves and our loved ones.
Women certainly have the intellectual capacity, but they just aren’t always interested in the technical aspects of financial planning. In my experience, they really appreciate having another woman in the room to listen to the more personal goals and concerns women usually have.
Q: What keeps you engaged at work?
A: What keeps me engaged every day are the relationships. A big piece of this job is helping others. Wealth planning can be data and analytics driven. But, really, it’s about so much more. The analytics support the financial plan, but goals, desires, and aspirations are the foundation upon which everything is built. Women have a natural ability to connect, be compassionate and empathic, and establish trust and rapport. These qualities help clients open up and feel comfortable sharing many important and often private aspects of their lives. It feels good to be connected to the families we serve and to partner with them on their journey through life’s twists and turns.
For example, I worked with a family of four siblings whose father died shortly after their parents were divorced. We helped the mother and uncle, who were trustees, manage the children’s wealth since they were relatively young at the time of their father’s passing. As the kids came of age, we started working directly with them.
Money wasn’t a topic discussed at home, so the kids didn’t know much about investing or how to protect and grow their assets. It was fun and a privilege to be part of their financial development: helping them with tax planning and making charitable gifts, how to approach buying a home, learning the basics of investing and choosing an asset allocation.
Now they are in their 30s and have their own children. I expect they will raise their children to have more financial knowledge as they pass on their own experiences.
Q: Traditionally, women have not focused on financial planning, for themselves or as a career. How is this evolving?
A: When talking to my friends, unless they work in the financial industry, many know very little about proactively managing their finances and planning for the future. Some aren’t saving for retirement, mainly because they don’t know where to begin.
They neither know how to invest, nor know where to find or how much to pay an advisor to help them. These things aren’t taught in school, and often not at home either. The whole thing can be very intimidating.
On the flipside, despite minimal financial training in their formative years, women are increasingly making decisions in their households. They’re inheriting wealth, starting their own businesses, and leading companies. As women gain a larger share of financial power, I see it as a great opportunity to shine the light on the lack of knowledge or comfort that exists, and do something about teaching and empowering them to be the sound financial stewards they are capable of being.
Q: How has the industry changed for women?
A: In 2014, I attended a conference spotlighting Barron’s top female advisors. There were about a thousand women advisors there. It was incredible to be in the room with so many female professionals. Many had been in the business for decades. I talked to them about the struggles they had starting out, and they shared that nobody took them seriously. One woman who was about to retire started as an administrative assistant for an investment management firm. She wanted to move into advisory services. Despite getting pushback from male coworkers, she stuck with it and built a rewarding and lucrative career that lasted 40 years.
Today, it’s a much friendlier environment. Some unconscious biases still exist, and the investments profession remains very male dominated. We do have a long way to go. But we’re trending in the right direction. That’s why I feel there is so much opportunity.
These women really did blaze the trail for the next generation. I’m so grateful to them.
Q: How do we attract young talent to financial planning?
A: Reach out to others. You’ll be amazed what can happen from a career perspective when you start networking.
And don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek out advice. Women typically are not taught to be aggressive. Some are even discouraged. As a result, we may be more timid than men about asking for connections and introductions. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. What you’ll often find is a really, really supportive community.
Don’t think of it as being aggressive. It’s about taking charge of your career.
There’s no better time for women to be doing this. The industry as a whole is woefully short of new advisors entering the workforce. So there’s great opportunity. That, in conjunction with women having tremendous skills to be successful in this area, makes this a perfect time for women to seek a career in financial planning and wealth management.