Providing Advice For a Better Financial Life: Patricia Powell '73
By Mary Beth Zeman
As a certified financial planner and president of her own independent financial planning and wealth management services firm, Patricia Powell ’73 manages more than $120 million for her clients. While financial acumen is clearly necessary when providing investment advice, Powell
says her most important skill is listening.
“This job is really all about the people,” she says. “You certainly need the financial skills to do the work. But the other part is coaching my clients through the thought process of how to allocate the resources they have for whatever their needs are—retirement, helping their elderly parents, or paying for college. “
Powell’s journey to owning her own firm took a variety of twists and turns, despite knowing early on that she was interested in a career in business. A self-described “Jersey girl,” she attended Nutley High School. “I told the guidance counselor I was interested in business, and she pulled out a catalog for secretarial school,” she recalls. “When I said that wasn’t what I had in mind, she suggested I could go to college to be a nurse or a teacher instead. I was unsophisticated so I thought if this is what the counselor says, it must be true.”
She enrolled at William Paterson, not far from her home, to pursue a degree in music education. “It was right toward the end of the Vietnam War, and the veterans coming back added a very interesting perspective in class,” Powell says. “The professors were very engaged with the students. It was a really exciting time to be on campus. I received a wonderful education.” She was the first in her family to earn a college degree.
Still committed to entering the business world, after graduation Powell took some low-level clerical jobs, including bank teller and head teller. Her real opportunity came when she was offered a position as a training specialist for Royal Insurance Co., which combined her interest in business with her teaching skills. “It was a time when doors were starting to open for a woman who wanted a career,” she says. Her supervisor there served as a mentor, encouraging her to pursue an M.B.A. at Seton Hall University, and helping her land her first position as a financial analyst.
“To be successful, you need to combine a prepared mind with opportunity,” Powell says. “William Paterson helped me develop my skills and the M.B.A. gave me the business preparation I needed to meet that opportunity. It took me until I was twenty-seven to work into my dream job in finance, so I tell people that your dream isn’t over until you choose to throw in the towel.”
She eventually found her way back to banking, but with a difference. As a vice president for corporate financial planning at First Fidelity Bank, she ran mergers and acquisitions, the corporate-wide asset/liability management program, and non-interest expense control. Back then, such corporate positions were filled, typically, by a man with an M.B.A. from an Ivy League school. “I was naïve. I didn’t know that as a woman with a degree from a state university, I wasn’t supposed to be as good as a man with an Ivy League education,” she says. “So, I just did the job.”
It was interesting work, Powell continues. “But I knew that I had gone about as far as I could go in banking; getting a CEO position was unimaginable at the time. I could, however, imagine owning my company,”she says. So she took a leap of faith and moved to a position at a personal financial planning firm to learn the business.
In 1991, she founded her own company, The Powell Financial Group, in Martinsville. “The first year I made a very small profit, just $3,000, but at least it was not a loss. I had more time than capital, so I built the business the hard way, one client at a time. ”
For Powell, each client presents an individual challenge. “Doing the right thing by each and every client requires you to be both knowledgeable and assertive—you need to tell people what they need to know, not just what they want to hear. It’s very personal, and I feel like I’m doing something important.”
With twenty-five years of financial expertise under her belt, she has made her mark in the field. A charter member of the Alliance for Wealth Management, she joined with other members to co-author Creating Prosperity, which examines how to create wealth. She has been a frequent guest on television shows such as “Good Day New York,” and provided expert financial commentary on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.
As a woman in the field of financial planning, Powell has served as a groundbreaker; surprisingly, today only about 23 percent of certified financial planners are female. “When I first started more than twenty-five years ago, I would go to professional conferences and I might be the only woman in the room,” she recalls.
A voracious reader, Powell enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, traveling, and attending the theater. She has volunteered with nonprofit organizations, including a battered women’s shelter, a local adult day care center, and a continuing care retirement community.
Powell says she is excited about the University’s recently launched program in financial planning, as well as joining the University as an adjunct professor this fall to teach a section of Financial Literacy. “If you can get some of it right from the start, you will have a better financial life,” she says. “I hope to give the students a lot of practical financial information so they can make wise decisions, whether they plan on being a teacher, a salesperson, or a musician.” WP