Event Recap: 2021 Personal Financial Planning Career Night

Esteemed panelists discuss their career paths to better serve their clients

In March, current and prospective students of our Personal Financial Planning certificate logged on to Zoom to hear how a recent graduate and members of the certificate's Advisory Board are forging their own paths in this client-facing field. The common theme: It’s all about serving clients and the rewards that can bring.

Come meet our panelists and read what they said during this lively conference call. The video of the entire event follows.

The Panelists

Michael Ma, CFPⓇ, MSFS, ChFC

Photo of Michael Ma

Principal, Fiduciary and Adviser to Families and Entrepreneurs at Parallel Advisors, LLC
2018 Graduate With Distinction


Marilyn Suey, CFPⓇ, M.B.A.

Photo of Marilyn Suey

Principal and CEO at The Diamond Group Wealth Advisors
Certificate Advisory Board Member



Kate Wilusz, CFPⓇ, CRPC

Photo of Kate Wilusz

Private Wealth Advisor and CEO at Wilusz & Associates
Certificate Advisory Board Member



Eric Flett
CEO and Principal at Concentric Wealth Management
Certificate Advisory Board Member

Participating Hiring Firms

What advice would you give to our young planners who are sitting in the audience today?

Michael Ma: I think mindfulness on the varying ways to enter the business. If you're early in this career, take a step back and think about all the different ways that you can build your career path. Think about who you are as a person, be mindful of all the opportunities ahead and try to build that career path for yourself. There's a lot of resources that the UC Berkeley Extension certificate program offers—don't be afraid to tap into them.

Kate Wilusz: The first thing is keep an open mind. There may be a different path than what you think you're going to take into this career.

I'm going to couple that with don't be elitist. I think there's a lot of snobbery in our industry about “this platform is better than this platform, and this platform has conflicts of interest.”

Don't be in this for the money. I have a lot of young or new entrants to the field talk to me about they're not making as much money as they wanted. That comes way down the road—or not at all. You have to be entering this industry because it makes you feel incredibly wonderful on a daily basis. You play this really important role for people in their lives. And that really should be the driver over the money.

The more you can do to see the future and envision what the future could be, that's where you can be a leader at your firm. It's really exciting when people are brave enough to envision a different future than what we have today, which is just built on this idea of AUM [Assets Under Management] models.

Marilyn Suey: I agree with both my colleagues. Mindset is really important. I came from a very productive career in tech. But I switched careers and started my business in 2002. I started with getting my life-insurance license, and then I got my Series 7 and 66 shortly thereafter and just began building. I started with one client, then three and then five. Almost 18 years later and I have a fully integrated practice. We have 170 clients, $280 million in assets under management. But most importantly, the clients all are engaged in financial planning.

But I would say always be learning to increase your earning, meaning that for those of you who are in the certificate now, you're doing great but continue to learn so that you can bring more value to your clients.



If you're early in this career, take a step back and think about all the different ways that you can build your career path.—Michael Ma


What’s one part of the job that you love and one that you don’t?

Marilyn: I love the consulting and coaching of our clients on any topic, not just money—how to take care of their financial house, whether it's business, family or both. We do a lot of what I call integrated consulting for business clients. And then the part of my job that is not my favorite is I abhor completing applications and any work associated with that.

Kate: I enjoy the relationships that I have with my clients. I'm frequently the first person they call when they get a new job or they're pregnant or they have a cancer diagnosis. And that's deeply rewarding. I don't like the paperwork. I've never met anyone ever who says I love paperwork. But I realized I have to do a little bit of it to keep myself humble and because it matters to my team.

Michael: I'm going to use the word control. I have total control over how I spend my time, whom I spend my time with. This career affords a tremendous amount of control over your life, your work-life balance, how much money you want to make, how hard you want to work.



I enjoy the relationships that I have with my clients. That's deeply rewarding.—Kate Wilusz



Michael, what characteristics are you looking for in clients?

The first thing is that they're nice. That's the total truth. If they're nice people, I'm happy to work with them. And the dollars will work itself out.

Being in the Bay Area, I've positioned myself to work with a lot of technology employees, entrepreneurs and founders, helping them with equity compensation and tax planning. I also work with a lot of realtors, medical professionals and lawyers, helping them set up retirement plans and reduce their tax liability.

Final last words for our audience?

Marilyn: Be flexible. Make sure you do what's called a Kolbe assessment or something similar so you really know what your strengths are and the things that you love doing versus what you may not like doing. Get all that you can about that particular area you love doing because that's going to pay great dividends.

Michael: As the saying goes, nothing great in life is easy. Don't get discouraged early on. If the barrier to entry was really low, the outcome wouldn't be so great. And in the wise words of the show Hamilton, “Talk less, smile more.”

Kate: Just stay in it. It's worth it. You gotta make it through those first five to 10 years, but it's a beautiful thing.


Video of the Event