I’m on the phone with Jesse Pence, and her love for the personal financial planning profession is practically oozing out of the handset.
Her passion for the industry and the work is palpable when she talks about her current role as an Associate Wealth Manager at Waypoint Wealth Partners and taking financial planning to the streets—literally.
As Pro Bono Director of FPA of San Francisco, Jesse helped organize 20 volunteer advisers to meet with recent Santa Rosa fire survivors to help guide them back to emotional and financial stability.
“Just deciding whether or not to rebuild can be maddeningly difficult,” Jesse told financial-planning.com. “If survivors choose to return, the full cost of rebuilding is higher than most insurers fully foresaw, making it difficult to secure sufficient settlement funds.”
While those sessions may have been one-off, hour-long meetings, they provided the fire survivors with an opportunity to get more information and to think through their options.
It also reinforced to Jesse that this is the career for her—just a couple of years after making the professional switch from financial analyst.
“I didn’t realize it, but I was always interested in personal financial planning,” Jesse says of making her career change to personal financial planner (PFP).
“Even when I was in corporate finance, I would look at all of the benefits I had available and research how much I should save for retirement and how my taxes work. I was already doing personal financial planning for myself and really enjoying it. So when I learned that this was something other people would pay me to do for them, it was easy to make that switch! [Laughs]”
So Jesse did her career-switch research to ignite that spark that was so evident when I spoke with her.
“I learned about the personal financial planning credential and the financial-planning industry and talked to different PFPs in the area,” Jesse recalls. “A number of them recommended the UC Berkeley Extension Personal Financial Planning certificate. So I went to a Career Night and met a number of teachers and students, listened to the amazing speakers and talked to some potential employers. I really appreciated that opportunity to see what the program was all about and the connections it could help me make. From that point on, I was ready to dive in.”
Since enrolling in her first course in Spring 2016 and completing the certificate just a little more than a year later, Jesse hasn’t looked back.
The certificate helped me show potential employers that I was committed to the industry and excited about making this switch.
How did you successfully make a career transition?
By starting the certificate program before transitioning into the industry, it helped me show potential employers that I was committed to the industry and excited about making this switch.
I actually made my career change just a few months after starting the Personal Financial Planning certificate and got an entry-level job doing client-service work at Ashfield Capital Partners, which does financial planning and investment management.
It was an opportunity for me to really understand more of the tasks associated with personal financial planning: working with the custodians, doing paperwork, money movement, getting an introduction to how we interact with clients in this industry. Self-selecting into the program indicated to my employer that I was serious about making this career switch and helped me get that job.
Were there other career-changing students in your classes?
There were two different camps. There were people like me who came from different industries and didn’t have a background in financial services. And then there were those who were already in financial services but were looking to expand their knowledge base or make a smaller role shift in their industry.
So no matter where you are starting from, the certificate gives you the opportunity to make the shift in your career and the tools you need to make it possible.
The caliber of instructors that the Berkeley program is able to attract is really impressive.
You’re also learning from instructors who bring their real-world experiences to the class.
Heather Liston was by far my favorite instructor. I took every course that she taught.
I had Catherine Bradford for my survey class and I just loved her energy and the way she showed us the whole breadth of financial planning. Coming into the program, I didn’t fully understand all of the pieces that go into personal financial planning, but her ability to walk us through it and explain how it all fits together was really valuable.
I had Frank Paré for my capstone class and that was interesting because Frank is a past-president of FPA National—just the caliber of people that the Berkeley program is able to attract is really impressive.
All of these teachers have day jobs and they’re taking time out of their personal lives to dedicate to the profession and bring in the next generation of financial planners. That was something I really appreciated.
Learning on the job and in the classroom really compounded on each other and jump-started my learning.
While you were taking classes, you moved to your current employer, Waypoint Wealth Partners.
Going through the program and getting a deeper understanding about what the financial planning industry looks like, I realized that I wanted to switch to a firm that was primarily focused on financial planning, with less of a focus on active investment management. That’s when I decided to make the switch to Waypoint and began as a Client Service Associate.
I was able to take lessons learned in class and apply them to that position. Especially things like taxes, retirement income planning and estate planning were immediately applicable. For example, I was learning about all of the elements of estate planning and then went into the office and looked at our clients’ trusts and was able to understand more about why they were set up in a certain way and what it implied about the client’s intention for their money. Learning on the job and in the classroom really compounded on each other and jump-started my learning.
Shortly thereafter, I got promoted to my current position: Associate Wealth Manager. We have two founding partners and about 125 client relationships. I work with both founding partners and support about 50 of the firm’s clients. I do everything from meeting prep to putting analysis together; from creating planning scenarios to doing insurance reviews; from follow-up and helping clients track their finances; as well as staying on top of action items and our recommendations. I do the full breadth of financial planning.
Every piece of the Berkeley classes is being directly used in my current role. And it’s great to be at a firm that does comprehensive financial planning and to be able to see how everything that I learned is helping us serve our clients.
I am also co-leading our company’s financial-planning committee, which we just launched this year. It’s made up of me and one of the partners and where we address financial-planning topics that relate to our work. The base knowledge that I learned in the program has given me the confidence to take on that role and provide value to my firm by tackling research questions like: When the tax law changes, what does that mean and how will it impact our clients? When the big fires happened, insurance rules changed and so how are we incorporating that into our plans? The certificate gave me the foundation that I needed to be in that role—there’s always something new to learn!
In addition to providing financial advice to the fire survivors, you do a lot more work as the Pro Bono Director for SF FPA.
We also do Financial Planning Day in San Francisco, which is our biggest event of the year. We serve between 250 and 300 people in the community. I also organize and help put on other events, such as Financial Planning Days around the Bay Area, and I have a wonderful committee who helps me with this. I also help provide insight and support to the president and the board about the direction we think the association should be moving in.
You obviously have such a passion for this work.
There are a lot of amazing people I have connected with—either in class or through extracurricular events. Some of my best friends in the industry are those I met in class. All of the education and connections that I got with the certificate helped me get on this path and make wonderful connections in the industry.
It’s amazing to feel that I’ve found where I belong—in this career and the community of financial planners is where I feel at home.