Many of us were caught off guard when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Globally, the financial markets were unstable and the uncertainty trickled down from large corporations to smaller businesses to individuals. Thinking that we know how to weather a storm financially and actually understanding what needs to be done are two different things. Things someone skilled in financial planning—like Certificate Program in Personal Financial Planning graduate and lead adviser with North Berkeley Wealth Management Ariana Alisjahbana—can help us do.
Ariana is a rising star in the financial advising field, focusing on financial planning for those in life transitions: new job, new family, new career chapter or retirement. Her LinkedIn profile points out that she is a recent career changer who’s experienced how thoughtful and intentional financial planning have helped her live her best life and that she is drawn to helping others do the same.
Not shy about sharing her career-transition story from the tech industry, Ariana was previously featured during our Personal Financial Planning Career Night Event, as well as on New Planner Recruiting’s financial podcast. Her path from climate change and environmental policy as a career to marketing for technology companies, and now to financial planning, was a thoughtful consideration of her own needs and wants for her future that continues to resonate in her work as a personal financial planning adviser.
Let’s take a look at Ariana’s background in environmental policy and economics that led to her first career change to marketing, and how both paths have influenced the journey she is on now.
Developing Her Sustainable Future
Born in the Pacific Northwest, Ariana grew up in Indonesia with her family, many of whom are college professors. Overseas, she began to form her first dream career in environmental protection and economics.
“I saw firsthand how climate change was the defining challenge of my generation while also seeing how the world around me was rapidly developing,” Ariana recalls. “I also read a lot as a child and was frustrated that I couldn’t understand the business section of the newspaper.”
Quite a distance from her home in Indonesia, Ariana attended Boston University (BU) in Massachusetts for her undergraduate degree. “I picked economics as a major because I thought a major that could help me read the news surely would be helpful in some way!” she explains. “I added environmental policy as a second major after seeing Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth and loving my first environmental policy class.”
As for a career path, she was interested in sustainable development: the intersection between economic development and environmental protection. After graduating from BU in 2011, Ariana worked with the World Resources Institute, a global environmental research organization in Washington, D.C., for three years—and co-founded World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia. However, she soon realized that she wanted a career where she also had financial security. Even before she knew that financial planning was a career path, Ariana was doing it for herself and friends.
“I came to the United States for college when I was 17,” says Ariana. “I had to quickly learn how things worked and create a safety net for myself. The more I learned about and applied financial planning principles, the freer I was to do the things I wanted. As a result, I most enjoyed helping others feel a sense of relief coming from knowing that they’re going to be okay.”
Ariana notes in the New Planner podcast that after she had to navigate retirement and benefit plans at WRI, when it came time to consider graduate school she wanted to know more about what she saw on television in terms of the markets and money. She attended UC Berkeley Haas School of Business for an M.B.A and graduated in 2016.
But within two years of jumping into the tech marketing world at Alibaba, Ariana experienced burnout. By 2018, she needed to reset her life again. Then in 2019, she heard of the roles RIA (registered investment adviser) and CFP® (certified financial planner) as careers at a Grove Financial (now known as Wealthfront) customer networking happy hour. She also learned of our personal financial planning (PFP) certificate program.
“Colin Sidberry was the first CFP® I met, and although he had completed a different program, he knew about Extension’s PFP program because his colleague Ezra Berger was a graduate,” Ariana recalls from the RIA happy hour. “Since I had heard about the CFP® designation I was curious to learn more about it and the program.”
It took Ariana a little more than two years to research the field, options and opportunities, and to decide to make the switch to entry-level financial planning from marketing for tech companies. She planned the career transition in small turns that could expose her to different experiences and build connections. This included taking the PFP certificate courses one at a time while continuing to work a 9-to-5 job as product marketing manager for BrightPlan, a B2B Fintech company that provides access to financial planning for employees of large organizations.
“The beauty of a professional certificate program is how applied the curriculum is.”
Committed to Financial Education
Ariana says others who had completed our program advised her to take the introductory Survey of Personal Financial Planning course, and then if she liked it to take the next and so on. This is exactly what she did.
It didn’t hurt that her section of the survey course was taught by Daniel Lee, who became the foot-in-the-door connection into the field for Ariana.
“Daniel Lee’s Survey of Personal Financial Planning course had the biggest impact on me,” she commends. “Not only was he well-versed in the foundations of financial planning from his time at a large wealth-management firm, but he also had insights into where the industry was headed from spending time at a Fintech startup. Daniel was also relatable as a person. Having him as my first instructor gave me a positive view of the industry and made it easier for me to picture being a part of it.
“A few classes into the program, I joined Daniel to work at BrightPlan, where he is currently the director of financial planning and advice. I was working in the business side of the tech industry then, and I was exploring whether I wanted to make the full career switch into financial planning. Spending time on the marketing team at a company at the intersection of technology and financial planning was instrumental in my decision to eventually make a career switch.”
After she completed the first course, Ariana went on to gain skills and knowledge in:
In addition to those hard skills, Ariana appreciated that instructor Catherine Bradford in her Personal Financial Planning Capstone prepared students to understand the importance of the people skills and relationship-building needed for financial planning. The field isn’t just all about numbers; individual interpersonal experiences help build trust.
“By the time I took Catherine’s class, I knew from listening to industry podcasts that the hardest part of financial planning was the human side,” Ariana says. “The capstone class was the first time I had to put these concepts into practice in a financial planning meeting. There’s still so much to learn, but being able to practice as early as I did was helpful.”
Ariana continues to bring her education—including all the way back from her undergraduate studies—into her current career. With all that is going on in the world, it is helpful to be able to confidently advise her clients based on her cumulative knowledge and skills.
“At North Berkeley Wealth Management, the majority of our clients are interested in and are invested in screened portfolios that take into account Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors,” she tells me. “For example, clients who are not comfortable having shares in a company that extracts carbon reserves from the ground can choose a portfolio screening option that aligns with that.
“I use my background in business and economics, as well as environmental policy, to be able to share with clients what’s going on in the world and how it’s impacting their retirement and investment accounts. Being able to understand issues like extreme weather events and their impact on the stock market is powerful. I then use my financial planning training to share with clients what it means for their specific cases.”
No doubt, the wealth management firm and its clients appreciate Ariana’s diligence and applicable life experience.
Our PFP Program in the Community
“The UC Berkeley Extension network runs deep in the Bay Area financial planning world,” Ariana affirms.
“At my current firm, four out of eight advisers all graduated from the program!”
“Every practitioner in the area knows about the program and many are graduates. I was able to secure my past role at a financial planning Fintech startup and land my current position at North Berkeley Wealth Management thanks in part to the program’s strong network. For example, at my current firm, four out of eight advisers all graduated from the program!”
When it comes to personal financial planning, Ariana believes that each person brings a unique perspective to the job. This—combined with what our certificate program offers—sets students up for success in the field.
“From the varied backgrounds of instructors, classmates and alumni, I learned that there is no one way to be a financial planner. There are different business models, service models, styles and approaches out there. There is such a universal need for financial planning that there is enough business for everyone.”
Ariana adds, “The beauty of the professional certificate program is how applied the curriculum is. Because I finished the program before making the career switch, most of the planning work I do today I learned first at UC Berkeley Extension.”