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A positive view from inside the financial industry

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I am not the Gordon Gekko type of adviser. I do not aspire to have mega wealth. I don't need to be a "regular" at the finest restaurants, live in a mansion, have staff to look after me or my family, a fancy car and driver or wear designer clothes. I am what I believe to be the average investment adviser.

I work in the best interest of my clients and get paid to do so. I am paid for my intelligence and experience when it comes to investing.

There is much talk of professional advisers by do-it-yourself investors. Yes, it's true, with the advent of the Internet and online investment brokerages there are tools and means that allow an interested and informed investor to manage their own investments. But there is also the majority of people who cannot dedicate the time, nor afford the absence from their job, to manage their money. Keeping up with the news and constant changes in the financial world takes time. Staying current is key.

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Investment advisers are people earning a living by assisting others, just as lawyers, doctors, accountants, and therapists do. We give advice based on our knowledge and experience.

I periodically speak to an ethics class at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management. In this class of eager, young, potential finance professionals, I always ask this question: "When it comes to income, when is enough, enough?" The range of answers is from $75,000 to $800,000. The student that yells out the higher number always elicits snickers from their peers. I tell the students that everyone's answer is, and should be, different. The amount of income one earns is totally at their discretion in this business. You can earn as little or as much as you'd like. If your desire is to become a "big producer," are you willing to sacrifice other aspects of your life – such as less time at home, with your family, or on vacation? Being an investment adviser, like a portfolio, requires balance. And as individual as a person's portfolio balance is, so is an adviser's work-life balance.

As a female adviser in this industry I have been able to have the flexibility and freedom that allowed me to raise my four children without much outside help. I have been able to join in on class trips, be home when they are sick, and have dinner on the table before 7 p.m., while looking after my clients and hopefully making them feel as important to me as they truly are.

Being able to work from a home office gave me flexibility to balance my work and home responsibilities. Since the primary way to communicate with clients is by telephone, it really doesn't matter what environment you work in, as long as you are accessible when they need to reach you. Saving the commute time also helped. I would read the morning business news before my children woke, feed them breakfast and they would be out the door by 8:30 a.m. I would plan my day for the market open at 9:30 a.m. and work until the market close at 4 p.m. and be mom again as the kids walked in the door from school. In the evening I had my computer and all the resources to keep on top of research and economic reports. The regular routine worked well for us.

Do I make a large enviable income? Maybe. Maybe not. It's all relative. Have I sacrificed myself to the industry and lost my own morality? I certainly don't think so and I believe my loyal clients will concur.

The hype of high salaries and bonuses that do exist is the result of those on the outside looking in. Sure, we all dream when we see a fancy expensive car drive down the street, wishing it was ours. But when it comes right down to it, it's just a car.

Can the finance industry be toxic to one's moral fibre? Sure, if you let it. Just like any field there are always the extremists. It takes a strong person to fight the lure of being led to a "dark side." And, yes, over my 20-some years in the business, I've seen it, just as I've seen the headlines. Have I had a desire to join it? Nope. Not even an inkling.

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Just because I have the title of "Investment Adviser," it should not be assumed that is equated to "uber wealth." I am not out of touch with the realities of the real world, nor expect special treatment. I am hopefully part of a majority of the human race that is thoughtful, empathetic and caring. Like any business or industry there are good and bad eggs. Work can be as meaningful as you make it. And yes, it's true, if you like doing something, it's not really work.

When dealing with my clients, I feel it is important to take a vested interest in their lives. It gives me a better understanding of their needs and goals. With this knowledge, I can give better advice. To most advisers, clients are not just account numbers and an income. They are people that require specialized advice and advisers are the specialists in that field to give it.

Nancy Woods is an investment adviser living in Toronto.

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