The world of finance has undergone a major transformation in recent years.
In banking and financial advising alike, the old-school notion of finances being nothing but a steady stream of cold figures and indifferent statistics has been evolving into a more holistic perspective, one that puts relationships at the forefront.
To get a look at where things stand today, we sought out the perspectives — the advice, the driving philosophies and the defining moments — of four women, each of whom is setting the tone for the future of Greenville’s financial environment in the coming decade.
Co-founder, Novus Advisors
Alma mater: Wheaton College
Started career as: HR intern for Motorola
Best advice: “If you learn business, you can create anything you want. I’ve always had a creative mindset growing up. What I didn’t realize is that entrepreneurship is one of the most creative things you can enter in life.”
Spends free time: Traveling and attending arts events
In the span of one year, Jennifer Belshe had a baby, got divorced and started a new job that was based 100% on commission.
“It was crazy,” she says now, seated in the downtown offices of Novus Advisors, the registered investment advisor firm she co-founded. “Everything relied on what I was able to bring in. You just had to go out and do it.”
In Belshe’s view, some people are more suited for taking risks, and she’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s the same spirit that drove her, just two years after that pivotal moment in her career, to co-found Novus.
“You get some butterflies along the way, no doubt,” she says. “But I had created some contacts, specifically in the retirement planning space. I knew that if I formed this RIA I would have success right away because of these opportunities. So that takes a little of the edge off, but still, you don’t really understand all that’s required in running a business until you’re in it.
In her words, she “jumped in with two feet” and, despite the risk, believed in herself and knew that if she worked hard, she could be successful.
For anyone considering a similar entrepreneurial leap, her advice is succinct: “Do it.”
In hindsight, the birth of her son and the beginning of her career without a safety net happened to coincide: a combination that could’ve proved disastrous. Yet Belshe now calls both life-changing events as the best things that have ever happened to her.
These days, she doesn’t have to worry about getting approval to work a flexible schedule in order to, for instance, go to her son’s soccer games or school functions. She just asks the boss if it’s OK, which is rendered far easier by the fact that she herself is the boss.
“Being your own boss has a lot of responsibility, but at the same time, it has a lot of freedom,” Belshe says. “I really enjoy that, but I also enjoy employing other people and seeing how a structure that I have developed has given opportunities for people to take care of their families and build their businesses.”
Belshe says the current financial and entrepreneurial climate is prime for young women, especially here in Greenville.
“Right now, only about 20 percent of financial advisors are female,” she says. “And I think there’s a great need, as there’s an ongoing wealth transfer that’s happening, with women on trend to accumulate more wealth than ever before. Everyone has different skill sets, and while I don’t think it’s necessarily related to gender, I do know that women have strengths, and now is the time where they can really differentiate themselves.”
Partner, Nachman Norwood & Parrott
Alma mater: Vanderbilt University
Started career as: Trainee at First Union Bank
Best advice: “It never feels easy. There will be tough challenges and crazy times along the way. Set priorities and learn to balance things as they come.”
Spends free time: Exercising, nature hikes and spending time with family
Maura Copsey, partner at the Nachman Norwood & Parrott wealth management consultancy, once had to sit down with a client and walk through with her, in a detailed fashion, the plan for dealing with her husband’s death.
“I say that in our jobs, we really should have counseling degrees as well,” Copsey says. “That sounds like a joke or that I’m being dismissive, but I mean it sincerely.”
Money is tethered to all aspects of life, from the joyous to the tragic, she says. That client, for example — with whom Copsey had been working for many years — had just learned about her husband’s terminal pancreatic cancer. The two of them sat together and worked through the financial arrangements for when he would be gone. And after his death, Copsey helped this client get through her long mourning period. Then, years later, Copsey was still there when this client fell in love again and was getting married.
Whether it’s planning for a funeral or planning for a wedding, she says finances are always in play.
“There is so much anxiety in the world,” Copsey says. “If we can alleviate that, then that’s a good day for us.”
Copsey herself had her share of anxiety along the way. After all, major life events, she says, rarely work out exactly as planned. Back in the late ’90s, when she was pregnant with her second child, Copsey was laid off from her stable position at First Union Bank after 10 years on the job.
After a period of uncertainty, she managed to find a position working alongside Bob Nachman and Ben Norwood, who founded Nachman Norwood & Parrott with now-retired John Parrott. But with two young children to care for, Copsey knew in a few years that she would want a more-flexible schedule to spend time with them. Before joining the team, she made sure to be upfront about that.
“Back then, that was unusual, but I think now times have changed and there’s much more of a focus on work-life balance,” Copsey says. “Companies understand that people don’t exist solely to work.”
Whether caring for young children or aging parents, employees who get a chance to finesse their schedules to meet their needs are more loyal and determined, Copsey says, and that’s much more beneficial for companies in the long run.
“I feel like the culture now is such that you can be flexible and still succeed at whatever level you’re striving for,” she says. “Have the conversation.”
From her perspective, the key driver of that change is not so much cultural as it is technological. With the advent of the digital age, employees are no longer tethered to their desks. They can perform their duties outside of the office, on varying schedules.
On the same note, clients who once relied on advisers like Copsey can now find a range of advisement with a few keystrokes or taps on their smartphones. Therefore, what separates successful companies, she says, are the interpersonal relationships that are nourished along the way and the amount of investment made in the individual.
“More than anything, that’s what our job is all about,” Copsey says.
President, United Community Bank
Alma mater: University of South Carolina
Started career as: Summertime bank teller at Carolina First Bank
Best advice: “Work really hard and do your very best at the job that you have right now. Don’t focus so hard on what your next is, but really do your current job well and be the best that you can be at it.”
Spends free time: Exercising and going to football games
Michelle Seaver, president of United Community Bank, likes to stress the importance of getting enough sleep — if only because she can remember the days when she didn’t get nearly enough of it herself.
“I went back to work with a 3-month-old,” Seaver says of her early days as a working mother. “Got about four hours of sleep a night, so that wasn’t so great.”
Looking back, now that she’s spent the past six years as a bank president with a spacious office in the downtown location of United Community Bank, Seaver isn’t sure what her younger, sleep-deprived self would say if she could see her now.
“Maybe just, ‘Wow,’” Seaver says.
The journey has been a long one, but patience paid off in the end.
Seaver got her first summer job as a bank teller at Carolina First Bank. Working at the bottom rung of the organization, she never could’ve imagined she’d one day be a bank president.
“We all go through different phases,” she says. “Everybody has their own path. No one path is right or wrong. The important thing is to work as hard as you can along the way and to stay patient.”
She began working her way up through the bank, taking management training in college, then setting roots in Greenville as a branch manager for Carolina First’s Cleveland Street office.
Seaver had plenty of doubt along the way too.
“I think everybody has to deal with that, if they’re being real with themselves,” she says.
Even as all her friends with whom she’d gone to high school in Greenville were now rushing off to big cities like Atlanta or Charlotte, North Carolina, Seaver was determined to invest herself in Greenville and to do what she could to make it a better place.
“I was brought up in the banking world of you being a part of your community,” Seaver says. “I’ve been living here now for over 30 years. Where I live is important to me. It’s my personal foundation.”
Change is inevitable, of course, even for those who stay in the same community, Seaver says. But when mentoring her younger employees — the tellers, for instance, with whom she can relate, given her own start as a teller — she tells them to be open-minded to change.
“Try to see the good in it,” she says, “because if you focus your energy solely on the difficulties of change, you might very well miss out on how much good can come of it.”
Seaver says the biggest change in her life — bigger even than becoming bank president — was becoming a mother, which brought its own set of doubts.
“I wanted to make sure that my children never felt shafted because I worked,” she says. “But when you’re in those years where you’re just trying to survive, you can get caught up in wanting to be everything to everyone, and you can fail to take care of yourself. I’ve learned most of all that if I want to succeed, I take some time for myself.”
In other words, she says, make sure to prioritize some time for exercise, for moments of solitude, for relaxation.
And be sure to get some sleep.
Retail market president, TD Bank
Alma mater: Rutgers University
Started career as: Nighttime bank teller
Best advice: “Don’t ever forget where you came from. And don’t be afraid to raise your hand. Ask questions. Seek out a mentor.”
For Linda McGuigan, retail market president for TD Bank, there are certain moments throughout her career that stand out.
There were the early days, of course, working the night shift as a part-time teller at the bank’s drive through window. Although that first job was “a very long time ago,” McGuigan still remembers how much she enjoyed that work, because it was there in that drive-through window when she realized that people skills are really the foundation of banking.
Those same skills would move her from part-time teller to head teller, before she progressed to assistant branch manager, senior store manager, retail market manager vice president, and all the way up to retail market president, where she now oversees banks in five states in the metro and mid-South markets.
She is, in other words, at the top of her field. But it turns out, one of the most shining moments in her career didn’t take place in a bank at all.
“It was at the Peace Center — the opening night of the Holiday Nutcracker ballet several years ago,” McGuigan says.
It was McGuigan’s first large event in partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and on the stage walked out a very young man named Peter. Born in the Upstate, all his life Peter had dealt with a number of physical and mental challenges, as well as health problems. But by some twist of fate, Peter was also able play classical music on the piano with an amazing level of skill, despite having never taken a single lesson.
“Peter’s greatest dream in life was to play a baby grand piano,” McGuigan says. “We were able to find a piano for him, and when he came out onstage, we made it so the piano rose out of the floor.”
Peter had thought he was just there to play the piano, but at the end of his rendition, it was revealed that the piano was his to keep.
“In the entire packed house, there was not a dry eye,” McGuigan says. “Peter passed away a few years ago, but I still have a picture of him playing that night. It was such a magical moment. I think about Peter all the time.”
To encompass a decades-long career in banking with a story of a boy playing a piano would seem an odd choice for McGuigan, but time and time again, when asked about the high points of her career, she always refers back to the people she’s been able to help along the way.
“That’s where I’ve felt like I’ve contributed value,” she says. “It’s not about sitting at a desk reading spreadsheets, although that’s certainly a part of the job. But communicating what that spreadsheet means, spending time with people, driving hours to help one of your employees with career counseling — just paying it forward and supporting people in any way you can. Things have changed dramatically since I started my career, but that part never has. And I think it never will.”