The accidental financial planner

May 18, 2023 Kristin Meza
Experiencing financial hardships in life at an early age led Alicia Vande Ven to discover financial planning as a second career path.

Alicia Vande Ven’s path toward a career in financial planning began only after a successful first chapter of her career in human resources and after taking time to raise her kids.

Her path wasn’t a straight line, but finances had had a powerful influence on her life that set her on this course, long before she ever knew financial planning was even a profession.

Affected by finance early in life

Growing up, Alicia watched her mom struggle with money and declare bankruptcy due to medical debt.

By high school Alicia was financially independent. She worked her way through college by taking advantage of government loans and grants. During this time, Alicia took an elective personal finance class and mastered Excel to meticulously budget her student loans and wages so she wouldn’t run out of money before the end of the semester, eventually earning a degree in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

“At that point I didn’t know that financial planning was a profession. I thought financial services only entailed selling insurance or investments and I knew that was something that I didn’t want to do,” said Alicia.

Armed with a degree from four years of college and with a summer spent cold calling for car insurance under her belt, Alicia’s first job out of college was working in human resources for a healthcare software company. After that, she spent 10 years as a stay-at-home mom.

However, it was dealing with the financial fallout from her grandmother passing away that ultimately led Alicia to pursue graduate school and enter the financial planning profession.

Alicia’s grandmother had left the remainder of her retirement savings, managed by a lawyer with a brokerage license, to Alicia’s mother and her two siblings. Going it alone, Alicia’s mother was unknowingly paying high fees and sales charges and Alicia was left trying to help guide her through understanding the investments she had inherited which weren’t appropriate for her. At Alicia’s urging, her mom found a fee-only financial planner.

“Dealing with finances under the best of circumstances can be overwhelming. Supporting my own mother through the loss of my grandmother and the financial implication that came along with the loss of a loved one was when I realized that I had this desire to help others and share my knowledge,” said Alicia.

Alicia said she read about the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation and learned of the rigorous requirements for education and experience to become certified. “This, to me, was the holy grail of financial planning,” explained Alicia. “It just clicked, and I knew that this is what I wanted to become. I researched education programs and applied to Kansas State to earn my master’s degree in Personal Financial Planning.” She also started volunteering as a Financial Coach.

Going back to work after nearly 11 years was an exciting and daunting prospect. And it was also a career change. 

“I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I didn’t have to work,” said Alicia. “My desire to reenter the workforce had more to do with my need to get out of the house (especially after COVID), be intellectually challenged, and have a positive impact on the lives and finances of others. Financial planning, done right, is a helping profession, and I couldn’t wait to help people.”

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Demographic shifts are changing the landscape

There are many ways to look at the term diversity, but career changers offer the unique experience of another area of expertise and way of thinking. Career changers extend across gender, culture, and generations.

Walkner Condon Financial Advisors embodies this. Few at the firm have come from the traditional finance path. The firm is made up of former lawyers, professors, engineers, and the non-profit space.

Like many firms, Walkner Condon was growing quickly, and knew that within the next couple of years it would be approaching a client-servicing challenge.

While not actively recruiting, Clint Walkner, founding partner of Walker Condon, tapped Schwab’s RIAConnect to peruse potential candidates—and that’s where Alicia’s profile came up.

Clint said he saw Alicia had just passed her CFP and obtained her master’s degree. Being a career changer along with her education in personal finance and pursuit of a CFP designation, showed Clint she was very serious about this field and could be a perfect fit for the firm.

“Two words: life experience! I loved the fact that Alicia took time off to raise her kids after leaving a very successful first chapter of her career,” said Clint. “When she was ready to return to the workforce full-time, she obtained the knowledge necessary to hit the ground running before she started looking for firms to join. That just says so much about who she is as a person.”

Clint Walkner and Alicia Vande Ven pictured at Schwab's IMPACT conference.

Alicia Vande Ven and Clint Walkner at Schwab's IMPACT conference.

Why financial planning is appealing to more career changers

For some career changers, getting a job in the financial advice industry can be an attractive option for various reasons. 

Schwab’s 2022 RIA Benchmarking Study1 found that compensation is still the most valued benefit, while some things considered more-traditional benefits (retirement plans, medical insurance) are merely table stakes. With the Covid-19 pandemic leading to greater flexibility, combined with the changing demographics of the workforce, non-traditional benefits such as unlimited PTO, flexible work arrangements and remote work have become increasingly more important.

Firm culture, career pathing and professional development, and flexibility have come more into focus. According to the study, 70% of firms offer remote work, 66% offer flexible work schedules, and nearly 20% of firms offer unlimited PTO, two times more than five years ago.

“I don’t think I came into this career thinking there would be a lot of flexibility or work/life balance, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the flexibility and balance that it has offered,” said Alicia. “I come into the office most days and I enjoy the close-knit environment, but I have the flexibility to work from home on days that I need to as well. Our firm is on the younger side, so many others here have younger kids and are in the same place as me trying to balance the responsibilities of work and home life.”

“There are lots of challenges in finding new talent, particularly because it seems like there are two paths—you identify really bright people with very little direct financial planning experience and you spend time [and resources] training them, or you take someone who has experience that is looking to make a move. The inexperienced person is going to take a lot of time and effort, and you must be willing to support them [at an economic loss] for as long as it takes if they are a good fit,” said Clint.

A big part of that is simply creating more awareness of the RIA profession and creating pathways to the industry.

Awareness of the RIA profession is low outside the industry, yet interest grows the more people know about it.

“Recruiting is mostly a word-of-mouth exercise, which is helpful for finding experienced advisors. This can be a bit of a challenge when you are seeking - candidates with varied experience, transferable skills, and diverse candidates, which is where tools like Schwab’s RIAConnect -program can be particularly useful,” said Clint.

Looking for new talent?

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