Lori R. Sackler, a senior investment management consultant and the first vice president of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, has over 20 years of experience counseling high net worth individuals, business owners and families on their financial affairs. The recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, Sackler hosts “The ‘M’ Word: Money, Family and Communication” on New York’s WOR 710 radio and has written articles for numerous financial publications. Recently, BC THE MAG’s writer Hillary Viders spoke with Sackler about money matters in her Paramus office.
BC: What attracted you to the world of finance?
LS: Because of my training and experience as a musician, I’ve always enjoyed analytics and being able to measure and quantify, and at the same time, have an outlet for creativity. Finance provides me with that. In addition, I was attracted to the opportunity to help others while providing a degree of financial independence for my family and I. Being an advisor is a perfect option for a woman who wants to fill multiple roles—wife, mother, professional and volunteer, and have the flexibility to do so.
BC: What personal qualities allowed you to “break through that glass ceiling?”
LS: I’ve always been a focused, determined and persistent person in any endeavor that I’ve pursued. I’m always trying to improve my skill set and adapt to changes around me. Those are very important qualities that you need to succeed in any profession and they are even more important for a woman in the financial world.
BC: Have you had mentors or role models?
LS: Not really. At various financial institutions where I worked, I sought out colleagues that I admired and wanted to emulate. Over the years, I observed, asked questions and learned from trial and error. Now, I am very interested and active in providing mentorship to other young women entering the field.
BC: Will more women be entering the investment field at the executive level over the next decade?
LS: It doesn’t look like it. The amount of women on Wall Street is currently in decline as well as the numbers of women represented on corporate boards. A recent survey reported that in the last decade, 141,000 women left Wall Street whereas 389,000 men entered, and the number of young women (ages 20-24) entering Wall Street dropped 22 percent. (Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2010)
BC: Why is this happening?
LS: I’m not sure, but the investment business is a tough world requiring resolve in the face of fear around you and sticking to a plan when clients get emotional and want to make changes at the wrong time. Women are hardwired to be nurturing and care giving, not tough. So, women often find corporate America hostile and Wall Street a hostile place to work. It’s a real problem.
BC: How much has the field of finance changed in the last 20 years?
LS: Tremendously! Compliance (making sure that government regulations are enforced) is much more rigorous. Also, technology has advanced dramatically. Because of computer technology, which is constantly evolving, we can offer clients a much wider range of investment resources than ever before. Another significant change is that dealing with people’s trust of financial institutions has become a bigger issue.
BC: Has trust become an issue because of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme scandal?
LS: There is no question that this unnerved people. I call it the “Madoff Effect,” and I did an entire show about it. After Madoff, no one trusted anybody! Clients everywhere were asking their advisors, “What are you doing to protect my money?” and this is a legitimate question. The problem was that many of the individuals and investment firms that invested with Madoff did not do enough due diligence. Ironically, the Madoff fiasco has been a boon for me, as part of what clients are looking for more than ever is the due diligence that we provide as part of our consulting process.
BC: What advice do you give people who are reluctant to invest?
LS: I tell them to just remember some basic principles: lots of diversification (although it does not guarantee a profit or protect against a loss) based on individual goals, objectives and risk tolerance across a broad range of asset classes. I also advise people to work with an experienced, knowledgeable and trusted advisor.
BC: Aside from problems caused by Madoff, we are living in difficult economic times. Do you agree? LS: It is a challenging time for many Americans. College graduates are having a hard time finding jobs; many people are out of work and suffering; the housing market is still floundering. Some people refer to this as the Great Recession, the worst downturn since the Great Depression. However, at the same time the employment numbers are improving and companies are experiencing better than expected profits. It will take time to come out of this, but I am optimistic. I am reading Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, the French philosopher who lived in this country and wrote about the American spirit in 1820, which still rings true today: “Americans picked at random, are enterprising, adventurous and above all innovative.”
BC: On “The ‘M’ Word: Money, Family and Communication,” you counsel families about money. Why are money and finance difficult topics for families to discuss?
LS: Because money is tied up with our self-esteem. Americans are focused on making and having money. De Tocqueville writes about this also. Money matters also involve questions around trust, values and control. “What do you when Mom or Dad is unable to physically and mentally manage their lives and need for the children to intercede?” Here’s another scenario: “What if you have lost your job or are working at a reduced salary and the budget has to be adjusted for the family? How do you deal with some of the shame and disappointment and shot to your self-esteem?” These are tough conversations that involve giving up control and they require some skill and understanding of the psychological factors involved. Another very common situation is that of creating or revising estate plans: parents have to ask themselves tough questions like, “Which kids can we trust with the responsibility that goes hand in hand with an inheritance and preserving the estate vs. losing it?”
BC: So, in essence, your show teaches families how to have conversations about money.
LS: Yes. On the show I speak with distinguished guests about money issues that clients are facing in the wake of the recession and during different stages in life. I explain how to have successful conversations around these topics with your family members.
BC: In your experience, are husbands or wives better at handling day-to-day household financial matters?
LS: It really varies. Statistics show that more women than men now are CFOs of their families and therefore handling day-to-day matters. However, I also see very independent successful women deferring to men to take care of the family finances. Division of labor is a key to the successful American family.
BC: Do the families that you counsel have “Aha!” breakthrough moments?
LS: Yes, but they are not necessarily as dramatic as you’d see on an episode of Oprah. For example, I had a client whose mother was suffering from Alzheimers and I was able to get the family to address it and deal with it. I also had a family who had suffered severe business and financial reversals in the recent economic downturn and I was able to convince them to change their spending habits, which made a big difference in their lives.
BC: Your work schedule is intense. How do you make time for family and friends?
LS: It helps to have an amazing family! I have a wonderful husband, Michael, who is completely supportive and proud of everything I do. He is my trusted advisor and counsel on the various challenges that I have experienced along the way. I have two fabulous kids, Eliot and Henry, whom I adore, and they keep me on my toes. They tease me and humble me. We are a very close family and we travel and spend a lot of time together.
BC: How do you keep your energy in high gear?
LS: It is all about being organized and focused. My schedule is busy, but I take great care of myself. I do a lot of yoga, eat healthy, make sure I rest and take plenty of supplements. I work very hard, but I play hard also. I make sure that I carve out plenty of time for fun activities with family and friends. I attend shows and opera, and I volunteer for numerous projects and organizations. My pet project now is helping the local JCC on the Palisades launch a new planned giving campaign. I hope to get more involved in mentoring women in finance and helping to advance women in politics.
BC: What are some of your future plans?
LS: I love to travel. For the last 10 years, my family and I have been traveling overseas and taking one big vacation a year. Last summer, we were in Egypt and Jordan; this summer, we are going rafting down the Colorado River. Next summer I want to go to South America and start to visit continents not yet discovered. I also plan to re-launch the “M Word” show when the book I’m working on now is launched. (NOTE: You can view episodes of “The M Word” on Lori Sackler’s website www.wor710.com/themword.)
Hillary Viders, Ph.D., is an award-winning writer who has published numerous articles for various magazines and has authored and contributed to more than 24 books, scripts and newsletters.