Ashley Ott, CFP®, AIF®, partner at Vantage Point Financial, joined her firm in 2012 in a temporary role as a client services manager. Being at the time a recent graduate with a psychology degree from Harvard University, she quickly realized she loved working with clients and was delighted to transition to a full-time employee. Vantage Point Financial, a firm dedicated to gender balance, clients’ education, and independent financial advice, was the perfect fit for Ashley’s goals and passion for helping people. With the support and mentorship of Vantage Point’s president and founder, David Griswold, she embarked on an educational journey in economics, finance, and investments, eventually earning her industry designations and partnership role.
When speaking with Ashley, I found that her passion for engaging with people still runs strong, both professionally and personally. Below, she shares her experiences as a woman and next-gen adviser and how her firm has managed through the ongoing pandemic.
Q: What strengths do you bring to the table as a woman and next-gen advisor?
A: Millennial women are starting to take control of their financial futures and manage their own money and assets. I see this mindset in my current client base, which is probably about 15 percent millennials. Many of my next-gen clients are women who have a lot in common with me. They’re buying homes, having children, and starting to focus on the financial security of their families.
Being a woman advisor who shares these experiences is a huge bonus in onboarding clients and developing long-term relationships. Many women, whether younger or older, are more comfortable speaking with a woman advisor. Overall, in my experience, our women clients find it empowering to work with another woman.
Q: What’s the most important advice you would give to a young advisor?
A: To anyone starting in this business, I’d say don’t be afraid to fail and take every opportunity to meet people. When I entered the workforce 10 years ago, I was fearful of failing and hesitant to jump at opportunities. I was especially afraid of public speaking. One way I got through this was to teach a class in basic finance as an adjunct professor at Boston University—something I did for several semesters. I told my students that standing up there and talking was a nerve-wracking experience. Telling my students that with all honesty while standing in front of them helped me work through my fears.
Q: How does your business model help you balance work and family life?
A: I truly love what we do as advisors—helping clients achieve their goals. But I also love the flexibility this business provides. A few years ago, I opened a branch office in Seattle, Washington, to complement our main office in Boston, Massachusetts. My goal was to spend more time with my husband, who plays football for the Seattle Seahawks. Now, I work from home not only because of COVID-19 but also so I can see my seven-month-old son throughout the day. When I took time off for maternity leave, our clients were excited and cheered me on. Since then, I’ve become even more passionate about my work and the opportunity to help young families make smart, confident, and educated financial decisions.
Q: How did the pandemic affect your business?
A: Surprisingly, our business thrived—2020 was the firm’s strongest growth year to date. From the start of the pandemic, we saw increased demand for financial planning. For many clients, the lockdowns were an opportunity to take a good look at their finances. They finally had the time to sit down and make a financial review a priority. Many clients even enjoyed it! Despite the uncertainty, they appreciated the chance to track how they were doing financially against their goals and really dive into overall planning.
Q: Did your firm’s use of technology change in 2020?
A: Due to our business model, my colleagues and I were already comfortable using Zoom well before the pandemic hit. We have offices on both coasts—I’m primarily located in Seattle, and my partner is based in Boston. We have a license to operate in 26 states, so Zoom technology was perfect for connecting with our associates and clients across the country. We began to use Zoom more than three years ago. So you might say our firm was as ready as possible for the big shift to virtual.
One change, though, is that I’m starting to do virtual networking and prospecting. Before the pandemic, I organized Finance 101 meetings for groups of 5 to 10 women at someone’s home. We’d have wine and cheese and get to know each other. I’d share tips and basic knowledge about financial planning, with no questions considered too simple. Because of the pandemic, I’ve started holding meetings like this on Zoom. It’s a good option for now and might generate clients just like the in-person meetings did.
Q: How did your clients respond to the changes last year?
A: Before the pandemic, the majority of clients preferred to meet in person. With the lockdowns in place, convincing clients to use Zoom got a lot easier, of course. But once they got started, Zoom’s convenience and simplicity made a lot of converts. I’m sure some clients will want to continue meeting virtually.
Q: How do you stay connected with your community?
A: I was a hockey player when growing up and throughout college. Before the pandemic, I enjoyed supporting young people interested in the sport by coaching youth hockey at two local schools. And, also pre-pandemic, I kept my competitive fire up by participating in a local men’s hockey league, which has only one other woman player. The camaraderie I’ve experienced with my teammates has been a real eye-opener, demonstrating how much men enjoy sharing stories about their families and personal concerns. It’s a common misperception to think only women are interested in exploring their emotional sides.
Q: Why do you stay with Commonwealth?
A: I can sum that up in a few words: the Commonwealth community. Commonwealth does a great job of fostering relationships. Our community is unique because it’s not competitive—people want to collaborate and share best practices. As an advisor, you can be anywhere in the country and work with other Commonwealth advisors to have a larger presence. When I first came to Seattle, I reached out to other Commonwealth advisors, and the response was, “How can I help you?” I love being able to pass on that community commitment.