Managing Good Fortune: A Life in Financial Planning with Elissa Buie (McIntire '82)

June 6, 2019

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Elissa Buie
In support of the McIntire School’s mission to promote a diverse and richly competitive workforce across the business marketplace, we are committing to highlight important achievements of women working in the financial services sector. According to Forbes, women comprise nearly half of financial service employees but account for only 15% of executives, despite the fact that women investors routinely outperform their male counterparts. Furthermore, financial data company Preqin has found that only 9% of private equity investment team positions are held by women, and that only 4% of women on hedge fund portfolio management teams ever reach senior investment roles. At McIntire, women represent 43% of the average class at enrollment, and 33% choose Finance as a concentration, with the financial services sector offering some of the highest paying jobs for new Commerce graduates. Dedicated to transforming and elevating the finance industry, the McIntire School provides a robust educational foundation for our students interested in the field.

 

For a remarkably accomplished financial planner, professor, trustee, and mentor, Elissa Buie will be the first to tell you that she has been fortunate.

In the spring of 1982, armed with her McIntire B.S. in Commerce degree and a concentration in Finance, she left Grounds intending to forge a career in the corporate world. But at that time, one defined by a slumping economy and high unemployment rates, Buie took a position temping for a small brokerage firm. That choice was the first that led her on the path to success in the field of financial planning.

“I was just at the right place at the right time, with talented people around me,” she says. Some of those individuals were salespeople who left the firm to form their own company—and Buie was invited to join them. “One of my mentors, the due diligence officer, was a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, and I became interested in the whole concept of CFP® coursework. The CFP existed, but very few people knew what financial planning was. I was then getting my M.B.A. and met a professor who taught a financial planning course, and it all came together. It was a natural progression.”

Her mastery in the area resulted in the new firm empowering Buie to spearhead a financial planning arm, which she instituted before pursuing another opportunity. “That was back in the tax shelter days,” she recalls, “and people were moving on, so I moved on to a larger firm that did full-on financial planning for a handful of years.”

Gathering experience and sharpening her acumen, Buie felt inspired to start her own firm in 1993, Financial Planning Group, which she led for 15 years.

Then, after getting married in 2006, she became President and CEO of Yeske Buie, the company she runs today with her husband and fellow CFP, Dr. Dave Yeske. And as their wealth management firm has flourished, the couple has also co-taught “Cases in Financial Planning” for nine years at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

Considering her other longstanding roles with the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and the Foundation for Financial Planning, it becomes clear what kind of powerhouse Buie is within her chosen field. And in addition to what she humbly attributes to the luck of timing and generosity of mentors, she also credits the foundational knowledge she acquired in the Commerce School.

“McIntire was just a really solid education. Finance, marketing, management, accounting—I use all of those things running my business today,” she says. “I’m probably one of the few finance people who can actually look at the books and understand dual-entry bookkeeping because the accounting courses were so good. The education at McIntire is very diverse. I still use what I learned from my marketing classes, my management classes.”

We recently spoke to Buie about her extraordinary career, her experiences within her area of expertise, and the many ways she continues to shape the future of financial planning.

What has been your mission regarding financial planning? What’s guided you along your career path?
Here’s the thing: I like to be a joiner. I tend to get more out of an organization if I join a committee. I did that with what was previously the Institute of Certified Financial Planners (ICFP), which merged with the International Association for Financial Planning (IAFP) to create the Financial Planning Association back in 2000. The minute I got my CFP, I volunteered for the local ICFP chapter.

Financial planning is interesting: It’s people who have a real desire to mix, using their left brain and right brain. It’s people who really like numbers and finance, but they also don’t want to sit at a desk and crunch numbers all of the time. They want to meet clients and build relationships. That aspect tends to lend itself to the people in the profession who are very giving.

I had lots of mentors and lots of help along the way—people who were willing to give. I remember when I was starting my own firm, I called a handful of friends of mine in the profession and asked if I could visit them for a day and just stare over their shoulders to see how their firms worked. People had me staying at their homes and taking me out to dinner, and then I spent all day with them and their staff. It was really incredible. People were bearing their souls with no fear of competition. There’s a lot of help along the way. You hang out with people who are passionate about the profession, doing a really great job, and it rubs off on you.

It’s a wonderful profession and a ton of responsibility. The work is probably second only to the work someone does with their doctor or their clergy. I’m not sure it gets more significant. And I’m not saying money is the be-all and end-all of life, but it’s important to understand money in order to live a good life and make the most of what you have.

What do you think about the role of women in financial services in 2019? What opportunities does the industry offer women—and what do you think it could be doing better?
We’re struggling with it, and diversity is a major focus of the financial planning profession. We can’t quite figure out what’s going on: Women are shy of just about 25% of the profession. It’s such a flexible job. You can work 80 or 90 hours a week, or you can choose to have some work-home life balance. I don’t want to be “genderist,” but that does often tend to appeal to women, particularly young women who are thinking about having families.

We’re not sure what’s causing so few women to enter the field. You can even see it in the students—we track the number of students going into programs. It might be a little more than 25%, but only 25% or so are females coming out. I don’t have an answer, except to note that the profession is very clear that there are great opportunities for women in financial planning and the major organizations are working diligently to address it.

Let’s talk about teaching. How did you get involved in it, and what do you enjoy most about it?
My husband, who’s been a teacher at Golden Gate University for decades, got me into it. He’s now director of their financial planning program. In his spare time. He also runs the business with me and about 10 other things.

I’ve been a financial planner for 35 years, and I have some pretty strong opinions about what financial planning should look like: that it has a human dimension and is every bit as much a technical career. So I like to teach students the way I think they should think about financial planning.

It’s interesting that in the estate planning course I am currently developing, the textbook has no chapter on discovery or getting to know the client. You can’t do someone’s estate plan without really understanding who they are. Students have to learn the technical, but they also need the human dimension.

You shoulder a great many responsibilities. How does your expertise as a Foundation for Financial Planning trustee and as a dean for the FPA’s Residency Program inform the work you do at Yeske Buie or teaching at Golden Gate University?
The Foundation of Financial Planning has some of the most powerful people in the financial services industry on the board, the likes of people running the institutional sides of Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, and Schwab. You’re just hanging with the best of the best—not to mention, really great financial planners and people representing all parts of financial services. It’s a bonus. It’s a great benefit to be in all of these organizations.

My work with FPA, the Foundation, and Golden Gate and at our company do influence each other. I was president of the ICFP the year we decided to merge the organizations, which is the kind of thing that someone who runs a firm my size doesn’t often get the opportunity to do. I met the chair of the SEC. And a friend of mine who was ICFP president after me testified before Congress. You really get exposed to a lot of great stuff.

Most of my friends are in financial planning. My husband and I got married in 2006, and virtually everyone at our wedding was a financial planner in one way or another. It’s our life and how we met each other, too—on this FPA board. It’s been a huge part of my life, and it was a great decision to be involved.

You’ve received many honors over the years for your abilities as a top adviser—including the P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award for lifetime achievement. To what do you attribute your lasting success, and what do you hope your legacy will be?
The P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award is the greatest honor. I knew Kemp for about six months before he died. His son is actually one of my closest friends. The late Dick Wagner, who nominated me, was probably my biggest and most important mentor in the profession.

My lasting success? To some degree, I think it’s because I’m not afraid to say what I think. I have strong opinions about this profession, and I share them. Sometimes people listen, and sometimes they think I’m nuts. That’s fine, too. I guess it’s not being afraid to show up and have an opinion about things. I’ve had people say to me after a foundation board meeting, “Wow, you were on fire today.” Well, something grabbed me. And the next time, I might be really quiet.

I think the people who have done well in this profession are willing to take risks. They’re willing to go through times when things might be lean in exchange for the times when it’s not so lean and things are going well.

What advice can you offer students interested in following your footsteps into a career in financial planning?
The profession is ripe for new young people. There are so many people in their late 50s, 60s, and even early 70s who have no succession plan.

The young people who do best coming into this profession are the ones who are willing to take some risk. Getting a job at a small financial planning firm is not the same as getting a job at a bank or any other larger financial services firm. Many firms do not have written career paths or a career ladder, so a young person who wants to come in can make that happen for the firm. They could be the one coming up with the career path, but they’re going to have to be able to take a bit of a blind leap to do so because it’s not there yet.

Financial planning is such a great world to be in, but it’s not mature yet by any stretch. If someone wants to do it, they’re just going to have to be willing to take a bit of a breath, probably tell their mom and dad that, yes, they do have health insurance, but that might be the only benefit they have at the small firm. And they won’t know what the future looks like, but if it doesn’t work out, they’ll be well-educated, and there are other opportunities. The odds are that it will be a great career for them if they take that risk and seek out someone whose value system and personality they connect with.