Op-ed: To build a career as a woman in finance, ‘you must want it more than you fear it’

Bryn Talkington
Key Points
  • Bryn Talkington started her career in the 90s, pitching stocks over the phone.
  • She moved on to a career at UBS Asset Management, working closely with financial advisors and educating clients on the realities of investing. She eventually became a managing partner at Requisite Capital Management.
  • Fear of leaving what you know can keep you from growing professionally.

I began my career in finance in 1994.

My first job in finance had a description like the one below:

  • Make 250+ cold calls a day. Most people will hang up on you or yell at you, while you are working in a back room with about 15 other people.
  • Once you get seven "warm leads" that turn into clients, you can get out of the back room.
  • If you make it onto a team, you will continue to make those 250+ calls a day, but those leads will go to your team leader. You will start studying for your stockbroker's license.
  • Salary $1,100/month, long hours, and a dropout rate of ~70%. 

I think one of the biggest reasons there weren't many women stockbrokers in the 90s is that most women would see that job description and have the common sense to say, "why would I want to do that?"

In 1994, there were no "wealth advisors," "financial planners" or any other of the 100 descriptions that real advisors call themselves today.

There was one title: stockbroker. We did one thing: pitch stocks.

In the 90s we brought on new clients by cold calling. Your success was based on your abilities over the phone. You needed two ingredients: a true belief in yourself and an ability to talk on the phone.

At the peak, our office had 50 to 60 people either being a stockbroker or wanting to become one. I always felt it was a benefit that I was one of two or three women. It gave me an opportunity to stand out.  

Entering the "ring of fire"

Closing the board seat gender gap
Closing the board seat gender gap

Once I made it onto a team, I realized I wanted to run my own team. First, I had to overcome the "ring of fire."

The president of the company would come to our office. Everyone gathered in a big circle, and when he called your name you went into the middle to role play. He was the client, and we had to pitch him our best stock idea.

This went on for what seemed an eternity but was probably only seven minutes. If you did not convince him, then these seven minutes would be one of the most humbling experiences of your life.

I blew it the first time I entered "the ring." The president had a loud voice and sounded like the most aggressive used-car salesman. I was not going to run a team if I could not play this game. Period.

I had no intention of failing, but when I did, I didn't let it rattle my core. No one would have cared if I never got into "the ring" again. There were 10 to 15 other people ready to get in there and make a name for themselves.

You must want it more than you fear it.

Overcoming your fears

Bryn Talkington, Managing Partner, Requisite Capital Management
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

The difference between the first and the second time was night and day.

I started studying the successful people around me. I made note cards. I studied every analyst report I could find, and then I distilled it to "Why does someone want to buy this stock?"

The next time the president of the company came, I nailed it. Shortly after, I became the first woman to run a team in the private wealth division of the firm.

There is no way I would have the confidence today if I had not been forced to overcome so many fears early on. 

After running a team for a year, I realized how vast our industry was and how little I knew about anything outside of the stocks we recommended.

I also realized I was working at a glorified "boiler room" and knew it was time to move on.

By then, I decided I wanted to be in the asset management business.

I spent the next 20 years – most of them at UBS Asset Management – learning about everything from the inefficiencies in the municipal bond market to the merits of convertible bond arbitrage.

I had done well in that world and many of my former colleagues are still my closest friends. I also worked with lots of thoughtful advisors and learned how they ran their practices.

The best part of my job was working with clients and educating them about the realities of investing. I had achieved some level of success, but as the years went on, I was not satisfied.

Going independent

How the pandemic has been setting back working moms' careers
How the pandemic has been setting back working moms' careers

Enter Doug John.

He was a successful private wealth advisor with wonderful clients and over two decades of experience. Feeling the limitations of working at a big firm, Doug decided he would start an independent wealth management practice.

He asked me to be his partner and start Requisite Capital Management.

As excited as I was about this opportunity, the thought of leaving what I knew was terrifying.

Frank Herbert wrote in "Dune," "Fear is the mind killer." We, as women, sometimes create our own glass ceilings. I was not going to do that here.

The last three and a half years since we've started the firm have been the hardest, yet most rewarding years of my career.

As a perpetual "student of the market," I feel like I've earned a proverbial "PhD," getting to work in the industry I love with a rock star team and a group of clients that inspire me every day.