Get to know the people behind the financial advice in our Planner Profiles series.
Growing up a self-described sports fanatic, Renee Cohen landed her dream job in sports media right after graduating college. But about five years ago, her dream began to change, and she found a new calling: Empowering people — especially women — through financial planning.
“I was at a point in my life where I was doing a lot of soul-searching and I realized that I wasn’t progressing financially in a way that could support my personal goals,” she says. “So I started instigating intentional conversations about money with my girlfriends at our happy hours because I felt we could really help each other get over the stigma of discussing what can be an intimidating topic.”
As they tackled tough personal questions about their finances, Cohen realized she had more financial knowledge than most of her peers. She started teaching them some basics about 401(k) plans, company matches and compound growth — planting the seeds for her second career as a Los Angeles-based financial advisor for Northwestern Mutual.
Below, Cohen shares how her experiences led her to want to help other women actively shape their financial futures.
Who first taught you about the value of a dollar?
My father was a career CFO, and both of my parents did a good job teaching me and my sister that consistently saving even a little bit will add up. Any time we got birthday money or a monetary gift of any kind, we would put it in our piggy banks. That always resonated throughout my life. Even when I could only afford to put 1 percent of my salary into my 401(k), I knew it was important to save for my future instead of spending that $50 on a dinner out. So I always had the awareness to pay myself first, but I took some of those lessons for granted until much later. I’m thankful for the foundational lessons I learned.
You work with a lot of female clients. Has that been by design?
I grew my practice organically, but I think my clientele in some ways reflects who I was and what I wanted for myself. When you’re young, you don’t feel like you have the financial means to do much with your money. I was always running back to my dad for his advice. I eventually realized I had to stand on my own — and I really didn’t see advisors who looked like me.
Those sessions with my girlfriends really helped to shape my philosophy: I do want to empower women. We need to keep having the conversations that will lead the way toward closing the investment gap, the education gap and the wealth gap. Everyone needs to understand how money works — it’s an important tool that provides us with the confidence and freedom to make choices in our lives.
Have you noticed a change in how women have approached their finances over the years?
Many women are making higher salaries now; many of my clients are the breadwinners in their households. As women are gaining economic clout, they are feeling more empowered to speak up and initiate conversations about money management. They are a lot less worried about asking a dumb question.
We need to keep having the conversations that will lead the way toward closing the investment gap, the education gap and the wealth gap.
Do you notice a difference between what your male and female clients are concerned about?
The men are generally not as fearful about losing some money — I think because they just expect that they can always make more money. Women are willing to take some investment risks, but they have to be calculated risks; they prioritize security in their financial plans. Women are also more prone to seek out financial education and, once they trust that you have their back, they are really loyal. They appreciate the importance of building a partnership and a community. Having the right people support you can help you navigate whatever life throws your way.
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched everyone in some way. How has it changed your approach to working with your clients?
As soon as the coronavirus hit, I started reaching out to every one of my clients to acknowledge that we are all experiencing this in real time together. I wanted to reassure them that this is why we plan. I’d tell them, let’s look at your goals and how your income has been impacted, and then see if there are any tweaks we can make in the short-term while making sure we’re keeping a long-term focus. We want to stay the course.
This situation is different from the recession we experienced 11 years ago in that it’s also wrapped around a public health issue. So that has created a heightened awareness about having the right insurance coverage and an appreciation of how important it is to have a financial plan. People who were unsure if they needed financial planning are now seeking that guidance. Personally, it’s clarified my mission to help people and show them that having a financial plan can provide a lot of peace of mind.
What has been your most satisfying moment as a financial advisor?
Whenever people thank me and tell me that they have become more confident not just about their money, but also because their financial plan has helped them better understand their personal value. It fulfills me to see my clients achieving their goals by taking actions that we put in motion at the beginning of our relationship — knowing that it wasn’t going to be instant gratification — and seeing the satisfaction on their faces when those goals come to fruition.