Climb. Pause. Lift. Lisa’s mantra and vision helped her and can help others.

When asked by an interviewer to describe herself in a short phrase, Lisa Cregan, without hesitation responded, “talent developer, change agent and straight shooter.” In good part, these traits have led to her success in business and as a champion for diversity within the financial services industry.

On diversity, Cregan says, “I’ve always seen expanding the makeup of the industry as the right thing to do, but importantly, it is also just sound business strategy. And, I believe this now more than ever.”

The change agent part she comes by naturally. Her trajectory to success has been described as that of a “woman of firsts.”

First, she excelled as an elite athlete, a top-tier equestrian in a sport where women compete equally with men. Then, she was in the first class of women accepted to attend Phillips Academy Andover, and followed that with being accepted into the first class in Georgetown University’s new MBA program. Lisa later became the first woman to be named a Regional Director in the almost two-hundred-year history of UBS.

The Time is Right for Women

Now, a Managing Director and Head of Morgan Stanley’s Mid-Atlantic region, Lisa says, with what appears to be a bit of excitement in her eyes, “the financial services industry is at an inflection point. The time is right for women, people of color and the LGBTQ communities  to bring their skills, talents and perspectives to the industry, and, in particular, to Morgan Stanley.”

When she says “the time is right,” Lisa means embracing an industry that is in the throes of change. “You can call it disruption, a sea change, a paradigm shift; but what’s apparent is that if the industry doesn’t change, it might well go the way of the Yellow Pages.”

In her matter-of-fact and concise way of conveying her vision, she notes that there are two intersecting components of the disruption. One is technological. The other is demographic.

“Technology, as it has done with other industries, has lowered the cost of entry and increased competition. The explosion of technology in all aspects of our lives has also dramatically altered our clients’ expectations. Our clients now demand 24/7 access, and the ability to interact with their Financial Advisor on their terms and schedule on any device they own. If you’re not embracing and leveraging the technology to serve your client, then you will be passed by someone who is.

“The second component of the disruption has to do with demographic shifts. This is seen in the increasing percentages of wealth being held by communities that have found success—African-American, Asian, Latino. However, within this larger change is the eye-opening amount of wealth being controlled by women.

High Graduation Rates for Women

“This is a result of more and more women finding success in the workplace. One indicator of this change is that women graduate from all levels of education at higher rates than men, according to studies by Stanford University and the Manhattan Institute. But the other factor is life expectancy. Women tend to live longer than men, and come to control and manage the family and legacy assets.

“There has been an explosive growth in the amount of wealth held by women,” Lisa said. “More than 50 percent of the personal wealth in the U.S. is controlled by women. By 2020, this number will reach $22 trillion. The trend will continue, as more women take on professional positions, and because women tend to live longer than men.”

The disruption of the financial services industry has made the value, breadth and depth of advice even more precious.

Technology allows firms to differentiate themselves by providing dependable, individualized advice tailored to the client’s individual goals. However, the key to success remains the talent of the Financial Advisor, Lisa said. A Financial Advisor must be an active listener, a relational partner and a collaborator. A Financial Advisor no longer only provides asset management advice. That day has passed. In short, Financial Advisors now have to think holistically, Lisa said. They must understand their clients’ stories, their family dynamics and their philanthropic wishes. As Lisa puts it, “We help our clients maximize the impact their wealth can have on their families, their communities and in some cases our society.”

Change Favors Women

The changing shape of the industry and the evolving needs of our clients favor the skills and perspectives women typically possess.

“Women are generally good listeners, empathic, relational, planning-oriented, holistic in approach and other-oriented,” said Lisa. “These are all traits critical to success in our new landscape.”

As noted in a recent MarketWatch piece, “While women can, and do, work with male Financial Advisors, sometimes they’d just like to talk with someone with similar perspectives or familiar backgrounds.”

Women and Competitive Advantage

“What does that mean for financial services and women Financial Advisors?” Lisa asked. “For instance, more than 70 percent of widows change Financial Advisors because they don’t feel a connection with their current Financial Advisor. Women certainly have a competitive advantage to be the new Financial Advisor because they naturally understand other women and the issues they face.”

Given the increased complexity and nuance of the financial landscape, it is critical that all Financial Advisors provide tailored, timely and insightful personalized advice. This demand has led to a natural increase in the formation of Financial Advisor teams. This is a significant strategic shift from what had traditionally been an individual Financial Advisor serving a client to a team of integrated area professionals who tended to a client’s wealth and life narrative.

“Having diversity on your team is a real plus,” Lisa said, “because it provides diverse approaches and thinking. You will look at problems differently based on different backgrounds and experiences. You’re just not going to have the best result if everyone on the team looks at the business in the same way. We must always be questioning our unquestioned assumptions.”

In light of these disruptions, Cregan contends the Financial Services industry will become a destination and a coveted career for more and more women.

And this is where Lisa’s focus on talent development and her role as a change agent come to bear. The effort is as much about good business as social change.

"We change the make-up of our businesses by recruiting and retaining more diverse talent into our workplaces. It’s as simple as that. Change requires action.”

Attention Creates Results

She also walks the talk in this regard. Since Cregan assumed her current role, the diversity of the branch managers in the region has grown from nine percent to over 30 percent now.

“Focused attention creates results,” she said.

Here change actions are also contagious. Lisa imagined and created a Women Advisory Council, a funded council of women who support women in doing business in a way that meets and promotes the needs and perspectives of women. Since the debut and success of the first Council in Houston, they have blossomed and grown to more the 50 throughout the Firm. Change-makers plant seeds.

Lisa calls for talented women to enter the industry by showing them how the industry is right for women.  

“Talent prevails in our industry,” Lisa said. “Compensation is based directly on performance and, given the times, talented, women Financial Advisors are in high demand.  We believe they should be at Morgan Stanley.”

Women Not Aware of Income Potential

“Far too often women just are not aware of the equity in pay and the income potential of the job,” Lisa said. “Nor do they see how joining the industry complements and serves their worldviews and values systems.”

Here’s how Lisa put it:

“When I describe what we do, I reveal the draw of the industry by saying, ‘you’re going to work with clients and their children and their children’s children, and help them achieve their family’s goals and face the issues they deal with in maximizing the impact their wealth can have.

‘The best part of the role is that you can manage the overlapping demands on your professional and personal lives. And you’ll have the flexibility to shift and reconfigure your time as your career and life responsibilities unfold with family, children, aging parents …’

“Women see this and say, ‘Now, that’s something I’m interested in.’”

This is Cregan as a straight-shooter.

Lisa intends to display a clear portrait of an industry that she believes is perfect for women. “We’ve entered an era of wealth management where technology and demographics and the nature of advice provided are reconfiguring the business,” Lisa says.

A Chance for Women

“This presents a chance for women to claim their share of the business—to provide the advice, develop relationships, and help others achieve their goals while creating a career that fits their lifestyles.”

If the role of Financial Advisor is a near perfect fit for many professional women, Lisa feels Morgan Stanley is the best fit of all. She believes Morgan Stanley is the destination and premier firm of choice for women and diverse talent.

“Morgan Stanley,” Cregan said with a spark in her voice, “has an amazing, change-oriented culture. The Firm is both strategically and operationally lead by forward-thinking and innovative leaders. The Firm is positioned for growth. It is also unique in that it is a financial services firm that owns a bank, rather than being owned by a bank. At Morgan Stanley, the Financial Advisor is always at the center of the client relationship, determining whether specific investment strategies are suitable for their clients. I prefer that approach.”

Morgan Stanley Culture is Special

Cregan tells a story that she believes exemplifies the Morgan Stanley culture.

“When I had just joined Morgan Stanley and was moving into my new home, I received a call from my assistant who told me that our CEO James Gorman was on the line and wanted to speak with me. I chuckled and thought it would be one of my friends trying to fool me with a bad imitation of James,” Lisa recalled. “But it was James, and we had a great discussion about why I chose Morgan Stanley. He shared his vision for the Firm. For me, it was a meaningful discussion. It made clear and reinforced that creating a great culture was incredibly important for James. 

“That’s what makes Morgan Stanley special,” she continued.

“But it isn’t just James,” she said, sitting forward in her chair. “This Firm and the people in it collectively create a very collegial environment—a genuinely friendly, innovative and wanting-to-succeed environment.”

The company, it’s culture, and her broadly recognized and successful change efforts have Lisa building a lasting legacy, which she bases on her mantra, a “Creganism” she terms it:  Climb. Pause. Lift.

Climb. Pause. Lift.

“‘Climb. Pause. Lift.’ captures and reveals my ethic and a deep sense of obligation to help others, and my gratitude for the success I’ve found,” she said.

“None of us got here by ourselves. We’re here because of the groundbreaking work and support of those who went before us,” Lisa said with the force and insight of a woman who has made her success in a male-dominated industry.  My goal is to continue to change the face of the industry.

“As women, we must pay that back and pay it forward. I believe women must be responsible to and for other women. We have to be the change we imagine.

“So, I tell women: Climb. Pause. Lift. Climb and work hard. But Pause and help Lift those coming behind you, just as you were lifted by who came before you. If we don’t do it, who will?”

Lisa welcomes hearing women’s stories of how they support other women and act as change agents and talent developers. 

“If you’re a Climb-Pause-Lifter,” Lisa says, knowing there are so many women and good men helping women succeed, “I would love to hear what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and who is benefiting.

“I want to recognize those who are Climb-Pause-Lifters, and partner them with someone who is early in their career to help ensure they gain the benefit of established wisdom.”

And upon completion of that goal, Lisa, the talent developer/change agent/straight shooter will have achieved yet another “first.”

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