Beginning her career at the peak of the financial crisis, one of Forbes’ Top 500 Millennial Financial Advisors of 2017, Mary Guza credits her success to hard work and putting clients first.
Resilience. It’s a character trait Forbes uses to describe those who made its inaugural list of Top 500 Millennial Financial Advisors in 2017, most of whom entered the workforce amid the Great Recession and began their careers at the peak of the financial crisis. Representing the future of the industry, this group of young Financial Advisors includes Morgan Stanley’s Mary Guza of the Ricca-Weinerman Group in Florham Park, N.J.
For Guza, something became crystal clear her first few days with the team back in 2007, as she watched experienced colleagues engage in client conversations during those volatile times: Clients are always number one.
“I saw how important it was to be responsive and manage those relationships,” says Guza, who admits it was an interesting time to start her career. “I learned to put client needs and objectives above all else.”
With an undergraduate degree in finance and a year’s experience with an independent advisory firm, Guza started working at Morgan Stanley in 2007 as a client service associate (CSA). She built up her skills helping other Financial Advisors with life insurance, annuities, disability insurance, retirement planning, trade execution—"anything and everything to focus on my development while helping the team grow,” she says. She worked long hours and wasn’t afraid to ask for additional responsibility. She became a Certified Financial Planner (CFP©) in 2010 and entered the Financial Advisor Associate (FAA) training program.
As Guza continued to make a point to do and see it all, she says: “My success reflects a lot of hard work and commitment to my team, from my team, from the firm and from our clients.”
Her team, she says, is not only large, but unique. Partners for some 25 years, Michael Ricca and David Weinerman built the group from the ground up, which today includes another five Financial Advisors, an investment management team, and eight administrative professionals who collectively work on client accounts, all sharing the same values yet each bringing a focus area. “We all have the same client-centric view, which really helps differentiate us,” says Guza, who focuses on retirement plans. She also works with many women and millennial clients, since “they have the same concerns that I do.”
Guza finds that many millennials want to be informed and socially responsible. “They are always looking for answers, and sometimes want to hear them from me,” she says.
Her advice for millennials? “Don’t waste your 20s, when you need to be setting yourself up for the next decade,” she says, adding: “It doesn’t mean you hit 30 and you can work less. Rather, take your 20s to build out your competencies and set a foundation for the future.”
From learning about their families to understanding their concerns and goals, Guza knows that successful client relationships don’t happen overnight. But building trust and rapport makes clients want to work with you. “It’s all about treating people with respect, listening and clear communication to understand their goals,” explains Guza.
Raised in rural Pennsylvania in a small manufacturing town, Guza has been working since she was 16, first at a grocery store and later waitressing. She credits those jobs with giving her the communication skills she now leverages every day: “It doesn’t matter if he or she is a CEO or not; you talk to everyone and treat them with the same respect.”
Guza acknowledges the long hours, including weekends, but is grateful for a supportive fiancé and the fact that she lives a mere 10 minutes from her office. For her work ethic, Guza thanks her parents, who she saw make lots of sacrifices as they put her, her brother and sister through college. They’ve now retired comfortably, her dad from the post office and her mom from manufacturing, with some of her financial planning assistance. “Looking back on it now, I don’t know how they did it,” she says.
For women, observes Guza, who watched mom work 40-plus years on the factory floor, the opportunities in wealth management at Morgan Stanley are significant. “As long as you’re willing to put in the time, build out the competency, and you genuinely care about clients, the opportunity for women here is enormous.”