• Women Financial Advisor Forum

Preserving Values Helps Preserve Assets

Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor Gwen Cohen advises clients to be financially savvy, responsible, and find a way to give back—something she learned from her great grandmother.

Chicago, Illinois – Be financially savvy, responsible, and find a way to give back. Those are values Chicago Financial Advisor Gwen Cohen learned from her great grandmother, passed down through the ages, and they remain as relevant today as they were over a century ago, which is why she now shares them with her clients.

“My great-grandmother Ida sometimes thought she was a widow because my great-grandfather was a railroad man and away most of the time,” says Gwen. “She raised seven daughters and one son mainly on her own which meant she made all of the financial decisions for her home. Her goal was to teach all of the children, especially her daughters, how to be financially savvy, responsible, and to find a way to give back to the good earth.”

According to Gwen, when one of Ida’s daughters was about to get married she gave her a handkerchief and said this handkerchief represents strength through loss. As each generation faced its own challenges, including the civil rights struggle to end segregation, a tradition had begun. So when Gwen got married, her mother gave Gwen a handkerchief from Ida’s collection.

Gwen Cohen, First Vice President, Chicago, IL

Gwen uses a process that’s designed to simplify her clients’ lives.

“Many of my clients know that story,” says Gwen. “But I tell them to find their own story that helped their family cherish the best of times and survive the more challenging times and to remind their children that they too know how to survive. Studies have shown that helping each generation preserve their values is critical to helping the current generation preserve their assets.”

Some months ago, Gwen received an important call that she almost missed. “I picked up the phone and there was silence,” says Gwen. “I said hello, waited. Just before I was about to hang up, someone called out, ‘Don’t hang up. It’s Shelley O’Connor.’”

The Co-head of Wealth Management was calling to give Gwen the news that she had been selected as one of 16 women to be in the Morgan Stanley MAKERS Class of 2016. Nominations had been solicited from across the Wealth Management organization and a panel of senior managers selected the women to be recognized.

Gwen thinks she knows one of the reasons she was chosen─because someone knows about those values passed down from Ida.

“The Firm’s values are associated with delivering a first class service in a first class way, giving back and putting the client first,” says Gwen. “These values are closely aligned with the ones my great grandmother Ida held so dearly– values my parents instilled in my siblings and me.”

Gwen Cohen, Kay Jordan, Sara Durrani, Sizwe Kamara, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

Gwen with Kay Jordan (CSA), Sara Durrani (Intern), and Sizwe Kamara (MSIM Regional Director)

In dealing with clients, Gwen takes an-all inclusive approach that starts with understanding who the client is.

“I want to know who you are and what’s important to you,” says Gwen. “I want to help you articulate your family story so that your children understand why you do what you do, why you give to those organizations instead of buying a Ferrari. It helps them learn what it means to be an adult.

Once that’s done, she asks her clients for permission to use a process that’s designed to simplify their lives.

“What that does is allow me to be more effective in helping them handle those challenges so that they don’t get so upset when markets go down, and they will,” says Gwen. “I use a little chart when I go through four asset classes. I talk with clients about what they own in each asset class and why it’s important. When I use the term asset allocation I tell them that I’m referring to their financial wardrobe. For example, they’ll say they don’t like bonds, and I’ll tell them to think of bonds as linen shirts. And just as you don’t get rid of your linen shirts in the middle of winter, you don’t get rid of your bonds just because you don’t think they’re doing anything for you. It’s about having something in your wardrobe before you really need it.”

As for Gwen’s process, she focuses on four key areas. The first is asset growth and preservation.

“How do I deliver the best return based on the kind of risk you’re comfortable taking,” explains Gwen. “At the same time, I’ll help you preserve a business or, an art collection, that you cherish by helping you find the appropriate asset protection. It may mean helping your family get the best and most affordable life, property—or long term care insurance.”

Second is life style management. “I make sure I can help you maintain the quality of life that doesn’t jeopardize the retirement that you intend to have,” she adds.

The third area is legacy planning. “I want you to be able to leave the legacy that’s important to you, the same way Ida did for her children and grandchildren,” says Gwen.

The fourth is the area of the unknown. “That could be anything from how to manage something in the business, to taking care of an aging parent, or supporting a special needs child or grandchild,” she says. “The area of the unknown may also involve helping clients initiate those uncomfortable but necessary conversations that they may have never engaged with anybody else.

Born near Tuskegee, Alabama, Gwen is one of five children, all of whom have become highly productive citizens who contribute to society, thanks—she says—to the values handed down from earlier generations. Gwen speaks with reverence about the challenges her mother and father faced during the civil rights struggle to overcome prejudice and oppression, and end segregation.

Joining the Firm in 1986, Gwen has a diverse group of clients from around the country. She earned a BA in business from Tuskegee University, and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Today Gwen, who recently completed a term on the Diversity Council, remains active in helping recruit more women, African Americans and people of color. “I believe we’ve seen success,” says Gwen. “As a person who knows we have to recognize people (of diverse thoughts and cultures) inside of the Firm, over the years I’ve probably encouraged my branch managers—as much as anyone—to recognize observances like Hispanic Appreciation Month, African American History Month. I’ve also been active with the Chicago Foundation for Women for over 20 years. It’s another way of connecting with issues that women face and hopefully help inform the Firm about ways to better support women.