• Women Financial Advisor Forum

Rita Gaffney’s Path to Client Success: Building Relationships and Educating

Poughkeepsie-based Financial Advisor Rita Gaffney focuses her efforts at Morgan Stanley on teaching women the tools to take charge of their financial lives.

Recognized as a top Hudson Valley woman business leader, Poughkeepsie-based Financial Advisor Rita Gaffney likes to think of business as a sort of family trait, even if how it’s expressed varies.  

“Business is everywhere in my family. My father was a banker, and my older sister was an accounting major, but I just remember being so bored with the accounting part of it. I just had a natural tendency towards math, so I chose finance as my focus in college. I ended up loving the classes and it just came to me. I loved the content and the material. It was very easy.”

Back in the late 1980s, the path to becoming a Financial Advisor seemed cloudy. Women seemed destined for one path while men were sent on another.

“There were guys my age who were applying, had the same credentials I had, but they were offered the financial advisory job and I was offered the sales assistant job. That really didn’t sit too well with me for a long period of time, although it was a great starting point for me,” Rita said. “When I started giving the investment brokers investment ideas, recommendations, and assets allocation guidelines, I realized it would be a better career path for me. I started trying to figure out how to get to that side of the business.” 

Rita worked on a trading floor for more than a year and with that hard-won credential tried the get onto Financial Advisor route again.

“It was interesting,” said Rita. “I was knocking on the door of the Poughkeepsie office for about a year. My soon-to-be manager eventually gave in… I think he just threw up his hands because I was so persistent.”

Getting hired was only the start of the process. She rejected the idea of buying “manly” positions of stock and sought her own niche. At times, she felt as if she was not quite making it. It took time to develop trust and relationships.

“Process-oriented, relationships-oriented, my guideline was always do no harm,” she said. “I focused on being a Financial Advisor and building relationships. I think that’s what has me still sitting in the seat today.”

In October 1995, Rita decided to launch a seminar aimed at women that would help teach them the basics of the markets and get them more comfortable with investing. At that time, Rita’s client base included very few women. When she contemplated how to build her practice, she came upon the idea of focusing on women. Here was a market niche with real needs, ones she could relate to.

“I was a single mom at that point,” Rita recalls. “How could you be expected to know it all, do it all, put it all together? How are all the things you, as a woman, are trying to handle and manage, going to get done? If I could have outsourced everything, I probably would have! You need to partner with a Financial Advisor.”

When it comes to more recent lessons, Morgan Stanley’s 2016 Women’s Leadership Summit in Dallas was highly enlightening. “One thing that I absolutely know about women in general is that we are very hard on ourselves,” she said. “That can be a good or bad thing. If we have high expectations for ourselves and try to achieve that level of excellence, we can do a great job for our clients or for our family and friends.  

“What I learned is that it’s ok. It’s ok to say you can’t do it all. Do a couple things really well. There will be a few casualties along the way. You need to just go easy on yourself a little bit and know it will all be okay at the end of the day. That support, real support, from other women and idea sharing was highly valuable. ‘It’s ok. You’ll get it.’”

Rita firmly believes that Financial Advisors will always be important in wealth management. People are unique, with different approaches to finance. They need to speak to someone who can be close to them, who can provide custom, personalized advice. In other words, they need someone who can build a relationship with them.

“Clients say the most wonderful things. I have one client, we’ve worked together for twenty years. He was in the process of transitioning to retirement. He was almost in tears, and he often said to his wife, ‘I don’t know what we would have done if we had never met.’ That right there is what I feel each and every one of us work for. That’s what I work for.”

Hudson Valley Magazine recognized her in 2015 as one of the top woman business leaders in the region and she feels this is due to the quality of her relationships. “I think an aspect of the award is that they are looking for people who have been in the community a long time and are giving back to the community. Some of the volunteer work I do, I would like to do more of it, but that’s one of the casualties of not having enough time to do everything very well. One might never think a Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor is also a CCD teacher. Those two don’t really go hand in hand. I can only be a substitute because I don’t have the time for a full-time class, but that’s the balance I’ve found. It’s one of the ways I like to give back.”

Rita’s relationship building has done more than win her an award. She has 231 clients under management. Clients have invited her to their weddings, the college graduations of their children, and many other poignant life moments.

“I’ve seen the world change a lot, since the early days of my career until where I am now, but I think relationships and education will always be important.”