by Sherry Hao, Controller, U.S. Money Reserve

Success can be elusive in both business and life. As we age, grow, and learn from our experiences, success often changes, morphing into some new form as our priorities shift or as the world around us changes. 

Think back to when you were a little kid. When people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what did you say? It would be safe to bet that the career choice you made at age five probably isn’t the same as the one you made as an adult. Consider what happens when you change companies: Perhaps you had been aiming for a specific promotion at your previous company, but that goal changed based on the structure of the new company you joined. 

Look at the sentiments of these (and many other popular) platitudes: “If you don’t change, you die,” and “Success is in the eye of the beholder.” Many of us have probably heard our bosses quote these tried (and tired) and true phrases at us in an effort to motivate us to work hard, strive for more, or get ahead. In truth, however, “success” is not defined the same way by everyone. 

For one person, success may mean being able to spend time with family and friends. For another, success may mean being able to purchase something expensive or exotic, like a vacation home in a remote area or a fancy trip overseas. For still others, success may simply mean being able to pay for a child’s schooling or having a sufficient amount of retirement savings when they hit their golden years. While success is not defined universally, it is often tied to finances. 

This is the main reason that I often look to some of the most powerful and successful women in finance for the best advice on how to succeed. These women hold positions of power at major financial institutions because they are smart, well-respected, and passionate. They have many years of experience and offer incredibly valuable insights and wisdom for those of us on our own paths to success. Here are five powerful women who offer stellar advice on how to succeed. 

Sallie Krawcheck, Co-Founder, Ellevest: “Simply start investing.”

Sally Krawcheck is the co-founder of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women. Before beginning Ellevest in 2014, she was the global wealth and investment president at Bank of America. During her two years in management there, following the Merrill Lynch deal, Krawcheck led her division to $3.1 billion in profits. Her goal in starting Ellevest, as she says, was to “get more money into the hands of women.” 

She’s wildly successful and continuing to innovate in a space that men have always dominated. Krawcheck believes that women should strive to create financial success for themselves and their families, and she offers tools to make that happen. 

Her advice for success is simple enough. According to this story at CNBC, Krawcheck believes that the biggest mistake women make when it comes to investing is simply not participating. According to the story, Krawcheck said, “We certainly don’t invest as much as men do. We tend to leave more than 70% of our wealth in cash as opposed to investing it. For the typical professional woman, that can cost…hundreds of thousands—for some women, millions—of dollars over the course of their lives.”

Finding the right investment vehicle, weighing risk, and ensuring that you take on the right amount of risk for your lifestyle, life stage, and income are key factors when deciding how to start investing. Still, Krawcheck’s point is a good one to remember. We all have to start somewhere on the path to success. It pays to simply put one foot in front of the other and begin where you are. To quote another old adage, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” 

Julie Fox, Market Head, UBS Financial: Think in Threes.

Julie Fox is the market head at UBS Financial, and like others on this list, she says she sort of fell into the financial business. Having played tennis at Lehigh University, Fox says in this interview at Thrive Global that she always wanted to work in sports but happened to meet some Lehigh alumni who drew her into the finance world. She has some illuminating insights around success and says that we should all think about our lives (and the winding path of success) along three key strategies: liquidity, longevity, and legacy. Here’s what she says about those three Ls in the story:

“Think about your life and wealth along three key strategies: liquidity, longevity, and legacy. 

“Each is designed to work in tandem throughout your life and beyond.

  1. Liquidity: What are your near-term expenses for entertainment, travel, taxes, purchasing a home? And what cash flow do you need to cover those expenses?
  2. Longevity: What are your needs down the road — retirement, healthcare, and long-term expenses (for you and your family)? What other goals/longer-term expenses will you have? How can you create a plan or a roadmap to make sure you will have [enough] resources over the course of your life?
  3. Legacy: What legacy do you want to leave behind? Philanthropy, wealth transfer over generations, giving to family?”

The key takeaway from Fox’s advice is that success is truly up to you—and framing it in a simple way can help you hone in on what matters the most to you as you progress along the path. It’s essential to regularly check in with these three key aspects of success and reframe them as time marches on. We don’t always measure success in the same way, and by using this framework, we can further narrow our focus and make sage investment decisions when it comes to our time, energy, and money. 

Chikako Okada Tyler, Vice President, California Bank & Trust: Speak Up.

Like Fox, Okada Tyler says that she too “fell into” the financial business. She spent some time as a commercial real estate portfolio and acquisitions analyst, and she says even as a young girl, she was very particular about how she kept tabs on her allowance—even going so far as to charge her sister interest when she borrowed money. 

Okada Tyler’s advice is directed at women. She says that women need to learn to speak up and speak their minds, regardless of what other people may think. As she notes in this story on  Medium, “Too many women are concerned with what other people think about them or how they will be perceived if they say the wrong thing. You are an intelligent, worthwhile human being, and your thoughts have value.”

That’s an important lesson to take to heart regardless of how you identify gender-wise. Being able to speak your mind about everything from financial decisions to career moves is vital to success. It’s also really important to realize your worth and know that your definition of success may not be the same as someone else’s. Defining your own path to success is vital to creating a sustainable future for yourself and your loved ones. 

Caroline Tsai, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, Western Union: Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor.

Caroline Tsai came into the finance business after earning her law degree at American University. She says that when it comes to managing your career—which is one very common measure of success—finding a mentor is key, according to this story over at Medium.

 “Women at the C-suite level need to mentor and sponsor women in their companies,” she says. While finding a mentor can prove challenging, it is vital to the success of women in the workplace. 

A study out of SHRM in 2013 showed that at the time, more than 68% of women in the workplace had never had a formal mentor. To come to these numbers, SHRM surveyed 318 businesswomen from 19 different countries and 30 different industries. The respondents, on average, were 48 years old, with the large majority (75 percent) indicating that they were either mid- or senior-level leaders. The survey also revealed that women don’t tend to seek out mentors. While 78% of respondents said that they had served as a formal mentor at some point in their careers, they had not sought the role out or had a mentor for their own career. As the authors point out, this indicates that women need to ask for mentors and seek them out, as well as mentor others. 

In addition to offering advice on mentorship, Tsai also says that women must be willing to raise their hands for challenging roles and ensure that diversity of voice, background, race, and gender is embodied and encouraged at their companies. 

As Tsai says in the story, “The key focus for our executive team in recent years has been making our senior leaders champions of diversity, to inspire diversity of thought, reflecting our customer base. It starts with our leadership and manifests throughout our global workforce and our board.”

Cynthia Loh, former Vice President of Digital Advice and Innovation, Charles Schwab: Cover Your Assets.

If one thing is true, the last 17+ months of the COVID-19 pandemic has proven just how fragile our world can be. Things that are out of our control can (and will) affect our success, and one of the most overlooked sectors of success is insurance. Making sure that your hard-earned assets can’t evaporate in an instant thanks to a freak natural disaster, sudden illness, or global pandemic is key to maintaining success. 

Cynthia Loh has many years in the financial industry under her belt, and she spent some time working in the start-up space. She’s no stranger to risk. In fact, as she writes in this Business Insider story, ensuring that you have the right insurance to cover those risks is a key way to be successful, both personally and professionally. As she writes, “During an already uncertain time, insurance can add a layer of security and soften the blow of a theft or accident, and it’s pretty affordable to boot.”

The Bottom Line: How to Succeed

Success is unquestionably subjective and mutable. As we grow, learn, and age, our definition of success changes and develops. These five powerful women in finance offer invaluable advice no matter how you define success. By taking their words to heart and practicing what they preach, you’ll be sure to continue on your own path of success and fulfillment.