Start saving money at an early age: One of our best clients worked as a janitor of a high school for his entire career. He and his wife raised six kids and put them all through college. He is a great example of someone who began to save money early in his life and used the exponential power of compounding to hit his incredible goals. His retirement is very secure, and he has a large portfolio from saving early and continuing to save throughout his life, even if it was a small amount.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Olson, President and Founder of Olson Wealth Group.
Sharon Olson is president of Olson Wealth Group, LLC, a multi-family office dedicated to financial stewardship with wise counsel and clear strategies for growing and preserving wealth. She is a distinguished expert in wealth, retirement, estate, investment, and business succession planning, emphasizing smart strategies and solid values.
Sharon develops client trust through high-level financial solutions and responsive, personalized service. She recognizes that real-life goals apply to all aspects of wealth planning — family, personal and professional.
Recognized for her exceptional knowledge, creativity, sensitivity, and ability to demystify financial issues, Worth magazine has named Sharon Olson one of the nation’s “Top 100 Most Exclusive Wealth Managers” five times; Medical Economics calls her one of the “Top 150 Financial Advisors in the Country for Physicians.” She has been honored as a *NABCAP Premier Advisor and was appointed to the Hall of Fame as one of a very select group, by Finance & Commerce’s Top Women in Finance.
Sharon is a member of Women President Organization (WPO), Young President Organization (YPO) and is very active in several non-profits including Board Emeritus for Ann Bancroft Foundation dedicated to empowerment for girls
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?
I certainly couldn’t define it, but at a very early age, I learned the power of financial planning through goal setting, positive thinking, and consistent hard work. Growing up on a farm in a small town of only 200 people, I knew I wanted to move beyond the customs and culture of farm life and explore the world.
When I was just seven years old, I started a paper route and began to save for college, recording my progress in a small notebook under my bed. It seemed to come full circle when I was recruited by a regional financial planning firm during my last year of college. I had no idea such a career existed but was challenged by the fact that I would earn money based upon my own efforts.
As a 22-year-old farm girl, with no centers of influence, and a rickety old car, I certainly did not fit the mold of a financial planner. Part of my training was to call prospective clients, some who had already been called several times before, but I was to try one more time to see if I could turn them around! My break came in a most unusual way when I got lost one day. I struggled finding my way around the city and one day I turned around in the parking lot of a large firm and saw parking spots with employees’ names on them. My first thought was they must be rich and important to have their own parking spot, so I jotted down their names, went back to the office and cold-called them!
This was a starting point for me to begin my career working with executives on their retirement planning. My marketing efforts were pretty scrappy, for example, when I would go into the corporate headquarters and observe a notice for a retirement party for “Joe”, a departing employee, I assumed that invitation must have included me as well as I was reading the invitation. Not only did I go to Joe’s farewell party, but I can’t tell you how many Friday nights I spent at retirement parties in my early twenties. For me it was an opportunity to engage in conversations about financial planning and it worked. After a period of time, I had established myself as an expert in retirement planning and the HR departments of some of these firms invited me to do seminars for their employees, which clearly broadened my business growth.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?
I was still early in my career, and one day while feeling guilty for leaving early on a Friday afternoon, I decided to push myself to make one more cold call for prospective clients. I was in my car and in front of me was a garbage dumpster, with a name and a phone number. That was it! I called the owner and asked for an appointment. What I learned that day is there is great wealth in waste management, and many were family-owned businesses. And, best of all, no one else was calling them! Waste management companies became a target market for me and was an impetus for another large leap in the growth of my business.
Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
To succeed you need to be creative about your target markets and look for opportunities where your competitors are not. Also, sometimes that one small tactic or decision you make, even when it is not comfortable, is the one that will carry you further.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now?
Yes, this year we created a family office service that is dedicated to C-Suite women called Inspired Life Family Office ™. Family offices for women are few, yet the personal wealth held by women is growing exponentially. Women are charged with managing the health and welfare of their children, parents, and building their enterprises. Finding the opportunity to shift some of their heavy lifting to a trusted advisor, someone who knows their personal inspirations and important family mission statements and goals, can bring them freedom in the quality of their life and a quantum leap in their net worth.
How do you think that will help people?
Olson Wealth Group’s Inspired Life Family Office™ seeks to provide C-suite women with structure and efficiency in managing their financial life. In collaboration with a team of advisors, we ensure that their family’s wealth plan is well-coordinated and aligned with their family’s mission. Designed to work with families who are looking for a way to collectively manage, sustain and grow their wealth, our family office team works to manage the complexities and risk that comes with obtaining family affluence. By coordinating with professional advisors, we provide highly personalized service and manage families’ finances with high precision and attention to detail. We act as a personal concierge for their wealth.
A family with a well-defined mission and understanding of unified values, gives them a higher likelihood of cultivating strong family governance and enables them to manage their wealth with continuity across generations.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Olson Wealth Group provides distinctive guidance for maximizing wealth. Wealth comes with great opportunity, responsibility, and an increasing complexity of choices. Decisions with respect to whom you share your financial and personal aspirations become paramount. While maintaining and growing your wealth is critical, equally important is developing a strategy for realizing the integrity of your vision and a meaningful legacy. Our firm specializes in creating tailored strategies to address complex issues and to bring you the freedom to pursue what is most important to you. You control the destination and purpose of your wealth; we steward that process. In that pursuit, we anticipate issues proactively, strategize for best results, and above all, remain ever-present and committed to your success.
We invented and use SCOPE, a proprietary wealth management process that helps us do just that. The five-step SCOPE process includes
Stewards of Understanding. We meet you where you are. With a deep understanding of your vision, and values, unique needs and expectations, we tailor your plan, communication and reporting models to your preferences.
Collaboration. The diverse talents of the Olson Wealth Group team combined with our deep bench of financial specialists provide specialized expertise and attention for today’s complex demands.
Open Architecture. You get investment advice that’s independent, transparent, research-based, and tax-efficient. We are bound by a fiduciary standard when providing advisory services, committed to acting in your best interests every time.
Preservation Plan. Utilizing the many capabilities inherent in Olson Wealth Group, we customize a fully integrated wealth management plan with ongoing guidance and actionable steps.
Excellence. As your trusted partner, we stay current and react to relevant financial information on your behalf. You can count on our commitment to bring value and ongoing service to build long-term relationships.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all-white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
Investors today are much more informed and are seeking trusted advisors who they believe understand their personal value systems, important goals and are looking out for them. There has been a loss of trust in Wall Street which has driven growth in independent advice and social investments.
Despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report by CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women.
In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
Women in those powerful positions will need to continue to support and promote their female peers.
Investors can vote their support of women owned business by investing in those companies who have women on the board or are run by women.
Women have had to prove themselves in all aspects of their careers in the last several decades. It is forecasted that women will control the majority of wealth moving forward, society will be required to adjust to this shift of decision-makers and wealth.
Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers?
I think it comes down to schools and parents. Most people will note that they did not receive any financial education during high school and learned about money and spending from their parents. Many families struggle to discuss money, budgeting, saving and investing with their children. Those conversations and the psychology of money are important topics to learn and should be taught in the classroom as a life lesson all students will need for their future success.
If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend improving these numbers?
Create a curriculum for money management in elementary and high school to learn good habits early.
Provide more training on how the psychology of money impacts decisions on lifestyle, spending, and relationships.
Continue to offer apps and other tools for people to manage their spending and begin saving early in their life.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 nonintuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1.) Start saving money at an early age:
One of our best clients worked as a janitor of a high school for his entire career. He and his wife raised six kids and put them all through college. He is a great example of someone who began to save money early in his life and used the exponential power of compounding to hit his incredible goals. His retirement is very secure, and he has a large portfolio from saving early and continuing to save throughout his life, even if it was a small amount.
2.) Create a spending “barrier”
Create an amount of money, say $100 as the trigger. If you are tempted to buy something that is over $100, you create a personal agreement that says before you spend that money you will ask three questions:
Do I really need this?
How will it improve my life?
Will I still feel its benefit after 1 week or more?
3.) Limit the number of credit cards you hold
With multiple credit cards, it is more difficult to track your spending and mentally, it is easier to spend $100 on 5 cards compared to $500 on one card. Having one credit card keeps you disciplined and you can see your debt all on one place.
4.) Fund your 401k plan on the earliest opportunity with your first job.
Studies have shown it is better to start saving into an IRA or your 401k and fund it for 10 years, (for example age 25–35 years old) even if you have to stop for a while because you have children or buy a house. When comparing results, you will have accumulated more in your retirement account than someone who started at 35 and contributed to age 65….
5.) The little things matter.
My daughter is a schoolteacher and she asked me one day, (after prefacing she did not want me to give a long educational lecture about money), what I would recommend if she wanted to invest a small amount of money. I asked her how much she had, she replied, and I was shocked, it was very impressive. When I inquired how she had done that, she said, “why don’t you ask my mom who is a financial planner?” She went on to explain that she learned by example, how even small decisions about spending money all add up.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Og Mandino, speaker, and author of The Greatest Salesman on Earth.
With his incredibly inspirational words and positive affirmations on how to lead a successful life, learning that the best way to help yourself is by serving others, and his optimistic scrolls, he greatly influenced my life and my career. I would listen to them daily on the way to and home from work and it set the tone for each day to be grateful and remain positive.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Quoting Tim McGraw: “Always be humble and kind”
I have heard it said that kindness can be a passport to open doors and warm hearts and that was proven to me recently. Earlier in the year, when we were still traveling, I had raced to the airport to make my flight after a very long day in the office. My meeting was the next morning and I knew missing this flight would be a problem. After running through the airport, I finally arrived at the gate, but the door was closing, and I was unable to board. Feeling frustrated, I walked into the restroom, and there I met Darla. With a mop in her hand, she shared a bright smile and so graciously greeted me when I walked in. She asked about my day, and while I did not feel like talking, I couldn’t help but notice her warm eyes and interest in having a conversation. She shared that she had two jobs to support her family and that her oldest son had entered college that fall. Her positive attitude, commitment to her family, and her proud spirit while performing her work, was humbling and inspirational to me. I think of her often and her gift to me remains, one that I would not have ever experienced had I made my flight on time!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
While visiting a remote village in Ghana, West Africa, we had the privilege of meeting several courageous and strong women. We had tirelessly traveled for days from Minnesota to meet them, and the bumpy dirt road to the village revealed a very warm welcome from the Chief and his elders. We had made this journey for one reason, to speak with the women of the village, mostly mothers, to learn about their lives and how we may be able to provide resources to help them. While they were living in mud huts without water or electricity, when we asked the question about their needs and what we could do to help, their answer was the same as any mother in the United States would respond. They wanted education for their children and for them to have a better life than they had.
At that time, there was absolutely no commerce in the village to earn a living and they were dependent on their husbands. We asked the women to think about something they could do to bring a service to others. They had great ideas, ranging from learning to cut hair, repairing bikes, day care, and crushing corn into cornmeal and selling it. We asked them to research how much money they would need to learn or train for this. We launched a micro-loan program to help seed their ideas, many only needed $20 or less to begin. Earning money to feed your family, educate your children, keep them safe and looking forward to a better life is the goal for all of us. Providing an opportunity for each person to independently meet their family needs is a movement I would love to continue to inspire. The micro-loan program is an incredible process to begin but investing in inspiration and encouragement to help others is essential.
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