Good morning everyone, and welcome to another edition of my award nominated interview series with breadwinning, six figure, millionaire women. I love this series, as I not only get to learn from these amazing women, but I have the honor of sharing their stories with the world. I sincerely hope that they help educate and inspire you as much as they do myself.
Today I’m honored to introduce Echo Huang, a financial planner with CFA charter, certified financial planner (CFP®) and CPA designations. Echo is an amazing woman who came to the US from China with $800 in her pocket, after growing up in a village without running water – and electricity. Today she’s a breadwinning, six figure earning millionaire running her own financial firm. She’s not only the breadwinner of her own family, and a mom, but she also partially supports her parents who recently immigrated to the U.S.
She’s what she calls a “tripple minority” in the financial planning business – female, Asian, and a new immigrant. And when she faced discrimination and challenges in more “traditional” financial planning firms (including being passed over for promotion and being underpaid), she found success by setting out on her own. She’s on the path to financial independence, but doesn’t want to stop working – instead she wants to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
So without further ado, let’s get to know more about Echo.
Tell us about yourself!
I am Echo Huang, CFA, CFP®, CPA, Founder and President of Echo Wealth Management, a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) in Minnesota, serving mainly corporate executives, successful entrepreneurs and professionals across the country between ages 40 and 55.
I came from Shenzhen, China alone with $800 when I was 20 years old and majored in accounting. Currently I live in Plymouth, Minnesota with my husband Dan and teenaged daughter Nina. I enjoy travel, ballroom dancing, reading and playing piano.
In fact, I compete in Pro-Am ballroom dancing with my instructor and professional partner Gene Bersten. I really love music and take piano lessons weekly.
Let’s get some details – how much money do you make, and how long did it take you to get there? And are you a millionaire or are you on the way?
I have been a breadwinner for the past 11 years. I earn about $350,000 annual income (salary plus business profit). In addition to my company’s market value (maybe $1.4 million), I have about $1.5 million investments.
I started making more than $100,000 income in 2005, two years after I started my solo investment practice with LPL Financial. Before I started my new company, Echo Wealth Management in 2015, I made about $220,000 per year. My net worth grew dramatically in the past four years due to great stock portfolio performance and my own company’s value.
How did you get started in the workforce?
After I graduated from Winona State University in May 1995, I started working as a cost accountant for West Publishing Company (now Thomson Reuter), earning $25k per year. After I passed the CPA exam in 1996, I worked for KPMG in Minneapolis in auditing and then Personal Financial Planning for almost four years, serving corporate executives and wealthy families as senior tax specialist.
How did you get from where you started to where you are now?
As a tax CPA, KPMG provided me opportunities to serve many corporate executives in tax planning, stock options planning and tax returns preparation. I probably received seven years of tax technical training and experience during the four years there because of long work hours and great exposure to complex tax planning for corporate executives. However, the crazy hours of tax season (sometimes 65 hours per week) didn’t fit my ideal lifestyle for the long term. I really wanted to add more value to the relationships, by being more proactive in comprehensive financial planning including investment management, insurance review and estate planning. Within this large CPA firm, I was able to give financial planning advice for a fee, but I couldn’t implement the investment strategies by managing the investments in house.
I switched from tax CPA to financial advisor in 2000, to help start a new investment advisory service for another large CPA firm in downtown Minneapolis. Also, I obtained the CFP® designation right before age 30, and started building credibility among my CPA colleagues. After two years of creating a new service, I felt I had reached the glass ceiling inside a large company and the changes I wanted didn’t happen.
In March 2003, I decided to start my own investment business with LPL Financial, an independent brokerage firm with 4,500 advisors at that time, and I was able to manage over $20 million after 2.5 years. When my daughter Nina was born in June 2005, I knew I needed assistance in order to grow the business while being a mother. I merged my business with another small firm as a minority owner. My main focus there was expanding financial planning and investment management services to corporate executives of Fortune 500 Companies.
During this time, I had gained extensive experience in managing a small business and serving the clients who are driven to succeed and lead very busy lives. When a major change in ownership happened in that firm, I didn’t feel that I had a clear path for additional ownership and increased compensation for additional duties I perform. I decided to take a leap of faith – starting a new company on my own again in early 2015.
I decided to drop my security license (FINRA license) and set up an independent RIA (CMO Note – Registered Investment Advisor). I want to receive only fees for investment management without getting paid commissions from fund companies. Today, I have three associate wealth managers working closely with me to manage over $84 million for 58 families.
My firm’s vision is to take complexity out of wealth management, so that clients have the confidence to follow their dreams. I plan to attract and retain the best talent by creating an internal ownership plan down the road. I’m very excited about my company’s future.
Where do you want to go in your career – and your financial life?
I have overcome many obstacles in life – including growing up in small villages in China without running water and electricity to coming to the U.S. alone with little money. Now, I want to build an enterprise that has enduring value and will continue beyond my career, even my life.
In addition to personally serving up to 100 families as their wealth manager, I want to lay the right foundation for other wealth managers to join my firm and serve more families. In terms of financial independence, I believe I’m almost there, perhaps $4 million portfolio can sustain my current lifestyle for the rest of my life.
However, I don’t want to retire when I have $4 million portfolio. I love what I do to help people, and I have so much control in how I work (and play). I plan to focus on finding ways to add value as I work for the next twenty years, while taking more vacation days to travel the world with my family. I’ll probably still work part-time when I am 70 years old, as long as my brain is still sharp.
Outside of my work, I want to spend more time on ballroom dancing to stay in shape and have fun. I want to provide stability and financial security to my husband and daughter to pursue their passions. Nina and I take piano lesson together, and I am working on passing the Level 5 piano skills exam.
In addition to traveling the world with my family, I am also responsible for my parents. I sponsored them to immigrate to the U.S. four years ago to live closer to children and grandchildren. I will continue taking them to a nice vacation every year, and I’m looking forward to showing them the resort in Maui in Hawaii. I’ve decided to write a book soon to inspire more people to be in control of their financial future. Lastly, I want to continue funding theEcho Huang College of Business Scholarship for International Students.
What’s the biggest challenge in being a breadwinning mom? What’s the best part?
The biggest challenge in being a breadwinning mom is that I didn’t spend as much time with Nina as I wanted before she was 10 years old. I had a long commute when I lived in St. Paul and busy work schedule. Dan took her to most after-school activities, and I didn’t have enough time after work to teach her Chinese. Now I have a more reasonable work schedule, and she knows what I contribute to the family when I am not home.
The best part is that I can travel freely for conferences (I call them my mini-vacations) without worrying too much about taking care of Nina and my puppy Luna. I can choose to work late on Thursdays to offer some evening appointments to clients. My husband Dan is proud of my achievements, and we knew 11 years ago I would be the one to make much more money.
He quit working for a big corporation in 2007 and started his own immigration law practice in Minneapolis. This way, he can set his own hours. Now he is running for city council in Plymouth to make our city better. CMO Note – A supportive spouse or partner really is one of the keys to reaching higher levels of success. I feel similarly about my husband.
Becoming a millionaire is a dream of many people. How did you get there?
I started with savings in my first 401(k) plan in 1995. Even though my annual income was only $25k, I contributed 6% of salary to get the company matching. Over the years, I was able to increase my savings. I’ve been maximizing contributions to my 401(k) plans the past 9 years.
As a financial advisor, I understand diversification and risks and returns. I am a risk taker and have a long time horizon, therefore I invest almost all my retirement funds in stocks or stock ETFs. I also use some option strategies to increase returns and protect profits during market downturns. The long US bull market in the past decade has helped me reach $1 million portfolio – I didn’t stop investing during the bear market in 2008.
In addition, starting new businesses requires funding. I have used loans wisely, including home equity line of credit and business line of credit, to take advantage of the interest deductions. In fact, I even used multiple credit cards with zero interest for 12 months to start my new business. I didn’t want to sell appreciated investments to pay so much taxes in one year.
What do you see as the key to earning such a high salary?
The key to earning a six figure income is to know your skills, expertise and passion and be ready to negotiate in salary and business deals. If I didn’t change my career from tax CPA to financial advisor, I would not have gained the new skills and certifications (including CFP® and CFA) that demand a six figure income.
Another factor is constant networking to be aware of new opportunities that may help you find your passion. If I didn’t network with members at theFinancial Planning Association MN Chapter, and then join my study group “Goddesses of Financial Planning”, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage and support to quit my job the first time.
Have you ever experienced issues in the workforce because you’re a woman? What did you do in response?
One of my bosses didn’t promote me to manager position. He hired a white male financial advisor from outside – even though I had been working there for over two years. In fact, I had the same CPA and CFP® designations, and similar tax planning experience. I decided to leave to start my first business, as I didn’t think my boss valued my contributions.
In financial services industry, I am a “triple minority”: Asian woman and new immigrant. At one point, my salary was at least 20% lower than my male colleagues . They didn’t even have the designations like CPA and CFP®! I started having meetings with other business partners to bring up the issues of inequity, and the lack of clear path for me to gain more ownership as I bring in more ideal clients for the firm. I demanded higher salary for additional responsibilities.
When the negotiation did not work out, it became clear that I should not waste more time trying to fix the problems in this firm. I believed in myself to create a better work environment. I’m determined to be more open minded in adopting new technology, and to create a business contingency plan/succession plan long before I’m ready to retire.
Chief Mom Officer is primarily a personal finance blog – tell us about your saving and investment strategy
I maximize 401(k) savings ($18,500 per year) and my own company can contribute at least 3.5% of pay along with discretionary contributions (say 10% of pay in a good year). I’m aiming to save at least 20% of my income, mainly in stocks and stock ETFs that are low cost and tax efficient.
I don’t invest in individual real estate – I don’t have the time to manage it and it’s illiquid. I have a timeshare, Westin Vacation Club in Maui, that I plan to use personally. My goal is to reach a $4 million portfolio and then start working fewer hours by hiring more people.
My firm’s value will likely grow much faster than my portfolio. I want to focus on building my company brand by using social media better. I attended FinCon18, and will attend FinCon19, to learn more about this from other financial bloggers and advisors.
What’s the top three pieces of advice you’d have for someone just starting out in the workforce, struggling with their career, or just looking to improve how they handle their money?
Start your financial planning from where you are. Even with a small amount, strive to at least receive 100% of the matching contributions from your employer. It’s hard to beat 100% return with almost no risks. As your income goes up, increase contributions to simplify additional savings.
If you struggle with your career, network with others to find someone you respect and seek advice. This person can be in your company or outside of your company. They should be someone with whom you can honestly discuss your hopes and dreams. Obtain additional training or certifications if needed. Try to get your employer to approve the expenses.
Be adaptable, and ready to learn new skills, if your current career is not the best path for you. Focus on the tasks you enjoy doing, and your natural strengths. It’s OK to have some setbacks to move towards the right path.
Where can people connect with you?
CMO Here Again
Thank you so much to Echo for stopping by to share her story! Wow. She came to this country from rural China with very little money, and worked her way to owning her own financial planning firm-and millionaire status. I have to say Echo is hugely inspiring to me.
I found it interesting how the issues at prior firms were so problematic that she set out on her own. I’ve seen this repeated over and over again, whenever I read about successful women. Breaking through the glass ceiling takes so much time, energy, and effort (not to mention might not be possible in specific workplaces). Ambitious, driven women will often leave the company first.
So companies, be sure you’re creating a clear path forward for women, or you’ll lose your top high-potential talent.
Be sure to leave Echo a comment below!
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