Career Insights from Valerie Nichols

Recently, we sat down with Valerie Nichols of Smith & Howard Wealth Management to find out more about the path that led to her career in the wealth management world and to ask her to share some advice for women who are trying to decide what career path they would like to follow.

Where are you from and did you always want to be in financial services? If not, what was your original career goal?

I was born in Atlanta and grew up in Stone Mountain.  I graduated from Georgia State University here in Atlanta. My original career goal was to major in business, as I came from a family of accountants and a Math major but I was the “wild” one who branched out into Finance.  Following the stock market always interested me and I enjoyed the Finance and Investment courses at Georgia State much more than Accounting and Marketing. I was also interested in Psychology and took several Psychology courses but did not think there would be many lucrative career opportunities with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. As it turned out, when working with individuals in managing their wealth, psychology and behavioral finance come into play quite a bit so I get to work in both areas.

What motivates you to come to SHWM each day?Valerie Nichols

One motivation for me to come to work at SHWM is the satisfaction gained from helping clients and the appreciation they express.  I think it is a great honor when clients place their trust in us to manage their life savings and trust us to make the right investment decisions for them and their families. When we can take advantage of what the market has to offer at any given time and deliver positive results to clients, there is a great deal of satisfaction there. The investment world is constantly changing with new ideas, new strategies, and new products which I find interesting and challenging.

What one piece of advice would you give to young women starting their careers?

If you are a young woman starting out I would comment that the sooner in your career that you can figure out:  (a) what you are good at, (b) what you enjoy doing, then most importantly (c) what type of job does this translate into, then you will be much better off.  I spent several less-than-exciting years as a Bank Examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta as this was the only good job available after college to pay the bills. However, if I had an idea where I wanted to end up, I could have used this job as a stepping stone to get there much quicker. Also, I could have done a better job of reaching out to make contacts outside of my department and be more deliberate in making a list of who I wanted to get to know.  I would say don’t stay in a job too long that does not really challenge you and interest you – have an idea of where you want to go and keep making progress to get there.  Also, think of who you know (or who you can try to get to know) that can help you figure out (a) and (c) and keep in touch with these people.

What was the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of career advice I received was to pick up the phone to connect with people and don’t spend so much time in my office analyzing portfolios.  Clients don’t always appreciate that you have spent the past several hours looking at every holding in their account if they haven’t heard from you in several months or don’t know what you have been doing for them.  A short phone call can go a long way in forming a connection and better than an email even in today’s busy world.

Who has been a great influence in your life?

One person that I have greatly admired in my life is my Dad.  He showed us through example the importance of a strong work ethic and integrity in all you do by the way he lived his life.  He treated everyone with kindness and respect.  He valued his family over everything else and he always had time for us whether it was coaching my soccer team or teaching me to drive a car.  He was there for us by being a constant presence in the everyday events including driving car pool and cooking dinner.  He encouraged us to make our own decisions and was supportive in whatever we wanted to do. If we faltered we knew he would be there to catch us, but he had confidence in us to let us make our own choices.

Valerie Nichols is Director of Investments with Smith & Howard Wealth Management. She is a Chartered Financial Analyst and a valued member of SHWM's leadership team. For more on Valerie, view her profile here. You can contact here at 404-874-6244 or at this email address.