Michelle Wong, FPQP™, is the founder of and virtual assistant for Nifty Advisor Support, a support solution for independent Registered Investment Advisors. Nifty provides back office services and VAs for RIAs in D.C., Pennsylvania, Arizona, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, and soon to be more. On our latest YAFPNW episode, Michelle talks to Hannah about how Nifty serves financial advisors, adapting to a virtual work environment, and how new planners can explore operations as a career path.

Combining business and finance

Michelle knew she wanted to start a business of her own; before she even began college, she wanted to go to business school. By majoring in financial economics, Michelle was able to learn more about business and the finance world at the same time.

“I actually pursued financial planning, with the goal to be a financial advisor for a couple of years. But then I just enjoyed working alongside advisors from the business aspect, versus working with consumers,” said Michelle. “And that's really where I developed my passion to stay in operations versus being a financial planner.”

This passion for the operations side, plus the desire to live a more flexible lifestyle with work-life balance, led Michelle to create Nifty. Nifty has a marketing team, client servicing team, and paraplanning team. Each team plays a different role within the client experience. 

The marketing team, for example, makes sure that the brand is consistent and communicated correctly across all channels. The client servicing team onboards new clients and acts more in an administrative capacity. The paraplanning team has developed into a data entry and analysis role. Overall, each team works together to support advisors.

“I always say there's this kind of gray area between client servicing and paraplanning, right?” said Michelle. “Because, depending on our team, someone who's in client servicing can definitely study and support the role that a paraplanner has and vice versa. Someone who is a paraplanner most likely has experience in client servicing.” 

Adapting to a virtual work environment

The profession has evolved so much over the past few years. And after COVID-19, it has changed even more.

Michelle said that pre-pandemic, there was a lot of resistance to working virtually in the profession. It wasn’t just about adopting different systems. Many advisors were unwilling to change how they managed a team or tracked productivity. It was hard to replace the idea that, to ensure someone is “working,” they have to be seen sitting at their desk.

Of course, all that is different now because of the coronavirus. One of the biggest changes Michelle has noticed is how planners have adapted their client meetings. Many people have more Zoom calls now, but it’s important to manage that meeting time so you don’t feel overwhelmed with virtual meetings.

How can new and veteran planners continue to hone their professional skills? Commit to professional development. A traditional opportunity would be an internship. The site Simply Paraplanner has a lot of valuable resources. And another is FPA’s Virtual Externship program.

Operations as a career path

For people interested in alternate careers in financial planning, but not financial planning itself, should consider roles in operations. If you’re interested in freelancing, becoming a freelancer is a great option. If you’re interested in strategy and working with advisors on a project basis, think about consulting, said Michelle.

“It's just been really refreshing and interesting to see what people in operations are creating for themselves, because there aren't those career paths,” said Michelle.

For example, consulting within operations might include those tasks that financial planners don’t have time for, or departments they struggle in. Entrepreneurs are used to doing everything themselves, like marketing or administrative tasks. That’s where a consultant may come in to streamline or automate processes. A virtual assistant can actually do those tasks for planners, too.

How can new planners explore these career paths? You can join a firm, or you can be a freelancer and create your own offer. First, create a list of your own personal values, Michelle suggested. Maybe you’ve always wanted to work as a creative, or you’ve wanted a flexible lifestyle. From there, pick your top three or five values and explore how you can create a service offering and unique brand.

As paraplanning gets more competitives, and virtual assistants become more competitive with what they have to offer, “branding is really the only thing that's going to make you stand out amongst the crowd,” said Michelle. “If you're creating such a unique offering, where someone is always trying to copy you, they'll always be in second place, regardless if they're trying to catch up or not.”

What You’ll Learn:

  • How Michelle founded Nifty Support
  • The keys to building a great team
  • Nifty’s teams and their roles
  • How Nifty works with clients
  • How people have reacted to the idea of working virtually
  • Professional development opportunities
  • The future of operations as a career
  • What a career in operations might look like
  • Michelle’s advice for becoming a paraplanner or VA

In this episode of YAFPNW, Hannah Moore, CFP®, and Michelle Wong, FPQP™ and founder of Nifty Advisor Support, discuss:

Interested in following Michelle? Follow her on LinkedIn!