Photo by Heidi McClelland

By Kristen Domingue

We recently sat down with Jessica Ping, a financial advisor who grew up in Saline and currently lives in the Ann Arbor/Saline area. Throughout her school years, she was a stand-out student athlete, and now she continues to excel in the dynamic playing field of finance.

Our favorite part about the interview with Jessica was her financial confidence in her own life and how she lends that confidence to her clients. Jessica’s non-judgemental and supportive approach is what we hope all women can experience when it comes to their relationship with their financial advisor. If you don’t have one yet, consider Jessica; she might be everything you’ve been looking for in one package.

How I got started

I knew in middle school that I wanted to be that lady who dresses up in a business suit and goes to the office. Things really came together for me when I graduated from college with a business major. I knew that I liked numbers and I liked working with people to solve problems. So, I started working for Paychex, Inc. I worked with small to medium-sized businesses and helped them with 401k administration, payroll processing, and group benefits; I saw what this was like on the corporate side of things.

It wasn’t until my brother, who was by then a managing director at Northwestern Mutual, said to me, “Jessie, you have all this experience working with group benefits. Why don’t you come over to the personal side of planning?” My older sister was also a financial advisor — she had been working with Northwestern Mutual for a few years, and I could see how successful they both were in their careers. It seemed interesting enough to me to try it out.

Prior to that point, I had worked with over 2,000 business owners in my 16 years with Paychex. I had a lot of connections, and I knew many of them could benefit from what I could offer as a financial planner.

Our approach

I’m a Northwestern Mutual financial advisor. I work with many successful young professional women who often don’t have a clear idea of what to do with their money. Together we figure out student loans, how to create assets, and how to balance income between the two and establish a budget to live on each month. When you start younger and build savings vehicles early on, it becomes a habit. When you’re older, it’s harder (when you’re used to spending a certain amount of money per month for years on end) to start cutting a portion of that and putting it into a place you don’t touch. At first, that 10-20% cut into your spending can hurt; but you can do it.

With me, clients can do full financial planning. This means they can do three things: budgeting, investing, and risk-management. People often neglect the importance of risk-management (insurance coverage) that gets you through the unpredictable moments in life. This is the challenge with working with a traditional financial advisor — and what’s different about Northwestern Mutual. With us, you have the ability to get all of it handled with a full financial plan, not just a savings and investment plan. 

96% of Northwestern Mutual clients stay with us. We recognize that for our clients, life changes every year. Whether it be a marriage, a divorce, a child, a grandchild, college planning, or anything else — all of those are what we go over during our annual meetings to make sure that we address them in our clients’ plan. If I’m working with a younger client, we might just do life insurance and disability insurance and start an IRA. But as the years go by, the planning becomes more detailed and more complex. That’s the one thing that I really liked about the process that Northwestern Mutual provided for us as advisors; they understand the necessity of layering in the right next steps at the right time.

How we manage transitions: divorce, death and marriage

In cases where there is a separation or divorce and the couple has a joint financial plan, many clients don’t know what to do. They don’t even realize they can split the assets through what’s called a QDRO (qualified domestic relations order), where a legal order through the court system details how assets will be split. Otherwise, one partner may try to take advantage of the other.In cases like that, I work directly with divorce attorneys to make sure that when the QDRO is put in place, it’s executed fully and the assets are moved correctly.

The other time people absolutely need support (and often don’t get it) is when there’s a loss in the family. That’s usually when assets are rolled over or inherited. People often don’t know what to do with those monies, and then they’re spent instead of considering them for long-term investing or planning for the next generation. When it comes to saving, the earlier the better; having investment funds for children and grandchildren as soon as they’re born gives these assets time to mature. They can be of full benefit to the child and reach maximum potential when started early.

One of the more fun financial milestones is when my clients get married. This is a moment when I wear my financial therapist hat. Well after marriage, both partners often still have two separate bank accounts. If that’s a conscious choice, that’s good. But this is usually a default approach to money, and at some point, conflict arises that highlights the necessity of having a joint approach.

The myth of “the right time” 

When it comes to getting a financial advisor, the truth is that there’s no “perfect time.” There’s just the adage “the earlier, the better” coupled with the reality that it’s never too late. But for many, there’s a fear of working with a financial advisor. Many people feel embarrassed by what they don’t know. 

I just met with a couple in their forties with three kids. They don’t have any life insurance. They have debt and don’t have very much in terms of savings put away. I ran into the woman at a function before she became a client, and she asked me, “When is the right time for me to come see you?” I told her that she could come any time. Later she went on to explain, “We were so nervous to meet with you because we thought you were going to judge our financial situation.” I told her that it’s not my place to judge When someone has the courage to ask for help, they don’t need my judgement, they need my support. I told her that together, we’d figure out a game plan so that her family can see a brighter and clearer financial future.

How to know I’m right for you

I frequently meet people in their fifties and sixties who didn’t think that they were worthy of a financial advisor, or thought they could do the planning on their own. I think that’s a big missed opportunity, because if they were to sit down with somebody like me, I could get them a plan to figure out if and when they can retire and make sure they have the budget for it, and explain to them how Medicare, taxes, inflation, health insurance, and social security factors into their plan. I love working with individuals approaching retirement and giving them clarity on their finances.

Personally, I find it a fun challenge to work with young doctors and others who have graduate school debt, because I worked with my husband (a physician and Chief of Staff and the VA Hospital in Ann Arbor) on managing his. It’s so important to make sure that graduates have the right insurance for their profession, too. For example, my husband needs disability insurance, given the risks of his chosen profession. It’s important to protect his income and future earning potential. 

I can use my financial know-how to help families make a difference in their lives and others’. Like so many of my clients, I’m a very family-oriented person. I have three siblings I’m close to and very proud of. My mom and dad have always been really involved in the community through education. Then my dad went into the professional sports world. Growing up, we were always very involved in community events. For almost 29 years, we’ve hosted a golf outing in Saline that has given around $5-6,000 back to the community every year through different nonprofit organizations. For example, we’ve given to Chad Tough this year; for two years before that, we gave to Safe House. In addition, we give two to three academic/athletic scholarships to Saline High School seniors each year.

I started saving and investing as early as I did because of a personal challenge. When I was in college, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s. I realized that younger people think they’re invincible and healthy, and that’s not the case for many. I became a Northwestern Mutual client when I was 23 years old. If I hadn’t gotten life insurance when I did right out of college, I’d probably be uninsurable. This experience spurs me to help my clients make key financial decisions now, for whatever life may throw their way.

On being a working woman

One of the things that gives my life the most meaning is being a mom to three kids. I have a fifteen-year-old son, a nine-year-old daughter, and a seven-year-old son. I love that my career allows me to attend school functions and athletic events and still have time to be with my clients. I just build it into my schedule. I’ve figured out how to be a part of their lives and still be there for my clients. My husband is engaged as well. Every day, he wants to know what’s going on and what my goals are. We work together to give ourselves and our kids a well-rounded family life.

Advice to younger me (and young adults today)

I see so many 25-year-olds living in their parents’ basement because they don’t really know what they want. Some do know, and they’ve strategized that this is the right financial path for them right now. But so many think they’re “supposed to” be getting their master’s or PhD, and they’re getting themselves into more debt. Yet, deep down, their hearts are somewhere else. So, I’d say to all of you out there, and wish I could’ve said this to my recent college-grad self: if you don’t know, don’t rush your life.

There are few women in my industry, and that can be daunting. But I think that digging in and learning about finance is empowering. Only 7% of the advisors at Northwestern Mutual are women. Industry-wide, it might be about 11-12%. However, women control 51% of the nation’s wealth, and we know from the research that women prefer to work with other women when it comes to their money. I’d remind my younger self that that alone is worth it.

Finally, I’d say the earlier you can start with organizing your money and investing, the better. I recently met with a 25-year-old young woman who just wanted to get everything in order. She’ll be able to do whatever she wants as long as she commits to the savings plan we set up together. She’s going to be in a great position 20 years down the road. 

It’s a good idea to meet with a financial advisor as soon as you get a job. And if you didn’t? It’s OK to start wherever you are. Whatever your circumstance is, it’s not too late to plan ahead.

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Jessica’s story is unique because a health crisis at an early age forced her into financially planning for her future. We loved meeting with her because she fully understands that even if you don’t start early, it’s never too late. She also made it clear that judgement has no place in a financial planning conversation. This was refreshing, because so often, what we don’t know can hurt us when it comes to our money. Jessica makes it easy to get the support we need to have clarity about what we need to do to feel financially secure and free.

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