In this interview, 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award honoree Ami Tully Lotka, BSPA’82, shares advice for O’Neill students and alumni considering careers in the financial services industry — and encourages them to view finance as a helping profession.
A lot of people dream about starting their own company. What would you say are keys to starting a successful financial services business?
It is a big leap to leave a company that provides you with income and benefits like clockwork to full on self-reliance. It’s a little scary. So, here are 3 keys:
- Your “want to” is bigger than the miracle of direct deposit. This is not about money — it’s bigger than that. There is a greater need served by the decision to start a business: freedom. Choice. Family. Flexibility.
- Your value proposition is solid. Your idea is good, specific to a market that you know well, and you a perceive a need for your idea in that market.
- You have a plan. You have a network. You are willing to work your plan every day and use your network like your life depended on it – because it does!
You’ve worked in financial services in a wide range of roles. What roles have you found most rewarding and why?
I enjoyed the autonomy of being a salesperson with a sales goal. Just me. I can do it!
I also enjoyed the strategic role of launching a new product line for a large asset management company. It was very exciting to get a new business off the ground. Lots of teamwork. Lots of collaboration. Lots of failed attempts followed by big wins to celebrate. I loved the team. We can do it!
But the best role has been helping other people find that thing inside themselves that leads to BETTER. I love helping people find that pathway. It’s there. You can do it!
What skills do you feel are most important in your work?
All skills I learned at IU:
- Discovery skills. Ask questions. The better you know your client, the bigger advantage you have.
- Listening skills. It’s really about your client, not about you. Hear what they say. Hear what they need. Really listen with your whole being. Hear what they are not saying. Perceive. Take notes. Remember what you heard.
- Clear and concise communication skills. Write it. Stand up and speak it. Propose it. Defend it. And be brief.
How do you schedule your day for success?
EAT, PRAY, LOVE. Take care of myself and my family. Connect spiritually with the world around me. Care about what is most important that day. Be grateful for the day and all there is to do. Then make a list, of course, and do ALL THE THINGS AS FAST AS POSSIBLE! Very zen — I know.
How did the pandemic change the way you work? Will it continue to be different post-pandemic?
My pre-pandemic work required that I travel every week to facilitate meetings, host workshops and events, and connect with clients in person. I logged about 200,000 air miles per year. So, that ended abruptly and truly overnight. We converted our business model to be 100 percent virtual. Our business was ready for that. The technology already existed, but we were never quite ready to make the switch to virtual connections. The decision was made for us. We won’t go back to the inefficiencies of the past. We will continue to thrive going forward with this better mix of virtual and in-person client engagements.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in exploring public and private sector finance or consulting?
The financial services industry is a helping profession. After health, financial care is a critical public need. It is not all about numbers. It is really about people. If you have an interest in the technical side of investments, there are definitely options to pursue — but don’t let “I’m not good at math” be the reason you don’t pursue a career in financial services. You can help municipalities manage budgets, raise capital, or create better communities. You can do that at the local level, or you can work at a community bank. You can help individuals with their financial health by working for an advisory firm. You can create investment solutions on a large scale by choosing to work for an asset management firm, global insurance firm, or global bank.
My advice is to choose how you want to help others, and then connect with alumni who are helping in that way. The question to ask is, “How do you help people in your work, and how do you recommend I get started so I can offer that kind of help to others?”
A career in wealth management or financial services can be extraordinarily fulfilling. You have the opportunity to leverage a vast range of products and resources to deliver solutions that meet the unique financial needs and goals of individuals and families – which increasingly are in alignment with their personal and social priorities. What you do for clients can make a critical difference in their lifestyles and their legacy.
You are passionate about encouraging women to consider careers in finance. Why?
Finance is about more than just money: it’s about making a difference.
Women are under-represented in client-facing roles in the financial services industry, like sales and relationship management. These roles create a pathway to senior leadership, and I want to encourage women to participate. Sales gets a bad rap. Women tell me selling is too harsh, too pushy, and too competitive. But I am here to tell women to stop telling themselves that story. It is an exciting profession with many ways to be of service to others AND be highly compensated.
Ami Tully Lotka, BSPA’82, started her career selling municipal bonds. After holding several different positions in financial services, she and her husband co-founded Maximum Impact Partners, a firm that provides sales and marketing strategic consulting for financial services companies in North America and Southeast Asia. Learn more about her work and other O’Neill distinguished alumni on our website.