Establishing Trust To Better Advise Clients
Financial advisor Andrea Romero has always followed a calling to help the most vulnerable people-- financial advising is no exception.
Andrea Romero sometimes refers to herself as the “St. Luke of advisors,” a reference to the saint whose gospel emphasizes selflessness, in a nod to her degree in theology and her focus on helping those at risk of being left behind.
“So much of my practice is informed by helping people who need a patient financial guide, either because of their background or because they’re new to generational wealth,” says Romero. “I got in this not to make myself the wealthiest advisor and only work with million-dollar people. I got in this to help people navigate something that’s very confusing.”
Romero is an advisor at Faubourg Private Wealth, an independent Louisiana-based firm that provides comprehensive financial planning. Many of her clients are nonprofit professionals. Many are also people of color and LGBTQ+—groups that have historically had little experience working with advisors or other financial professionals. And as a transgender woman, Romero can relate to the challenges they face.
“I have an ability to really help [find] solutions that impact my clients’ big picture financially and their entire lives,” she says. “Let’s face it, that’s why I do what I do. The money is meaningless unless you’re getting those goals and dreams satisfied.”
A 10th-generation Louisianian, Romero recalls being fascinated with finance in her youth. She was attracted to the idea of being a stockbroker despite not knowing exactly what it meant at the time. But as she got older, she followed another passion and took a job working in the nonprofit sector at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Washington, D.C., where she managed a grant program for migratory bird habitat conservation. She then returned to her alma mater, Georgetown University, to work in principal-gift fundraising. This is when she primarily began turning a keener eye to her own assets and deepened her understanding of finance while talking to wealthy donors and earning their trust, which gave her invaluable experience. Then, after 25 years of working in fundraising and a move back to Louisiana, she finally heeded the advice of her own financial advisor at Edward Jones and made a career switch to the firm in 2014.
To her surprise, Romero found that working in finance gave her even more opportunities to continue her work of improving people’s lives.
“What I didn’t see at the time when I jumped into financial advising was how that was going to inform my work with clients,” she says. “I am motivated by the transformative power that I have for them. I really, truly feel more demonstrably helpful in people’s lives than I ever was in 25 years of working in nonprofits because it actually impacts real people who have real dreams and needs.”
It’s important to her to know her clients and their stories. “Those corny ads about the financial advisor being at the wedding or the funeral?” she says. “They’re real, and it’s meaningful.”
After working at Edward Jones for a few years, she jumped at an opportunity in March 2020 to join Faubourg, a smaller, more community-oriented firm. Faubourg loosely translates to “neighborhood” or “suburb” in Old French.
“One of the things that I found at Jones was continually hitting a ceiling of the [brokerage-firm] model, which was built for the lone wolf,” she says. “You’d have one advisor with one office and one administrator to help you, if you’re lucky. It kept me from serving endowment management and employer-sponsored retirement plans, among other areas important to my business.”
Like Romero, Faubourg’s founders, P. David Soliman and W. Tyson Vanlandingham, had also left the brokerage world because they felt restricted. Soliman and Vanlandingham built a firm that allows its advisors to draw upon a diverse set of tools and resources to create financial and investment plans for their clients. This approach was appealing to Romero.
“The benefit of joining a firm like Faubourg is that we try to create a lot of our own programming,” she says. “Under our RIA Advisor Resource Council, I can plug into asset-allocation models, separately managed accounts, or unified managed accounts that give my clients defensive hedging and risk management.”
Around the time that Romero was changing careers, she was also in the midst of another important process with much more far-reaching implications in her life.
“Well, I am transgender, and I always have been. I finally accepted that fact and started my transition in 2015, concurrent with starting my career as a financial advisor, concurrent with separating and divorcing my partner of 15 years, concurrent with having two kids under 5,” she says. “It was brutally tough. And I was probably too stubborn and too driven to give any one of those things up. I did a lot of that, as most would, behind the scenes until, as we say, I went public with my transition in 2018, and that was yet another challenge.”
She says it was a terrifying process, but Edward Jones offered her professional and logistical support by facilitating compliance-approved letters to her colleagues and clients and by helping her deal with the necessary registration changes at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. But that didn’t alleviate all the stress that came along with it.
“Those little fear steps are natural when you’re fighting something that you’ve fought against for 30-plus years, which was my story and my case,” she says. “I do not think I am unique in that regard. I believe everybody, in the context of coming out, comes to it with their own baggage and their own history, whether they’re doing it at 15 years old or 50. It doesn’t make it any easier. But I think we all find we get to the other side, and we breathe that sigh of relief. I was gratified that, by and large, 98% of my clients were like, ‘Oh my god, absolutely. Great. Doesn’t matter to us. We trust you.’ ”
Romero says that she’s been able to take her experience and use it to better inform her work.
On one hand, she’s able to understand what a loss of privilege feels like after coming out, which many of her LGBTQ+ clients can relate to. On the other, her transparency and vulnerability have only improved the trust her clients give her in exchange.
It’s also not lost on Romero that long-term planning is often a luxury—especially regarding finance. Historically, people in disadvantaged communities can’t devote substantial time and resources to the next 15 to 20 years of their lives in the same ways as wealthier people.
“I can’t tell you how many times I hear that story,” Romero says. “My grandfather was a directional oil drilling engineer in Louisiana, so he used to say the same thing because he had a really challenging, dangerous job. In his 40s, he was blown off of a rig in the Gulf of Mexico. So, he would often say, ‘I never thought I’d live to 95,’ yet he did. The irony for me today is seeing it in people with nice, successful careers or businesses, and they tell me, ‘I thought for sure AIDS would kill me. It killed everybody I know, so I never saved anything.’ Those stories motivate me. It is never too late to work on financial goals, and never too early either.”
This is just one of many challenges that Romero, and all advisors, must keep in mind while working with LGBTQ+ clients, who make up one fourth of her client base. Navigating legal red tape, planning for medical or childcare costs, estate planning for childless or estranged couples, and avoiding complicated financial pitfalls are just some of the reasons having an advisor who empathizes is beneficial and important.
These challenges are further heightened by Republican efforts to enact laws that criminalize or restrict transgender medical care. Romero hopes that financial security can prepare people, especially those underserved, for any hardships they may face.
Keith Reid-Cleveland is an editor, content development, at Morningstar.
How she caught our eye: As a member of the LGBTQ+ community and with experience in the nonprofit sector, she brings unique insight to her clients.
Career path: Obtained a Bachelor of Arts in theology with a minor in history from Georgetown University in 1992. After working in the nonprofit sector for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and American Rivers, she pivoted to fundraising for Georgetown in 2001, followed by stints with Tulane University and the American Red Cross. She started working as an advisor at Edward Jones in 2014 before leaving for Faubourg Private Wealth in 2020.
Personal: Has two daughters, 8 and 11. Took on the role of president of the Gulf South LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce in December 2020. A past board member of Lighthouse Louisiana and PFLAG New Orleans chapter and its PFLAG scholarship program, she’s also a member of the NOLA Cherry Bombs, a marching crew that can be seen at various events, including Mardi Gras parades. If she weren’t working in finance, she says she’d probably devote more time to gardening or appreciating classic architecture.
Favorite investments: A mix of municipal-bond funds as a proxy for savings, classic dividend-paying equities, international small and mid-caps, and dividend-focused funds from MFS, Prudential, and Nuveen, along with hedged and tactical asset-allocation strategies through her RIA Advisor Resource Council.