After she finishes unpacking all the boxes covered with plastic sheets in the basement of her Philadelphia home, Jocelyn Wright, 49, will begin building what she calls the financial practice of the future.
Wright describes herself as hitting a reset point in her career as she transitions from academic life to return her focus to her advisory practice. From 2014 until a few months ago, she served as the chair of The State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at The American College while maintaining an advisory practice. She remains on the adjunct faculty at the college as she devotes more time to serving clients.
Now, Wright is renovating her stone duplex to serve as the nerve center for her soon-to-be virtual practice, Ascension Investment Advisors, as well as to provide living spaces for her and her sister.
Wright’s new headquarters is in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood — a 45-minute commuter-train ride from congested Center City. With its tree-lined streets, flower-filled planters and stone houses, this parklike community resembles an old-money suburb within the city limits.
The house isn’t far from the neighborhood where Wright grew up, and where she had what she called the turning point that led to her passion in helping others find financial security.
In the spring of Wright’s sophomore year of college, her grandmother died, leaving behind a life insurance policy with only a $5,000 death benefit — not enough to have the type of funeral deserving of the family matriarch.
“I saw how my father and aunts were trying to come up with the money to have a service in Philadelphia and then have a burial for her in the South, which is where she was from originally,” Wright said. “I kept asking myself, ‘Why didn’t we know better?’”
The irony was that Wright’s grandmother had been scheduled to meet with an agent to discuss life insurance on the day she died.
Wright always had an interest in finance, beginning in childhood when she would volunteer to be the banker during Monopoly games. But as a college student studying business and finance, that interest kicked into high gear.
“I worked in the collection industry in college, working with people who had fallen behind on their credit card bills,” she said. “I learned to be very protective about credit and to be conscientious about paying bills on time. I also would help friends with basic budgeting.”
After finishing graduate school, Wright landed a job with J.P. Morgan but was laid off shortly after 9/11. Despite that setback, she still enjoyed working in the financial world.
“I wanted to educate people,” she said. “It’s important to me to educate people about personal finance and especially to get more women involved in the field.”
Wright moved to Houston, where she joined a boutique financial planning firm and found what she described as “a wonderful mentor” in the firm’s owner.
“The firm had an African-American woman owner, and 50 percent of the employees were women,” Wright recalled. But she soon discovered that this firm was the exception to the rule. Women and people of color were almost invisible in the financial services industry — both as advisors and as clients.
Wright made it her mission to change that.
“I focused on serving single, professional women,” she said. “At the time , it was thought that single women didn’t have a need for financial products or solutions. I knew differently. There are so many women who are caregivers and have people who depend on them. There are women who are earning money but need help on investing and preparing for retirement. Who is going to help them?”
Back Home In Philadelphia
After nine years in Houston, Wright moved back to Philadelphia. She began working for a large insurance and financial services agency in the suburb of Newtown Square. The agency was starting a unit focusing on African-American clients. After a year there, Wright had the opportunity to purchase her own registered investment advisory firm.
She continued to focus on serving professional women.
“I see how the industry overlooks them,” she said. “A lot of people in the industry look at single women and think there’s no opportunity there — they don’t have a need for financial solutions.”
Wright begs to differ.
“Many single women are wearing multiple hats,” she said. “They are caregivers, they have responsibilities, they have people who depend on them, they have unique financial needs.”
“Women have a lot of anxiety about their finances and their retirement readiness. I think it’s my responsibility to ease their anxiety.”
In serving women, Wright noted a number of common factors that keep her clients awake at night.
“They’re worried about the long term. Will they be able to retire? Will they have enough? They’re concerned about their families as well. They want to make sure their parents are taken care of.”
The majority of Wright’s clients are African-American, and she noted that whether those clients are couples or individuals, many of them are what she called the financial go-to for their family.
“They are the people that others in the family go to when they need financial help,” she said. “How do they manage that and still make sure their own needs are covered?”
Wright’s studies to obtain her Certified Financial Planner designation led her to The American College. “The college was reaching out to me to take some additional classes, and I was working with people offering CFP classes,” she recalled. “At one point, I went to The American College website and saw the women’s center on the site. I saw there was an open position there and I reached out.”
The State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at The American College was founded in 2011 as the nation’s first academic center focusing on the economic issues and opportunities of American women, both as consumers and providers of financial products and services.
As director of the center, Wright promoted the advancement of women in the financial services profession. She also was outspoken on a number of issues facing women and minorities in the financial services world, writing about subjects ranging from the #MeToo movement to ideas for diversifying the agent and advisor force. Her columns appeared monthly in InsuranceNewsNet Magazine over the span of more than a year.
Wright’s work at The American College won praise from Deborah Eskridge Glenn, the college’s vice president of administration and chief human resources officer, who described Wright as “a rising star in our industry.”
“Jocelyn is the consummate professional and a strong advocate for women in financial services,” Glenn told InsuranceNewsNet. “She is an avid supporter of diversity and inclusion initiatives.”
Now that she has moved into an adjunct role at the college, Wright wants to continue working with clients and remain a voice for women and underrepresented groups in the industry.
She believes those in the industry need to pay attention to segments of the population that she believes have been ignored in the past.
“There is wealth in these underrepresented markets,” Wright said. “We can’t ignore certain groups simply because we’re not comfortable working with members of these communities.”
Wright recently joined a new study group whose members were asked to describe their “big hairy audacious goal.”
“Mine is that in the next five years, I want to form a group with at least five advisors and build a financial planning firm for the future — a firm that will help people who are overlooked,” she said.
Because of her relationship with The American College, Wright also wants “to help young advisors cut their teeth” and get a strong start in an industry that needs new blood.
“I think it’s especially important for women and people of color to make themselves visible,” she said, “so that young people can see someone like them doing this and realize it’s an option for them.”
Wright has her eye on forming the firm of the future. But right now, there are boxes to unpack, remodeling contractors to supervise and a virtual practice to get off the ground.
She also has a personal goal to attain. A long-distance runner, Wright is four states away from achieving the 50-State Challenge — running a half-marathon in each of the 50 states. She plans to complete the final half-marathon in Hawaii this month when she turns 50.
Wright believes a virtual office isn’t for everyone, but it makes sense for her and her clients right now.
“I don’t have to have a brick-and-mortar office — I can see clients virtually,” she said. “Using technology, doing virtual meetings with WebEx.”
Moving to a virtual practice “definitely helps to cut expenses,” Wright said. “I’m able to take the money spent on rent and put more money into marketing.”
For those who want to meet with her in person, Wright can use coworking spaces or meet with clients in their homes or offices. She still has a number of clients in Houston and travels to that city to meet with them.
“As long as I have an internet connection and a phone,” she said, “I can set up shop anywhere.”