For as long as she can remember, Laura Mattia has had a strong calling to serve.
A child of the Vietnam era, she grew up with a deep concern for the people that were dying and suffering as a result of the war, the children starving in Africa, and a poor family in her New Jersey neighborhood. While in high school, she worked at a nursing home and in a facility for autistic children. She always knew that she wanted a career that would allow her to help people.
Her parents taught her to believe that a career in business and finance was for people who couldn't do anything to really help society. Their views were very much in line with the early hippie or beatnik generation, so they raised Laura to not seek, materialism, and the accumulation of wealth. They did, however, instill in her the sense that she could do anything that she set her mind to.
Laura's father was a chemist by trade, but he was more interested in his avocation as a musician and did not make a lot of money. Like many women of her day; Laura's mother gave up her career to take care of her family and, although she never complained, her life was one of endless sacrifice. She was an intelligent, college-educated woman, but many of her talents went untapped – she was the classic example of an un-empowered woman that could have been left financially vulnerable.
Thankfully, Laura's mother was not among the 9 out of 10 women who end up alone.
Had she outlived her husband, her choice to put everyone else's needs ahead of her own happiness, would have left her ill-equipped to fend for herself. This thought weighed heavily on Laura's mind after her mother's passing and she vowed to always take responsibility for her own wellbeing, her financial situation, and her happiness – she also resolved to help other women do the same.
Laura grew up thinking that her family's frugal ways and obsession with not spending money gave them the freedom to think about more important things like art and helping others and she took this belief to college, where she majored in psychology. Laura's father had been laid off while she was in high school and he had to use the college savings to support the family, so Laura had to work to pay her own way through college.
Laura received a B.S. in psychology after getting married at age 21 and she was working as a Customer Service Manager for an airline when her husband first encountered career problems and setbacks. She soon realized that money was actually very important and that it could afford you the freedom to think about more meaningful things, and give you the ability to pursue your goals.
In light of her husband's difficulties, she began reading the want ads and noticed an abundance of opportunities for people with business and finance degrees, so she resolved to go back to school and get the credentials needed to earn a better living for her family. Laura enrolled in an M.B.A. program and attended classes at night while working full-time during the day; by the time her first child was born, her husband had stopped working altogether...
With her M.B.A. in hand, she was able to land a job as a cost accountant for a typesetting equipment manufacturer. She later began working in the same capacity for M&M/Mars, where she quickly rose to the rank of Global Controller for one of their divisions. Her job required a lot of international travel, but she never let on that she had children because she did not want to be overlooked for promotions.
After much personal success (despite some major roadblocks she encountered), she began to feel that her career did not align with her lifelong desire to help people. She decided to design a strategic plan for her life – just like the ones the she developed for M&M/Mars. Her Personal Strategic Plan would begin with a Mission Statement. After much soul searching, she had it... "To consistently make a difference in many lives — especially in the lives of women who aren't financially empowered, but want to be."
It soon became clear that women, who, like her, had been raised without a sense of financial empowerment, could really benefit from her knowledge of how financial markets work, how to avoid financial mistakes, and how to improve the odds of success at wealth building.
Many women need financial help acutely and have serious difficulties handling money, which can, in turn, lead to personal problems.
Laura's mother was anything but a role model for financial empowerment but, in many ways, Laura's own Money Empowerment came from not wanting to be vulnerable and dependent like her mother. Her life's journey had driven her to money empowerment out of necessity and now she was determined to use her growing skillset to empower other women to take control of their financial lives that would liberate them in other ways.
Even though Laura had an MBA in accounting, she wanted to ensure her competency. She knew there are many people who call themselves financial planners/advisors who haven’t even taken one course in finance. These people who provide, often harmful advice, don’t even know what they don’t know. She could stay true to her personal values in helping women claim their financial power, by acquiring the most relevant education available, so she decided to become a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). Laura enrolled in a CFP® program at Fairleigh Dickinson University (and later continued with a PhD in Personal Financial Planning) where she learned about working as a FEE-ONLY adviser.
Fee-only planners are true fiduciaries - this is a legal/regulatory term that means they always put the interests of their clients above their own by being careful to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Fee-only advisors are paid only for their advice and service to their clients. They charge an hourly fee, project fee, or a percentage of the value of the total assets they manage for a client but the key is that they work directly for the client. The client is the boss.
Only a small percentage of advisors are fee-only planners; most financial planners are fee-based. Fee-based advisors receive a commission for the sale of financial products. The problem with this system is that the lure of a lucrative commission can taint the advice they give their clients. Fee-based advisors may be incentivized to sell a product that might not be in their client's best interest and the cost of many investments may be elevated by the high commissions that fee-based financial planners receive.
Most of Laura's classmates (who happened to be men) scoffed at the idea of becoming a fee-only advisor. Their goal was to sell a product and earn a large commission for their firms and themselves. They already knew which product they were going to recommend before a client walked in the door. Laura puts the highest priority on preserving wealth for all of her clients. However, alongside this objective, her goal was to help people who needed a trusted, responsible advisor, in particular, women who found themselves flatfooted after a divorce or the death of a spouse.
Laura knew that her commitment to these groups would require her to make her services affordable. Since working as a CFP®, she has been able to achieve her lifelong dream of a profession where she could help women, carving out a niche for herself by specializing on working with women.
Laura began to build her reputation as a women’s advocate, which has formed the basis to lead this women’s movement, Women’s Money Empowerment Network (WoMEN)TM. Although she is using her expertise to assemble the network, she does not envision herself as being the focus. “This is about Women helping Women. This is not about me. As more women join, my story will be replaced with other women’s stories.”
Through podcasts, newspaper and magazine articles like her monthly column on ABCNews.com, guest appearances on CNN, The Today Show and numerous local cable channels, and live seminars and workshops; Laura has been able to bring the message to rally the network and engage a broader audience. She continues to bring this message via the blog and social media and through the pending publication of her doctoral research.