The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Stewart.
Rachel leads the Simplifynance division of Horizon Financial Group, a specialty Foundational Financial Planning service she designed specifically for her millennial generation. In addition to building this new service model out, she is a mother to two young boys (ages 4 and 5) and is now facilitating French-Immersion Kindergarten schooling for one of them while simultaneously working with her clients.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I spent the first 10 years of my working career exploring different segments of the financial industry. Towards the latter part of those years, peers and acquaintances began asking for financial guidance. Unfortunately, our industry as a whole has never been focused on serving this younger generation. I was determined to figure out a way to provide an advisory relationship to those who needed it most during a very hectic stage of life in a way that was allowed under our strict industry standards.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
An up-and-coming Baton Rouge young professional couple with two young children worked with me for the past year and a half, focusing on credit card debt elimination, building up emergency funds and plugging leaks in their cash flow in order to get on track with retirement savings and other big-family dreams. As financial planning is never seen as “important” or “a priority” when things ARE going seemingly well, I pulled them along every step of the way, making sure they were held accountable to taking action on the things that mattered most in their lives — family, financial freedom, and confidence. When the news came that the client has been furloughed at the beginning of the pandemic, we (myself and my clients), quite literally cried together. It was not because of the job loss, but because they knew they would be okay. They had put in the work and had clarity on what could be changed overnight to limit the financial impact of their active lifestyle. This would likely have not been possible without the work they put in ahead of time. Today, that client is beaming of confidence! They made it through. That is the greatest success of all, to be put through the hard times but still come out smiling on the other side. It’s an interesting and different way to realize that the Simplifynance service works for my clients.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am in discussion with Cetera Advisors, the broker-dealer/registered investment advisor we affiliate with, to allow other next-generation advisors across the country to utilize Simplifynance and serve an even broader community of millennials. Currently, I have successfully implemented Simplifynance for one other advisor in Ohio and it’s been going well for them. It’s my hope that we can evolve our industry as a whole in how advice is delivered and thus enticing a greater number of younger clients to start sooner with their financial planning so they finish stronger in life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The most crucial partner in my professional success is Pete Bush, CEO of Horizon Financial Group. His ability to lead and coach has generated an opportunity for me to explore my “unique ability,” as he would call it. Before joining Horizon, “Simplifynance” was merely a word…a ball of clay sitting in the corner as an idea that kept being punting down the line. When I saw this concept on Pete’s vision board, I immediately knew I had found my home with Horizon. He put a phrase to the feelings I had been carrying with me for years. Pete provided feedback and guidance along the way, but generously let me fly relatively solo on building out this Foundational Planning service: Who should it be for, what should it look like, how will it operate, everything from A to Z.
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The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
As a mother, there is a big expectation that I am quarterbacking all moving parts of this family, with both business needs of both spouses and education for our children. I want to ensure that clients and coworkers know that just because I am working from home with a child in school, it does not diminish my ability to produce quality work and services to clients. I also want my child to know that I’m 100% present if and when he needs me for school. The balance is very fine and fragile, but I am holding on to confidence that THIS IS TEMPORARY and we will ALL come out on the other side stronger and wiser.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
At the surface level, working hours have changed — days are longer and blended, and work results happen in large bursts instead of a steady linear pattern. But beneath the surface, the biggest thing we’ve done is shined a huge spotlight on what our family needs in order to make it to the finish line: we needed to create a stress-free environment…only this. Anything that takes away from this is eliminated in our day-to-day. If our family is not stressed, we have happiness, confidence and motivation to keep going. Cooking detailed menus is out. Wasting time on unproductive activities like screen-surfing is out. Major house projects are postponed. Prioritizing smiles and laugher with our children over getting a work email out is a must! Everyone wins if we are smiling, happy and confident. Work doesn’t suffer, and family doesn’t suffer.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
Multi-tasking has taken on entirely different meaning these days. Keeping a pulse on everything and keeping on track and on task can be extremely difficult, especially when curveballs come in. A large part of my professional day involves a lot of creativity — writing articles, recording podcasts, sharing news with social media. Hopping back and forth between the creative and analytical sides of the brain is mentally draining most days.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As best as I can, I try to segment my day. I spend chunks of time focusing on only analytical items like emails, financial plan composition, and client follow-up while my son is working on subjects like English and reading. When his brain is required to switch to French-only lessons in Math, Social Studies and Science for the second half of the day, that’s when I try to turn my brain to creativity activities that I need to accomplish. It’s never perfect, but having a plan to start with creates bumper rails that help put me back on track when I veer.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I cannot stress enough the importance of a dedicated space. During the initial onset of the pandemic, we were working at dining room tables, on sofas, outside sometimes…just trying to survive the new world we were in. We ate what we could grab, did a lot of cooking and a LOT of dishes. When school was starting, I knew the pattern couldn’t continue. We needed our son to feel like school was different than home. And we needed to be as efficient as possible. We turned a previous storage room upstairs into a duel-desk office with all the supplies for work and school needed. At the end of the day, we shut the door and walk away. Work and school do not come downstairs. We also meal-prep on Sundays. This is NEW to me! Making a batch of sandwiches for the week and having the “lunch” drawer in the fridge for my son to go and pull from to create his own lunch and snacks has been a life-saver and time-saver. Sure, Sundays are a lot more prep-work, but I’ll take that all day long over making and preparing meals throughout the week. It’s got the double benefit of my son having the power to choose, which I believe is very empowering. There’s no cooking at all during the workday, but we all still get healthy meals to keep us strong for the rest of the day.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
I use to be a runner before I had children. Like many others, the onset of pandemic meant the onset of additional pounds on the hip. I wasn’t feeling great. I was tired, stressed, anxious, and on edge. One day I had a serious wake-up call when a heart issue presented itself. I knew I had to make a change. So, I picked up running again. At first it was just on a treadmill inside at home that had been collected dust. I worked my way back outside, although in the Louisiana summer heat and humidity. If it weren’t for my husband’s extra help with the kids and housework, it wouldn’t have been possible. But in 3 months, I worked out 5 days a week (mostly at 8pm at night), changed my diet and lost 26 pounds. Having TIME to focus on self-care that produced a health benefit also produced a positive mental benefit, which had an overall positive effect on my entire family and work focus. Thank you to my husband fifty times over for this. I credit him 100% for this.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Personally, I want to turn all news off! It’s often repetitive, mostly unproductive and if it offers no new important information that I need to manage my household, I am not interested. However, my career demands that I do pay close attention to current news, which is different than “media.” Historic events like this that we are experiencing effect stock markets, which in turn affects my client’s financial plans. It is my responsibility and duty to be well informed on their behalf.
There are reasons to stay hopeful:
1. This is not the first major event in history. We are just feeling it more because we are experiencing it right now today. Similar to other past events like the Civil War, 9/11, and the Columbine Shootings…this too will pass. The gravity of all events will never be diminished, but our ability to recover from the anxiety will come, just as it has in the past.
2. There is lemonade to be had from this current lemon of a year: renewed perspective on the importance of family, a chance for industries and companies to reinvent themselves or evolve faster than they would have otherwise, and the opportunity for individuals to experience what it means to persevere, especially our children who are growing and developing in ways that we can’t begin to see the fruits of for years to come.
3. The glass is half-full on how we choose to view loneliness. Had this event took place in 1980, there would be no advanced technology to keep us in touch with our grandparents besides the phone and pen and paper. There would be no way for a large portion of the working population to do-so from home. It’s not perfect or ideal, but we are fortunate that our home walls do not create the barrier between us and the world that they once did.
4. We must see the positive side of what fear really means. Fear keeps us safe, fear makes us wash our hands, fear helps us protect our family. If we were a fearless species, a lot more of us would be hurt, ill, or no longer with us. Keep the ideal that fear is purely science — biological code — in your mind. Then, we may be able to begin to accept it, live with it and eventually overcome it.
5. While there are things OUT of our control that cause fear and uncertainty, let’s choose to focus more on what IS in our control. From my line of work and how I work with my clients, for example, we can’t control the stock market, but we can control how much we save. We can’t control when layoffs happen, but we can control creating an appropriate emergency fund. We can’t control if a tragic event takes a human life too soon, but we can put proper insurance in place so that financial concerns do not have to be worried about as we grieve. The more action we take on the things that are within our control, the more clarity and confidence we’ll have on our side to outweigh or at least balance out with the uncontrollable factors in life.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Everyone feels supported in different ways. Understanding that the way you feel supported may not be the way others feel support is crucial to successfully helping family and loved ones. That is certainly true for me and my husband. The book, “The 5 Love Languages” does an amazing job of identifying different ways we feel love and support. If you are unsure of how someone wants to be supported, instead of guessing…just ask. “I want to support you. For me to do that in the best way possible, can you tell me what is most helpful?” The receiver of that question may not know how to answer right away, but don’t give up. Let them think on it, come back to them, and try again.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If it is to be, it’s up to me” is a quote that Pete Bush shares with everyone in our office that is really important to me today. Everyone is struggling and fighting in their own way to make it to the next day. I remind myself every morning, noon and night that I am capable of both working and facilitating a French-Immersion school day. I am capable of running that extra mile. I am capable of helping my clients through financial hardships through my planning process. So much of what “is up to me” is focused on helping others. When we help others, we help ourselves. It’s a beautiful cycle that is full of giving. And when we give, we feel good. When we feel good, we have the power to persevere…which starts the cycle of “If it is to be, it’s up to me,” all over again.
How can our readers follow you online?
The best way is by our parent company, Horizon:
I can be followed Personally as well: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachellstewart/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!