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Shaun (Samuel) Wright

Alumni, Wealth Management; Senior Vice President, Wealth Management Advisor, Merrill Lynch

Shaun Wright, CPFA™, CIMA®, CFP® is a 2022 graduate of Columbia University's M.P.S. in Wealth Management program and a founding donor of the Wealth Management Advancing Diversity Fellowship Program. Contact him at ssw2155 [[at]] columbia [[dot]] edu.

Why did you choose the Master of Professional Studies in Wealth Management at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies? How does this program differentiate from an MBA?

I have always felt that an advisor should always be growing and learning. A few years ago I was looking at various programs and designations to continue my pursuit of excellence in financial planning. While I already had the CFP®, CIMA®, CRPC®, and CPFA™, I was looking at other professional designations that are more specific to ultra-high-net-worth clients. I began researching the Certified Private Wealth Advisor designation and while doing so, I came across the new Columbia University program. When I read the curriculum, I realized that this was exactly the program I was looking for. 

This program is completely different than an MBA. I completed an MBA program several years back but it was geared more toward the operation of the business. While helpful at a macro level, the MBA did not provide any classes specific to the wealth management business. Even the tax class was focused on the business itself and not the individual. Columbia's Wealth Management program, however, focuses on the individual. It provides very detailed strategies to assist the client with insurance, investments, estate planning, and tax education. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to have done both my MBA and the Columbia program. If I were to sum it up, the MBA was more about running your business and achieving your business goals, and the Columbia Wealth Management master's program is about gaining the information needed to help the client achieve their personal goals.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to prospective students?

The biggest piece of advice that I can give to a prospective student is to set your ego to the side. In our cohort, we had many students who had 15 or more years in the business. Most students had years of experience to draw from and initially, everyone was trying to show how much they already knew. However, as everyone got comfortable with each other the conversation became a dialogue rather than one person defending their opinion. I learned so much from the other advisors in the program. I still collaborate with some of the students from my cohort and greatly value their experience and insight.

How were you able to build meaningful relationships in this online program? How did you engage with faculty, students, and guest speakers?

I initially thought there would be very little interaction with other students since the program was asynchronous—I was completely wrong! My cohort met weekly via Zoom to complete various assignments. Just like in-person meetings, the Zoom meetings would start with information about everyone’s lives and then work their way to the assignment. Students would share best practices and as we completed the tasks; I learned a lot from the professional and life experiences of students in my cohort. The faculty members were the same way; they were willing to get on Zoom calls to take questions for hours at a time. I'm still in contact with most of the faculty and staff even after completing the program.

I had the opportunity to complete an in-person MBA program before entering Columbia University. Frankly, I cannot remember any of the names of the students I spent almost three years with in person. However, even after graduating from the Columbia Wealth Management master's program, I'm still in contact with students from my cohort on a weekly basis, sharing ideas and best practices.

How have you been able to integrate what you have learned in the program into the workplace? Please give a specific example if applicable.

When I entered the program at Columbia University I had already been in the business for more than 18 years. However, there were estate planning and tax strategies that I learned at Columbia that I have implemented into my practice. The program has also assisted me in earning new business. For example, I met with a prospective client who was discussing a rarely-used planning strategy with which I was familiar but did not know all the intricacies and mechanics of. After that meaning, I shot a text to one of my professors and asked if they were familiar with the strategy. My professor set up a call with me and took me through all the pros and cons of the strategy as well as the mechanics. I was able to go into the second meeting with more clarity and ultimately turned the prospective client into a client.

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