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Wealth Management Alumni Lisa Patton and Shinaola Atoro Foster Deep Connections to Achieve Tangible Career Outcomes

During their time as students in Columbia University’s Master of Professional Studies in Wealth Management program, both Lisa Patton and Shinaola Atoro sought opportunities to take leaps in their respective careers.

Prior to Columbia, Patton had several years of experience in the advising industry. Atoro, with a background in consulting and e-commerce, was hoping to make a career change. They both shared the belief that a rigorous academic foundation complemented by professional training would accelerate their career growth and help them to outshine competitors in the job market. Patton and Atoro built solid connections with the cohort, which in turn strengthened their mutual support and career networks. 

After securing a new position as a senior client advisor associate at Mission Wealth, Patton made a decision to notify her fellow Columbia classmates about employment opportunities at the firm. Along with the CEO of the company, Patton connected with Atoro and helped him secure an interview. Now, Patton and Atoro are working together as Client Advisor Associates at Mission Wealth, where they continue to support each other as they did as students. Patton and Atoro credit Columbia with helping them to acquire expertise in client-advisor relationships and adopting a holistic approach to wealth management, enabling them to better understand their clients.

Lisa Patton, '22SPS, Wealth Management, Senior Client Advisor Associate at Mission Wealth

Tell us about your new position. What's your title and company? How did you learn about the position you're in now? 

My new role is Senior Client Advisor Associate at Mission Wealth, a wealth management firm with offices across the country. Several years ago, my cousin began as a Senior Client Advisor Associate at Mission Wealth. From that moment, I began following the firm and admired their LinkedIn posts for their expertise as well as the wonderful culture they seemed to display through their community service team-building events. When I was finishing up my master's degree at Columbia, I began to reach out to my network to learn about opportunities at different banks, brokers, and independent firms. It was through this process that I learned about the role at Mission Wealth.

How did Columbia help to prepare and/or connect you with the right people to land the role?

Columbia gave me the foundation I needed to reach the next level in my career. I’ve always believed in the power of education, and now I’ve experienced its power firsthand. Our program incorporated several opportunities for role-playing, learning from more experienced advisors, and the academic background I’d been searching for since my start in the industry almost nine years ago. Now, I not only have the knowledge but also the confidence to take the next step in my career.

Which skills did you develop in Columbia's M.P.S. in Wealth Management program? How are you applying them in your current role?  

The specific skills I developed in the program included learning how to build a financial plan, how to help clients through difficult transition periods in their lives, and how to recognize the disruptive trends in our industry. In my current role, I am able to apply these skills in every client meeting. I also have a greater understanding of the services we provide which allows me to train other associates.

How did you manage to network with fellow students and professors? Could you tell us about how you connected Shinaola with a new opportunity?

Our cohort was very tight-knit since the start of the first semester. We began in Fall 2020, and as the inaugural cohort, we were all so honored to be a part of this program. Throughout the semester and beyond, we connected through office hours with our professors, through the regular project-based learning assignments, and through several social activities at our in-person residencies. Near the end of our program, we began to discuss what our next steps were, and I learned that Shinaola was interested in exploring the wealth management space as an advisor. Knowing what I had learned in my own experience in the advisory space I felt Mission Wealth was a great opportunity and I eagerly recommended him for a role at the firm and connected him with our leadership team. After getting to know Shinaola, his values, and his goals, I knew that Mission Wealth was aligned with his passion for being of service to others. I was excited to introduce him to a firm that also valued education and had many experienced advisors and other professionals on staff that would be available to offer further training as he advances in his career in wealth management.

Overall, what did you most enjoy about your experience at Columbia? 

Throughout the M.P.S. in Wealth Management program, I have been impressed at the professionalism, knowledge, and dedication Columbia has for its students. The program was so well-constructed that every time I learned something new in class, I could immediately apply it the following day at my wealth management firm. The lecturers were beyond helpful and the office hours and one-on-one meetings they offered were invaluable to our experience as financial professionals. We were all very impressed by the caliber and the expertise they had in the very complex issues our clients and fellow advisors face every day. All in all, it was the real-life application of the program that made our experience so enriching and relevant to the people we serve every day. 

What advice would you give future students in the program?

The advice I would give to future students is to truly prioritize this rare opportunity and focus on how you can get as much out of this unique time period as possible! This is the perfect program to reflect on your career goals and be open to expanding your network! It was through this process that our cohort began to discover the synergies we had in our shared interests that have since given way to new, exciting projects!

 

Shinaola Atoro, '22SPS, Wealth Management, Client Advisor Associate at Mission Wealth

Tell me about your career prior to Columbia. What attracted you to the wealth management profession? 

Prior to Columbia,  I worked in the consulting and e-commerce industry. Later, I worked at Walmart as an analyst responsible for the import supply chain. We partnered with the China teams to execute import distribution to Fulfillment Centers. However, I have always had an interest in studying personal finance and I love helping people. These passions drew me to Columbia’s program. When I learned more about it, I could see myself being able to help people long-term.

How did you manage to network with fellow students and professors? 

We network through formal and informal channels. The formal channels were office hour sessions with the professors and classmates. Additionally, we were all paired in different groups to work together on various projects. During COVID, these were the only social interactions we had. So it was very easy to build connections with everyone. 

The informal channels were random calls to check-in. If you wanted to receive more guidance on your personal situation from seasoned professionals, everyone was more than willing to help. 

Tell us about your new position. What's your title and company? How did you learn about the role? 

I'm a client advisor associate at Mission Wealth in support of a team of advisers. I learned about the position from my fellow classmate Lisa Patton, who started working at the company before I did.  She connected me with the CEO of the company, giving me the opportunity to interview and join the team.

At Columbia, we took a course on wealth management firms of the future, and Mission Wealth embodies all of the principles, like being modular and working and operating remotely. It is completely different from other firms,  including the work dynamic and what's expected from an advisor. These are the things that ultimately made it appealing to someone like me, a person who changed careers and doesn’t have a lot of experience in this field.  

How did Columbia help to prepare and/or connect you with the right people to land the role?  

The program helped me come into the field with an academic foundation. Without the program, I would be so lost in the industry, which is a common theme for people who are starting out. Now, I'm able to add more value to conversations. I have better insight and knowledge that other people might not have. Plus, the program helped me develop the mindset to understand all of the various transitions our clients might experience at different stages of their life. Columbia also provides a network where I can reach out to those who have done this for 20 plus years and have experience with different client dynamics in different situations. So I know who to talk to if I don't have the right answer. This gives me confidence that I not only have the education, but I have the right support system. 

Which skills did you develop in Columbia's M.P.S. in Wealth Management program? How are you applying them in your current role? 

The key skill I learned is building the client-advisor relationship. It’s essential because anyone can come in knowing how to help clients with a financial situation. However, you might not be able to use those skills initially because sometimes people are hesitant to tell you what's going on in their lives. Being able to build that trust and focus helps an advisor understand the situation and then you can use and leverage your skills to provide solutions or guidance. 

From the program, I learned a discovery process that helps you understand your clients’ transitions when you meet and focuses on the things that matter most to them. So when we provide the solution, it’s addressing the real issue the clients are facing. It's essential to be able to pinpoint what the client is looking for, as opposed to spitting everything out. 

Overall, what did you most enjoy about your experience at Columbia?

I would definitely say the people. We're very lucky to have a cohort from different backgrounds with different perspectives. Some of them have been in the industry for a long time and some are career changers without much experience like me. But everyone in our program supports each other like family and we are very intentional about checking in with each other, even now. That strong connection is probably the biggest reward. 

What advice would you give to people considering a career change? What's exciting about the wealth management profession right now? 

To anyone who's interested in the topic and loves to help people, my recommendation is to give it a shot. Take the leap. If it's something you genuinely feel interested in, try it out. You can always pivot if you don't like it. And the Wealth Management program at Columbia is a great starting point. I couldn’t see myself doing this long term before making that career leap. The program gave me that confidence.

Inside this industry, I think the FinTech space is interesting. The wealth management profession has mostly catered to high-net-worth individuals. With technology, there are now opportunities to scale it. These individuals can also benefit from good financial planning, investment reviews, and guidance on their financial picture. Also, I believe that in the future, technology will not only be personalized but also allow many people to take care of themselves and their families.

Which kinds of people do you think would thrive in this profession? 

I would say there are two key traits in people who love this work. One is a person with a deep interest in personal finance that spends a lot of time thinking about the right money decisions they can make for themselves and for others. The other is a person who prioritizes helping others. 

 

Learn more about Columbia University’s Wealth Management M.P.S. program.