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Nicole Hughes, senior vice president and private client manager in Austin, shares insights from working in the local market for over a decade.
Q: What brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
A: My dad was an accountant, so I grew up hearing about his work helping clients in the financial services industry. I knew early on that I wanted to work in finance, but earning my degree in business administration and management from Mays Business School at Texas A&M University solidified that. I was already a Bank of America customer when I started looking for jobs, and I applied for a position in Austin working in consumer banking.
Now, after holding various roles within consumer, commercial and private banking, I am coming up on my 15-year anniversary at Bank of America.
Q: How would you describe your role at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch?
A: I moved into my current role at the Private Bank at the beginning of 2021, after a decade of managing commercial client relationships. Bank of America’s Private Bank offers personalized strategies to help our clients and their families manage the complexities of wealth. The clients we serve are largely wealth inheritors, business executives, entrepreneurs and first-generation wealth creators.
Today, I build on my previous consumer and commercial banking experience to lead a team of client advisors and both internal and external specialists to deliver an exceptional experience for our customers while also expanding our client relationships. From broad-based investment management, backed by the extensive resources of Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, to managing customized trusts and administering complex estates, we have the experience and a suite of solutions to meet diverse needs and goals.
Q: Do you think the narrative around women and wealth is changing? If so, how?
A: Yes, as the narrative around women and equality in the workforce has evolved, so has the narrative around women and wealth. These conversations are having an overall positive impact, but we still have a long way to go. For example, we’re seeing more and more headlines in the news about women holding executive and leadership roles, but the “woman” part still seems newsworthy. I hope and believe we ultimately get to a place where that is no longer the case.
Women-owned businesses now represent a third of all small businesses in the U.S., and the time has never been better to invest in their success. These entrepreneurs and other women are leading the way for a new generation of women who are deeply involved in our local economies. Research from Bank of America shows that women investors are twice as likely to lead their families’ financial decision-making than previous generations.
With a rise in financial involvement for women, and a growing network of support and resources through employers, chambers and other groups, women are better equipped to succeed in business and set an example of female leadership for generations to come.
Yet there are still several key obstacles women may face in pursuit of long-term financial equality and independence: access to capital, time and themselves. A Bank of America study found just over 2% of venture capital funding has gone to companies led by a single female founder or an all-female team in recent years.
Women often experience more career breaks than men, taking time off to give birth and care for their families. While these pursuits are deeply personal and incredibly fulfilling, taking time away from work for these life events can compound over the course of a woman’s career, meaning less earning potential and missed professional development opportunities, in turn reducing her potential investment portfolio and opportunities for promotion.
Finally, an often-overlooked barrier to financial equity: themselves. Research indicates men negotiate for higher salaries more often than their female counterparts, and more aggressively when they do. Over time, this gap in salaries compounds and women fall further behind.
Q: Do you have any advice for women who are looking to invest for the first time?
A: Start with learning—learn about yourself and learn about finance. What are your priorities and how do your finances impact those priorities? As best as possible, women should identify career goals, family plans, ideal retirement age, etc. These are questions no one else can answer, and these ends should determine the financial means. Once you have established answers to these questions, stay curious and keep asking more questions to guide your education.
Next, learn the basics of finance: investment types, Social Security, 401(k) vs. Roth IRA, basic tax deferments; this knowledge foundation will empower you to make informed decisions with confidence. Gender-based biases toward investors persist, making women feel they must prepare more for meetings and speak up proactively to be heard, but the subject need not be intimidating. Bank of America’s Better Money Habits website, a free online financial education platform and interactive resource for investors new and old, is a great place to start.
With priorities and knowledge in hand, arrange a meeting with a certified financial advisor at a financial center, the Bank of America Private Bank or through Merrill—a Bank of America company—or even a close family member or friend whose financial advice you trust. Discuss the financial barriers mentioned here. Be transparent and discuss savings goals, debt repayment, monthly budget and retirement. Often these goals feel too big, almost beyond achievement. All financial goals (within reason) are possible with a good plan. We just need to take the first step.
Q: How has mentorship helped you in your career?
Bank of America makes a point to create opportunities for growth within our company, which has been something I’ve leveraged to gain experience across my different lines of business. In each of the roles I’ve held, I’ve been fortunate to be in an environment where I felt supported by other women. These women encouraged me to grow personally and professionally and advocate confidently for self-advancement.
This mentorship has been instrumental to my career, which is why I am passionate about providing that same resource to others in my role as chair of Leadership, Education, Advocacy & Development (LEAD) for Women, an internal employee network of men and women who are focused on promoting professional development to help attract, develop, advance and retain female professionals at all levels of our company. As the Austin chapter chair, I am responsible for developing programming and executing strategy at the local level for employees to learn and grow through mentoring, educational events and community action, while also cultivating personal and professional relationships.