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May Is Disability Insurance Awareness Month

38 min read

From Croatia Comes Commitment to Care for the Community

By NAIFA on 5/2/24 9:42 AM

Topics: Podcast
Sue Kuraja

Sue Kuraja is a brokerage director specializing in providing non-profit consultancy services. She focuses on aligning personal and professional goals to maximize outcomes for organizations. With her strategic guidance and personalized approach, she helps build successful and sustainable organizations that drive real-world impact. As an experienced tech researcher, journalist, and business transformation advocate, Sue was recognized as the 2021 Women in Insurance & Financial Services Woman of the Year and achieved the Financial Security Advocate badge from NAIFA. 


Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Sue Kuraja shares how she entered the financial services industry
  • How Sue’s background as a Croatian immigrant influenced her career in the US financial services space
  • Techniques for growing a career in financial services through cultural inclusion 
  • Sue talks about her motivation for choosing a career in the financial services industry 
  • Sue’s involvement with Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS) and NAIFA
  • Women's role and empowerment in the financial services industry 
  • Financial decision-making roles and representation across generations
  • Sue’s insights on AI and the future of the financial services industry

In this episode…

The financial services industry is composed of diverse professionals who bring unique perspectives to the field. Each individual’s background propels the industry forward and promotes client connections. How can you champion diversity and inclusion in your services? 

Financial advisor Sue Kuraja's journey is a testament to determination and resilience. As a Croatian immigrant, she had to navigate numerous systemic barriers to succeed in the financial services industry. Sue notes that by embracing cultural diversity in your work, you can build trust with customers and help them navigate language and cultural barriers. Additionally, you can reverse traditional mentor-mentee roles by supporting insights from younger generations who can foster innovation and adaptation in an evolving industry.

In this episode of Advisor Today, Chris Gandy and Suzanne Carawan sit down with brokerage director Sue Kuraja to discuss her journey to success in the financial services industry as an immigrant. Sue shares how her background as a Croatian immigrant informed her career, her involvement with WIFS and NAIFA, and women's role and empowerment in the financial services industry. 

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode...

This episode is brought to you by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, or NAIFA, the #1 association for producers in financial services.

At NAIFA, we enhance professional skills, promote ethical conduct, and advocate for legislative and regulatory environments.

By joining NAIFA, you gain access to a partnership that elevates your performance while providing greater purpose to your professional work. NAIFA members are happier, make more money, and stay in the business longer.

Get in touch with NAIFA and learn more about how to join NAIFA by visiting NAIFA.org.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:02 

Welcome to NAIFA's Advisor Today podcast series, where we focus on how financial advisors work, live and give to their local communities and our greater financial services industry. Now, let's get started with the show.

Chris Gandy 0:20

Everyone, welcome to Advisor Today's podcast where you could get an opportunity to celebrate and uplift the ideas of advisors around the country. Here at NAIFA's wonderful podcast I'm here my co-host Chris Gandy. I'm here with my other co-hosts, Suzanne Carawan. Hi, Suzanne.

Suzanne Carawan 0:39 

Hey, Chris, how you doing?

Chris Gandy 0:41 

Good. I'm good. Suzanne, today is tax day. We prepare for Tax Day. Hopefully we get some good mojo today. We have a wonderful podcast today. And we've got a wonderful guests. Well, before we get to our guests, Suzanne, can you please share with us who the sponsor is for today.

Suzanne Carawan 0:59 

I sure will. So today's sponsor is White Glove and White Glove just went through a merger themselves just like NAIFA did with the society financial service professionals in Life Happens. But white glove if you're not familiar with them, they put on seminars that are turnkey, and you don't have to think about a thing. They do all the heavy lifting for you of getting bodies and getting those good consumers into the room so you can talk to them. Their experts actually Chris about talking about avoiding the tax man on Tax Day, and they're great at being able to do that marketing for you. There's really no upfront risk to you, you only pay for those people that attend. And actually even if they don't attend, you still get that list. So White Glove is a great partner to NAIFA. They are actually our sponsors of our triangle team. And they will be there in force and our upcoming congressional conference coming up in a couple of weeks if you can believe that just about a little over a month, in May 20 and 21st, of course at Capitol Hill. So thank you White Glove for all your support. And we look forward to always doing more work with them.

Chris Gandy 0:59 

Wonderful, wonderful. Thank you, Suzanne. So Suzanne, would you mind introducing our wonderful esteemed guests today?

Suzanne Carawan 2:10 

Yeah, we're happy to have finally on the podcast, Sue Kuraja, who is out there in Phoenix, Arizona, and she's going to talk to us we have a couple of relationships with Sue one. She's a loyal member, too. She's also a joint member to WIFS. And we'll talk about a little bit about that today. And of course, NAIFA serves the role of being the advocacy lead for the women in financial services, amongst a couple other ways that we partner together. But we're excited. And before we got on, we were even just talking a little bit. And we'd be remiss if we didn't say yes, congressional conferences coming up. But if we look just a little bit further, so is APEX. And that's coming in September. And maybe you don't know this, Chris, we sent a couple of people out to look at the Arizona Biltmore in advance. And Sue had an opportunity, we connected her with them as the native way is, and she had lunch with a bunch of our people and they had a great time. And we're talking about how we can all do more together in September. So Sue, thanks for being on the show.

Sue Kuraja 3:07 

Glad to be here. Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation in person with the folks that were doing the tour for APEX in September and really got to know him on a more personal level. So definitely going to get our local Phoenix chapter here for WIFS engaged and making sure that we have the best possible outcome in September so looking forward to supporting y'all.

Chris Gandy 3:30 

Wonderful. So Sue, let's talk, we're gonna have a kind of a discussion today. There are people out there in NAIFA, you're talking to NAIFA nation. And there are people out there in NAIFA that might have seen your face or come across you on LinkedIn or heard about WIFS I really know kind of the where it fits. Give us a little background on you. So how did you get started in the business of financial services?

Sue Kuraja 3:57 

So my journey in financial services began early on in a more unofficial manner. I emigrated to the United States and plotted firmly in a melting pot, which was Metro Chicago, Illinois. And at that time growing up as a latchkey child, my parents were working several jobs and we're bringing documentation home about investments, retirement accounts and pensions and in an unofficial manner, I grew very fond of all things, financial services back then I vividly recall being the age of 16 and 18. And mom asking me about her mutual fund account. Needless to say, there's no compliance folks on the phone here on the cast. And so I was unofficially giving my mom advice and trying to interpret in Croatian language some of the very discerning points on her pension and mutual fund statements. And so that unofficial love for all things financial services, wellness and health, began to correspond into my professional life. I started back in Metro Chicago with it was First Chicago. And then it became Chase, Bank One and then Chase. And so I was a dedicated retailer working in the banks. And then just over the past couple of decades, I grew fond of the insurance space. And I'm now solely dedicated to sort of the fixed income or the fixed risk portfolio, if you will. And my current employer and day-to-day job is MassMutual. And I'm a brokerage structure today.

Chris Gandy 5:34 

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Well, you know that I was a previous MassMutual gag, right?

Sue Kuraja 5:41 

Yes, I have heard that, yes.

Chris Gandy 5:44 

I hung out over there at the double limbs for a period of time. I've always said that, regardless of our corporate affiliation, we all kind of have some of the same challenges, which is finding clients, inspiring clients, and helping clients make smart decisions with money. So, talk to me a little bit about how you think your background helped you. Coming from so were you born here in the US?

Sue Kuraja 6:12 

I was born in Croatia, I immigrated in the late 70s, as a young girl, so technically, English was my second language, although you probably can't tell, some will say that I have a big Chicago accent comes out every now and again. But we were immigrants.

Chris Gandy 6:33 

So share with us because many of us will live vicariously through you. Share with us a little bit about how your background helped you in financial services. Especially coming from another country, because financial services and other countries are different than they are in the US. Share with us a little bit about your background, how that helped, and then share with us a little bit about the stark differences, because people are unaware, they're unaware of the differences of like, insurance over there and insurance over here, like, can you share with us just a little bit of that journey and kind of how being from Croatia has helped you in financial services?

Sue Kuraja 7:19 

Yes. The worldly perspective would be one point of view that I kind of like to run through in that is just having the view or the lens of coming into a very modern Western culture, where we had to get to a level of par. And what was the level of par for a family back in the 70s trying to make it? Was it having one car? Or was it having two cars was it renting was it owning, was it having sort of an assembly of financial services instruments, we were falling short on all of that. I remember distinctly when my mom drove for the very first time that was a unique and let's say thrilling experience. I remember my parents going to the local library to help them learn English, while I was learning it in kindergarten, and in first grade, and for my cousins who already moved here in the 60s. And so for me, there was a very deep appreciation in learning something new, that helped me get to a level of par with all the other American families. And it took us a while. It really did. We were scrappers back then I like to think my parents really instilled a very hard-working blue-collar work ethic in me. And we sometimes joke about what Sue would be doing right now had that made that transformational leap. And we did take a plane, not of bone. And I have a booster shot going through New York to Chicago. It's a very small booster shot because I think I got it when I was like four. But needless to say, I look at it every now and again. I remember where I came from and what my journey with my family, being the eldest of three siblings look like from a financial documentation standpoint, and getting to par. It wasn't let's plan the legacy for Sue and her siblings or the estate plan or craft the will, It was can you translate my documents into relation from the English language, and I carried that through my first job. I was working out of that bank one location in LaGrange, Illinois, and I found myself serving the Croatian community there. There are people that be coming to the bank to conduct just various financial dealings with me, and I would be conducting them in the Croatian language. It's really neat to speak a second language I wish tenuous third, well fluently at least. But it's nice to have an language that you can correspond with that is sort of a depiction of where you came from. And like I said, Chicago was a melting pot, very rich with many different ethnicities, great cuisines, people from all walks of life and backgrounds. So it was a very fun journey to start off and propel my career in the space.

Chris Gandy 10:30 

Sue, something pretty interesting. You said something that I think a lot of people on here take for granted, I think we all take for granted is the joy, the enjoyment of driving a car, the enjoyment of being able to understand basic things that I think, Suzanne Carawan, I mean, if you think about what she said, there were some things that, how do we get up to status quo, right of getting in? Right? And what does that really look like? I mean, the freedom to go to a library.

Suzanne Carawan 11:10 

I was waiting, say throughout the freedom word, yeah. Oh, yes, have a bank account to earn money, and to have the meritocracy ability to go work where you want to work? Yeah, that's a big one.

Sue Kuraja 11:24 

And we sometimes fine people in our lives that take some of those things for granted, because they always had them. But that's okay. Again, everyone has a different baseline, a different par at which they started their relationship with financial services. And to have a deeper sort of connected self-sense to that. And what my family experienced, I think, for me, was really the true takeaway. And having sort of that cultural inclusion of Metro Chicago, and learning how the Polish communities were doing things and how our friends in the German side were doing things, and all these different ethnicities, the Lithuanians and all the folks that came from varying backgrounds, because it was a very small world, back then I remember going to church as a young girl. And back then in Chicago, there were three churches, two on the north side, and one on the south side that still conducted mass and the Croatian language. And so all of our Croatian-speaking communities would flock there because that, again, was a common language, common level of understanding and everyone in our community was sort of at par, learning together, some came over in their 50s, some came over there in their 60s, my family came over in their 70s. So a little bit later, and then it continued on. So just great legacies have been left. And we definitely pass the torch from generation to generation and help advance the people like me that came over with their parents early on.

Suzanne Carawan 13:07 

Yeah, and I'll just give you the other perspective, too. So one of my best friends growing up and one of my neighbors was Donna Savannah, who had come over from Czechoslovakia, so very kind of similar, her parents had escaped the Soviets and came over and her father was an economist. And he was able to get out because we went to Harvard. And so he would constantly tell us stories about let me tell you about the economics of the United States versus under a communist regime. Right. And so point being is Donna and her family were such an influence to me of understanding their life, and then bringing them into write me bringing them bringing into my family, and understanding that and having such an appreciation. So it goes both ways. Because, well, it's the great and so they but I loved it also sounds like you did the same, they kept with the Czech heritage, they kept the language, right, they went on to be able to do that. And then they're translating and really doing more of I think what that inclusivity is truly kind of meant to be so I just thought I'd throw that in because yeah, as soon as you told me the pronunciation, your name was like, oh, okay. But it had a huge I mean to this day, huge. Yeah, huge implications of being able to grow up in more of a melting pot community. And not all of our members have that but I think those of us that come from those metro areas, that's something that's always kind of imprinted on us.

Sue Kuraja 14:34 

Fun fact I back in the day my business card stated my first legal name, which is Snezana, and it was my family name at the time that Kuraja. Kuraja is my husband's, he's half Croatian half polish and Snezana on my business card would always 100% guarantee a conversation of where were we from? And then that went in To Well, where were my clients from? And it made for a great basis for future conversations, especially in financial services, when you're really starting to get to know people and they want to know who they're doing business with. So yeah, and I ended up changing it when I started wholesaling telephonically, because I didn't have that face-to-face connection anymore. I couldn't describe face to face across a bank desk, where I came from and talk about my name. And then when I was doing a lot of telephonic wholesaling and my next job, I changed it to Sue. So it just seems to kind of stick.

Chris Gandy 15:39 

Wow, that's a journey. That's the journey.

Suzanne Carawan 15:45 

Lead gen technique, right, like keep maybe a whole name so people pick up.

Chris Gandy 15:52 

So, share with us I mean, I'm from Chicago, I'm still here in Chicago, you went to Phoenix and left me here with the weather. That's bad. But Chicago truly is a melting pot. So what did you like most about Chicago when you were here? Other than well, I won't say the lake and downtown. But what did you like most about Chicago specifically, like, whether it's from culture or just experience? Or what do you like most about Chicago?

Sue Kuraja 16:23 

Well, two things come to mind almost immediately. It's the four seasons, I really do miss the snow and a good phrase, if you will, where you're not allowed to leave the house and you're forced to be cozy at home by a fireplace, I really do miss that. So just generally speaking, the aesthetics of beautiful snow and the color that Autumn and fall bring very much miss that and so we try to go back as often as we can. But I have also distinct memories of the Croatian community getting together and having gatherings and having picnics and having concerts and going up to Canada to follow our soccer groupies that were really rich and abundant because to us, football was soccer right at the time. And so fond memories of them. Culturally speaking, the cuisine was fantastic. With every major event, whether it was a birthday or anniversary, I don't know if you've seen that movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. They were roasting a live beast of some kind of the front yard. We did the same thing except we did it on the backyard. So I have fond memories of that. My dad was an avid hunter and still is and he makes his own venison sausage and cured meats and has little Smokehouse that he prepares it in. And so when I get up there for the holidays, and it's been a nice freeze, I enjoy some of those cutlery. So it's just I and he makes his own wine to this day. It's just been fantastic experience. I hope that my four children when they will be able to take on some of our grandpa's legacies and learn some of those Croatian trades and techniques. So I missed that I really do.

Chris Gandy 18:16 

Sure, it sounds like you embrace the culture here in Chicago. And let's go back to your career, financial services. So you jumped in, you're working at the bank, you're making things happen at the bank? And what was the most rewarding thing that kind of led you down the path of saying this is a career I want to be in specifically in and around helping people with money? What was it that made you say, I think this is it? Because obviously you've been at it for a while now. But same.

Sue Kuraja 18:53 

Well, you know how it is Chris. We all have aspirations, and we graduate with a degree in X, but we end up doing Y. Right? And so how many of us can actually say that we found a career or personal journey that led us or that use the degree in marketing. But yes, I do marketing and marketing and sales training back then is wildly different than it is decades later. But there was one sort of trigger for me. I remember distinctly being at a bank desk and this was again in LaGrange Illinois working for now Chase Bank, and it was the first experience where I had that a client broke down in tears. And she was a female financial advisor. And at that time, it was a little bit unusual to always only be doing business with the female decision-maker in a duo-represented family she had a spouse, a husband, but I remember three or four meetings went by and I would never, I never got a chance to meet him, I even set up accounts for the children. And in the think the fourth meeting or so with her, I had asked about him and said, maybe I could meet him turns out that he was terminal. And she was forced to make some accelerated decisions, which was looking back retrospectively, probably the reason why we met so frequently in a short period of time, and when she broke down in tears, I broke down in tears. And it kind of clicked for me. And I said, oh, my love for people, and building relationships is going to help define the future of her children. And I get emotional to this day when I think about it, and giving back in a friendship fashion, giving back in a female advisory perspective, fashion, giving back as a human, and as a mother, to understand what she was going through was just sort of revolutionary for me. I mean, yes, I had the experiences with my parents, and helping translate the documents. But this was far more, this was really big, and maybe had it not been for me and my approachable nature at the time. And that was fun and quirky. And I still try to exude that, maybe she wouldn't have been comfortable making the decisions that she needed to make, again, in a very swift pay short manner of time. But that was really an aha moment, for me, defining rare moments that I'm going to be doing this forever, in one way, shape, or form.

Suzanne Carawan 21:38 

You know kind of what the outcome of that whole process was? Did you kind of stay in touch and find out what happened with her and the children?

Sue Kuraja 21:46 

I did, I shortly I left the bank, after about two and a half years, her husband was still alive, he was a pilot. And I didn't keep in touch with her shame on me. But banking and retail space is very specific on data privacy and sharing of files and turning files over and things of that nature. So maybe it could have gone an extra mile to stay in touch with her personally and build off of that friendship that we built. But back then I was, gosh, I was so young. I said, okay, here's my files.

Suzanne Carawan 22:20 

Right, there you go. turned over? Yeah.

Sue Kuraja 22:22 

Yeah. So I think about her often, I do.

Chris Gandy 22:30 

It's interesting, there are certain things that will take you down a path that move you into something that will be a part of your life for the rest of your life. So it's really interesting. So now you're in Phoenix. So share with us, how did you find WIFS? There's just a lot of people out here who have heard what it is, they might have kind of stumbled on to some things over time or been an event where WIFS is can you give us a little background on WIFS, and then your role, and your impetus for being a part of that partnership and relationship with WIFS, specifically in financial services?

Sue Kuraja 23:20 

Yes, it's funny, I actually found out about WIFS through the NAIFA circuit. And so just to touch on that, before, I carry into WIFS, joining NAIFA, back in 2014, when I first landed in the role that I am still representing today, and not really knowing about where to start, and who to join with, and what communities of people like-minded, were assembling my general agent referred me too NAIFA back in 2014. And so fast forward through the collective assembly of women that were represented at NAIFA at the time, I had learned about WIFS, quite accidentally, and I said, wait a minute. You mean, there's an organization kind of like NAIFA, but it's an assembly of women dedicated to attracting, advancing and developing and fostering women's interests in the space. I said, I must know more about this. And so I remember it was quite fast forward from 2014. Pre-COVID, that I had the ambitions of starting a chapter, where WIFS is where you would normally start with your interest in WIFS, but we didn't have one here in Arizona. And so I found myself questioning whether or not I would like to start a new aspiring chapter. And honestly, it took me about a year or so to commit to that because as you all know, it is quite an undertaking to start anything new relative to the association's that we love and serve. And so through sort of calculated measures of time commitments, and really the assembly of people that I had been working within the NAIFA circuit, it was post the aggregation of our Arizona associations for NAIFA, that we ended up rolling into one large state association at NAIFA. And Arizona, that some of the women in outlying cities and locales, I just basically picked up the phone and called him and reached out to him and said, hey, what do you think about WIFS? What do you know about WIFS, I had learned this about WIFS. And I had met a member of WIFS. And the more we started to begin talking about it, the what ifs and what that could look like, we actually ended up having our launch party. I think it was that that March when all COVID madness broke out. And it was our first and only in-person meeting for a long time. Because we had our WIFS Phoenix launch party in March. And then COVID broke out, and we had to go dark, just like everyone else in the world shut down. And we found ourselves very quickly starting a new chapter, but reinventing the new normal for the new chapter. And so in the absence of the camaraderie and getting together and breaking bread, or having a glass of wine that we all enjoy, we had to really think about how we were going to grow a chapter when the world was shut down and keep people interested. If you remember, everyone was Zoom fatigue at that time. And as we like to remember, if you weren't on a zoom tile, on the third Thursday at 10 o'clock every month, you just missed it, right, the collection or the library, and the school of thought hadn't really been memorialized like it is now, with podcasts and the ability to do these web axes. Back then people were not as inclined or intended to hop on a Zoom tile. And that came over time, especially in the stodgy insurance industry. Right. I had brokers I don't know about you guys. But I had brokers who did not know how to log on to a zoom town. That's okay. We showed them. And they learned something new and they loved it. I remember a gentleman in Hawaii that I was servicing. The first time I ever saw him in person was on a zoom tile during COVID. And we're like, oh, so that's what you look like. And our relationship just transformed when we started having these Zoom meetings, because up until that point, they were only telephonic. And so we brought that luster to the local WIFS Phoenix space we did a collection of WebEx is that we conducted monthly, kind of pull the audience to bring sort of a best-in-class speakers. And then after a considerable amount of zoom fatigue from that march through that December of COVID. We said huh, one of our members said, why don't we start a podcast. And we started tinkering with podcasts. And just a little note or a hint or a fun factoid, I'll have to share the story at the end. Back then you had to hire someone, typically to launch a podcast and the launch or the onboarding was anywhere from three to $10,000, just to launch a cast and maybe do six to 12 recordings. Well, now we're in a DIY environment. And I don't know if these statistics are still true. But back then, there were 5000 YouTube channels for every one podcast. So we were still grossly under-saturated, as far as podcasts being sort of a more mainstream form of delivering education and knowledge. And so what took us six months then to launch a podcast, it was known as counting on her and that has evolved in transition now takes us literally an hour, two hours due to the AI tools, and how the technological space has infiltrated our communication habitat. What took us six months to launch during the wake of COVID, now with the AI tools and technological advancements can really put a team in a position to thrive they can build an AI stack and tools and resources that help them launch a podcast in a couple hours. It's just amazing. Amazing what we were able to do back then, and how we were able to quickly form a community that is deeply rooted in the purpose and the mission of WIFS. That is to attract develop and advance women in insurance and financial services.

Chris Gandy 30:00 

So let's talk about that. Because I've stood on stage and said that if you look at all statistical data at all points that women are the future of what financial services will look like. But when we look at this statistical data, if you look at recruiting, recruiting is still very heavily not recruited towards women and other diverse or minority enterprising groups. So what do you think that fixes? So statistical data says that 70% of women, you probably know his data better than me make the majority of financial decisions in a household, some crazy statistics that are there. But why do you think the industry is so reluctant to embrace the adviser the Phenom woman advisor evolved advisor into its full? And this is just great. I don't know the answer.

Sue Kuraja 31:04 

Yes. No, that is a great question. multifaceted question, also very hard to answer. Because going back to I guess, my origin story about what is everyone's par? And where do they start? Right? Did the financial decisions and the mission-critical decisions in the household begin with one single parent over time with both parents? And what is the memory that that individual is carrying forward? So what's the torch look like? And what's the bridge into the new generation look like? For some folks, they come from a legacy or history where the breadwinner, typically the dad has been making the financial decisions. And then in dual-working households, like mine, I could say that my mom was nominated to make those decisions by my dad. And maybe it had something to do with the language barriers or the challenges to understanding all the documentation that went with making financial decisions in the household, whether it was a mortgage, or opening up a bank account, or taking out a HELOC or whatever was right. I remember when they were investing in life insurance at an early age that was due to my involvement, and them investing in whether first annuities it was also due to my involvement. And so, going back to everyone's norm, their usual and customary and then how do you transition out of that? What is the next generation entail? Is it also a single-family household? Is it a dual-earning household and being able to, once again know everyone's origin story, I think is very important as a Financial Services Advisor and contributor to make sure that, we're doing business with both of you because you understand that the both of you are involved in that decision-making process. And so I think the difficulty comes into that transition. Right. So for the first time ever, right now, I was watching a report from the World Economic Forum that was taking place, and I think it was a member from the Zurich team that stated, we have five generations in the workforce for the first time ever. And a fun factoid on the WIFS side, we actually have six generations of women in the WIFS community. Well, so why is that? Five generations in the workforce because we across generations, and across the cultural divides that we talked about? We are at a stage where people are living longer, and we have a lot of new entrants into our industry. Why? Because we're very well poised and rooted for modernization. And one thing that we know and all statistics read out there is that the millennial generation and Gen Z are going to be catalysts for that change. I think it's somewhere around 75% of the working population is going to be made up of Gen Z and Millennials in like the next three to five years. And so, again, very well poised for change under those circumstances, but then the WIFS scope, sixth generation of women, why, because a lot of women that have exited their respective financial planning careers, come back to give to those communities because they understand that even though they've graduated to the next chapter, and they've retired, there are still challenges and there's still a vast sea of under-representation based on how the wealth transfers stats are looking, and who and what genders are out living which genders and you can even bring socio-economic classes into that. But these women who are graduating and divesting themselves and retiring or coming back to give to the WIFS community in the retirement times, and saying, hey, I know that your journey has been long in different and I know that you still have a journey to help transform and build female thought leadership from a new lens. And I'm here to help you do that. And so it's very interesting when you look at the dynamics in the WIFS community and the women that have given so much and continue to do so. I remember talking to my own company at one point, and we hit a very nice milestone of 20% representation in our field force at that time, pre-COVID. That represented the female financial advisory space. And that number swiftly declined in the wake of COVID. And thereafter, from maybe 20 or so percent to 16, maybe under 15. And that's because, again, women were pulled out of their respective career paths and journeys, to put their head of household hat on and become mothers and teachers at schools are closing down. And so those traditional roles are still there. And no one's trying to break them. I mean, heck, I love putting a good apron on when I'm cooking, because I did not want to get my clothes dirty. But I'm striking the right balance between being open about how things have been done for the past 20, 50, 100 years. And understanding what the next 20, 50 and 100 years is going to bring from a perspective of mission-critical financial decision-making and who's going to be making those decisions and really appealing to sort of a broader dual-income household going forward.

Chris Gandy 36:59 

There's a lot to dissect there.

Sue Kuraja 37:00 

Yeah, there. Is there. It's such a great question like, we could really build an entire podcast off of that one question.

Suzanne Carawan 37:12 

Yeah. Well, so some things. So the Millennials are, are definitely they're the majority of the workforce already. And but I do think it's also fair to say that the fact that now, so many states, I think it's 26, 27, have financial literacy requirements, right in for graduation, the high school level, the exposure is there. The big thing personally, as a marketer, where I think the companies are falling down, is that I just literally saw, I'm not going to name names. I just saw an ad this morning, targeted to me as a career changer. And basically, it's saying, hey, listen, you should be a Financial Services Advisor, because it shows the kids you have time for her. Right. But and so it's not like that's wrong. But I also think that where no one has said is, it's what WIFS does well, which is creating the impact, to say, Listen, I have something I uniquely understand inherently as a woman, as a female that I can understand and bring to my clients. Right. And it's the impact I'm making, to your point about the story, that group is going to remember you forever, no one ever, this companies don't come out in their marketing and talk about that piece for men or women. Really, right. And I think if they started with the impact, which is a harder sell, it's a harder sell. It's not like go make more money. And go get the suit and get the car like you're here or go take your kids. It's the aspirational point. And that if we really talked about it, like if you get into a group, if you go to a WIFS conference, Chris, right, that's the piece to me, that you can really feel when a bunch of women get together. The vibe there is like how much impact can we make. And it's an aspirational piece of it to further and pay it forward. And to me, that's a piece that, I think is what Sue is saying. And somehow companies skip, they're not tying into that.

Sue Kuraja 39:05 

And they feel it gets overlooked because they haven't had an opportunity to experience it. I like to think of WIFS as small but mighty. We're very nimble, because we're boutique. But we also have the very genuine experiences that come with being very boutique. And so while we have 23, so chapters we have about another 10 in the aspiring starter application stage. And that is really a true testament to having those profound experiences together in smaller clusters. So we're not going to be the local association with 300 members. I mean, if it grows to that, that's great. That's fantastic. But what if we're the local association that has 50 members, and they're very tight, and they're very thought-provoking and they're genuine with their intent to really bridge the crux between the personal and the business divide. That is something for me that I learned through a LILY experience actually is how to melt my personal journey, and my personal goals with my business journey and my business goals, because they were very, very different back in the day, and I really love the experience that WIFS has fostered in that sense, and that NAIFA too has collectively fostered in that sense.

Suzanne Carawan 40:34 

Yeah, I was just gonna say to pull it all back and then to the NAIFA piece of it, then we need the, where, where it all intersects on NAIFA. It's the same thing. It's yes you can be a member of NAIFA. Yes. Will you make more money? Yes. Will you have a bigger network? Sure. But there's something inherent about being part of the American democratic process of an association and being in the advocacy space that's bigger than you. It's the Pay It Forward Legacy side of it. And when women bring that in to and they come to the statehouse, they come to Capitol Hill, that is transformative for legislation and regulation, that voice is needed, right, that other piece of it. And that's why it's so important that WIFS participates in that NAIFA a world because it's needed. We need all those voices. But it's an important thing. And if you want to talk about where women you see underserved I mean, we're finally seeing it in Congress, but overall, right, it's something we really need to step up, ladies.

Sue Kuraja 41:30 

And NAIFA does a really good job of being a thought leader for our fellow women in that space. And we're very excited. As we concluded our WIFS strategic vision planning in January of this year, there was heightened emphasis on that sisterly and brotherly bond, if you will, was NAIFA. And what that will look like for the next two to three years. So we're very excited about that.

Chris Gandy 41:57 

Wow, we've covered a lot of space. So let's talk about the future of WIFS. And let's talk about the future of the industry showing. What do you think, if you're sitting here five years from now, where do you think the industry needs to go to really, continuously make an impact? And then also have conversation? Let's have a thought, do you think AI is, throw this out there, do you think AI is going to replace the advisor simply because whether it's insurance advisor, financial advisor, financial professional, whatever name you want me to give someone who doesn't have the licenses yet, but I want to make sure I hit all the compliance stuff. So we're just insurance professional doesn't matter. What are your thoughts on where the industry needs to go to really edge this idea that AI is going to replace us?

Sue Kuraja 42:59 

Yes. Yes. So wow, I love that question. That'll be our third podcast. I think that it will begin with examining the corporate culture around AI, and the movement of data, because AI is only as good as the data that we feed into it. Right? And so understanding the culture and the relationship that each individual has with technology and technological enhancements, that each RIA or broker-dealer or boutique shop, what is their relationship with technology and technological advancements? What is the overarching, carrier or governance of the corporate enterprise? Think about technological advancements and artificial intelligence. And we look at decades of one thing we're very good about in the insurance, financial services space, especially insurer tech, is holding on to legacy data, legacy data, legacy systems and having vast, vast amounts of data that are I like to call lazy data that isn't really doing a whole lot. And so understanding again, at the level of Par, what that data is doing, what that data can do, and how can we unpack how can we sort? How can we analyze how can we drive the data to do certain things, whether it's within our ecosystem, to better understand our employees, right, because we all have a common thread, and that is to essentially recruit and retain more financial advisors to the industry, and to bring them on whether it's personally as a boutique practice, or as a broker instructor for a carrier firm, we all want to bring more people into our industry. Men women, it doesn't matter, because we have a shortage of representation. And then again, going back, I really do think so very highly and have so much hope for the Gen Z and the millennial, and building these new architectures and blueprints, or AI-driven insights, based on the knowledge that the Gen Z and Millennial will bring. And not just the cultural things that we talked about cultural inclusions, viewpoints from many areas around the world, but multi-generational viewpoints. Once upon a time, the mentor-mentee relationship, and the tradition of the mentor-mentee relationship was with age comes wisdom. Right. And so traditionally speaking, the mentor was the older person of the two and a two-person party have a mentor-mentee relationship. I feel like there's a lot of opportunity, in sort of a reversal of roles there. And having a Gen Z or millennial come up in the mentor arena, and recruiting a heap of really super smart, articulate genuine Gen Z Millennials that have profound visions, about technology, that we can teach them about financial services and insurance and say, oh, what would you do to transform this 50-year-old book of business? And what would you do to advance this corporate enterprise school of thought? That's really struggling to understand its place with AI? Because there's a lot of noise? Where do we begin? How do we start sorting the data out? And where do we start? Is it a small internal goal with our employees, giving rewards for contributions and tokens? That's pretty easy to institute, right? Grow the culture or a data-rich, data-driven, insightful culture, internally through the corporate enterprises, that's what the top-down can do. Right? And what the bottom-up viewpoints can do is really include super smart, young people, where transformation is easy for them. It's not easy for me. It's not easy for my clients, I had a lot of extra effort to understand my place in the world, and really understand what my relationship my future relationship is going to look like, for technology for my department, and for my clients. Took me a long time. But someone coming out of school, man, I'll tell you, they got it together, they really do. So finding that balance and sort of reversing the role of a mentor-mentee, to gain wisdom and bring up our young folks into the industry as new entrants, but with maybe slightly varying different roles and a heap of great insight and viewpoints.

Suzanne Carawan 48:14 

Yep, so I would say on that one, we probably do need to go to another podcast because I'd say see, as NAIFA says, we need see all of the above, all of that in concert. So Chris, I do need to tell you, it's time for our lightning round. Move to that.

Chris Gandy 48:31 

Wow. Okay, well, I guess lets move to it, that came and went pretty fast. Yeah.

Suzanne Carawan 48:38 

I've an inkling of one of the questions you're gonna ask, but I'm not gonna give it away to Sue.

Chris Gandy 48:42 

You can ask that question. Why don't we start with that? So Sue here's the deal. The deal is we're gonna ask you a series of questions. Questions are so that people get to know you away from financial services. So when they see you maybe at congressional conference, or they see you at Apex, I get a chance to walk over to you and maybe say something pretty insightful. So the first question I'm going to ask since you were in Chicago for a period of time is deep dish pizza or regular pizza.

Sue Kuraja 49:09 

I love me a good deep-dish pizza from Giordano's. Only because I had a custom made and I worked for Giordano's back in Hyde Park, Illinois for a while.

Chris Gandy 49:20 

Okay, so I'm gonna throw one more question at you, Portillo's or Giordano's.

Sue Kuraja 49:28 

I got to stay loyal to my Giordano's.

Chris Gandy 49:30 

Okay. Okay, so that was pretty easy. Pretty easy. So we'll jump right into it. Okay, you ready? So your proudest moment in the industry so far.

Sue Kuraja 49:40 

When my kids watch SpongeBob and there was an episode of Spongebob and SpongeBob was buying life insurance. And they came and told me about it because they understood that I did, this a couple years ago, and I For kids between the ages of eight and 12, and I was like, wow, they get me.

Chris Gandy 50:05 

Wow. The one thing that you've struggled the most with in this industry so far.

Sue Kuraja 50:19 

Finding a balance between being fun Sue, and sturdy Sue, and making sure that people weren't mistaking my kindness for weakness.

Chris Gandy 50:38 

What has been your most exciting time at WIFS?

Sue Kuraja 50:46 

Oh my gosh, every single meeting, every single gathering and every single conference, every time we're together in person, we light the room on fire. It is so much thinking fun. We always have new faces new conversations. It could have been someone that you met two months ago, three months ago, but you are just so overjoyed to see them even for an hour. Every time we're in person, magic happens every single time and conferences, just a blast. It is a big, huge educational party.

Chris Gandy 51:19 

If you could go back in history and tell yourself when your first day starting no role as in the financial role, what advice would you give yourself looking back, what advice would you give yourself? Now, the one piece of advice you would definitely give yourself

Sue Kuraja 51:40 

I would say be kind to yourself, and give yourself grace. And no one's been harder on myself than myself. Right? As the saying goes. And with conviction, tell myself, give yourself space. Give yourself grace and make decisions rooted in kindness.

Chris Gandy 52:03 

Got it. You can go back and have lunch or dinner with anyone in history whether living today, or they passed away, they're famous or not famous or historian doesn't matter. You go back and have dinner with that person. Who would you go back in history and have dinner with and why?

Sue Kuraja 52:31 

Couple people. First one that comes to mind is Princess or Lady Diana. I would say because she led a very, very complex life very multifaceted, always being in the face of the public, having probably a very different life publicly than privately understanding her well and her drive to contribute to communities outside of her ecosystem. She was such a giver, and just sitting down and asking her like, how did you do all this? How did all of this happen for you? And understanding what work, life and family balance could even look like? Because I think all women in business struggle with that.

Chris Gandy 53:19 

Okay, awesome. So you have the ear of NAIFA nation Sue, any parting words, anything you would like to tell NAIFA nation about WIFS your role progressional conference and or just being affiliated with an association connected with our support in the development of our industry.

Sue Kuraja 53:41 

My parting thought would be to say profoundly in shouting from the rooftop. Thank you. Thank you for accepting me into your community back in 2014 NAIFA, thank you for being alongside my friend in the journey that is becoming very different and very new for me in financial services, insurance. Thank you for introducing me to a lot of the people that I have oil friendships now in WIFS, and assemblance, of really strong, powerful thought leaders in the WIFS community that made it all possible. It really does take a village and it does take a team of people. And I've just always been so warmly greeted and accepted still to this day by my NAIFA and my WIFS community. And so anything that I can do to help continue to foster and collaborate and grow that relationship by, I'm your person. So thank you. Thanks for having me. This was fun. Should do it again.

Chris Gandy 54:38 

Sue is out in Phoenix, Arizona, correct. Sue I'm expecting you to turn the heat down when we come out there this year. Last year, it was 100. It was like the longest ever like 107 degrees. They even told the planes that if you're flying between this time and this time, you're not flying, so we need you to turn down for a couple of days while we're there. I will try my best, but the heat will be at a pack. So don't miss it. More information coming soon. So Suzanne, what do you have before I close this out?

Suzanne Carawan 55:10 

Thank you, Sue Kuraja so much for being here. If you also give a shout-out to insurance news nets, who has been writing some articles there. So if you haven't seen those, we'll go ahead and post those as well. And then we want to again say one last thank you to White Glove. And Chris, we are ready to wrap it up.

Chris Gandy 55:28 

All right. Thanks for tuning in to Advisor Todays podcast where we're getting a chance to uplift and promote the voices of all of you as advisors and as financial professionals for the greater good of our collective group. Our collective association. So thank you so much for tuning in. We'll see you next week. Tax today, today so go out, Sue, good seeing you, Chicago. Let us know and Suzanne, so wonderful seeing you and we'll see you next week. Thanks for tuning in.

Outro 56:03 

Thanks for joining us for NAIFA's Advisor Today podcast series. Make sure to subscribe to get future episodes. And if you're interested in coming on the show, let us know.



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