Just as the reality of COVID-19 began rearing its head, a new business opened in the old corner building on K Street. The building has been home to numerous businesses and vocations over the years, including a corner store, preschool, and photography studio. In February of this year, it became home to Wheels Up Wealth, Inc., a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm founded by Bridget Harkins, CFP® and Frances Harkins, CFP®, AIF®.
Yes, it is a financial services firm owned and operated by women. No, you do not see that every day. If you’re unclear on the designation acronyms above, Frances and Bridget are both Certified Financial Planners™ (Frances is also an Accredited Investment Fiduciary®). Danyell Bjornstad, the company’s Director of Operations, is a Financial Paraplanner Qualified Professional™. Together, they want to help you plan your financial future.
Frances earned her master’s degrees in economics from UC Santa Barbara, and began her career working for Bank of America, then as a bank analyst for the U.S. Treasury Department. Before fully embracing the Financial Planning industry, she interrupted her own career to raise her two kids. Bridget, a Benicia High alum, went on to earn her bachelor’s in economics from UC Berkeley. She started her career at Dimensional Fund Advisors, where she quickly moved up the ranks to Regional Director, serving as an “advisor to financial advisors” while also completing her CFP® certification. Her career switch, founding Wheels Up Wealth to work directly with individuals, was a natural transition from her vantage consulting advisors in choosing investments, communicating with their clients, and running their businesses.
While their services are open to anyone, Wheels Up Wealth specializes in working with a specific clientele: professional women. “The industry often calls women a niche market. Really, we are not a ‘niche’ at all. Women are 50% of the population!” explains Bridget. But in the world of finance, women are still underrepresented and underserved compared to their male counterparts. “Right now, 23% of CFP® professionals are women,” says Frances, “and there is a push to bring women and minorities into the industry because people often want to work with professionals who share their experiences.”
Aside from their underrepresentation in the professional financial field, women are also less likely to feel confident about their finances – not because they know less or are less able to learn about finances than men, but because they often have never been invited to the conversation. Exacerbating this, women often experience hurdles that disproportionately affect their finances more than men, such as taking time off to care for children or aging parents, generally making less money than men in similar positions, and having higher healthcare and living expenses after retirement due to their longer life expectancy. “There are compounding factors that the traditional industry hasn’t successfully addressed. As women in this industry, we hold a special place to be able to recognize these issues and work with women to solve them within their financial plan,” says Bridget.
Frances, Bridget, and Danyell describe events and seminars they look forward to offering once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. These will be aimed at promoting financial literacy and providing a safe space for people to begin engaging in financial dialogue – still a taboo in many households – in a way that doesn’t involve complicated calculations, but how we relate to money. Bridget also describes a service offering she is working on to specifically reach younger adults and “meet them where they are. Often, young people are turned away by the industry because they have not yet amassed much wealth. We want to help them now because we know that early incremental changes can really set them up for success in the future.”
Bridget is now the President and CIO of her own financial services firm, and in her personal life she carries an additional, often male-dominated title: pilot. During our interview, she recounts the feeling of empowerment she experienced by learning to take control of such a powerful machine. Through her work, she hopes to impart that same sense of empowerment to her clients by helping them take control of their finances. It is with that spirit that she named this new firm Wheels Up Wealth.
Benicia Magazine published an interview with Frances Harkins in the January 2013 issue. For those who wish to learn more about Frances and her work, this article can be found here.
This article appears in the July 2020 issue of Benicia Magazine.