By Cathriona Murphy
In celebration of International Women’s Day, I wanted to bring our readers a cover story featuring a strong, successful, local woman. I instantly thought of Carol Brick. Growing up on a farm in the North Kerry village of Kilmoyley, Carol went on to graduate from UCD and start the highly successful CWM Wealth Management and HerMoney. I had a chat with Carol to get some insight into her world and possibly a few financial tips, god knows we all need them!
Carol, can you tell our readers about your background and early career?
I am originally a North Kerry woman myself, from the Kilmoyley area. I was educated there in the local primary school and came from a dairy farming background. After doing my leaving certificate in the Presentation in Tralee, I went on to UCD. I knew from a very early age that business was going to be the way forward for me because going into 5th year, I dropped basically every subject that wasn’t business related! After graduating UCD with a degree in Economics and Sociology, I went to America for a year and a half and then came back to take part in the graduate program with the Bank of Ireland. Having always planned to go down the route of accounting, I soon figured out it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I still did 6 years in an accounting role with Bank of Ireland but I knew I wanted to diverse into a more advisory role. At that time there was no position in the bank in that role with very little scope also to develop a position to move into another department. At the height of the boom when my shares in the bank where at their highest I decided to leave the bank, when everyone else weas trying to get in! I left in 2006 and gained a position as a financial advisor for a very large pensions provider here in Ireland which really kick started my career as a financial advisor. From there I went on to set up CWM which is my wealth management company and where I have been for the last 15 years.
With 15 years in business, how is the future of the brand looking, any exciting plans for it in store?
Yes! We are celebrating 15 years in business this year which is very exciting for us. We are actually expanding and re-branding as we speak! In 2016 I opened up a separate division which is a financial advisory service ran by women for women, hermoney.ie, which has proven very successful for us. It is all going very well thankfully! We have big plans for 2023 with the expansion and rebranding. When I started in 2008 I had one staff member and hoping to be a team of 20 by the end of this year. The Hermoney.ie side of the business has seen big growth and now with the rebranding of CWM, which by the way is a sister company of an international accounting company called Contracting Plus, will see us busier than ever before. We are rebranding to Contracting Plus Financial Services to sit more in line with our sister companies branding. So with 3 new senior staff having started in the last month alone, we are really excited for what is ahead for us.
Has there been a shift in Ireland in women becoming more savvy and in control of their finances?
There has been thankfully! The reason I set up my service was that we carried out some research back before we opened HerMoney back in 2016 and the results were startling! Professional women come to me every day through CWM, some of them may have taken time off to raise kids so they are short service. They were, in the past, slow enough to come and seek advice to sort their own financial affairs out independently and it’s great to see the increase in women that are taking action, but still a lot of them aren’t. Even in my own private life for example, a lot of my friends would come to me and they range from doctors to restaurant owners, physiotherapists, radiographers etc and they have absolutely no idea in what they have in place and more worryingly, no idea of what they need. They might be high earners with children and have absolutely no protection in place for situations such as illness or premature death. HerMoney is more of a financial education and counselling service, a lot of what we do there is employment based presentations. We were in Stryker for the month of January and are now heading into CUH where we will be doing department based presentations starting with the radiotherapy department. But getting back to women, if you look at mortality rates the current life expectancy for females is 85, so if you are retiring at 66 that leaves almost 20 years that you have to be prepared for financially. You will have worked long enough so you want to enjoy that time off so it’s very important to prepare for it. The goal is to maximise the amount of your contribution to prepare for it. Women, historically have been out of the workforce for many reasons including child rearing, looking after elderly parents etc so they are missing out on all of those financial state pension contributions. The one question we ask clients that come to see us is, do you know how much of a total pot you need to have a comfortable retirement? So where we want our clients to be is that they know exactly what they need in the pot to fund X pension per annum. Most people pay PRSI so they would be entitled to the state pension but few know exactly how much that even is! So in addition to knowing this figure you need to ask yourself, how much do you need to top this up with a private pension to achieve the annual income that you need. For example we have professionals here that could be earning up to €150,000 a year and the grim reality is that when they get to 66 that figure drops to €12,000 a year on state pension. So if you haven’t been actively contributing to a pension, you are going to see a severe drop in your annual income.
Do you think people see the term wealth management and think it’s not for them or they don’t earn enough for it?
That is one of the reasons we are rebranding because wealth management can sound out of reach for the average earner? What we want to achieve is to offer financial advice, financial counselling and advising on products accordingly, ensuring they are not tied to a particular provider. We have become known as a financial information giver rather than a company that just tries to sell products. A lot of brokers gave all of us a bad name in the past by trying to just sell the most expensive product onto their client and I personally believe that’s wrong.
For those thinking about a first time consultation, what can they expect in the process?
The first consultation is absolutely free, with the most reputable advisors in Ireland. So whether that takes place over phone, zoom or in person it is usually free. We sit down and have a chat and just try and identify what your position is and how exactly we can help you. More importantly we use this time to build a relationship with the client. We have over 4,000 clients and are proud of the personal relationship we have with each of them.
This means if something happens they know they have only to pick up the phone and chat to us, let us know what’s happening. So in essence, it’s not just about selling them the pension and off they go. We try an evaluate as much as possible just what their financial position is , that comes from getting to know our client which is built during the extensive fact find process that we go through. The more information we can gather means the better we can help them because we are in a clearer position in where they sit financially.
We are unfortunately in the midst of a well-documented cost of living crisis, what advice would you give to help us navigate it?
A financial review is always a great thing to do, if you haven’t done one in the last few years, this year is the best time to do one by far. We have a 10 point plan when it comes to a financial review process, it’s almost like conducting an annual personal audit. A lot of our clients that take the time to do it even without buying a product find it very beneficial and also find themselves saving money straight away. This is completely free and it’s a great opportunity to take away some invaluable financial advice and tools such a savings spreadsheet. Most importantly is that a regular review is so necessary, whether it’s a financial review, setting up income protection or pensions, you need to keep on top of it regularly. Things change constantly, this cost of living crisis didn’t exist only a few years ago, people become parents and therefore have dependants to take care of so financial preparation is really the key.
In an industry saturated with male dominance, do you think women are intimidated about competing for these high power positions or are their changes to this?
Personally, we are doing a lot more work in trying to engage more female professionals into the industry and thankfully its changing but just very gradually. I would have no problem recommending this career to any woman, its extremely rewarding. It really is like being a counsellor in some ways and if you have good interpersonal skills, good analytical skills well then I would recommend it. The take up of women in senior roles is increasing which is very good to see. Now in terms of broker and owners, I am probably one of only 10 in this country. The big industry day outs can still be a little bit daunting for some, there is no doubt about that, but overall the improvement in balance is good. We engage with UCC and MIT quite a lot to get on board interested graduates in full time roles and work placement roles too, so in that regard we do try and hire as many women as possible directly from college.
You mentioned engagement with colleges, do you think the links and network opportunities are working to the advantage of the employer or could more be done in those terms?
Like everything else, it is improving with time. It’s not as good as it could be, we really have to go actively looking for graduates as opposed to the university’s reaching out to more companies like us. So it is quite surprising that it us, the companies, that have to do most of the work there. Going back to when I was in University in UCD, there was international recruitment fairs where every single industry you could think of was represented, you could have 600/700 exhibitors so even events like this could be of huge benefit to all.
Finally Carol, what would be your parting advice to our readers?
Financial advice can be quite jargony and can put people off so don’t let that get to you, just pick up the phone. Also I find that people sometimes mistakenly think that financial advice is expensive, it’s certainly not. As I mentioned previously, most advisors will offer the first consultation free and you might just get everything you’re looking for on the one consult. I think in the long run, a lot of people are just frightened to sit down and talk about their finances and we want to take the stigma away from that.
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