We recently sat down with Laly Kassa, who helps high net worth individuals, foundations, and non-profits with financial strategy at Chevy Chase Trust.
Tell us a little bit about your role here at CCT.
I am responsible for financial planning, so I work with clients to examine just about everything that touches their financial lives. At CCT, we devote a lot of time to planning because it lays the groundwork for the work we do on the investment management side. Planning gives us a full picture of the client’s background, current situation, and future goals so that we can be good stewards of assets we are entrusted with managing.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I am from Ethiopia. I went to UC Santa Barbara for my undergraduate degree in Economics, and went to Columbia where I earned my Master’s in International Affairs. I always thought I would end up at some sort of nongovernmental organization; however, when I was in graduate school the first internship that was available was at a large bank. I was convinced I would hate it – but I loved it. I loved working with all the numbers and working with individuals, so I just went on from there.
Initially my role was very specific, looking at how clients were impacted by interest rates and foreign exchange and hedging that risk for them so that their balance sheets would not get whipped around because of changes in those markets. Over time my position grew into looking at clients’ full financial picture.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
It’s almost like being a detective. As you get to know a family, there are layers of things to uncover. You have a discussion with your client, you are given some documents, and you have to figure out what’s the impact of each piece on the family. It’s fun to decipher all of the elements and contemplate how we can be useful.
What makes Chevy Chase Trust different from other places you’ve worked?
That’s easy: the first thing is, we are not limited in the amount of planning, time, or resources we can spend on one particular client. Every client is afforded the same amount of expertise, so you feel like you can truly do a thorough job and address clients’ needs without the clock ticking. I don’t really believe that happens anywhere else. Additionally, we are face to face with the clients we work for and do the work ourselves. We don’t send the work to planners in a remote location that never get to know the client; many firms use that delivery model and it just doesn’t work, all the intangibles get missed. It is also important to me to work in a place with a deep bench and colleagues who have a tremendous amount of expertise. Maybe most important of all, this business is built in a way that avoids conflicts of interest so the client comes first.
This environment attracts people who are really smart, want to do well by their clients, and enjoy it. It makes this a very fun place to work.
What would you do if not this?
I have to admit that it changes all the time. When my children were little, I thought I’d like to own a toy and book store because I was in that kind of place so often and loved it. I thought I could be good at finding games that challenge the mind and books that ignite the imagination.
Currently, I’m helping my kids with non-profit work and I could easily do that too. Helping kids identify needs and use their technology and social media skills to harness the communities’ resources, or help children harness their classmate’s resources. There is much to be done and it is so empowering for kids to be involved in things that are bigger than they are.
What do you like to do outside of the office?
Now that my children are in high school and I have more time, I love to read, cook and travel. Travelling with the kids has been a lot of fun as they have gotten older – nothing beats watching that sense of wonder as they discover new countries and cultures.
I also like to learn languages, I’m learning Spanish right now – off and on, unfortunately.
What is your favorite book?
My favorite book of all time is called A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It is set in India and, on the surface, it’s about a mother’s search for a suitable boy for her daughter but there is so much in these extended families that reminds me of my own culture and family members. The book I just finished is The Hired Man by Aminata Forna – although it is set in Croatia, it also reminds me of Ethiopia, with its tumultuous past that is evident only to those that have been through it.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career path similar to yours?
I’d say you have to enjoy being a jack of all trades and master of none. You aren’t the sole expert, whether it’s estate planning, insurance, or investments; you need to know enough to be helpful, but also know when to call in the experts. If you like working with people, problem solving, and working across lots of different disciplines, this is a great career path.
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