Knowledge is Power
Haverford Trust empowers women to take control of their financial destinies
by Sharon A. Shaw

Although women in America have advanced in many ways in the last 30 years—they now attend college in greater numbers than men; they are the primary earners in 40 percent of families; and they are likely to be the head of their household at some point in their lives—many remain behind the times in at least one area: financial literacy. Binney H.C. Wietlisbach, president of The Haverford Trust Company in Radnor, is working to change that.

“When I was promoted [to president] six years ago, I wanted our firm to embrace women, provide a forum where they could be listened to, ask questions and be empowered,” she says. In the years since, Haverford Trust has begun hosting entertaining and educational events for clients, including seminars, wine tastings and networking forums. One upcoming event will feature a panel of incredible female leaders, including Renée Hughes, CEO of the American Red Cross in Southeastern Pennsylvania; Stacey Sauchuk, president of the Valley Forge Military Academy & College; and Kim Sajet, director of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.  

“We want to be the Rock of Gibraltar,” Wietlisbach says of her firm, which now manages or consults on assets worth approximately $7.5 billion. “We want our clients to sleep well at night knowing their money is doing exactly what they expect it to do.”  

Formed in 1979, Haverford Trust assists individuals, corporations and charitable organizations to manage their wealth in a very controlled way. Wietlisbach has been with the firm for 22 of her nearly 30 years in the investment industry, even though she never thought it was a career path she would follow.

“It married two of my strengths—numbers and people—and I enjoy that,” she says. She estimates that less than 10 percent of advisory firms are led by women, and she is proud to be one of the few. “People ask how did I get here, and I tell them, ‘By working really hard.’”

Wietlisbach considers herself “very fortunate” to have grown up in the 1970s, during the women’s liberation movement. A generation earlier, however, things were much different. Wietlisbach’s mother, for example, had been born into a family of privilege. She attended boarding school in Connecticut, where she was ranked among the top 1 percent in mathematics before going on to Bryn Mawr College, getting married and starting a family.

“She was very smart,” Wietlisbach says of her mother, and yet her intelligence did not prevent her from becoming a victim of poor financial decisions. Wietlisbach’s parents ultimately got divorced, and her mother became the beneficiary of a family trust. She later remarried and subsequently divorced, but only after her husband had moved the family to a community property state that entitled him to her assets. He also abandoned his two small children from a previous marriage and left them in her care.

“Alone at the age of forty, with five children—it was not what she had imagined at all,” Wietlisbach says.

Though the trust enabled her mother to live comfortably for the next 15 years, she eventually called Wietlisbach saying she thought she needed to get a job. “She was 56, had never worked and did not have any skills,” Wietlisbach says. “The income from her trust had dropped significantly over a 10-year period, so she could no longer support her two sons in college. At this rate she didn’t even know if she could keep her house.”

When Wietlisbach asked what her mother’s trust officer had to say about it, her mother revealed that she had not spoken with him and did not understand her investment statements. Her mother was, for all intents and purposes, financially illiterate. Wietlisbach was ultimately able to improve her mother’s situation, but not all are so lucky.

“Over 80 percent of women will become the head of their household, whether intended or not,” Wietlisbach says, citing the fact that women outlive men and typically spend six to eight years widowed. “Unfortunately, they can get snookered.”

Others simply remain uninvolved in their financial futures, for any number of reasons. Recently Wietlisbach met with a prospective client who, after a medical emergency, was concerned about the financial welfare of his wife should something happen to him. After explaining how Haverford Trust could help, Wietlisbach asked why his wife was not in attendance at their meeting. His answer: “She knows who to call if something happens to me,” to which she replied, “I don’t know your wife. Do you think if something happens to you that would be the time for me to get to know her?” After prompting him to invite his wife to the next meeting, the wife was delighted to be part of the conversation.

The husband, like many Wietlisbach works with, was well intentioned but did not think to include his wife in the financial decisions. Part of the problem, Wietlisbach feels, is that women don’t ask to get involved or take an active role in their finances. Good decision making in this regard should begin with paying their student loans right out of college and participating in a 401(k) as soon as possible. Finally, she adds, “If an advisor is talking down to you—or using language you don’t understand—that is unacceptable. Ask for a different advisor; advocate for yourself.”

“I have always been motivated by having control of my own money,” Wietlisbach continues. “I taught my children—a son who is 20 and an 18-year-old daughter—the Golden Rule: He who has the gold rules. If you borrow money from someone, they can tell you what to do. When you give up that control, you can be controlled by someone. … Too many women still give that responsibility to someone else.”

Wietlisbach is pleased to see more women taking on leadership roles in the corporate world but says it still has a long way to go. She cites a workplace study that suggests women are more likely to wait until they are qualified to apply for a better position, while men will apply for positions in which they are not yet qualified. One way these statistics might be improved upon is to have women seek out the guidance of mentors they admire.

Early in her own career Wietlisbach met one such woman. “She was not a formal mentor, but someone I looked up to and got to know,” she says. “A year later when I needed help, because we had already formed a bond, I was able to call and ask for her help. I did not have to explain who I was because I had that relationship in place.” She now mentors others in her office, while continuing to appreciate the accomplishments of other women, including Madeline Bell, president and COO of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, with whom Wietlisbach serves on CHOP’s Board of Trustees.

In addition to these relationships, Wietlisbach credits her success to having “really great partners in life,” including her husband of 22 years, as well as her co-workers. “I am very fortunate to have people I admire and trust implicitly,” she says. She adds that these qualities are necessary not only for personal success but also for financial success.

In other words, investors—whether female or male—are in very good hands with Wietlisbach and her team at Haverford Trust.

The Haverford Trust Company
Three Radnor Corporate Center
Suite 450
Radnor, PA 19087

Photograph by Jody Robinson