Top Financial Adviser Discovers Liking People Helpful; Listening To Them, Too
By JIM KEVLIN
By the late ‘80s, Erna Morgan McReynolds had been a top broadcast producer for more than a decade, in London and at NBC’s “Today” in New York City.
“It’s not a kind field to grow old in,” she said the other day in an interview at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney on outer Chestnut Street, where the Otsego County Chamber’s NBT Bank Distinguished Citizen of 2011 is managing director.
Casting around for a next step, she went to a party with her husband, Tom Morgan, whose “Money Talk” radio show was nationally syndicated, and met someone who suggested she should consider being a financial adviser.
Tom was already operating Oneonta’s E.F. Hutton office, so Erna took an aptitude test to discovered if she could “think in a certain way, because investments are what you call ‘intangible’.” She can, and soon she found herself interviewing in Hutton’s Boston office.
She was at the top of the broadcast game, and her bosses in New York were skeptical. They told her they’d hold her job for a year. Fine, but she never went back.
As a reporter, “my whole career had been asking people questions.” And, incidentally, she had “an abiding interest in people.” In her new business, she was surprised to find that skill and that predisposition were just right.
Getting her clients to talk, listening to them, knowing “what’s happening in the world and how you can help people reach their goals” – it was just the thing.
As you can anticipate, this girl from Gilbertsville who arrived back in Oneonta after several spins around the world, was a big success by any standard.
For four years now, Barron’s magazine has named her one of its Top 100 Women Financial Advisers. Research Magazine nominated her as Woman Financial Consultant of the Year. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney has taken her into its highest councils.
“We have clients now who have been retired for 20 years,” she said, “and we’re getting to know the children and the grandchildren.”
While her clients have benefitted, Erna McReynolds’ quarter-century back home have benefited her native Otsego County in much broader ways.
No sooner had she settled in then Barbara Wilder, wife of Hartwick College’s then-president, took her under her wing. “You’re going to be a big success,” Erna’s new mentor told her.
Soon, she was on the United Way board, and that led to appointments to the boards of the Otsego County Chamber, Orpheus Theater, the Indian Hills Girl Scout Advisory Council, the NYSHA development committee, Friends of Bassett and Hartwick College.
She was a founder of the Executive Service Corps’ local chapter. When the Catskill Symphony Orchestra ran into trouble, she and Tom were recruited to put it back on the firm financial footing it enjoys today.
The couple had bought a stone house on Clinton Street, just below Hartwick, but a decade ago they built a country home outside of Franklin, where they planted 100,000 daffodils.
Soon, when the bulbs bloomed, Erna and Tom were hosting an annual Daffodil Jazz Brunch, to benefit Catskill Area Hospice & Palliative Care. (This year’s is in memory of Cathy Hughes, a friend of Erna’s who died young of cancer.)
When interviewed the other day, she’d just returned from a conference in New York where John Paulson, the hedge-fund billionaire, had talked about the pace of change.
Where it took 35 years for 25 percent of Americans to get phones, it took only 13 for 25 percent to adopt mobile phones, only seven years for 25 percent to go on the Net.
“One of the things computers can’t do,” she continues, “is care about people. People have to sleep at night. If they don’t sleep at night, I don’t sleep at night.”
Her career as a financial adviser has been marked with change. By the time she joined Tom fulltime, E.F. Hutton had become Shearson, Lehman, Hutton, then Shearson, then Smith Barney Shearson, then Citi Smith Barney, before its current incarnation.
The Morgan office moved from Clinton Plaza, to 41 South Main, then to outer Chestnut.
“When I was hired, there were hardly any women in the business,” she recalled. She discovered – one of the reasons she likes her work – is that “it’s all about how well you build and manage your business.”