Ellen Siegel helps people understand an environmental treasure.
Not many people equate the Everglades with financial planning, although at times the reams of data, contradictory forecasts and churning markets can make the world of finance seem as swampy as that South Florida landscape. But Ellen Siegel sees a correlation between these disparate realms, mainly because she's got her feet in both.
During the week, Siegel is a certified financial planner with The Enrichment Group, a fee-based planning firm in Miami. On weekends, she's often tramping through the Everglades, a subtropical wilderness filled with birds, alligators and marshes.
As a volunteer interpretive park ranger in Everglades National Park, Siegel's goal is to educate people about this misunderstood landscape. The way she sees it, that's no different from educating people about their finances. "They're both about resource management to ensure a quality of life," says the 54-year-old Siegel.
Unlike most Miamians, Siegel would rather spend a day at the marsh than at the beach. Early one Saturday morning in February, she and two others left the city and headed west on Highway 41, which bisects the heart of the Everglades. Birds floated gracefully on either side of the highway-a pair of double-crested cormorants flew side by side over here, great egrets flapped away effortlessly over there, and a couple of wood storks soared high above.
Siegel pointed out that wood storks are one of 14 endangered species in the Everglades. Shortly after, another one appeared, followed by two more. "I've never seen this many wood storks," she exclaimed as she pounded her legs a few times with glee.
As a volunteer ranger, Siegel conducts tours scheduled by the national park and also organizes tours on her own time because, she says, "I have a personal mission to introduce as many people to the park as possible." As one of the nation's most threatened ecosystems, the Everglades can use all the defenders and proselytizers it can get.
This Philadelphia native's role as an Everglades advocate came about almost by accident. Siegel moved to Miami in 1975 after she earned a degree in elementary education from the University of Pennsylvania, followed by a brief teaching stint in the Philly public schools.
Life in the financial and environmental trenches wasn't in the works when she relocated down south, and her first jobs were in social work and in mid-management positions with the Girl Scouts Council. She eventually got into the life insurance business, but after 17 years as an insurance agent she decided to sharpen her investment management skills and enter the world of fee-based financial planning.
Siegel planned to work solo after she got CFP certified, and she called The Enrichment Group's founder, Kathleen Day, about renting office space in their building. Unknown to Siegel, Day was looking for someone with insurance experience. They talked, and Siegel was brought on as a member of the firm in 1997.
It's a good match. The Enrichment Group is a large firm with 275 clients and a staff of 16, including seven planners. Its focus is as much on ascertaining client attitudes toward money and personal values as it is about the value of a portfolio. And that suits Siegel fine.