A strong mother and childhood gifts of stocks led Jeanie Knigin to a career on Wall Street that already has spanned 40 years and is far from over.
Back when the financial planning industry was just getting its feet on the ground, Knigin (pronounced K-Nig-En), who was good at math, knew she wanted to be a financial advisor. She started working in a bank, but quickly took advantage of an opportunity to work for a small Washington, D.C., financial advisory firm.
A move to New York City resulted in a career at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, where she has just celebrated her 40th year in the financial industry, and she has no plans of retiring for at least another 10 years.
“It was the beginning of a long, wonderful career in finance,” Knigin says. “Over time, I found myself acquiring a lot of female clients because there were so few of us in the business back then. Generally, I find it more comfortable working with women. It’s not an unusual thing; people often are more comfortable dealing with reflections of themselves.
“Even today, the focus of my client base is women who are 50-plus, divorced or widowed; or working with couples where the husband may be older and is looking for someone he can trust to help his wife with her finances going forward,” she explains. “I’ve been widowed and divorced, so I can appreciate both situations. It shatters your world.”
As a child she received stocks for presents from her practical-minded parents. This was a mystery to Knigin until her mother showed her how to read the stock report in the newspaper, which set her on her path. Her mother, who founded the American Studies program at George Mason University, taught her how to be a trailblazer.
“We were driving in the car one day, and the news at the time featured Gloria Steinem talking about equal rights for women. Mom turned to my sister and me in the back seat and said ‘I don't know why women would want equal rights, when we are superior.’ That was the way that she thought and it influenced me a lot. It helped make me feel very powerful,” she says.
Knigin says she prefers investments that are not too risky. “That’s just not me.” She handles clients' investments herself or selects money managers to do so. She likes to target clients who are building wealth and have approximately $1 million in investable assets.
“They don’t turn that over to me immediately,” she says. “It takes time to build trust.”
When she is not working, Knigin takes part in the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Financial Women's Association of New York and the Estate Planning Council of New York. She is an animal lover and supports the Toby Project, a nonprofit organization working to end the killing of adoptable dogs and cats in New York City's animal shelters through spaying and neutering.