Helen Ngo said she once wanted to be one of the people on the floor at the stock exchange because she thought that was “sexy.” Instead, she entered the financial planning space unprepared for the tough road ahead as a woman of color.

Ngo, founder and CEO of Capital Benchmark Partners, started out knocking on doors and cold calling to find clients when she was working as a rookie financial planner. When she finally found a position, she was not given the opportunity to advance in the company. She even ran up against the “Queen Bee syndrome” – in which women in positions of authority treat female subordinates more critically – when she was looking for a female mentor, she said.

“I was just asking for guidance,’’ Ngo noted, adding that she believes many women in the profession are still holding each other down today.

Ngo shared a panel titled “Underserved Females” with Reshell Smith, founder and CEO of AMES Financial Solutions, at Financial Advisor’s 5th Annual Invest in Women conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Smith spoke of the struggles she faced in her early start in the industry – and the “Queen Bee syndrome” was one of them.

Smith said that one of the challenges in attracting people in this industry is that because prospective clients are accustomed to white men as their financial advisors, that makes it more difficult for women like her to build trust. Those potential clients shy away from people they don’t typically see as financial advisors, which forces many minorities to find their own space.

Both women successfully carved out niches to set themselves apart. Smith said after 16 years working in various capacity at Charles Schwab serving affluent white men, she saw an opportunity to work with women who are in transition, those who lost a spouse through death or divorced, and people who look more like her – Smith is African American.

She noted that when she was serving rich white men, the women at the table were in the background – if they were at the table, they were not asking questions, she said.

Among the ways Smith builds her clients are through social media. She does a “Lunch and Learn” Facebook session every Tuesdays called Amplify Your Wealth. She attends many business and social events, she visits historically black colleges and universities, and she assists people in taking the CFP exams.

Ngo, a Vietnamese immigrant, serves immigrants who don’t always have access to financial information. “I wanted to serve individuals that look like me, talk like me and have the same philosophy around money… They want to make money for themselves, not necessarily invest,” she said.

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