Overcoming Obstacles In the Pursuit of Wisdom

Where do We Turn for Sound Financial Advice?

We live in a world where self-proclaimed experts dole out investment advice along with manifestation plans. People who don’t know the first thing about the financial world are writing DIY books about abundance and wealth. What’s the alternative? Many of us imagine professional financial planners as men in dark suits with offices in high towers, perhaps beyond our reach. The sheer volume of financial advice available abounds, from woo-woo wishes to blue-suit stock picks. How do we know where to turn for sound advice that acknowledges and supports our hopes and dreams?

Enter Kamal Basra and Tracy Theemes, our Sophia Financial Wise Money Moves gurus. These women have dedicated their professional lives to inspiring people to take control of their financial health and wealth. So, what makes them different?

“I had this front-row seat on this strong woman’s experience.” ~Kamal Basra

Kamal’s story starts in a small village in India. She immigrated to Canada as a baby and grew up helping her mother navigate the language and culture barriers after her parents divorce when Kamal was ten years old. Her mom was left with a house, a mortgage, three kids to put through school, and no job. Kamal sat on the floor with the classified ads, circling jobs, calling prospective employers to arrange meetings for her mom, even serving as an interpreter at interviews.

Education Provides More Choices

Kamal’s mother taught her that education was powerful leverage. If you had an education, you had more choices in life. Like many immigrant children in Canada, Kamal grew up firmly believing that if you worked really hard, and you studied really hard, everything would magically work out. She pursued science at university, had kids, got married, and worked part-time at the Canada Revenue Agency as a supervisor until she heard some coworkers discussing RSPs.

That conversation sent her to her first session with a financial planner and gave her a glimpse of her new career. Once her children were in school, Kamal went back to educating herself and consumed everything she found in the realm of finance. She worked as an assistant to a financial planner and saw how he made families feel powerful. She wanted to have that positive impact on people’s lives, too. She wanted to do it even better.

After years of studying, Kamal finally came to a point where she believed she knew as much as her boss, or more. It was time to have the talk. So she swallowed her heart-pounding fear, pushed her nerves aside, and summoned the courage to say, “We’re at an equal place now. I’m providing a lot of value to this business. And I’d like to talk about partnership.”

After a few impossible moments of silence, he replied, “No. No. I don’t want to do that.”

She couldn’t back down. “Well, then I’m going to have to look for something different.” She cried on the way home, and thought, “What have I done?” She didn’t know it yet, but that was the launchpad for her career as a financial advisor.

“I sometimes can’t believe it, the change in one generation; how we can go from a place of impoverishment, and not having enough… to sitting in the middle of Point Grey, having a good life, and being able to share with others.” ~Kamal Basra

Held Back By The Rules of Men

Tracy Theemes is no stranger to the money struggle, either. She grew up in small-town Ontario, the eldest of three children in a poverty-stricken home. Her dad didn’t read or write, and he drank too much. He also had an entrepreneurial bent and worked hard to keep his family fed, as did Tracy’s mother. They ran a small family business. Dad was in charge of sales and hard labour. Mom did all the bookkeeping and dealt with any aspect that required the written word. Tracy was the assistant, double-checking rows of addition and helping with the taxes or banking.

Tracy remembers coming home from school when she was eight or nine and taking her seat in the office (which was the laundry room) to work as the family calculator. Her mother looked up from her paper. “Tracy Lynn,” she said, “Take a look. Is this G the same as that G over there?” Mrs. Theemes was perfecting a forgery of her husband’s signature.

Yeah, it’s pretty close. Why do you need to know how to do dad’s name?”

“I need a credit card, and they won’t let me get a credit card unless your dad signs.”

In those days, women couldn’t have credit or bank accounts on their own. They had to have a man, like their husband or father, on their accounts. Tracy couldn’t believe that her smart, efficient mother, who held the family together, was regularly held back by the rules of men. It made her feel ornery.

“There’s a pugnacious quality that comes from watching your mother be discriminated against, you know?” ~Tracy Theemes

Using Money To Serve The Greater Good

Tracy also used education to pull herself out of the poverty of her youth. She pursued a Ph.D. in child psychology after becoming the only person in her family to receive a master’s degree. When she was working in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, three babies in her caseload died, and she was thrust into a spiritual crisis. If those children had been born to middle-class parents in a better part of town, they would have had access to the services they needed to survive. She thought it was an atrocity, but her colleagues seemed to accept it, so Tracy dropped out of the Ph.D. program. She refused to be Dr. Theemes, running around with a bag of toys, pretending to solve problems. She turned her attention to money, and how it moved around, and how she could learn to move it to serve the greater good.

Tracy started with the classic self-help money books but didn’t feel they were digging deep enough. So she trundled down to the local Smith Barney office, one of the largest wealth management firms, and asked to speak to the manager.Look,” she said, the only thing I’m really interested in is money. Do you have any career opportunities for me?” It was a bold, cold-call move, but she had nothing to lose.

To her surprise, he invited her to sit down for a chat. It just so happened that Smith Barney had recently been sued for sexual harassment, and had initiated a program to bring in more women advisors. Tracy’s timing was impeccable, and her courage paid off. After many tests and interviews, she was hired at Smith Barney over 75 other applicants.

Fast forward to 2008: Kamal was working at TD Waterhouse, and Tracy was with RBC Dominion Securities. They were both offering money and investment seminars to women in their community, and they were both passionate about their work, so they‘d heard talk of one another. At one point, they were scheduled to speak to the same group of women at a University club, so Tracy decided it was time to connect one-on-one. Kamal ignored the first two emails, thinking she wasn’t going to give away her secrets to the competition. But Tracy was persistent.

Their first meeting was fraught with the baggage of two female competitors trying to succeed in a male-dominant industry where nobody shares anything. After 20 minutes of talking, and so many YES! moments of understanding one another‘s struggles, the women stood up in the middle of the coffee shop and hugged. A new, unified partnership was born then and there.

A year later, Kamal and Tracy decided to take the leap and start their own financial planning firm. They were both primary breadwinners for their families, they both had children at home to think about, and the world was in the throws of a financial crisis. Mentors and business advisors told them to stay put in their bank jobs. These two women knew all too well that struggle and risk were facts of life. And they knew from talking to the women at their seminars that the community needed what they had to offer. As it turned out, they got it right, again. There was a good deal of money in motion and a true need for good information.

“Where and when would we, as straight-shooting, ethical advisors, be more needed than in the middle of the crisis?” ~Tracy Theemes

Tracy and Kamal provide the same hard-hitting, finger-on-the-pulse expertise as the men in the navy suits. Listen to the Wise Money Moves Podcast Episode #1 to hear how Tracy and Kamal have known struggle, known poverty, taken risks, and overcome immense obstacles in their pursuit of wisdom. No fluff, just crap-free information, and maybe a hug.