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Practicing What She Preaches

Since joining the Peace Corps, Jennifer Lazarus has wanted to have an impact on the world. She found a way by being a financial planner.

Kate Stalter, 10/16/2012

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2012 issue of MorningstarAdvisor magazine.  To subscribe, please call 1-800-384-4000. 

For several years after college, Jennifer Lazarus was searching for what she terms it. For her, that meant a career that would allow her to serve others, while expressing her values.

She eventually found her it, as a financial planner bringing customized advice to each client with a focus on socially responsible investing. Today, she runs a thriving practice from her home in Durham, N.C. But she got to that place in a somewhat roundabout fashion.

Out to Save the World
Born in Australia, she spent her early years moving around the globe with her family. Her father’s job in finance with Goodyear Tire took the family to many countries that were experiencing profound, visible poverty, something that made an impact on Lazarus as a girl. Before she moved to the United States at age 16, she had lived in Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Brazil. After graduating from Miami University in Ohio, she joined the Peace Corps, where she served in the African nation of Chad, doing community education work.

“I really wanted to save the world and make a big impact,” she says. “At that point in my life, I thought I wanted to work for the U.N. and feed the hungry.”

Lazarus left the Peace Corps in 1996 and went on to get her master’s degree in teaching from Boston University. She was an elementary and high school teacher for several years but realized that it was not the right fit for her. She wasn’t sure what career move to make next but was pursuing various interests, including investing. She found herself informally, without pay, advising her husband’s colleagues on their 403(b) plans, researching mutual funds and explaining why she would prefer one fund to another. She recalls the moment she began seriously to consider a career in financial planning.

“One of these friends said to me, ‘Do you notice how alive you are and how great you are at this? Are you paying attention to this?’ I was doing hours and hours of research and really loving it,” she says.

Around that same time, she read an article by fee-only financial planner Sheryl Garrett and realized that there were other services an advisor could provide, in addition to investment advice. That sent her back to school, taking classes toward the Certified Financial Planner credential.

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