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Working to Build a Niche

Carol Berger sees a need to serve same-sex couples.

Kate Stalter, 06/17/2013

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2013 issue of MorningstarAdvisor magazine. To subscribe, please call 1-800-384-4000.

For same-sex couples, financial planning can be more challenging than for their heterosexual peers. Carol Berger recognizes this problem and wants to do something about it. In early 2012, she founded Halcyon Wealth Management in Peachtree City, Ga., with the idea of serving gay and lesbian couples.

When she opened her firm, she had been an advisor for six years and a Certified Financial Planner for three. Before founding Halcyon, Berger was a wealth manager with Cambridge Southern Financial Advisors, now known as Cambridge Wealth Counsel, in Stockbridge, Ga. There, she honed her planning skills and served as the firm’s head trader.

The client base at Cambridge was fairly traditional. She had a full workload, assisting the firm’s owner by serving about 85 of the firm’s 130 clients. But Berger realized that if she wanted to expand her practice into the gay and lesbian community, she needed to strike out on her own. “It was a good group of clients,” she says. “I learned a lot. But I wanted to be able to get more of my own clients, and I didn’t have the time.”

From Mobil to Mail Boxes Etc.
Berger took a somewhat circuitous route to the advisory world. She grew up in the Canal Zone in Panama, the daughter of a teacher at an American school. She graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with an industrial engineering degree and went to work for Mobil Oil at a refinery in Texas. At Mobil, she designed computer systems and served as a financial analyst. During those years, she had an inkling that she would be drawn to investing.

“When I was working for Mobil, my first boss did his own investments and followed mutual funds, and he taught me a lot about it,” she says. “That’s how my interest started.”

Berger eventually took a buyout to leave Mobil. She moved back to Georgia and opened a Mail Boxes Etc. franchise. That experience gave her plenty of first-hand knowledge she would later use when opening her own advisory practice.

She owned the mailbox business for about five years before tiring of the retail environment. She sold the store and saw a newspaper ad for CFP courses at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. “I’d always been a numbers person; I was good at math and science,” she says. “I did a little research into financial planning, because I didn’t know much about it, and I thought it would be a great way to work with numbers and investments, and also help people.”

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