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Women of Industry: Betty Harris Custer defines 'all'

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Betty Harris Custer came into the financial services profession at a time when women were being challenged to “have it all.” She admits to being seduced by that early on, and when she cited her goal of being the first “Female Planner of the Year” for the Lincoln Financial Network, her husband, J. Corkey Custer, had no doubts she could accomplish it.

However, he was realistic enough to ask what part of her already busy life she would give up — such as precious time with family or her many community-service activities — to reach her goal. For her, the price for fleeting recognition was too high, and she decided to do it all rather than have it all. The women who have followed in her financial industry footsteps are grateful she did.

Harris Custer, the founding managing partner of Custer Financial Services, a full-service financial planning company, still has enjoyed a 45-year career of firsts. She would eventually become the first Wisconsin woman to qualify for the Million Dollar Round Table, the financial industry’s standard of excellence, and consistently perform in the top 1% of all financial planners in the nation.

Her many contributions to an industry that was male dominated when she took the plunge has earned her a Legacy Award in IB’s second annual Women of Industry awards program.  

“For the whole of my career, I’ve appreciated the fact that I’ve been a trailblazer for women and it’s important that the recognition is not just about me, but about women who have made a commitment to go into fields that have been predominantly male-driven and oriented and take a chance on doing something that’s maybe out of the norm.”

Financial mentoring

Out of the norm at first, perhaps, but thanks to her life’s work it’s perfectly normal now. Harris Custer has focused on things that allowed her to create a path for other women interested in financial service careers. She not only has served on national industry boards, she has mentored other women in the field, and perhaps more importantly she has been instrumental in educating American women about the importance of their own financial planning needs.

The thing Harris Custer is most proud of is maintaining a holistic approach about life that includes career, family, and community, as well as “looking to the people who will come behind us.” She’s never regretted the decision to have a well-rounded life, even though the thought of being the first woman to have her name engraved on the wall, which would have come with Lincoln’s “Planner of the Year” designation, was very enticing 30 years ago.  

But there were other considerations in the form of possible trade offs. She didn’t want her children to remember their mother as just a picture on the wall and loved being immersed in the community, so she devised her own definition of “having it all.”  

“That’s one thing I want to make clear — I have no regrets about not going for that wall,” Harris Custer states. “The whole idea was focusing on my definition of ‘all,’ which was playing a significant role in my family and community and still being successful in my profession by doing the right thing by my clients. I feel good about that, very good.”

Custer has been instrumental in speaking throughout the Lincoln Financial system about the importance of financial planning for women and the opportunity for careers in financial planning for women. When it comes to financial planning, there are some commonalities between men and women, but the distinctions are hard to ignore.

Men still have shorter lifespans than their wives and many of Harris Custer’s female clients were widows for decades, so the need to get over their reticence about investing was paramount. That reticence still exists to some extent, and with many women logging less time in the workforce due to child rearing and therefore standing to earn less in Social Security benefits, and with remaining disparities in pay between men and women, Harris Custer has taken it upon herself to educate women on the process and encourage them to actively manage their investments.

Harris Custer notes that women already make most of the purchasing decisions for families, and she’s pleased to see fewer women become isolated from investment decisions. “It’s a rare couple now where both the husband and wife don’t come to see me,” she notes. “Early in my career, I never met with the wife. All investing decisions were made by the husband.”

(Continued)

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