In 1974, Judith Werbitt, a former Philadelphia English teacher with a master’s in psychology, took a job at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in White Plains as the first female financial advisor hired at the firm in Westchester County. “It was a whole new language, and a whole new experience,” says Werbitt. But those divergent backgrounds are what she draws from when dealing with her clients.
“I’m able to educate my clients in a way that they can understand their investments,” says Werbitt, who is now senior vice president of the Werbitt Cicale Group within Merrill Lynch. “The psychology of investing is unique, and understanding people’s relationship with money is key to how we invest for them.” Werbitt not only handles investments, but also retirement planning, educational planning, liability management, estate planning, and generation-to-generation wealth management.
And for Werbitt, planning a client’s financial success starts with a lot of listening and managing fear. “I spend oodles of time going back and explaining cycles,” she says, “trying to have people look beyond the hysteria of the media, and explain when the best times to buy and sell are.” Because the basis of her work is listening, Werbitt thinks she has a distinct advantage as a woman. “Women are better listeners innately,” she says. “They’re more detail-oriented, and learning how to listen to your clients is incredibly important because it takes fear away from them if you can answer their questions.”
After decades in the business, along with three consecutive years as one of Barron’s Top 100 Women Financial Advisors, Werbitt is the go-to trainer within Wealth Management. But she also teaches financial literacy to young women in the area once every semester as part of the Her Honor Mentoring Program. The course begins very simply, with the difference between “need” and “want,” and progresses through budgets and basic planning. But Werbitt’s mission goes deeper than credits and debits. “Self-esteem is incredibly important,” she says. “ I try to press that it’s so important [for them] to concentrate on themselves and what they want to do in life.”
Three years ago, Werbitt’s daughter, Loren Ward, joined her group, and is now learning firt-hand from her mother. The confidence Werbitt sees her daughter demonstrate in her job is an indicator of how far women have come in the industry since Werbitt walked through the doors in 1974. At the time, Werbitt’s male colleagues took bets on how long she’d last there. As it happens, she’s outlasted them all.