Mission Wealth's Spotlight on the Team for October is Claudia Arnold-Sawaf! Claudia recently joined the Mission Wealth team after successfully running her own planning practice since 2014. Claudia brings with her over 18 years of experience in the financial industry and specializes in wealth management for physicians, business transitions, and charitable planning. Learn more about Claudia in this Spotlight on the Team interview!
What are a few childhood experiences you had that formed who you are today?
As a little girl, growing up in Vienna, Austria, my dad’s brother (and favorite uncle) would come visit and bring us back gifts from around the globe. He worked on cruise ships and in hotel management at the time. I still have a tiny little Japanese kimono that my mom kept for me. It’s clear to see how and when I got the travel bug, that later led me into hotel management myself and living and working on three continents, before moving to beautiful San Diego.
How do you like to spend time outside of Mission Wealth?
Reading, Yoga, family time and volunteering for various organizations all keep me balanced. We are also training our golden doodle pup, “CJ” to become a therapy dog for children who are going through illnesses and are hospitalized. Getting ready for his exam is no small task.
We also love taking family trips any chance we get.
Are you a raving fan of anything – like a sports team or band or school?
I am and have always been a raving fan of my daughters’ teams. Our older daughter Nadia started and later got our younger daughter Leena into Volleyball. Leena now plays for Mater Dei High School and we’re all raving fans of Mater Dei’s teams!
I am also a raving fan (can’t help it) of my home country of Austria and am the known go-to person when friends, community members or my clients plan to visit.
What’s something interesting that people don’t know about you?
Well, here’s a fun fact. I worked as an extra on movie sets during high-school and “starred” alongside Timothy Dalton in “The Living Daylights” and almost ran over Ben Kingsley in the production of “Lenin - The Train”. Fond memories and such great insight into how movies are produced!
If you could offer any advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Start saving and investing earlier. I still remember one of my first mentors, when I worked in London, UK. She tried to convince me to pay into their pension program (an equivalent of our 401k programs). Of course at age 25, all I was interested in was my next career move and another country to move to. But looking back, it would have helped tremendously to start working toward savings and investment programs.
At Mission Wealth we talk to people all the time about what their goals and aspirations are. So what’s on your bucket list?
I enjoy public speaking tremendously and have given a fair share of talks and interviews on media channels, usually around financial empowerment for women. Speaking on large stages is definitely on my bucket list.
Are you a part of any organizations or clubs? Tell us more about it.
I serve on the board of directors of a local private school and I head up the finance and planned giving committee.
I also volunteer for Sabil USA, a local non-profit that serves recently resettled refugees and the under-served population of Orange County. We run a food bank, thrift store and get very resourceful if families need furniture or items for their homes.
What do you think makes you well-suited for your current role?
I partner with clients and meet them where they’re at. I also help them sort through the confusing landscape of finance with clear strategies, I explain in a language everyone can understand.
I value building strong relationships with my clients and focus on understanding their situation, listening for preferences, fears, past experiences and future aspirations. We can then build meaningful plans, that leads to confidence in their financial affairs. Having lived and worked on three continents also gave me a broad understanding of different cultures and I work very well with clients who have adopted the US as their new home country, just like I did.
Is there something about your personality that guides your approach?
I have a fairly calm personality with a communication style that is conversational, and a focus on building strong relationships. I believe this supports my work as a trusted advisor. The financial industry can be very noisy and it’s easy to feel stressed around money and investing. My goal is always to help put my clients’ minds at ease.
What are your favorite kinds of clients to work with and why?
My clients are simply amazing. They lead meaningful lives, give back in both their time and resources and many literally save lives in their careers. They also value planning and appreciate the peace of mind a result from working with us.
What kinds of issues do you help your clients with and what kinds of unique services do you provide your clients with to help them with these issues?
My clients have attained high levels of success, and there usually comes a point, where they ask themselves: “What does all this mean?” Having worked with financial people in the past, they come with different types of products and programs, set up during various times throughout their lives and career, but no clear path forward. We then work together to create a cohesive strategy in the most tax efficient manner, protecting their wealth for generations to come. In our in-depth process, I collaborate with my clients’ other advisors such as their CPA’s, attorneys, pension consultants to name a few to ensure we all work as a team on behalf of our clients.
Success Story: Tell me an actual story about a client that you helped and how you changed their life in a positive way.
Most success stories have to do with giving clients peace of mind and control over their financial situation. They came to me with a lot of different products, programs, income, businesses, real estate, other assets, but no clarity on what it all meant and whether or not they can in fact be financially independent. By putting together solid strategies and plans, sitting on the same side of the table as my clients and modeling out different goals and objectives, my clients are able to make financial decisions they feel good about.
Whether that’s fully retiring at an early age, to spend more time with their family, or purchasing a secondary dream home to spend quality time away from a demanding career, there are plenty of examples.
At the end of the day, I know my job is done, when my clients feel a level of comfort and confidence in how their financial affairs are set up, that allows them to focus on what brings meaning to their life.
Give me one piece of financial advice you would offer clients:
Don’t try to “do it yourself”. Find an advisor, who is a fiduciary and who you can build a trust relationship with. There’s so much to know and to keep up with.
When you have the right person on your team, you will not only feel better about your affairs, but feel the peace of mind it takes to live a meaningful life.
What is a subject or area of finance that not many people know a lot about, but understanding it could really help their financial picture?
I would say, understanding the importance of planning and how we attain the best possible outcome when we don’t look at each part of the planning process separately. And understanding how fees are structured in our industry are also an important element people really want to understand.
What are some important things to consider when choosing a financial planner?
The most important thing to consider, is whether or not the planner is a fiduciary and what I mean by that, is whether the advisor is held to the highest standard of care by law. As a fiduciary, by law, we do what is in the best interest of the client, not the corporation and not the bottom line. Equally important is, whether or not you actually like the person. Trust is built on a solid relationship and that’s difficult, if there’s no chemistry.