Mid-Life Career Change Into Finance: 'It Pays To Be Humble'

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Plenty of people say they'd love to jump into finance from another field. Sarah Krass did just that. It wasn't the first time she leapfrogged from one unrelated industry to another. The Los Angeles based financial coach walks us through her divergent career path.

After I graduated from Columbia University, I went to L.A. with plans to get into the entertainment business. After a few years as an assistant I landed production gigs, and over a few years I had "producer" credits on more than 40 hours of aired programming for A&E, Discovery, and MSNBC. Most of it was documentary-style TV, and I traveled all over the world. It was a great time and I have a lot of very colorful stories, but a few years into it I wanted to transition into something that was more rooted. I didn't want to wake up at age 40 with one kidney and no family. Plus, as budgets got tighter and tighter, the projects were more cookie-cutter. I wanted something different.

Through contacts I was offered a job at MGM Studios as the manager of technical operations. I knew absolutely nothing about that. Every day it felt like it was not a matter of if, but when I would be fired. It was a very, very technical niche area of digital media.

When Sony acquired MGM in 2006 I took a really generous severance package and jumped to the vendor side in the sales of digital media. A few years into that position I realized that because of the accessibility of technology, the pace of innovation, and the proliferation of competition, the studio model doesn't work any more. It was not a growth market where I need to be.

Inspiration For New Career Began At Home

Meanwhile, I was frustrated with my family's finances. Between me and my husband, our take-home pay was extraordinary, but we were too ignorant and not disciplined enough to invest well. I wanted to take control of our destiny.

I started to research personal finance, and realized that I know a lot of accomplished professionals who know nothing about how to manage their money. I also realized that traditional investment establishments ignore middle America. This is a huge growth market.

I have no illusions of becoming a Wall Street wizard or even a financial expert. I want to help people become financially responsible and take control of their financial futures. At this point in my life I need to find value and meaning in my work.

I joined Aegon World Financial Group, an insurance and financial service firm which targets middle-income Americans. I'm an agent, and they train me for free. When I started with them in May, I knew nothing about financial products. I come from a professional family - a lot of doctors and lawyers - but they are not financial experts at all, except maybe they know a little bit about real estate.

Now I'm licensed to sell life insurance in California and I'm studying for my SEC license. I plan to call myself a financial coach and focus on teaching Americans to save rather than consume, consume, consume.

I really like the Aegon management style, which I find builds business by empowering its employees and agents. I'm a very jaded and cynical person, and I vetted these people left and right. It really is a great environment.

Some Career-Change Lessons

A lot of people say they want to jump from one career to another. You have to be a little crazy and very determined to make it happen. I'm mature enough to know whether a career is resonating with me or not. I determined to make this a successful business.

One thing I've learned is that it pays to be humble. You have to immerse yourself in your subject matter and ask lots of questions. The hiring manager at MGM knew I was a quick study, ambitious and a hard worker, and I am all of those things. But if I didn't have humility I would never have made it a world that was vastly different than where I'd been.

That said, I believe anyone can get into finance. It's much less complex and challenging than I assumed it would be. I was afraid it would be smoke and mirrors, but this transition has turned out to be easier than others.

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