Angie Ribuffo has been planning her “latest trip” to one of the polar regions, a visit to the Antarctic in early 2023. That might not be too surprising, as she makes her home in Anchorage, Alaska — and had traveled to the Arctic in August. As she spoke to INN for this article, she was digging out of a hefty 50 inches of snow. While that’s a lot, even for Anchorage, she took it in stride … just a small obstacle on her journey.
Ribuffo’s journey began as an Army brat — relocating with her family frequently as her father received new orders — and continued throughout her career, first as an Air Force nurse, then as a nursing instructor and finally as a financial advisor. Her success as an advisor has included building her own practice, serving as national president of Women in Insurance and Financial Services and, most recently, being honored as WIFS 2022 Woman of the Year.
That success has been achieved despite a financial services career that had an inauspicious start.
“I came into the industry with the thought that I would really be focusing on financial education, financial literacy,” she explained. “This sounds crazy, but I did not understand that I was really in sales.
“And when I was growing up, my family never talked about money.” That meant coming up to speed, learning about everything from the importance of life insurance to recession-proofing a portfolio.
Her husband, Steve, also served in the Air Force. But after Ribuffo spent five years as an Air Force nurse, she learned she and her husband would not be given a joint spouse assignment when it came time for his next reassignment.
“By that time, we had a brand-new baby boy,” she said. “So, I made the decision to separate from the service. We were stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in Lancaster, California. I went on to start my master’s degree, and I started teaching a certified nurse’s assistant program at Antelope Valley College.”
After Steve retired from the service, the couple decided to move to Anchorage, their favorite of all the places they previously had been stationed.
“Anchorage is a little town that thinks it’s big; it’s very cosmopolitan,” she explained. “We have a wonderful symphony orchestra, a wonderful performing arts center. It’s a foodie town.”
Ribuffo traces her path to becoming a financial advisor back to when she and her husband were first married.
“When we first got married, Steve had a financial advisor and had the basis of a financial plan. I was one of those people who grew up with just a savings account. That was it,” she said. “I got a real lesson about financial planning and financial advice very early on in our marriage. I saw the benefits of having a plan and reaching your goals.”
Then Ribuffo was approached by their financial services firm to see if she might be interested in a new career. “I was intrigued,” she said.
“I thought if financial planning can do this for me and my family — especially for someone like me who knew nothing about financial advice and planning — then it would be great if I could do that for others.
“I had read a research paper from Prudential that tracked women over the course of 10 years, talking about financial services and the industry and what they felt about that,” Ribuffo said. “And essentially the research showed that the women found navigating financial services was too complicated.
“That became kind of a lighthouse for me. I decided that if I could help one woman understand and build a successful financial plan, then I would have accomplished something,” she continued. While the broker-dealer she worked for had a military-based practice, Ribuffo decided she wanted to “branch out” and add more women to her practice.
“I decided to leave them and open up a firm that enabled me to help the client base that I wanted to work with,” said Ribuffo.
Becoming a lioness
“In May 2019, I went out on my own to be independent,” she said. “I stood up my firm, Raion Financial Strategies. ‘Raion’ means ‘lion’ in Japanese. My mother was Japanese, and her favorite animal was a lion. We decided to name it as an homage to my mom. She wore a lion pin almost every day of her life. Before she died, she gave me the lion pin and said to me, ‘You’re now the lioness of the pride. It’s your responsibility to take care of the family.’ My children said, ‘Mom, that’s what you do with your clients. You take care of them.’ And so that’s how we named the firm.
“I didn’t leave my military clients. I stretched myself and added more women and federal employees. And that’s my client base right now.
“In my practice, my female clients have become much more confident in the decision-making process,” explained Ribuffo. “Often, they came in quite tentative. They’d say, ‘OK, Angie, you tell us what we need to do, and then we’ll do it.’ And my conversation would be, ‘No, that’s not how I work. You’re going to learn about what we’re doing — the why of it. You need to really understand the why of it so you can make decisions about how you want to move forward.’”
Ribuffo understood that feeling of lacking confidence.
“I came into the field in 2008, not knowing what I didn’t know,” she said. “I was the only woman in my office and in my district with my broker-dealer. And my male colleagues felt that I wasn’t going to be successful. They were very transactionally based, while I would spend time learning about my clients and their families. My colleagues told me, ‘You’re never going to be successful if you continue to do that. You need to get in there and sell.’
“I felt very out of place — I felt like this, maybe, was not for me. My husband said to me, ‘You are not the only woman in the industry that’s doing this. There are other women you probably should consider talking to and getting their perspective.’
“I Googled ‘women in insurance and finance,’ and up came WIFS. There is a chapter here in Anchorage. I reached out to them and said, ‘I’m a career changer. I’m a little old. I don’t know what the age base is for this chapter, but can I talk to you guys about it?’ And they said, ‘Yes. Why don’t you come to our luncheon?’ I went to the luncheon, and I met the woman who was basically the matriarch of Women in Insurance and Financial Services, Noni Baldwin. She was one of the people who started WIFS decades ago. She asked me what brought me to WIFS, and I said, ‘I needed a little estrogen — I’m the only woman in my office.’
“I credit that group of women and WIFS for keeping me in the business, because I really was disappointed at that time. They helped me understand what our business is all about. I knew it from a client perspective, but I never really understood it from an advisor perspective. I credit them with helping me become successful. So, when I was approached by WIFS to join their national board, I felt that it was my way of giving back to an organization that helped me not only to stay in the industry, but to become successful. And then in 2017, I was elected the national president for Women in Insurance and Financial Services.”
That was followed up in 2022 with Ribuffo being named WIFS Woman of the Year.
“It means a lot to me that I am being recognized by my peers,” said Ribuffo. “There were seven other nominees for Women of the Year, all amazing women with an amazing background and contributions, not only to WIFS, but to the industry. And for my peers to elect me as Woman of the Year is probably — besides being the national president for WIFS — one of the greatest honors that could ever be bestowed upon me.”
Ribuffo has been an active mentor for other women in the industry for the past decade, through WIFS.
“I realized that part of my passion was not only about women clients, but it’s also about women advisors in the industry and the fact that we need more of them,” she said. “We have a revolving door of women who don’t stay in the industry, and I wanted to understand why they didn’t stay. Come to find out that a lot of them were having issues similar to mine.
“I currently facilitate that program,” she added, explaining that the mentoring sessions are five months long, though many stay in touch beyond that time. WIFS runs two mentoring sessions per year, with each session usually including about 20 pairs of mentors and mentees.
“If you look statistically at the number of women in the industry, that number hasn’t really changed over the decades,” Ribuffo explained. “A lot of it has to do with the fact that the industry is still controlled by men, typically white men. They don’t understand that there’s a different thought process for women in this industry. Women — and I’m being general when I say this — are relationship driven; we’re not transactionally driven. We understand that there are products and services that we need to provide to our clients, but we’re more interested in a holistic approach.
“The onboarding process becomes a challenge because the training is geared to being transactional. I have some mentees who say to me, ‘Angie, I hate it. The fact that I’m in sales.’
“I have to reframe for them. I say to them, ‘Everybody sells. Doctors sell health; teachers sell education. What you are doing is looking at what need someone has and then filling that need. You are not the used car guy. Take that picture out of your head, and let’s look at it from a different perspective.’
“The fact that the work is primarily commission based is a challenge because a lot of times the women are the primary breadwinners, and that’s difficult. Maybe we need to rethink and retool that.”
There are some female clients who would prefer to work with a female advisor, Ribuffo explained. “So, with more women in the industry, we’re reaching a larger consumer base.
“When I talk to industry leaders, they often talk to me about recruiting. I say to them, ‘Look, if you kept all the number of women that you recruit each year, we would’ve moved the needle years ago. But the fact that we haven’t tells you that it is not a recruiting issue. It’s a retention issue,” Ribuffo said.
“Of course, in light of diversity, equity and inclusion, we’re looking at it from a much broader spectrum. It’s not just gender now; it is ethnicity. We need more women of color, more people of color. We’re adding the next layer, and, ultimately, having a more diverse industry will help the consumer. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re there for,” she said. “We’re there to help the consumer.”