Personal finance graduate finds early career success and satisfaction

headshot of Sara Strohmaier

As an undergrad student at UW–Madison, Sara Strohmaier interned at a wealth management company, and that sparked her interest in personal finance. But she chose to take the nontraditional path to a career in the financial industry—she wanted to explore the human side of business.

“I really like numbers and I really like people,” Strohmaier says. “The aspect of helping people plan for the future and finding solutions for their families appealed to me.”

So, the 2015 UW–Madison graduate from Brookfield, Wisc., decided to major in personal finance through the School of Human Ecology. Her degree put her on a trajectory to meet her career goals. She’s currently an investment advisor representative in Chicago at Plante Moran Financial Advisors, the top firm based on assets under management as of December 31, 2019, according to Accounting Today.

Now, it’s possible to get that same Bachelor of Science in Personal Finance from UW–Madison Online.

Supporting clients, reaching career goals

Strohmaier works primarily with ultra high net worth individuals and their families providing comprehensive wealth management services. She consults on specialized topics related to their individual situations including investments, wealth transfer, financial education, charitable planning, insurance and more, serving as their personal CFO.

“I enjoy the people aspect of it. I like interacting with clients and being their go-to person for any of their financial needs,” she says. “People think it’s mostly crunching numbers and working in [Microsoft] Excel 24/7, but a majority of time I’m interfacing with clients. And there is not one right solution for every client, so that brings a unique challenge.”

She says the UW–Madison personal finance program prepared her to sit for the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam, which she passed shortly after graduating. The education she got at UW–Madison helped her excel early in her career. She’s already been promoted to a managerial role at Plante Moran Financial Advisors.

“My goal is to become a partner one day,” she says. “UW–Madison is helping me get there.”

Finance education for the real world

Strohmaier says because the UW–Madison curriculum prepares you for the CFP exam, all of the topics she took in college—from estate planning to taxes to investments and beyond—are relevant to what she does at her job on a day-to-day basis.

“The personal finance major provided the knowledge and skills that I use in the real world,” she says. “What I do now is so holistic that all of the courses that I took at UW–Madison apply to my everyday work.”

And she recalls the advantage of having professors who brought in industry experts or were industry experts themselves, able to share real world problems and solutions: “Having that industry background is so important in teaching these courses,” she adds.

Strohmaier’s undergraduate experience at UW–Madison included being a peer educator for multiple financial life skills courses. She worked with a professor to share information on basic financial skills, such as knowing the difference between a checking and savings account, learning how to buy or lease a car and saving for retirement.

“From a career standpoint, being able to explain various concepts to students was really beneficial as I moved on to my job and started interactions with clients,” she says.

Strohmaier loves her job and appreciates that UW–Madison helped her get there.

“I have and continue to recommend the UW–Madison personal finance program to people,” she says. “The personal finance major helps you take your interpersonal skills to the next level. Having all of the technical skills is important, but you have to know how to communicate well, too.”

Learn more about the UW–Madison Online BS in Personal Finance.