Financial planner and entrepreneur Julia Chung shares how her mother’s values were the foundation of her own professional success
To anyone who knows her, Julia Chung is a woman who’s incapable of slowing down.
Aside from heading two companies – she is the CEO of both Spring Financial Planning and Admin Slayer, a virtual assistant company – Chung is the vice president of the Financial Planning Association. She is a board director for the Family Enterprise Exchange, an organization that champions the transference of businesses and values within families. Apart from that, she used to guide students and other female professionals as a mentor at Simon Fraser University, York University, and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs.
“There are always challenges to face. There are always people to help,” she told Wealth Professional. “I think I learned that mindset from my mother, and it’s one of the many things she taught us from a young age.”
Chung’s mother wasn’t a financial planner. Rather, she was an instructor at Simon Fraser University, a career she took on as she finished her MBA and raised two children by herself. Tragically, she passed away at the age of 41 after a seven-year battle with cancer. But she left behind valuable tools and lessons for Chung to succeed in her own profession.
“She was always a role model for me, every step that I took in my life and my career,” Chung said. “She overcame incredible adversity, just really quite shocking life challenges in order to get ahead in life. I’ve faced my own share of challenges, but having seen what she went through, I never felt like I had time to feel sorry for myself.”
One harsh reality of single parenthood is the hardship of surviving on a limited income. But with a moderated, technical approach to money, Chung said her mother was able to show time and time again how far a dollar can go, as well as the importance of careful budgeting. Rather than viewing it emotionally, she saw it as a tool for the family to get from where they were at the moment – which wasn’t always the best situation – to where they needed to go.
The subject of money can be difficult for many families to broach, but Chung said her mother made sure she and her brother were equipped with age-appropriate information about money at various stages in their lives. And because teaching ran in the family – her maternal grandparents were professors, and their parents were teachers – sharing financial lessons with her friends who weren’t as informed came naturally.
“I remember when my older brother came home from school, I’d ask him what he learned and make him go through all his lessons with me,” Chung said. “Our mom was always in teacher mode, so we just were automatically in teacher and student mode with other children too. That made it very easy for me to become a financial planner advising clients.”
Another lesson she picked up from her mother was how to let go of judgment. Throughout her career dealing with clients of all socioeconomic stripes, Chung has found that people generally harbour a sense of concern, doubt, and insecurity that’s made worse when they compare themselves with others. The ability to listen and receive people with empathy, rather than add to the frustration and shame they may already feel, is something that she says has been important throughout her career.
“My mom always made it clear to us that we had great gifts, and other people have different ones,” Chung said. “It's our responsibility to share what we have with other people, and others share the gifts they have with us. We learned to be responsible not just for ourselves, but to each other and our greater community.”
Until today, Chung is taking that lesson to heart. She has passed on the gifts of her family values to her 25-year-old son; while he hasn’t expressed an interest in becoming a financial planner himself, he is comfortable sharing his knowledge and attitudes about money with his own friends and peers.
At both of the firms she leads, she strives to be a positive influence to her team members, the majority of whom are parents with school-aged children. More broadly, she believes in the importance of encouraging financial education and awareness across society – one reason why she's a brand ambassador for FP Canada, a professional body for Certified Financial Planner professionals and Qualified Associate Financial Planners professionals in Canada – and like charity, she believes that process should begin at home.
“If you want to improve not just financial literacy but the practical use of financial information, you have to start with mothers,” Chung said. “The more support and information you give those people who mean so much in our society and are so influential at home, the better you can shape society, and you can make that change in one generation.”