Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer
Spencer Smalley is one of those guys people tell their secrets to. “I don’t know what it is, but people want to disclose all of it to me,” Smalley said. “They like to tell me everything.”
Whether it’s a trivial fact or an embarrassing personal detail, Smalley has heard it all. People just tend to trust him. That might be, Smalley said, because he trusts them first. He’s open and willing to share, and that prompts others to open up too.
It’s something that’s come naturally to Smalley his whole life, and it includes an ability to listen to people and communicate effectively. Today, Smalley uses those skills to help him in his career – not in counseling, which is where he started out, but in an industry where trust is just as valued.
Smalley grew up in a tiny farming and ranching town of about 1,000 people in eastern Colorado near the Kansas border. “It’s super isolated,” he said. “It was an hour to the nearest town that had a Walmart, and a two and a half hour drive to the nearest city that had anything beyond that.”
His father, who is now retired, worked in the oil industry for 35 years, and his mother still works at the public health office in town where she has been for more than 30 years. “I lived in the same house; we never moved, and my parents always had the same job,” Smalley said. “The biggest change of my life came when I graduated high school.”
That change was moving away for college. First, Smalley moved to Manhattan, Kansas to attend Manhattan Christian College. Then, after meeting his wife-to-be who lived in Omaha, he enrolled at Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, a small city just outside of Omaha. There he studied family counseling with a ministry background, hoping his listening skills would help him help others. But, he soon changed his mind. “I decided pretty quickly I didn’t want to be a counselor,” he said. He imagined an emotionally trying future and didn’t think he could distance himself enough not to become drained by it.
So after graduation, Smalley decided to try something new. He took a job in client services at Pioneer Investments Management. He wasn’t sure whether finance would be a good fit for him, but he realized he had a knack for understanding the industry, and he enjoyed helping others reach their financial goals. “I never had a plan for my finances,” he said. “But, once I realized that it’s just like life — if you have a goal and plans, a path for success laid out in front of you, you really go after it.”
Pioneer taught Smalley everything he needed to know to navigate the financial world, beginning with the basics. “What’s a stock, what’s a bond – that’s as basic as it got,” he said. Smalley learns quickly, and he was able to digest the information fast. Two years later, he passed his Series 65 exam and in 2014, he took a job in internal sales at CLS Investments.
It’s been a great fit. “At CLS, they do what they believe, they take their time, and they stick to their plan in a disciplined way,” he said. “I’m hesitant to do things that just seem flashy or attractive at the time, so that fits my style pretty closely.” Smalley said he enjoys his position in sales partly because it feels like he’s building his own business and he has freedom to achieve his goals.
While the financial industry is far removed from his counseling and ministry background, Smalley believes the lessons he learned in his studies continue to help him in his career today. “I think my ability to listen, to ask the questions that probe into the details, and to see the big picture helps me diagnose a situation and give advice,” he said. “Also, trust is important in this industry. The advisors we work with trust us the same way their clients trust them.”
Smalley is not yet sure where he’d like to end up in the future. He enjoys teaching and coaching people, so he could see himself pursuing a management position or moving into financial advising. His other goal for the future is to have a family. He and his wife have been married eight years, but they were married young – and quickly. They were only dating for seven months before they got engaged, but Smalley said it wasn’t a moment too soon. “I was warned by a lot of people who said it was too soon to be getting married and that it would be really tough,” he said, “But it hasn’t been. We just work through problems and issues really well.”
How do they do it? “We trust each other,” he said, “and we listen.”